Pixel 6 Pro

Where do I start?

I’ve been a fan of HTC’s smartphones for years. My latest was the U12+, reviewed in these pages, a gorgeous all-glass phone with great cameras onboard. But HTC seems to have left the smartphone market high and dry.

After a disappointing start to the Pixel line, Google bought up half of HTC’s smartphone division and set to work on the Pixel 2. That phone was very well received. My wife and son are now using the Pixel 3 phones.

When word came out that Google was working on a Pixel 6 with its own inhouse processor and possibilities for new camera tricks, I was very interested. My U12+ had a cracked screen and was nearing the end of its useful life. I really didn’t want to buy either of the two giants in the field, Samsung or Apple (just my own bias against monopolies – I’m sure they’re both great phones), so I kept watch on every leak that came out about Google’s new phone.

By the time Google made the official launch of the Pixel 6, it seemed that the public response was greater than even Google anticipated. The Google Store crashed under the weight of so many pre-orders. After multiple refreshes and attempts to put a phone in the shopping cart, I was able to order a “smoky black” Pixel 6 Pro, unlocked, with 128GB. Success. The phone arrived on the earliest availability date, October 28th. It is everything that I’d hoped for.

A slippery bar of soap

The phone is beautiful. The front display curves around the edges in its new Gorilla Glass Victus covering, while the back is also fully coated in Victus. The look is one of a slab of glass in your hand. As beautiful as it is, PUT A CASE ON IT. The phone really is a slippery little devil. It will fall out of your pocket, it will slide off a couch, it will undoubtedly hit the floor the moment you stop paying attention.

I ordered this Crave Slim Guard case before the Pixel ever arrived. I also ordered the Google case, which has a “barely there” feel to it. The Crave cases are available in several colors; this is the Forest Green. The case fits the phone perfectly, nice and snug, and wraps around the edges without killing the look of the front display. Best of all, the case is NOT AT ALL slippery.

The display is also a beautiful thing, adapting to ambient light or you can set the brightness manually. The display measures 1440 x 3120 pixels. It also features an adaptive display that picks up colors from your background and applies it to text, icons, etc. (In my case, green, of course.)

The phone ships with Android 12. And, being an unlocked phone direct from Google, I receive security updates and new versions of the operating system first, before all of the major carriers can apply their own stamp and bloat to it. I’ve had Android phones from AT&T and Verizon, and both came with a lot of nonsense apps that I didn’t need or want. Buying direct from Google avoids all of that pre-installed garbage and I’m now dealing direct with the manufacturer. My carrier at present is Verizon, but there’s no sign of them on the phone. BTW, I was able to transfer the SIM from my HTC phone to the Pixel 6, and it worked perfectly. Up and running immediately.

Okay, the phone is gorgeous, the display magnificent, and Android 12 has all kinds of new tricks and usefulness. But that’s not why I bought this phone.

Take a picture.

The current Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max owns the camera segment in cellphones. But Google is giving them a run for the money. Tom’s Guide has a good review of the Pixel 6 Pro v. the Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max.

The ratings for the Pixel 6 Pro have come out at DXOMark with an impressive overall score of 135. That puts it right up there with the iPhone 13 Pro in image quality. The nod for the camera and video go to the Apple, but not by much. And for those interested mainly in selfies (you know who you are), the Pixel is now king of that hill. (I am ignoring the smartphones from Huawei and Xiaomi, since I cannot recommend them at this time.)

As with all smartphones, the Pixel does a whole lot of processing before it spits out a JPG. In most cases, the colors are highly accurate – what you see is what you get (wysiwyg). Even shooting into the sun, the Pixel applies a bit of HDR (high dynamic range) to even out the lighting or to capture the intense blue of the sky without sacrificing the other colors.

I’m sure you’ve heard about the Magic Eraser® software that comes with the Pixel 6. This is a software trick that allows you to remove unwanted elements from a photo, AFTER you take the photo. In this example, I’ve removed a few folks from the lower left corner of the photo. The Eraser left some artifacts, certainly, but if you weren’t looking for it, you probably wouldn’t notice. You identify the unwanted portion of the photo, and then the Eraser predicts what would have been behind the portion to be removed. It doesn’t always get it perfect, but it does a fairly good job. The more uniform the background, of course, the better it works.

While I’m at it, here’s a telephoto on that arch. The Pixel 6 Pro includes a 4X optical telephoto lens that you don’t get on the Pixel 6. The Pro model also zooms out to an impressive 20X digital zoom. Digital zoom is almost always garbage, but Google’s software produces fairly good results. Still, it’s the optical zoom that counts. This is at 4X.

The Pixel 6 Pro also shoots in RAW, if you want. This will give you the standard output JPG along with the “negative” RAW in .dng format. This is the image as it hit the sensor, without any sharpening or color saturation or any of the other processing that the camera normally performs. In some cases, the Pixel will spit out a JPG that is over-processed, to my eye. A bit too much sharpening, a bit too much color saturation. Here’s an example of what the sensor caught, as opposed to what the camera puts out as JPG.

One of the main options is the Portrait mode. Smartphone cameras try to get EVERYTHING in focus, near or far. Most digital cameras will offer a bit of blur to the background subjects (see: “bokeh”), as does the Pixel 6 in Portrait mode.

I’ve put up a gallery of images at my smugmug pages. Have a look!

Back in the Saddle

I bought my second Trek bike back in 2014, the FX 7.2. A 24-speed fitness bike, it was just what the doctor ordered. I recently found out that President Biden and I both ride an older Trek fitness bike. I know this because he fell off of his in front of reporters. And now I also know that I won’t be buying toe clips anytime soon.

Disclaimer: I’m an out-of-shape older man in my late 60s. I retired just after COVID began really spreading and had no real physical activity for two years after. Eventually, even I noticed a lack of strength and stamina and understood the saying, “Use it or lose it.” I decided to get up, get out, and get moving. In August 2021, I started walking and had my routine up to 3 miles, but that petered out after 9 trips (Hey, we had a heat wave.) Walking was boring and took a lot of time.

In March 2022, I pulled the bike out of the garage, determined to get some strength back in my legs, raise my stamina, and work on my growing midsection. The first attempt was 1.58 miles at an overall 6.5mph, just up the road and back. I knew from the outset that I had no legs. I also knew that it would take a couple of weeks just to get things moving in the right direction. I was going to make this work this time.

First up, the saddle. Mine was a brick and my butt was complaining after every ride. I swapped that out for the Bontrager Commuter “Fluid” saddle, supposedly softer than gel. My butt thanks me, but still complains after one of my longer rides.

Next up, I swapped the Hardcase Lite tires for the Bontrager Connection Hybrid tires, a cross between a knobby gravel tire and a paved road tire. A little wider than the Hardcase, a little more stability. Pump them up and they roll very well on asphalt. Let some air out, and they work well over gravel or dirt. (Or so I hear.)

We have a two-bike rack for our 2018 Ford Escape. We ordered this Escape with an option package that gave us a trailer hitch (and paddle shifters, for some reason). When my wife joins me on the trail, we use the rack. When it’s just me, I can throw the Trek in the back of the Escape, without even having to remove the front tire. Easy in, easy out.

I have a nasty habit of starting out strong but giving up much too soon. Whether it’s walking or cycling, I rarely hit ten times out with any regularity. This is different.

I’m lucky to have Chester Valley Trail in my backyard. This is 13 miles of beautifully built trail on an abandoned rail line that stretches from Exton in Chester County to King of Prussia in Montgomery County. This trail will eventually connect Downingtown to the west with the Schuylkill River Trail, going all the way into Philadelphia proper.

East of Route 202 near East Whiteland Township Building, looking west.

So far, I’ve only pedaled 5 miles eastward plus the return trip. As of this writing, I’ve been out all of 22 times for a total of over 150 miles.

I start out at the Exton County Park trailhead, just behind the Church Farm School. My usual run is three miles out to where the trail intersects with Route 401, three miles back. Every once in a while, I’ll stretch it to 4.5 miles each way (Route 29).

My first 6-mile ride was an overall 7.7 mph and almost 47 minutes.
My latest was an overall 11.4 mph and just under 32 minutes.
That’s progress!

It took a good half-dozen trips to the trail before my legs stopped screaming. I found that my arms hurt, too, holding my weight over the handlebars. (A touch of arthritis in my right shoulder doesn’t help, that’s for sure.) The ride has become much more pleasant lately and I’m not completely drained when I get home.

It may take time for you to start enjoying the ride, too, but all I can recommend is that you stick with it. Make time, ride as often as you can. Your body will adjust. And riding on established trails is better than trying to get along with road traffic that doesn’t want you there. Check listings in your area.

Trek FX 7.2 at Route 401 trail crossing
Trek FX 7.2 at Route 29 trail crossing
Trek FX 7.2 just east of Route 202 underpass
The Route 202 underpass is the longest and well-lit.
My only complaint about the trail is that it is uphill in both directions (I swear).

Chester Valley Trail map (2017)

My New Addiction

For the Sake of a Princess. Or, “Tell my wife I love her.”

I had to do it. I was contemplating the purchase of the new Nintendo Switch® system. When I decided to push the button last December, both Amazon and BestBuy were sold out of the version with two dark grey controllers. (Nintendo calls these controllers “Joy Cons,” but I won’t.) My only option was the neon red and blue, which I hated. One site even had the dark grey as “discontinued.” So I emptied my shopping cart and moved on.

Very soon after, I saw that the dark grey WAS available, so I swooped it up. And I also ordered (of course) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. As always happens, the game arrived two days before I eventually received the system, itself. There are more components inside the box than what you see above, but we’ll talk about the tasty bits.

This is the dock. The display panel sits inside the dock, which is connected to A/C and my large-screen TV via HDMI. While it’s in the dock, the display and any connected controllers are charging.

The picture is pretty damn good. (This is a 52″ screen.) I sit in my La-Z-Boy® and play for hours. The controllers work with the dock seamlessly.

For the most part, I’m using the handheld adapter. The two controllers slide into place on either side and the adapter fits the hands naturally. There are, of course, a multitude of after-market adapters, so you can personalize to your heart’s content. The two controllers can also be used (with other included adapters) by two people for two-person games, much like the Wii setup.

I also later bought this pair of neon green controllers by Nintendo (because they’re green, of course). I can now have one pair charging in the dock while I use the other pair in the adapter. Non-stop play!

So. “Switch,” because you can use it with TV, or pick up the display with attached controllers (above) and go mobile (think larger GameBoy), or you can use the controllers handheld for two-person play. Pretty neat. But let’s face it…

I only bought the system for one reason: The Legend of Zelda. And that game is a whole ‘nother post. It is incredible.

And this reminds me: you can take all of the screen grabs and short videos of your game that you want. The display has only 32GB of internal storage, but accepts a microSD memory card with as much storage capacity as you want (up to 2 TB). This is also where you’ll store downloaded games that you buy, so think “terabytes.”

My one complaint is that the display, which measure a little more than 6″ wide (and touch screen, BTW), offers screen grabs at only 1280 x 720 resolution, not full HD. The video output to TV is up to 1080p, but not the display itself. Nintendo lets you set up a paid online account for sharing photos and videos. I prefer to remove the microSD card and transfer them to my computer (free).

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Gated Community

Keep Facebook out of your business.

1. Install Firefox.
2. Click Settings and choose ADD-ONS
3. Scroll down to FACEBOOK CONTAINER (or use Search bar)
4. Click + ADD TO FIREFOX.
That’s it. Now read on.

Now that my life is irretrievably linked to Google, I’m taking steps to separate myself. Google knows enough about me now. Time to keep my business to myself. To begin, my new default browser is Vivaldi, a Chrome-based browser that wants nothing to do with my personal information, browsing habits, or history. It dumps all data every time I close the browser. We’re close friends with really, really short memories.

Vivaldi browser

Vivaldi is an elegant browser, fully customizable. FULLY customizable. It’s insanely customizable. I personally like the greens. Menu can be wherever you want (I have it set to the red Vivaldi icon in the upper left corner). Along the left are pop-open menus for bookmarks, downloads, history, recent pages, and more. I’ve also added Instagram here, which allows me to post photos from my desktop PC. All of this can be placed wherever you’d like. The main start page contains blocks (as many as you wish) for favorite web pages. Or not. Too much to talk about here, so I encourage everyone to check out Vivaldi at their home page. Trust me, it’s a great browser.

Just as Vivaldi wants nothing to do with my personal info, Duck Duck Go is now my search engine of choice. In fact, I’ve deleted all other search engines from Vivaldi to ONLY allow Duck Duck Go. This search engine’s policy is simple: “We don’t store your personal information. Ever.” That’s what I want.

Google follows me wherever I go on the internet. Facebook does, too. You can exit Facebook and continue surfing, but Facebook is still watching. Ever wonder why you see ads on Facebook for things you’ve looked at elsewhere? Facebook is watching. Google provides me with a variety of useful services, so I allow them to peep at me whenever they want. Facebook is a social platform. Facebook does NOT deserve to know what I’m doing outside of Facebook.

The Firefox browser

I was about to delete my Facebook account when I discovered Facebook Container. This is an add-on available with the Firefox browser. Firefox, like Vivaldi, is all about protecting your privacy (from everyone else). When you add Facebook Container, you can open a tab to Facebook and this add-on puts Facebook in a sandbox of sorts. Facebook is now unable to access your history, your cookies, or any other information about your web habits. Quarantined!

In the image above, you can see a blue border around the Facebook tab, indicating that Facebook is being fenced in. You also see the icon for Facebook fencing over on the right. This keeps Facebook in its place, and not in yours.

I don’t use Facebook often, but when I do I now use Firefox and its Facebook Container. Apologies to Firefox (a very decent browser), but I rarely use it for anything else, which further ensures that Facebook doesn’t follow me around.

Firefox, like most browsers, has a wealth of security settings. I always set my browsers to dump history and cookies every time I exit the browser. I keep bookmarks and favorites, but don’t store my history. Google and Microsoft already know enough about me.

So, I use Vivaldi as my default browser. I use Firefox to open Facebook. I use Chrome for my email, photos, maps, YouTube, news, etc. And I use Bing on those occasions when I have to communicate with Microsoft. And all of those nefarious advertisers who want to “tailor their advertising” to me can go squat.

My business is MY business.

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ripple effects

The World Wide Web became generally available in 1993-94. This was when my family became AOLers and remained happily so for years. At that time, we had a Windows 3.1 computer with a 2400 baud modem. The sounds of that modem dialing into AOL will forever be etched in our memory. This is also when I began upgrading computers. Two upgrades, in particular, were almost miraculous: a new 14,400 baud modem made connecting to and enjoying the internet a whole lot better, but doubling the internal RAM from the typical 4MB (yes, megabytes) to 8MB was like getting a wholly new, laughably fast computer. And that extra 4MB of RAM cost over $100 at the time!

The 1990s and 2000s were decades of quick and impactful techological developments. Internet access through cable or fiber optics spurred mad growth in the web. Where “wasting bandwidth” was previously almost criminal, it was now encouraged. And just as I went through a series of digital cameras in those years, so, too, I bought a series of ever-more-capable computers and laptops.

I seem to be a fan of HP computers. Their desktops and laptops have served me well, even if I found a sudden reason to upgrade every 3 or 4 years. But things seem to have slowed lately, and there are fewer compelling reasons to buy a new computer.

So I’ve been using an HP Pavilion Slimline desktop computer (6GB memory, 1TB storage) for some time now. I bought this to be the repository and backup for the other computers in the household, as well as the anchor for the household WiFi network. That terabyte could easily handle two laptops and my daughter’s computer and still have plenty of room left over for the music library and my thousands and thousands of digital photos. I also have a networked storage drive with a 3 terabyte capacity as a redundant backup, because, as everyone with a computer knows, computers eventually fail.

I bought a 20″ Samsung monitor with that PC, and later upgraded to a 22″ Samsung. The latter had a resolution of 1440×900 resolution, which was just fine. I “processed” a lot of photos on that machine and it was up to the task – until I bought the Canon EOS 80D digital camera. This new camera spits out JPGs at a whopping 6000×4000 size and high definition video at 1920×1080. Naturally enough, I’ve been lusting after more pixels. My 15″ laptop display is 1920×1080, the big flat-screen televisions are 1920×1080, so I wanted to upgrade the monitor for my desktop. A higher resolution monitor was definitely on the wish list.

on the spur of the moment
adjective: spur-of-the-moment
on impulse; without planning in advance.
“I don’t generally do things on the spur of the moment”
synonyms: impulsively, on impulse, impetuously, without thinking, without planning, without premeditation, unpremeditatedly, impromptu, spontaneously, on the spot…

Without really thinking, I saw online and instantly ordered a Samsung 28″ (HUGE on a desk) monitor with 4K UltraHD – a native resolution of 3840×2160, or four times the number of pixels of the 1920×1080 screen on my laptop. In digital camera terms, I was going from 2 megapixels to 8 megapixels! BestBuy had it delivered the next day.

But when it arrived, I found that I had no way to connect it to my PC.

My first mistake – not checking the specs on the new monitor, especially in how it connects to a computer. This one requires either HDMI or a DisplayPort connector, neither of which my PC had. All I had were DVI connectors. A little checking told me that my PC was older than I thought, six years old, built back before people like me envisioned a 4K UltraHD monitor. I guess I ASSumed that it would use a standard old VGA connector, but I didn’t even have that! My desktop had two DVI connectors, no VGA, and for sure no HDMI. I can’t even say that my old machine was capable of sending a 3840×2160 signal to the monitor.

Rather than looking for a DVI-HDMI converter and possibly “dumbing down” the signal to this new monitor, I decided that a new PC was in order, one with HDMI out and a graphics card built for 4K Ultra HD, but I didn’t want to spend a lot of money.

My second mistake – rushing the purchase without “due diligence.”

I picked out a cheap (read: inexpensive) new HP desktop (let’s call it the “fat line”, a hefty silver Pavilion model) which did have HDMI out. My BestBuy app told me this model was not available “within 250 miles,” so I placed the order online and BestBuy, amazingly, had it in my hands within 48 hours. Now, there’s nothing I enjoy more than setting up a new computer (okay, there are lots of things I enjoy more), and what with deleting bloatware, transferring files and updating and installing programs, and then getting the thing networked and friendly with other computers in the house, it can be an all-day event. But when I hooked up that PC to my new monster monitor, the output was GLORIOUS. My photos never looked so good.

The colors and contrast on my new monitor are stunning. Side by side with the previous monitor, the new one is just much, much better. And did I say HUGE? I have room for two or three open programs, easily. Looking at my photos on that monitor is like looking at them framed up on the wall. I can see the original JPG onscreen at 50% size, not zoomed out to 25%. The screen is 28″ diagonal, or about 25″ wide, in a widescreen 16:9 format. LED flat-screens have come a long way, and prices have dropped significantly. This model retailed at almost $400, but was on sale at BestBuy for $279.99. I HAD to buy it. I had no choice! And I don’t regret it for a moment.

There were unintended casualties, though. My old version of Adobe® Photoshop (and I mean 15 years old) appeared tiny on the big screen and the fonts were unreadable. In the end, I opted to buy the Adobe® Photography Plan, which gives me the latest edition of Photoshop, Lightroom, and much, much more for a “worth-it” $9.99/month.

My old favorite game SNOOD is a goner. This little gem dates back to the ’90s, and the cavernous spaces of the new monitor have it crawling and now unplayable. I may opt for a newer version of the game, but the old one simply won’t work on my new computer. (Still works like a charm on my laptop.)

But, then… The new PC is, indeed, a lesser, “affordable” HP model. This was my mistake, buying without really doing my homework, and the new monitor actually reveals the shortcomings of the new computer. With all of 4gig of RAM onboard, opening Photoshop and Lightroom at the same time is a huge effort and things start to crawl. On a hunch, I ordered a pair of 8gig RAM sticks to install, and increasing the memory from 4GB to 16GB speeds things up A LOT. I may end up upgrading the processor, too. It’s an AMD Ryzen 3, low on the list of processors for gamers, but fully capable of displaying my photos in 4K beautifulness. This is the newer generation of AMD processors with onboard graphics capabilities – no separate graphics card needed.

With the added RAM onboard, this new PC is more than capable of showing my photos in their best light.

And this monitor is a keeper.

  • – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

The monitor is Samsung’s UE590 28″ LED 4K UHD model in black bezel, silver stand. Highly recommended. Easy on the eyes with stunning detail.

The PC is the HP Pavilion 590-P0020 with AMD Ryzen 3 2200G processor with Radeon Vega 8 graphics, 4GB memory, 1TB hard drive, in HP’s “natural silver” finish. Unfortunately, not recommended. Kick in a few hundred more $$$ and buy a better model.

Added a Logitech K800 illuminated Bluetooth keyboard. Recommended. Good weight, wireless, illuminated black keyboard.

Added a Logitech 2.1 speaker system (2 speakers + subwoofer, model 980-001260). Recommended, and speakers look really good on the desktop. Reacts well to my software equalizer.

possible upgrades per AMD:
AMD Ryzen7-2700 (Pinnacle Ridge) 8 cores/16 threads
AMD Ryzen5-2600 (Pinnacle Ridge) 6 cores/12 threads
AMD Ryzen7-1700 (Summit Ridge) 3.0 GHz, 8 cores/16 threads
AMD Ryzen5-1600 (Summit Ridge) 3.2 GHz, 6 cores/12 threads
AMD Ryzen5-2400G (Raven Ridge) 3.6 GHz, 4 cores/8 threads (45 – 65 W)

2nd Look: 2018 Ford Escape

US News & World Report ranks the Ford Escape 8th among Compact SUVs.

“The Escape is one of the best all-around performers in the class, with sporty handling, a firm suspension system, good steering feedback, and a composed ride on smooth roads.”

Okay, but let’s see how they compare the Escape against two others that they liked better.

“Which Is Better: Ford Escape or Toyota RAV4?
The Toyota RAV4’s middle-of-the-road performance makes the Ford Escape the more engaging SUV to drive between these two. The RAV4 delivers a comfortable ride and decent power from its lone available engine, but the Escape’s athletic handling and potent available engines set it apart. The RAV4 does offer some advantages over the Escape: It comes standard with loads of advanced safety features, and its cargo area is even larger than the Escape’s. Choosing between these two is a matter of personal preference.”

Bottom line: Escape is much more fun to drive. RAV4 is better for people who don’t like driving. Yet the RAV4 is ranked 6th, above the Escape.

“Which Is Better: Ford Escape or Honda CR-V?
The Escape has plenty of cargo space and a decent amount of passenger room, but the Honda CR-V outdoes it and is the better choice in most cases. Even taller passengers have plenty of room to stretch out in the Honda’s back row, and the its cargo area is among the most expansive in the class. Additionally, the CR-V is more fuel-efficient than the Escape, and it delivers a smoother ride. If you’re looking for an engaging ride, however, you’ll prefer the Ford.”

Bottom line: Honda has more room for big people and gets better fuel mileage. But the Escape is just so damn much fun to drive… Still, the boring CR-V is ranked No. 1.

Here’s the thing: I love (live) to drive. First and foremost, I look for a fun driving experience in any vehicle. In a compact SUV, obviously space in storage and seating is primary, but if it’s no fun to drive, I can’t live with it.

The Ford Escape is a Ford Focus dressed up as a sport-ute. It is built on the same platform with same dimensions, except that it’s about 8 inches taller. The Escape retains the Focus’ European-style handling and suspension, which is so much fun in the smaller vehicle.

The Titanium edition is the priciest version of the Escape, but well worth it. This is where you get the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine featured in the exciting Focus ST model (245 HP). You also get the upscale interior and amenities that are normally included in optional packages for the lesser versions.

  2018 Focus SE Hatchback 2019 Escape Titanium
Wheelbase 104.3″ 105.9″
Length 171.7″ 178.1″
Height 57.8″ 66.3″
Width (including mirrors) 80.5″ 81.8″
Track width (front) 61.2″ 61.5″

So, with the Titanium edition Escape, you get a really good driving experience in a vehicle with plenty of acceleration, excellent handling, plenty of cargo space, and an interior environment that’s better than my own livingroom. Plus too many other goodies to list here.

See: https://www.ford.com/suvs-crossovers/escape/models/escape-titanium/

See my original review of the 2018 Ford Escape Titanium here.