The Google Pixel 2 XL: Great phone, brilliant camera!

I’m continuing to enjoy using my Google Pixel 2 XL phone.  It is quite the beast.  I love almost everything about it – including Android.  Took me a few days to get used to how Android deals with things, but one the adjustment period is over – it comes naturally.  I do still kind of miss having a front fingerprint scanner – I do keep putting my finger over the camera flash from time to time, but I’m sure muscle memory will eventually kick in.

But what I really love about this phone is the camera.  It truly is best in class despite only having a single lens.  Google’s computational photography outdoes Apple considerably.  The Google Photos service is also a remarkable thing – far better in many ways than iCloud Photo Library – though I do wish Google would maintain up-to-date support for the latest camera RAW formats as my Sony RX100 mark V isn’t supported and I can’t upload my RAW images.  Otherwise, Google Photos for me has been the best experience in managing and organising photos since the Apple Photos app.  I can download the whole lot via Google Takeaway – though I’d also appreciate some form of API so that I can plug in another cloud service (thinking Backblaze B2) to back up all photos on the fly.  One cannot escape the cloud these days!

Taken at Surbiton Station with a Google Pixel 2 XL.
Pizza time at work. Taken with Google Pixel 2 XL. Note that at 100% crop, you can read the Samsung logo on the TV clearly. With Apple, this would be like am expressionist painting.

The photos are good enough, IMHO, to leave the proper camera at home.  I’m very happy with the quality that Google brings to the table.  When the Pixel 3 XL comes out, I’m sure it’ll be even better.

Interestingly enough, I’ve been going through my photos that are now stored in Google Photos and it’s interesting to note that after the iPhone 6S, the (mainly Samsung) Android phones that I have had produced much better imagery than the iPhone 7, iPhone 7S and even the iPhone X!  At least to my eye.  There’s something that Apple did from the iPhone 6S onwards that seems to have resulted in “painting like” imagery when cropped at 100%.

Getting back to the phone itself, customising ringtones is dead simple to do on this phone – unlike iOS where you have to jump through a number of loops beforehand.  I also really like notifications – though a bit in-your-face at first, they are highly customisable and I like that one can easily copy codes from SMSes or reply/acknowledge direct from the notification centre.

Google really make use of the bigger screen resolution to fit more icons on, and this also means that apps such as Authy allow me to cram as many 2FA sites on there than I could with the iPhone X.

Apple Music on Android is a bit of a pain, however.  It can often just open, sitting there with a blank screen until I click the pull-down menu and fuss about with it.  Then there is the issue that it doesn’t seem to recognise purchased content which IS still available in the UK iTune store and is also downloaded to the phone:

Apple Music – 3 years later, and being a pain in the arse on a different platform.,

Apple still has much to learn about co-operating with other platforms.

I regret nothing switching to the Pixel 2 XL.  Bring on the Pixel 3 XL later this year.  Unless Apple really pull something out their sleeve…

Samsung Galaxy S8+ Mini Review

This post appeared yesterday, but due to some weird underlying problem with the host server, it forced me to move everything to a new host.

I’ve had my shiny new Samsung Galaxy S8+ for nearly a week, and I must say that it meets my expectations.  It combines everything that I loved about the ill-fated Note 7 with the Galaxy S7 Edge, and this makes for a very, very nice pocketable computer (which just so happens to make and receive phone calls too).

The 6.2″ screen (phew – nearly a typo, nearly suggested it was 6ft 2inches -imagine carrying THAT around) is, as everybody says, lovely.  As it inherits the Note 7’s more subtle edges, the phone is very comfortable in my hand.  It’s long and slim versus the iPhone 7 Plus’ wide body (which offers less viewing space).

The rear fingerprint sensor situated right next to the camera isn’t a problem for me.  I have been described as having “E.T. fingers”, so my hands are suitably adapted to using a long phone.  My index finger hits that fingerprint sensor every single time – so far I have not yet hit the camera lens – the proof is in the lack of fingerprints on the lens.  When I have the phone in my left hand, I can still manage it, albeit with a bit more difficulty.

Iris scanning is another matter.  I wear glasses, so this was bound to be a disaster – but initially, the system registered my peepers without any difficulty in good light, wearing my glasses.  Unlocking the phone worked just fine using irises for a couple of times – after which it’s become a hit and miss.  Definitely better than the Note 7, but still no cigar.  Yet.  I’ve a feeling Samsung will eventually crack it.

The software side is good – no complaints.  Currently running Android 7.0 with April security updates.  Hopefully, Samsung will roll out May updates soon.  The UI looks and feels like the Note 7 – with a few enhancements.  I like the touch-hold to see options for apps on the Home screen – feels like right-clicking on the desktop – it provides – for me at least – better options than iOS.

Android Pay works – as it should.  Apparently, we’re due to get Samsung Pay this month, and I shall look to see if it’s worth moving over to it from Android Pay. It’d be nice if only to be able to pay with my Samsung Gear S3 Frontier.

I’ve not had much of a chance to test the camera yet, but limited testing seems to suggest a very capable shooter – as good as what I experienced with the Note 7.

I’m particularly fond of the Always On display.  I have that set-up to display the current “home” time and that of Seattle (long story).  Notifications appear as icons as they come in – and certain notifications will trigger the LED notification light – something I would have really liked on the iPhone.

Battery life is decent enough.  Hands down the winner is the iPhone 7 Plus, but the Galaxy S8+ doesn’t do a bad job.  I kept my two Samsung wireless Fast Charge chargers and let me tell you – once you’ve tried wireless charging, you will never go back (okay, I went back to the iPhone for a while after the Note 7 fiasco – but boy, have I missed wireless charging).  Battery life lasts approximately a day and a bit – maybe longer if you don’t tinker much with the phone.

Speaking of battery/display – I kept the default setting at medium resolution – I don’t see any difference in the quality of the display at that setting, and the battery level does drain a little tiny bit faster if you choose to use the higher resolution.

I have a 200Gb Sandisk microSD card installed to complement the onboard UFS 2.1 64Gb storage.  No problems with it so far.  I did think it was a right bugger to get the nano SIM and microSD card to share the same tray (big fingers, remember?), but otherwise, all is good.

I use Apple Music (thanks, Apple – I appreciate having to have a choice) and downloading music to the SD card and playing music back is as one would expect.

Overall I really like what Samsung have done with this phone.  I keep it in a Spigen case.  I have tried the Clear View Samsung case (particularly notable for its ability to act as a stand, and provide a separate partition for the fingerprint sensor so that it’s easier to locate), but – ironically – I found that the cover gets in the way of the fingerprint sensor and camera, and I’m reasonably sure that the Gorilla Glass 5 will do a capable job of keeping scratches at bay when the phone is in my trouser pocket.

My first negative feedback on eBay!

I don’t use eBay often, but when I do, it’s usually to sell kit I don’t need or want to keep.  It’s proven very safe and reliable over the years.. until last week!

I bought the Sony RX100 mark V.  After encountering many articles and videos extolling the new features (especially the super fast 315 phase detect auto focus points) over the mark IV, I decided that I could take one more hit and bought the thing with the intention of selling the mark IV.

Alas!

What a flipping nightmare!   I’ve sold much more expensive kit on eBay and haven’t had a single problem with it.  But initially the mark IV refused to budge. The price for a new mark IV on Amazon  is about £100 less than what I originally paid for it six months ago.  So given the age of the device, and how that it wasn’t used very much and kept in a case, I thought £100-£120 less than the current price would be fair.  No dice. I had a few too low offers, including the person who would eventually buy the thing.  At one point I took the listing offline, revised the description to add as much information as I could from the questions that were being asked, and settled to a figure of £600.  And that included the breakdown and accidental cover insurance for three years.

On Sunday night I went to bed.  During that time, the buyer submits questions before buying the camera.  It is stipulated in my listing that it can take up to two days before I ship the item.  This is because as I work full time, and I work in middle of nowhere, and that I also work a shift system, the ability to get to a post office is somewhat limited during the week.  The earliest I would have been able to get to a post office is today (Tuesday) after work – and that’d be around 5pm. Given that I choose to ship Next Day Special Delivery (with the right level of insurance), that would be not have made a Wednesday delivery.

So what I do get when I ask the buyer for the details so I can start to arrange the transfer of the insurance?  She needs it before Thursday as she’s heading off to South America.  Talk about leaving things a bit late!  I’ve basically said that given the current timescales, I couldn’t do it, so I refunded her and cancelled the order. It would be better to buy from somewhere like Amazon’s used marketplace – these are usually professional sellers who can ship next day guaranteed.  I’m just an individual just looking to sell a camera in my spare time.  She told me that she couldn’t afford those prices.

If I had been told all of this before the order went through, I could have very probably made prior arrangements.  But the number of questions (and two different, much lower offers – the listing was set-up for a fixed price only) preceding all of this had slowed everything down.  Least of all I did not know it was urgently required.

Needless to say, the subsequent email exchange (through the eBay system) did not go too well.  I was always polite, but firm, in that I wasn’t going to work outside of the eBay guidelines to get this thing to her – she wanted to arrange a courier which would very likely invalidate that because if things went wrong, PayPal and eBay would not be able to assist me if she were then to put in a claim – they would side with her, and I’d have lost both the camera and money.

So in the end, I got my first ever negative feedback – after I left her a positive for the quick payment, but this was before I knew about her deadline).  The comment she left was that I was uncooperative and rude.   I was never rude. Rude, by her definition, is that she simply did not like what I told her.  I was never aggressive or impolite.  If she only organised herself better, was upfront about her expectation on delivery times, and made the decision to buy within a sensible timeframe, she would have had the camera yesterday.  Today at the latest.

I’ve decided to keep the camera.  I’m not sure I can bring myself to sell it just yet after all that rigmarole.  I’m trying to decide how it will fit in with my existing trips, but I’ve been looking at what other people do with multiple cameras and I’m coming up with some (cunning) plans.

At the time of writing, my camera kit now looks like this:

I’ve gone a bit mad on audio kit.  This stems from my time shooting Imagineer System’s marketing video.  Having good quality microphones is a must.  Though at the time of making the marketing video, I had little knowledge of audio gain control – the result was that a lot of audio was very fuzzy.  I’m not making that mistake again.  The AX53 camcorder replaces my ancient Sony DCR-PC100e, which was a lovely miniDV unit.  Alas, it’s dead and I haven’t any way of playing anything I recorded unless I take them to a specialist who can take transfer them to DVD or external hard drive.  The AX53 uses fast SDHC memory cards which I can import footage into Final Cut Pro on my Mac.

(BTW, my first ever digital camera was a Sony DSC-S70 – it was super chunky, only offered 3.2 megapixels, was super expensive, but the quality was absolutely brilliant – which perhaps explains why I returned to Sony products after a brief spell with Cannon)

I still need to get a couple of small tripods.  I’ve settled on Joby Gorillapods which will enable me to wrap the arms around objects as well as act as a stand and grip.  BTW, the case that you see is an Amazon Basics camera backpack.  Super light too.  The case also has lens cleaning kits and all the manuals (which I also have in PDF form on my iPad).  You can’t say I’m not prepared.

Dongle Time!

As us UK folk are in a period of uncertain financial stability thanks to a certain referendum, I have decided to make one last major purchase for the next few years – at least until we’ve got out the EU (not my decision, but I respect it) and things are ticking along again.  I am buying the new Touch Bar MacBook Pro.

I’m sure I am going to get a very good price for my current MacBook Pro, especially as it has all the ports that everybody’s been having a go at Apple for removing on the new models.  While I’ve already said it’s a buyer’s market – the same can be said for anybody with a reasonably recent MacBook Pro to sell. Some people just hate dongles and adapters.

I’ve pretty much gone wireless.  Wireless headphones, wireless mouse, wireless keyboard (at work) and so on.  It’s only the Drobo and WD Passport external hard drives that I need to connect on the odd occasion.  They use USB-A type connections.

With that in mind, I’ve ordered a couple of USB-C to USB-A adapters along with a USB-C to Lightning cable (for hooking the iPhone and iPad to the Mac) and a Sandisk USB-C SD card reader, directly from Apple.  So imagine my annoyance when Apple – faced with substantial criticism over using only USB-C ports on the new MacBook Pro range – decided today to slash the prices of all of those things – some quite substantially.

More dongles than there are stars in heaven!
More dongles than there are stars in heaven!

But, thankfully, Apple has a very quick and easy way to get hold of somebody online and I’ve confirmed with them that they’ll be reaching out to those of us that have already placed orders:

Elyse:
Customers who purchased eligible accessories between Oct. 27 and Nov. 4 may be eligible for a reimbursement of the difference between the old and new prices. We will reach out to online store customers over the next week to offer them a credit.

So for those people, like me, who have prepared themselves for serious dongling (until hardware manufacturers get around to changing over to USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 generation 2), there’s nothing to do.  Apple will fix it.

This new machine has got to last 3 – 4 years.  No interim upgrades.  No changing of minds.  This is absolutely going to be my daily driver for everything.  So let’s Apple have done a good job with it.