Pocophone F1 with Pixel Camera

I’ve had (and used constantly) my Xiaomi Pocophone F1 for some months now and hence I can speak with some authority on the subject. For those unaware of this smartphone, it comes from Xiaomi who produce a range of phones as other tech gadgets of note. As far as I’m aware, the Pocophone is something of a flagship product for them and it certainly stands out in several ways from the crowd.

Pocophone F1 by XiaomiThere seem to be two main variations, one with 64GB of storage, the other with 128GB. As far as I can tell, the Pocophone is available in black, red and blue. Mine is 64GB and black. I wish it was 128GB and red, but I was in a hurry when I bought it and I’m not REALLY complaining as I have a range of decent (and variously coloured) backs for the phone and in the unlikely event that I ever run out of storage I can always add microSD storage. Those readers who store videos on their phones may feel differently. I tend to stream whatever I need.

Let’s get the important specs out of the way before I give you my opinions of this superb phone: 64/128GB storage, 6GB RAM, 4000maH battery with Quick Charge 3.0, Qualcomm Octa-core Snapdragon 845 processor at 2.8Ghz, Android 9, AI dual cameras on the back (1.4uM large pixel 12Mpx+ 5Mpx, 20Mpx front camera - so best of both worlds), HDR, panorama (I’ll stick with the important stuff and leave you to look up most of the gimmicks elsewhere),  4K video at 30fps, fingerprint and face recognition, 6.18” 2246*1080 screen, dual SIM, Bluetooth 5.0, USB C charging/data and 3.5mm audio jack, GPS+AGPS+GLONASS+BEIDOU, sensors include proximity, vibration, gyroscope, accelerometer, compass, hall, ambient light.

The notch:   I do look forward to notch-free phones once they are widespread. I’m not happy about the approach used in the Nubia X for example. Examples of phones which appear to eliminate the notch well include the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 – a more expensive flagship from the same company (nice phone, Amoled screen, lower capacity battery, no 3.5mm headphone jack). In the case of the F1, you can now (in settings, full screen) darken the notch area and hence have rounded corners on all 4 sides of the screen.

tmp9E8DThe F1 uses an LCD rather than Amoled screen. In practice this only affects blacks which, as with all LCD screens are not QUITE as black as Amoled black. In this case the difference is marginal. I have devices with Amoled displays but For me, the jury is still out on Amoled as I’ve had various small displays who’s output has diminished over the months – this simply does not happen with LCDs. Of all the smartphones I’ve had over recent years, LCD display lifespan has yet to appear as an issue. The photo above was taken very late at night so don’t expect miracles.

So, importantly, the phone has all the hardware you need for (and this is the bit I enjoy) easy customising: the Pocophone has a very good camera, average night photography and panorama facilities but this is where customising comes into play.. thanks to the guys at XDA developers, the Pocophone ALSO now has a port of the Google Pixel 3 camera software.

This panorama below was taken BEFORE the latest MIUI updates and with an early version of the port of the Pixel 3 phone app for Pocophone F1. I quite like this.Pocophone F1 with Pixel 3 camera appThe Pixel 3 as you may know STARTS at £589 at Currys and goes up to a stunning £819 at the same store, even though it seems to have a poorer front camera and smaller battery,

The Pixel 3 phone DOES have wireless charging but that’s a technology I can live without until it gets much faster and more powerful. All in, you can get the Pocophone F1 for around 1/3 the price of the Pixel 3 and still get a LOT of the benefits of the latter.

Just as well I held back on doing a write-up on this phone, however, as the Pixel 3 camera software transforms the image capabilities of the camera. In the above panorama in one of our local cafe-bars here in Andalusia. Using the Pixel 3 camera software I got the entire bar area in frame in a photo exceeding 5,000 pixels width.  In addition, the latest MIUI updates address comments you will notice elsewhere about the F1.


You also can install custom Kernels onto the Pocophone F1 (which I would do if I had a spare Pocophone)

Videos - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57HMx7NCwrE and this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHEAaZF0w6w – unlocking is, apparently simply a matter of applying to Xiaomi and waiting for 72 hours. None of that was needed for either the new 10.3.4 MIUI update or the Pixel 3 camera software.

Reviewers on YouTube have commented that the Pocophone while having 4K video capability has this only at 30fps (not that there is anything bad about that for normal use) – now incorrect – that information is old news – the 10.3.4 OTA update provides 4K video at 60fps and several other features such as “Widevine L1” certification which allows users to play high definition videos from the likes of Amazon Prime and Netflix.

Pocophone F1 displaying Attenborough on Netflix in HDI’ve seen reviews stating that Netflix is still missing HD (probably older reviews) which I found strange as I watched Attenborough on Netflix last night on the phone, in 16:9 format (and that was BEFORE the 10.3.4 update) and the quality was great if restricted to a 16:9 segment of the phone display until I twigged that I could expand it to use almost the entire image surface.

I should clarify that my Pocophone is normally used in the UK and I am currently in Spain (not a lot of experience using it in the USA). Some may like the expanded view with rounded corners, others may stick with 16:9 – I would LOVE to show you a screenshot of the Attenborough episode above but it seems that Netflix have found a way to stop screenshots of streaming video hence the rather inadequate shot from my Panasonic camera above (video quality is superb). If anyone knows a way around this restriction – please do let me know.

Before leaving the subject of the camera apps, here is a summary of the modes available between the native camera and the Pixel 3 app: Lens blur, panorama, portrait, photo, video (inc. 4K at 30 and 60fps), might, square, Pro (manual white balance, F-stop, shutter, ISO), photo sphere, night sight. slow motion, time lapse up to 60 seconds interval) and options for H264 and H265, tilt-shift.

Pocophone update 10.3.4The manual upgrade to MIUI 10.3.4 caught me out due to omitted information in the simple instructions I read online, having grabbed the relevant zip file. In addition, in THIS screen (see right) you need to tap the graphic 10 times to enable additional features such as using local update files. This is NOT the same as enabling “developer” mode which is done in the usual way. It is also REALLY easy.

Once done, I grabbed the 10.3.4 file I’d downloaded from XDA Developers, put it in the “downloaded_rom” folder on the phone (I use ES File Explorer Pro) and the rest was automatic. Voila, 4K video at 60 fps with stabilisation and more. The list of features using the standard camera is now amazing.

As full screen minus the notch is now a standard option you don’t need “The Pixel Experience” rom for that any more.  I’ve had no WIFI or data issues either. Bluetooth also has been rock solid. Battery life is good, too.

The upgrade to (Android 9) Miui 10.3.4 includes Game Turbo, the March 2019 security updates, Face unlock support, new AI camera modes and a shedload of fixes as well as the improvements mentioned above. I’ve not had to root the phone or do anything complicated at all. I just tried out the face unlocking, I could not tell you how secure it is but I can say it works reliably in a a variety of light levels.


Homecube 1.5w Solar PIR Garden Floodlight

tmp1B04This understated gadget turned up for me a few days ago from China (free postage to UK and other places – see link below) – I figured now is as good as time as any to start updating my solar lighting here in Spain.

As happens, the usual cheap solar lights (£1.50 each from PoundStretcher and B&M) are in trouble after the winter. They really are false economy yet we keep buying them by the millions. Battery connections rarely last more than one bad winter and the other usual problem is the circuit board which rusts up badly.

I decided this year to go a bit upmarket. The Homecube shown here is around 20 Euros, i.e. under £20 yet fires off no less than 24 bright LEDs thanks to only switching on when there is movement, aided by a decent sized solar panel. The title on the ad says it all: “1.5w LED PIR Motion Sensor Lawn Light Waterproof etc.”

Despite rubbish weather here in Andalusia right now, the light came on last night as we returned from the pub and produced an astounding amount of output as we walked up to the front of the house. Both the angle of the two light panels and the angle of the solar panel are continuously adjustable. There is a solid-looking on/off button and a mode button to adjust the output.

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Blog changes

In order to minimise spam, I have removes some email subscriptions where the user names looked automated. This process is nowhere near perfect but is essential to protect valid readers/subscribers.

I’ve also changed email newsletter requests to double-opt-in – that is, if you newly request emails from the blog, you may be asked to confirm your email address. I apologise in advance for any inconvenience to registered blog readers.

While I’m here – has anyone been watching the media coverage of the new folding Samsung phone (and others)? I know this is technically neat but am I alone in wishing manufacturers would concentrate on the things we really want and in some cases need? Improved charging/battery life would be good. Better cameras, by which I don’t mean much higher resolution, but vastly improved low-light performance and optical zoom would be good – even if that means new lens technology. Do we really need higher resolution for selfies? Probably not. Let’s see real innovation, guys.


The Umidigi F1 Smartphone

So many phones out there, so much choice, so much rubbish. When it came to updating my own phone last year, I took advice from my friend Antonio (Mr Shark) and went for the Xiaomi Pocophone F1 and as it turns out, it was good advice as the phone is an absolute winner. More of that elsewhere.

Umidigi F1

Now it is my wife’s turn and today we took delivery of the Umidigi F1 phone from Banggood – looking like a winner already.Photo taken with Umidigi F1

The phone arrived here safely in deepest rural Spain, tracked and on time along with a separately shipped glass screen protector. 16/4/2019 - Above image taken this morning with the F1 back camera – no adjustments or enhancements.

More photos and video soon but right now it is pouring down here in Southern Spain.

My experience from opening the Umidigi package through to actual phone use is that of a high-end model phone – from the boxing and thank-you card from Umidigi themselves through the packaging effort by Banggood and to the phone and accessories, everything looks top notch.

Continue reading The Umidigi F1 Smartphone


The Summer Begins

We’re back in Spain (Galera) for the summer, time to upgrade my home control setup to the latest ESP-GO and Tasmota versions not to mention some Node-Red and other updates and improvements. More on all of that later, but first things first – new toys on the way soon include the new upgraded Sonoffs from Itead.

I understand the upgraded Sonoffs will surface in May and I have a couple on the way, meanwhile a heads-up. The casing of these (still) low-cost mains control devices looks to be improved at last – with a new smoother, more rounded finish. There is a new “DIY” API which promises to do away with the need to re-flash the devices for custom home control.. and more.  As pointed out by reader “Smithy” the new Sonoff is claimed to be “MQTT-enabled” – more on that when I get samples…

Apparently MQTT-enabled Sonoff

Sonoff R3

If you’re not familiar with Sonoff, they are Alexa-compatible mains control units. More on that in May with luck.

First of my summer toys is a Bluetooth keyboard called an “Anne Pro 2” courtesy of Banggood. This is a compact (i.e. no room for cursor keys or separate numeric keypad) keyboard, USB rechargeable, substantial and very pretty. I’m no longer a DropBox user thanks to new device number restrictions on free accounts and the realisation that I could do a better job with my Synology NAS drive and a VPN. Having moved from the UK to Spain for the summer once again I was faced with lugging my computer and bulky NAS (Network Addressable Storage)  box over here or arranging remote access. With limited room in the car for the drive over here, I chose the latter.

So here, courtesy of a combination of mobile phone, PC, remote (UK) NAS and SnapSeed for Android, are some photos to start the ball rolling.  I have no idea why the box shows a white keyboard as mine is black, but here it is…Anne Pro 2 Bluetooth keyboard

Continue reading The Summer Begins


Home Control 2019 and ESP-GO

Introduction (Latest update April 03, 2019)

HomeMinor update here - I've gone back to SDK 2.1 for now.

Sick of reading about other people’s home control? Want to make your own? Got some electronics and software experience? You’re going to LOVE THIS! Rock-solid home control, flexible, low cost, DIY.


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The Thermostat Continues

Hard to believe the amount of time I’ve spent on this thing. I’m still too deeply buried in R&D right now to fully develop another full article on my thermostat but here is some info to add to the previous blog entry on the subject. My Node-Red/ESP-GO thermostat is now in operation with three stat heads, 2 in active service as one has an issue whereby it locks up occasionally, maybe once a day, maybe once every couple of days – unpredictable – a hardware reset brings it back – but I need to get to the bottom of it – the other two units don’t do that.

The 2.5w laser engraver turned out to be less of a blessing than it first seemed, thanks to it’s inability to handle clear Perspex (does a lovely job on coloured material) I’ve had to go back to traditional DIY techniques for this project.

While I’m here, I’ve just reduced the e-newsletter frequency as we’re getting ready for the summer exodus to the sun and that will impact my writing ability somewhat until early April when I hope to have lots of new toys to talk about.

I’ve now published updates to ESP-GO-3 using Espressif Non-OS SDK 3.1 – which in itself is still only on GIT at the time of writing but seems to work a treat. My thanks to helpers on the Espressif forum – I didn’t really need this for current projects but the 5K of saved iRam gives me bags of room for expansion, so now was as good a time as any to upgrade to the latest SDK. Perhaps in the summer I’ll take a look at a better web interface and more SSID options.

Some new visuals – here is my Grafana logging – accessible externally thanks to PIVPN as is the stat itself.

Grafana Logging for Pete's Stat

Above is my Grafana info screen – monitoring and logging the two stats (main and aux – I have a third on test, all have now survived power cycling both for the stats and  Node-Red without failure or needing intervention) but I’ve seen dropout after 2-3 days needing power cycling on one of them so the jury is still out). I’m also monitoring (temperature in the hot water tank cupboard from the mains controller supplying on-off instructions to the air—source heating system.

Lots more below the line…

Continue reading The Thermostat Continues


Bakeey M30 Smart Watch

Update April 2019: Here’s a recent acquisition, the Bakeey M30 IP67 Smart Watch.. this one is dirt cheap – but more importantly, it looks nice and WORKS A TREAT – in the months I’ve been using it, the M30 is already my favourite inexpensive sports watch.

M30 Smart Watch

Bakeey M30 IP67 Waterproof Smart Watch -- https://goo.gl/y1U2Lt

What makes this different to others? Well, given pricing, some have terrible charging facilities or poor battery life or limited features. Battery life is very good compared to other smart-watches I’ve tested… at the time of writing, I charged this watch back in the UK a week ago and the battery is currently sitting at around 80% – compare that with the (granted - technically superior) Apple watch. One annoyance: when cycling modes I can’t find a shortcut to get back to simply showing the time.

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Handy Node-Red Date

While working on my thermostat I found myself repeating the same code all over the place – as I use function nodes for inline debugging and info – far more useful at times than the debug output.

I’ve now attached this simple code here to a function in my init page. I can use the global var “handyDate” all over the place as many times as required. This function is triggered by an inject node every second. I could have converted the timestamp info from the trigger but this is just as easy.

    var date = new Date();

    var hour = date.getHours();
    hour = (hour < 10 ? "0" : "") + hour;

    var min  = date.getMinutes();
    min = (min < 10 ? "0" : "") + min;

    var sec  = date.getSeconds();
    sec = (sec < 10 ? "0" : "") + sec;

    var year = date.getFullYear();

    var month = date.getMonth() + 1;
    month = (month < 10 ? "0" : "") + month;

    var day  = date.getDate();
    day = (day < 10 ? "0" : "") + day;

global.set("handyDate"," at " + hour + ":" + min + ":" + sec + " on " + day + "/" + month + "/" + year);


The 2019 Thermostat ReThink

Back in 2017 I wrote a blog entry called “A Thermostat Weekend” – some weekend that turned out to be. Well, to cut a long story short, the stat worked but I was at the time just finding out all about NEST and other modern stats and so my ESP-GO/Node-Red thermostat development started gathering dust.

Then we fitted a new Air Source Heat Pump heating system and it looked like my thermostat skills might be redundant. This new system came with a Salus IT 5000 Thermostat – absolutely lovely App, nice display and this I thought would well and truly bury my interest. How wrong could I be.

Stat web interface

Here is the latest version of my stat web display (Dashboard) – I removed the redundant FROST setting and improved the formatting today (29/02/2019). More soon no doubt

I found some issues with the original QDTECH display in terms of reset reliability bearing in mind I’m short of IO pins and reset is hooked to processor reset (I just realised I can reclaim SS pin and potentially use it to reset the display) and I’ve changed to an ILI9341 for the final version as well as fixing some bugs with AWAY timing, VASTLY improving the web stat (Dashboard) css and adding multi-functions to the two available inputs – so that “up” and “down become “auto” if pressed simultaneously OR if either of the two buttons are long-pressed. The larger display also shows full time, day and date as well as “away” status. Also not yet shown here but I’m considering touch panels for up and down depending on Aidan’s perspex engraving skills.

Continue reading The 2019 Thermostat ReThink


EleksMaker Pro Laser Engraver

Update February 28, 2019
Last year year I put together this excellent A3 laser engraving machine. Originally, a 500mW laser module arrived complete with its own power supply (the laser which was not included in the basic kit). It turns out that was the wrong laser and now I have the 2300mW violet laser complete with upgraded 2.5A power supply. In the photo you also see the (important) green protective glasses that came with the kit.

Cutting door signs with Eleksmaker

Continue reading EleksMaker Pro Laser Engraver