The Headlines….

  1. An iPhone X costs £1000
  2. The OnePlus 5 series costs £500 less.
  3. The OnePlus 5 series should be making Apple and Samsung more than a little worried.

Here’s a picture taken on the OnePlus using the ‘portrait mode’.

 

From the very first year Apple released it, I’ve used an iPhone. For a journalist it’s become part and parcel of the job.  I can record audio and video on it.  I can broadcast live on the radio and TV from it.  I can mix audio and edit video and export it in broadcast quality.  I loved my iPhones until recently…

Apple is losing its sparkle: Annual updates that offer little if anything new, price increases which have made a phone cost the same as a good laptop and a push towards a device aimed at consumption rather than creation has left a bad taste in the mouth for many users.

But… I’ve still got my iPhone.  Why are we so loathe to embrace change?  It’s because manufacturers like to make us feel scared – that there is no alternative.  Android users don’t want to ditch their OS so stay with Android, Apple users don’t want to ditch iOS so just buy a new phone every couple of years.  I wanted to see how easy it is to switch.  The decision has become a lot easier thanks to companies like OnePlus.  There’s no point in flipping from Apple to Samsung – you pay roughly the same price for each device – so the only way to get people to move is to offer them a similar quality experience at a different price bracket.  The OnePlus should make Apple very scared indeed.

HALF THE PRICE OF AN IPHONE X.

In the summer of 2017 I used the OnePlus 5, then the company’s latest smartphone, for a fortnight.  OnePlus sent it to me to test out. There was no financial inducement and they didn’t ask me for any full-scale reviews. Neither did they tell me – or ask me – what to focus on. I contacted them asking if I could borrow one to see how it could handle the demands of journalism. I sent it back – at my expense – because I’ve reached the end of the trial period.

You’ll often see the term ‘Journalism’ given a capital letter (like I just did).  It suggests the demands of journalists are different to other users – as if hacks work their phones harder. I seriously doubt this is the case. I don’t play games on my phones or spend hour after hour on Facebook so it’s not as if I’m hammering the chipset’s capabilities, the battery and video frame rate. All I’m doing, using a phone as a journalist, is looking for a series of things it can do, a marriage between hardware and software capability. I’m so bored of the arguments but here’s a summary of the reasons Apple users have issues with Android:

  1. The hardware changes at an alarmingly frequent rate: iOS runs on Apple devices.  It’s an operating system made by Apple who update it each year.  They build in a certain amount of headroom into the phones so that you can update last year’s phone with this year’s OS update.  Android is (for the most part) not made by the manufacturer of the phone.  Therefore you never know if your phone will ‘take’ the next OS update – often they only work when a cobbled together OS hack is created a few months down the line.
  2. Blimey, some of the apps on the Apple App Store are rubbish – but Android’s apps are like going hell-for-leather into the Wild West.  In a nutshell, you don’t know if it will work on your device and, alarmingly, neither do the app developers.  The huge number of different handsets with different chipsets and cameras and microphones makes it impossible for app developers to push out major new developments as, for the most part, they won’t work on anything but the newest phones.

 

Android devotees constantly complain about Apple’s closed-off world and how it stifles creativity.  The question is far more straightforward to me: what works best for the work I want to do?

Journalists create content on their devices.  Most non-journalists consume it on theirs. To create content for video and audio journalism you need it to do some simple jobs: take video and photographs, record audio and handle the manipulation and export of the recordings you’ve made.

Build Quality

For years I’ve bragged about the build quality of the iPhone as if it was something to do with me.  I laughed at the flimsy plastic-backed Android devices that fell apart after 12 months and were out of date before their owners had left the shop.  Well, OnePlus has tried to do something different.  It feels more balanced and easier to handle than an iPhone and the metal back is probably going to withstand a drop or a bang more than a plastic or glass backed design (don’t get me started on the whole glass-back iPhones…).  The buttons move with the assured action of something that, long term, will do the job they were designed to do.  The OnePlus is let down slightly by the quality of the official accessory case I tried: a fortnight of use saw the finish start to flake off – if this was an official Apple accessory you’d hear the complaints from here to Cupertino.

So how does it handle the content creation side of things?

Let’s nail this now: the camera is simply brilliant.  It’s easily as good as the one on the iPhone 7 Plus although the 8 Plus and X handle low light a lot better.  All three phones enable average-Joe users, like me, to leave their DSLR at home and be able to grab perfectly good snaps.  The shallow DoF on all three works staggeringly well and for shots where you want a viewer to focus on a face or a particular area it saves you switching lenses and faffing around (to use a technical term).

The video camera can film in 4K.  Again, the shots are staggeringly good. This sequence of a group of people singing in Southern Spain was shot late at night with the street light as the only source of light. The lack of image stabilisation at 4K (when this was filmed) can be seen in a couple of wobbly shots but as a content creation device it more than holds its own.

I wanted to edit the footage using the video editing app KineMaster.  Annoyingly the camera may be brilliant but the chipset couldn’t deliver two 4K streams to KineMaster – it wasn’t fast enough.  The developers of KineMaster tell me they’ll try to squeeze out enough performance but for now the footage needed dropping from 4K to 1440 before it could be edited.  Colleagues like @smartfilming, who use Android more than me, suggest Power Director may be able to handle the 4K streams better than KineMaster (but again the issue is that there doesn’t appear to be enough headroom in the phone’s capabilities to get it to be able to film in 4K and edit in it too).

 

Broadcast Quality?

Can the OnePlus shoot footage that is broadcast standard? Yes.  Sort of. Not for every shot in every eventuality but for simple shots and slow moving or static interviews, yes.  The camera is simply gorgeous for both video and stills.   An update has brought image stabilisation to video shot in 4K but remember my oft-repeated caveat: keep the camera still and film stuff that moves.

Audio

Audio is another area where, traditionally, Android has been rubbish – not because of the operating system but because of the plethora of handsets using different microphones and the lack of support from app developers. There is nothing on Android that gets anywhere near the usefulness for speech editing that the Ferrite app brings to iOS. Yes there are multi track audio recorders and editors on Android but they’re all, as far as I’ve found, designed for musicians, not reporters. Apps that are designed for audio recording and editing are simple single track editors – meaning your amazing, computer-in-a-handset phones are just about as good as a Zoom H1 – an audio recorder that costs around £70.

 

What radio reporters need are apps that allow you to move audio around, mix it together, create audio landscapes and while that may be possible on Android it just ain’t as easy as it is on iOS. USB-C microphones are more of an issue although you might be able to play around with some connectors to get an iRig Pro audio interface working.  I’ve not tried it yet.

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Upto now I’ve been selfish – thinking about the use of the phone for broadcast journalists. What about the rest of the industry? For most journalists the eventual destination for their creations is online. They’re not governed by the need to shoot at 25 FPS, their content will be delivered onto screens that are, for the most part, much smaller than a TV screen so resolution isn’t as big an issue for them. Online journalists will face similar issues to their broadcast colleagues if they use an Android device: they’ll have one creative arm tied behind their backs because of the lack of app support although apps such as KineMaster or Power Director will allow them to edit their material on the phone. Audio will face the same issues for them as for the broadcast reporters – poor app support when compared to iOS. But in terms of content creation Android can hold its own – it’s just when it comes to the processing that it has problems.

So…

…would I use an Android, such as the OnePlus, instead of an iPhone? The lack of app support for what are sometimes called ‘pro’ uses is a huge issue on the face of it. But if we look at our workflows then things become a little clearer and less elitist.

Most journalists use their devices to capture events. Then they do the following:

Upload them raw to social media or their own websites
Upload them to their desktops for processing
Do some low level manipulation and then file the material

Very few people capture events on audio or video, then process on the same device and then output without it going through a desktop process. When did I last do a full mobile run? Probably in South Sudan earlier this year – this piece was shot on iPhone and Sony a6300 and edited on an iPad using Luma Fusion.

But most of my work now is shot on phones and cameras and then ingested, at some stage, into a laptop or desktop for processing. As such, I come back to the central question: could I use an Android for content creation?

Yes.

Can I use it for all the onboard editing and mixing I (and a very small band of merry women and men) need?

No.

But for most users … and most creators … modern Android devices do everything you could possibly need AND it’s got a TRRS headphone socket.

With the vast majority of procedures carried out on phones via apps, the truth is that a modern Android phone does away with the need to buy an iPhone to get a smooth user experience. It’ll open apps quickly, take photos without lag, video and sound will be in sync.

Most apps these days are OS neutral: they look and act the same on either of the main Operating systems: iOS or Android. Amazon’s app on an iPhone works just as well as the Android version. Likewise Twitter, FaceBook, eBay, PayPal, Netflix, iPlayer etc etc etc. Think about what you do on your phone… do you really need to spend £500 more than you have to?

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