1st November 2017
When I last wrote, I spoke of a looming "slight uphill gradient" away from the same-old, same-old, and into 'more interesting' territory, as we move forward with phone releases. So I thought I'd have a word here about how I refreshed my view on all things 'boring slab' and, although I still swap devices regularly, nearly always focus down on a phone with a clear and interesting USP. Grab coffee, read on...

1. Moto Z
With Moto Mods in the wings here... Projector, various Battery Packs, Hasselblad Camera, JBL SoundBoost... no two days are the same! Power through the day (or more with planning), listen to good music instantly (not poncing about with Bluetooth), watch film and TV on a 70" screen anywhere (it's dark), Zoom in to 10x and Xenon-flash your parties!

The firmware is kept pretty much up to date, with September 2017 Security and 7.1.1. (Oreo coming) and you really do get a very-near Vanilla Android experience. The Snapdragon 820 and 4GB of RAM made sure that over a year ago it was fairly future-proofed and I still see no slowdown or lag of any sort.

The proximity sensor on the front is genius still, instead of always-on (battery hog) and tap-to-wake. Front-mounted fingerprint sensor is by far, still, the best option. Bright AMOLED screen (which I usually have on 10% indoors). Well 'good enough' camera for 95% of people 95% of the time. Fairly loud and 'good enough' on-board speaker.

Stuff I'd like to be better? Maybe a bigger on-board battery. Better Bluetooth implementation as it can be flaky. A 3.5mm headphone socket - not that I'm really bothered beyond the inconvenience factor of carrying an adaptor - and with power packs in each pocket, I've never felt the need to charge it whilst listening with headphones. But very little to complain about.

It really is a flexible tool and one which I have stuck with for a disproportionately long time. OK - so you have to have the Mods with you. OK - so you have to forward-plan a bit. OK - so the projected image is not the brightest. OK - so the JBL is not as loud as a Bluetooth speaker. OK - so the camera needs a tripod for 10x zoom. There are compromises left, right and centre, but this Swiss Army Knife is all fun and keeps my attention. No boring slab here.

2. BlackBerry KEYone
Another interesting design and device with that wonderful hardware keyboard. I've been using it now exclusively for the past two weeks and I've really got used to the keyboard. Yes, it makes you slow down. But that's not a bad thing. It is a slice of yesteryear and must be a delight to people coming over from BB10. I was not one, but actually, during this time, having previously turned off BBHub and Productivity Tab and insisting on using the Apps that I was used to, I have slowly come round. It's a great system and I'm enjoying using it with Notifications switched off for the individual Apps and allowing the Hub to rule my access to services and productivity options.

Some of the fancier aspects of the keyboard I have not got to switch back on yet, like swiping up through suggested words and the like (in fact, at one point, I had the whole gesture-based capacitive function of the keyboard turned off as it didn't play nicely with Google Now Launcher - I've now switched to the native BB Launcher and it's really fine and a good experience - since Google messed up the right-swipe Now panel with the latest Pixel/Oreo, I don't much like using it anymore anyway - you can't swipe-to-dismiss items). The double-tap-keyboard to produce an on-screen cursor, however, is worth having it turned on for alone. The keys are beautifully crafted with a transparent 'topping' above the legends.

The phone is nice and big in the hands, forces a considered two-handed approach most of the time and is solid, sturdy and heavy. The speaker is really quite reasonable for quality and volume for most everyday uses. The Convenience Key is assigned to my Music Player of choice so I can quickly fire up some tunes. Battery is 3505mAh and really does astound for duration, heading easily into a large part of Day Two.

I really wish that I had the black one rather than silver - but that'll teach me to be an Early Adopter. Well, maybe not! Another £549 now and having to try and sell this one, just for black, seems like madness. But then, who isn't mad?! The 64GB Storage of the black one is really not needed with a MicroSD Card, nor the 4GB RAM as there's no slowdown anywhere in my use, even with the Snapdragon 625. But with the previous talk about early units' screens being potentially dodgy, and the black being so gorgeous(!) maybe I have no choice here! We'll see.

In the meantime, it's a great device, again, with a cracking USP, which, after a while, moves away from 'gimmick' and into 'genuinely useful and productive'. Enjoyable and considered input with a keyboard that is so well designed that even with fingers my size, it just seems to work. No boring slab here.

3. LG G6
I guess some will cry BORING SLAB here, but hang on. I'm not so sure. The LG G6 has enough about it to elevate it above the dullards. I've been through all this stuff before, so won't bore you with all the same thoughts, but what makes this G6 a 'cut above' is two things mainly. Firstly, that 18:9 (2:1) screen which packs a 5.7" screen into a device no bigger than a Nexus 5X using long-tall-thin instead of traditional ratio, and a wonderful wide-angle camera on the back which makes a huge difference to snapping photos out and about - but more importantly, for interiors.

The device is delightfully chunky, heavy, robust, classy and solid in the hand. It feels like a premium device (especially in black) as soon as you touch it. It has a battery which is significantly better than most at 3300mAh and has no trouble whatsoever getting me through a day (though if I'm honest, I'm not happy with the LCD and am uncomfortable having to use 60%+ screen brightness by default - and that's just indoors!). The loudspeaker is more that adequate and better than most. It has a Snapdragon 821 and 4GB RAM with MicroSD storage and 32GB on-board.

But back to those two aspects. The 2:1 screen is a stroke of genius, thought of and implemented by others too (Samsung, to name one), making such good use of the 'letterbox' ratio so that devices with huge screens in comparison to others allow the retention of pocket-friendly phone size, thin enough in the hand for some one-handed use and yet amazingly cool and satisfying media consumption options. Very smart and clever - I am the first to applaud this trend and hope for wider adoption thereof.

Those who know anything of me and/or have listened to my warblings over the years will know that I'm not one for considering that cameras-in-phones have got anywhere near the quality of even the cheapest compact camera. The tide is turning, however, and I need to accept that. Flagship phones are finding ways, slowly but surely, or driving everyone to using a phone for their photos. The current crop of flagship phones in 2017 are pushing that barrier harder and further than ever before.

One of the interesting diversions from 'the norm' with phones' cameras has been a wide-angle facility and I have to admit that this G6 has bowled me over in this respect. Not because of the quality of the pictures (there are much better options) but this wide-angle thing. It's so refreshing to have that and a delight to use. Open your eyes! I am really enjoying the difference that camera angle makes to (the desire to shoot) photography out and about and indoors.

The other attributes of the LG G6 ensure that there's enough to keep most happy, I think, as long as you can get past the LG bloat and cartoons. Maybe this device is not quite so clear cut in terms of USP but I still declare that there's no boring slab here.

4. Marshall London
We've said it all before. So I won't bore you again. Just to say that it's a great fun device, top audio quality is so many ways, a delight to have, use, listen to and hold, let down only by that pesky Snapdragon 400-series chipset. What a huge shame that they didn't think to future-proof it, just a bit. If it had just been a 625, we'd still take it seriously. If only they would then have updated the firmware to Marshmallow so we could have used Adoptable Storage to get over the 16GB on-board. I could even have lived with the 2GB RAM still to this day. Nexus 5X still does OK on it. But anyway, enough sadness. It's gone.

But as a music-machine, it's great and usable. It doesn't then need to be a phone, you cry. Sure. And the Lumia 950 doesn't need to be a phone to make use of the camera. I shall continue to treasure it and use it as a music machine with it's fabulous output, dual 3.5mm headphone sockets, beautifully knurled volume-wheel, lovely rubbery Marshall Amp style casing and replaceable battery.

As an 'iPod' with bells on, it's still functional (and connected) and can certainly be used ongoingly. There are loads of devices still out there that work for one good thing and are still used for it, back on Android 4 and earlier. It's certainly a unique device which sounds like a million dollars through the wonderfully rich stereo speakers, still not equalled by anything I've heard (for the volume/quality equation). No boring slab here.

5. YotaPhone 2/3
I loved the YotaPhone 2 but it had one (big) flaw. It was too small. With Kindle screens being 6"+ this 4.7" screen just didn't cut the mustard. And that's what I wanted it for. Reading. Not because you can switch across to the e-ink screen if you're out of battery, as running Android Apps that we're so used to having flying around AMOLED screens suddenly slow-drawing on 'Kindle' screens is, frankly, a pain!

So, great idea for readers like me, but it needs to be bigger! And according to various reports and +Tim Evans​ the day is drawing near for the YotaPhone 3 with a 5.5" screen. I'd even go for a 6" personally. Or perhaps a 2:1 screen as discussed above where one-handed use remains possible with vertical thumb-scrolling for reading books. Anyway, we'll see what nitty-gritty comes along soon and whatever it's like, or however sized, it will be fair to say that it will be another device not for the masses but with a USP. No boring slab here.

So there are some thoughts. There are other interesting devices out there, of course. You don't have to settle for a boring slab but often in order to not do so, compromises are needed. As we keep saying, there's no perfect device. There's mass-production of masses of devices for the masses(!) and that keeps us all interested and on our toes. The mobile industry, it could be argued, is huge for the very reason that there is no perfect device, which would close down innovation and development. Evolution follows along with human desire and endeavour.

More next week - and each week on PSC with +Steve Litchfield​ :-)
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