I’m not so sure that GM going into talks to sell Opel and Vauxhall to PSA (PeugeotâCitroĂ«n) is that big a surprise.
We obviously hold a lot of nostalgia for these brands, and itâs only right that we perceive GM as selling its family jewels. Opel has made some great cars over the years, and Buick in China and the US, Vauxhall in the UK, and Holden in Australia rely on this division to provide it with product.
But it wasnât long ago that I said I foresaw the next Holden Commodore being a four-door booted model based on a Chinese Buick Regal thatâs on the same platform. While Iâve been proved wrong with scoop photos and inside information from journalists in the immediate term, longer-term this doesnât look so far-fetched, in a future where Peugeot owns OpelâVauxhall and GM has no choice but to consider Chinese sourcing seriously.
Therefore, GM isnât thinking that itâs selling off the family jewels, at least the GM where Chinese partner SAIC is overwhelmingly calling the shots.
What they are thinking is this: âWe should be able to develop the whole lot in China.â They werenât nostalgic over Holden, and they wonât be thrilled with the losses at Opel. Itâs willing to sacrifice it to make its own position stronger. Weâve already seen that SAIC has called it quits when it comes to British assembly at Longbridgeâthatâs now all done back in China.
Thereâs been such a massive technology transfer from the US to China over the last few years that Europe is seen as surplus by the folks in Shanghai. They have all the platforms on which they can make products globally. They may even, rightly or wrongly, think that the remaining brands can get them into Europe, even if GM had pulled its Korean-made Chevrolets out of there.
Holden can be used to westernize the product and the Australians have shown they can do it well.
Iâm not saying I agree with this, as a long-time Opel fan. I was looking forward to the new Commodores coming out of RĂŒsselsheim. The car looks the business, itâs roughly the size of the recently deleted Ford Falcon (therefore, Iâm not sure why people are so upset about its size), and the majority of buyers donât even know which set of wheels the powerâs going to. Iâve got an Astra K coming in a few months at Lucire.
What youâre going to see is GM basically being a Shanghai-run firm with China supplying global markets and the US operations kept going for their brand cachet.
In the meantime, a hypothetical PSA-run Opel will continue with the existing plans till the end of these modelsâ life cycles, then China will become the manufacturing hub for numerous markets.
SAIC already makes a load of Cadillacs, Buicks and Chevrolets for the domestic market, and theyâll want to pump them out more widely.
Theyâve also shown that they can take new GM platforms and turn them into Roewesâor old GM platforms and turn them into Baojuns.
PSA, meanwhile, with 14 per cent controlled by Chinese firm Dongfeng, will pursue a strategy of streamlining platforms and be focused more on Europe. It could pay off as cross-town rival Renault has done well with Nissan, Mitsubishi, Samsung, Dacia and AvtoVAZ, but it wonât nearly be as secure. The two French groups have been obsessed with one another for as long as I can remember, for years spending more time rivalling each other than actually coming up with what customers wanted.
Dongfeng may have to cough up more lolly and it could become a larger shareholder than the Peugeot family or the French government. But will it have the sort of geographical coverage that Renault has?
Thatâll be what PSA will be asking itself, knowing that itâs reasonably strong in Chinaâbut also realizing that it hasnât been clever at creating models that can be sold globally (the current CitroĂ«n C6, DS 5LS and the DS 6 among them, sold exclusively in China). Nevertheless, there are savings to be had, though the most obvious fear is that Opel and Vauxhall will go the way of Panhard and Talbot, brands that fell into either Peugeot or CitroĂ«nâs hands over the years and become defunct at the expense of the parent companiesâ. Is there a desire to extend the groupâs brand portfolio beyond Peugeot, CitroĂ«n, DS, the various Dongfeng lines, and the ex-Hindustan Ambassador?
The official statement is non-committal enough and gives nothing away: âPSA Group and General Motors confirm they are exploring numerous strategic initiatives aiming at improving profitability and operational efficiency, including a potential acquisition of Opel Vauxhall by PSA.
âThere can be no assurance that an agreement will be reached.â
In any case, we always said that SAIC was playing a long game. MG was a toe in the water. GM is the real deal.
Controlling GM means they can do as they please, and whatâs good for China is good for General Motors.
Above: The Holden Commodore SS-V, facing its last year of manufacture.
The current wisdom appears to be that when the Holden Commodore VF leaves production in 2017, itâll be replaced by the liftback version of the Opel Insignia B. After all, the only big sedan Ford Australiaâs offering in place of the now-defunct Falcon is the liftback version of the Mondeo, a car thatâs wider, taller, and with a longer wheelbase than the supposedly larger Falcon. I think the crystal ball-gazers are wrong.
I could say that the Australian and New Zealand big car buyer is very traditional and would balk at the idea of the big Holden being a hatch. But thatâs not the only reason. Thereâs a bigger one: China.
Above: GM currently makes the Opel Insignia A-based Buick Regal in China, after initially beginning with German production.
Iâve had a phone call and a lot of comments on this in the last couple of days: my Dad, who is 81 with early-stage Alzheimerâs, called the US presidential election for Donald Trump months ago. I posted it on my social networks the day he made his definitive call, and friends remembered it. Thank you for all your compliments.
Go back to 2015, he had called the Republican primary for Trump.
I wasnât as confident but I had Tweeted the week before the election that polls were understating Trumpâs actual support by at least 6 per cent.
In 2008, when everyone had dismissed Gov. Sarah Palin, he said that she wasnât going to go away, and that sheâd command an even greater influence in the first Obama term. While he predicted an Obama win, again quite early on, he wasnât optimistic and didnât think there would be great change in the US. You may or may not agree with that.
Going right back to the 1980s, when I was at college, and before China showed any signs of opening up, he made the call about its economic rise, and that I would be assured, by the time I was in my 30s and 40s, that many would want to deal with the country. It would be, I remember him telling me, a career advantage to being Chineseâin contrast to the racism we encountered far more frequently back then.
During the height of the Muldoon era, Dad, who counted himself as part of Robâs Mob, made the call that Sir Robert Muldoon would not be able to hold on to his power or reputation in his old age. When a documentary aired condemning Sir Robert after his death, so that he wouldnât be around to file a defamation suit, he said, âI told you so.â
Even in the elections I contested (and he encouraged me to run), while he refused to be drawn on what he thought my chances were, he was unequivocally clear that my rival, John Morrison, wouldnât win, in 2013. Dad certainly did better than some so-called political experts I can name.
And if you want to get really spooky, during the Martin Bashir interview of Princess Diana, he said that by the time she was 37, sheâd have a âreally bad yearâ. He didnât say sheâd die.
No, heâs not a Mystic Meg of any sort. Heâs a guy whoâs been around for a while and kept his eyes open.
If you want to know his secret, I can tell you that his political projections are based in part around reading. Not mainstream media, but websites that heâs discovered over the years himself. Heâs a keen web surfer and loves his news. He doesnât put that much stock in political âexpertsâ, and after having run myself, I can fully understand why.
Heâd even take in the viewpoints on Russia Today, which gives you an idea of how varied his reading was. Just today I caught him watching an address from Edward Snowden.
With Palin, it was probably the sudden rise of her fan sites set up by US conservatives. He hadnât seen such a rapid rise of sites that soon galvanized their support around the former Alaskan governor before. While mainstream media dismissed her and gave the impression that post-2008, she wouldnât matter, Dad had entirely the opposite reading. Politically centrist, and, like me, a swing voter, he kept following the sites out of interest, and saw how they morphed into the Tea Party movement. He also knew they wouldnât go away any time soon, and observed that there was a Palin effect, as the likes of Ted Cruz soon found out when contesting their Senate seats.
And, despite my own criticisms of this practice, Dad would read the comments. Sometimes he would wade through hundreds of them, to get a sense of what people were thinking.
It was his reading of media from left and right during the latest US presidential election that saw him made his calls very assertively.
Rather than dismiss certain conservatives as ill-educated, as some media might, Dad treated them as human beings. He knew they would galvanize and get behind Trump.
When youâve lived through a world war (including an occupation) and then a civil war, and saw your family start from the bottom again after 1949, you get to be good at knowing what people go through.
Heâs always been politically switched on, and had a keen interest in history and economics, the latter of which he studied at a tertiary level. But heâd always explain to me that it came down to people and their behaviour, and never rational decision-making. I might have only lived just over half his lifetime so far, but I find little fault in that statement. All new movements have plenty of power, till they become the establishment.
His thoughts on China in the 1980s could well have stemmed from that: I never asked him, and aphasia means heâd now find difficulty telling me anyway.
Sadly for the US, he finds appeal in the theory that the nation will break up, though he hasnât quite yet made the call in the same way he made the one for the Trump presidency. But as with his Trump prediction, Iâm publishing this one online.
Heâs never stated it as succinctly but he has, in passing in the 1980s and 1990s, said that the British Empire wouldnât last much longer beyond our current monarchâs reign.
You never know, we might be coming back to this post in a few yearsâ time. These are gloomy scenarios but Iâd rather put Dadâs ideas out there now, as I did with the Trump presidency, rather than tell you ex post facto how clever he was. The lesson: treat people as people, and itâs amazing how much that will reveal.
Iâm really impressed with Meizuâs latest Flyme OS upgrades. I didnât know that they were there, but then I have a lot of my notifications turned off. After discovering there was one, I went from my existing 4.5 (I had already upgraded once since I bought the phone) to 5.1, and everything worked fine. There was another sub-version upgrade the same night. US software vendors could learn a lot from this Chinese company.
It wasnât perfect (I made some notes on my Tumblr) but it was a darn sight better than some of the upgrades Iâve had on Mac and Windows. I accept there is less to go wrong with cellphones, but Iâve heard many a complaint from IOS users about their upgrades. The phone feels faster, and after a bit of exploring through the menus, Iâve turned off resource-hogging notifications and data-sucking settings. I stand by my earlier review of my Meizu M2 Noteâif they keep up this level of reliability, and can remain Google-free, Iâd happily buy from them again.
The trouble with the graphic is that the only thing it got right was that two women were killed. Sweden wasnât having a referendum on whether to leave the EU, it was about whether it should adopt the euro. The closest British parallel would have been when then-PM John Major negotiated the Maastricht opt-out in 1991. It also claimed that the polls were for leaving; notwithstanding that that wasnât what the Swedes were voting for, the polls for and against adopting the euro were roughly neck in neck, though the wisdom was that the pro-euro camp would win. By the weekend, the result was that Sweden would keep the krona.
When I argued with some pro-Brexiters about this, they, like most pecksniffians, demanded I check my facts. I didnât have to: I have a memory that goes back further than one month, and unlike them, I know what went on in their own backyard because, in 2003, I kept my eyes open.
I should point out that I am not summarizing all Brexiters as dimwitted Britons who wanted Johnny Foreigner to go home. I count among my closest friends someone who voted leave, and for very substantial, well thought-out reasons. He felt that the European Union had become an unwieldy bureaucracy which benefited Britain little, and while I felt the benefits outweighed the detriments, I respect his opinion and his vote. At least it was considered, and at least it wasnât one that was based on the ramblings and rants of Farage, Johnson, Gove et al.
Appealing to nationalism, as the likes of Farage did, is a cheap trick in politics: it stirs a wave of nostalgia, and people might love chanting at how great their nation is, but it doesnât address the core issues that put them into the poo to begin with. Of course the UK has a great deal to be proud of; but like many countries (including ours) the globalist technocratic agenda are what have made things untenable for a growing part of the population. Itâs why real wages havenât risen yet certain corporations profit aplenty; itâs why we work more hours today than we ever did, despite futurists of a generation ago predicting all this leisure time that we would all have thanks to automation.
But is retreat the right thing to do? The remain camp believes that it wasnât: to influence Europe you must be in Europe. It wasnât that long ago that not being in Europe was fatal to British exportsâthe failure of the British motor industry, for instance, was in part due to its late recognition that the UK needed to be part of the EEC or, at least, produce vehicles there. Globalizationâs positives should be the free movement of people and of capital; and economic union to permit that greater freedom seems a sensible thing to pursue, not to run away from. The trick is how to make this work for everyday people, the growing number who are impacted by globalist forces; once there were few, now few escape them. It is, then, the role of government to either protect those who are most vulnerable, to champion (either through private enterprise or on its own accord) real innovation and industry that can create jobs, and to cut through the BS where both public and private enterprise simply reinvent the wheel from time to time, putting lipstick on the bulldog.
I am ambivalent about it because Iâve seen our own governments, National and Labour, be particularly weak when it comes to dealing with globalization, succumbing to foreign takeovers and allowing the little guy to be run over. The deals havenât been good for New Zealand in many respects, a small country that believes in its place in the first world but which can be deluded about this very fact. Our economy just isnât that solid to take it on the chin. Look at our banks, mostly foreign-owned and more unreliable than ever: remember how 40 years ago cheques would take 24 hours to clear? Yet now our computerized systems take three to five working days? Insiders tell me this is the consequence of less reliable Australian systems being foisted upon us; so much so that we have a wire transfer that has been taking weeks, and no one knows where the money has gone. Just how do you misplace tens of thousands of dollars? Why do we assume Australian bankers are smart enough to answer? And those who question such agenda donât get much truck in a media landscape also dominated by foreigners: Iâm looking at one newspaper publishing group at the least. The ways of the big countries are not always the bestâyet somehow the powers-that-be in this country have been hoodwinked by this consistently since 1984. I can’t understand it, and my initial reaction when there is such a lack of logic is to follow the money.
Brexit has made me refine my thinking: I might not like a system where New Zealandâs the little player that doesnât benefit from a level playing field, but at the same time I believe we need to find ways to influence the globalist game for the better. We love looking at Scandinavian countries because of their comparable size. They may have higher taxes but at the same time they donât seem to balk at innovation for the greater good; they believe in the freedom of movement of capital and of people, and, despite their general humility, they actually arenât afraid of creating global companies that take on the rest of the world. Look at Vattenfall or Statoil. We might not like Statoil for what it wants to do to our own environment, but we do have to ask what our equivalent is. We lost our lead in hybrid cars, which we held for most of the 1980s, but itâs an example of what we can do when government and private enterprise cooperate on something that is future-oriented. Whatâs the next big thing? Is it renewable energy tech that we can export? There are companies here already doing frictionless exports, and more need to be encouraged. Government shouldnât try to create groups of them or force mergers upon them; that can be left to the market. But there needs to be a vision or a direction that we take to create a new brand for our country where people naturally think: innovation for the greater good = New Zealand. And, maybe, to go with that, a fairer version of globalization can emerge, certainly one that is not coloured by the next quarterly result demanded by Wall Street.
Yes, there is some national fervour involved here, too, but applied correctly, it wonât be false flag-waving thatâs dependent on the past. Iâm all for being proud of your country when the victories are real and measurableâlike on the sporting field. There itâs real, and itâs often about the next game or the next season: itâs future-oriented, too. With Brexit, I canât see the vision; and the most visible foreigner among this, the Turkish-American politician, Boris Johnson, hasnât communicated one that I can discern.
And maybe this confusion is the opportunity we need for New Zealand.
After the UK abandoned the Commonwealth markets in favour of one right next door, our country found new export markets, so much so that the UK accounts for 3 per cent today. Even in 1973, when it was 40 per cent, it had been falling consistently for half a decade, if I recall correctly, and the notion that Britain would reach back out toward the Empah for trade is fanciful at best.
Being someone who has enjoyed looking at world history play out through maps, ever since I discovered a book on the subject as a third former at Rongotai College, it hasnât escaped my thoughts that this is a further retreat for the UK in terms of its global influence.
So whoâs on the rise? It might be us. The centre of the global economy has been shifting eastward in recent times and weâre well placed to take advantage of it. Weâre part of the Anglosphere so we bridge the past, where it was the dominant global culture, with those trading partners who might be on the horizon. But it has to be real. Weâre nimble enough, and I canât see why weâve been so fascinated with apeing the US and the UK for so long. Once again we need to set our own direction: we have a culture thatâs ready for it with a greater sense of identity than weâve ever had. I just wonder if we have a government, local or national, courageous enough to embark on this.
I had expected our car encyclopĂŠdia Autocade would reach 8,000,000 page views this month, just before its eighth anniversary. The difference was that this time, I was there last Monday GMT (the small hours of Tuesday in New Zealand) to witness the numbers tick overâalmost.
Usually, I find out about the milestones ex post facto, but happened to pop by the websiteâs statsâ page when it was within the last hundred before hitting 8,000,000âand took the below screen shot where the viewing numbers had reached 8,000,001 (I also saw 7,999,999; and no, these special admin pages are not counted, so my refreshing didnât contribute to the rise).
The site is on 3,344 individual entries (thereâs one image for each entry, if youâre going by the image excerpt), which is only 86 more than Autocade had when it reached 7,000,000 last October. The rate of viewing is a little greater than it was for the last million: while I’m recording it as five months below, it had only been March for just under two hours in New Zealand. Had Autocade been a venture from anywhere west of Aotearoa, we actually made the milestone on leap day, February 29.
Not bad for a website that has had very little promotion and relies largely on search-engine results. I only set up a Facebook page for it in 2014. Itâs been a labour of love more than anything else.
March 2008: launch
April 2011: 1,000,000 page views (three years for first million)
March 2012: 2,000,000 page views (11 months for second million)
May 2013: 3,000,000 page views (14 months for third million)
January 2014: 4,000,000 page views (eight months for fourth million)
September 2014: 5,000,000 page views (eight months for fifth million)
May 2015: 6,000,000 page views (eight months for sixth million)
October 2015: 7,000,000 page views (five months for seventh million)
March 2016: 8,000,000 page views (five months for eighth million)
I started the site because I was fed up with Wikipedia and its endless errors on its car pagesâIâve written elsewhere about the sheer fictions there. Autocade would not have Wikiality, and everything is checked, where possible, with period sources, and not exclusively online ones. The concept itself came from a car guide written by the late Michael Sedgwick, though our content is all original, and subject to copyright; and thereâs a separate story to tell there, too.
I acknowledge there are still gaps on the site, but as we grow it, weâll plug them. At the same time, some very obscure models are there, and Autocade sometimes proves to be the only online source about them. A good part of the South African motor industry is covered with material not found elsewhere, and Autocade is sometimes one of the better-ranked English-language resources on Chinese cars.
Iâd love to see the viewing rate increase even further: itâd be great to reach 10,000,000 before the end of 2016. It might just happen if the viewing rate increases at present levels, and we get more pages up. Fellow motorheads, please keep popping by.
Iâve just switched from Inside, the much vaunted news app from entrepreneur Jason Calacanis, to Wildcard as my principal news app on my phone. I never got to use Circa (which I understand Jason was also behind), which sounded excellent: by the time I downloaded it, they had given up.
But we all need news, and I donât like the idea of apps that are from a single media organization.
Inside seemed like a good idea, and I even got round to submitting news items myself. The idea is that the items there are curated by users, shared via the app. There was a bit of spam, but the legit stuff outnumbered it.
However, I canât understand the choices these days. A few items I put in from Radio New Zealand, Māori Television and The New Zealand Herald were fineâstories about the flag and the passing of Dr Ranginui Walker, for instanceâbut none of the ones about the passing of Martin Crowe, possibly of more international interest, remained.
There were other curious things: anything from Autocar is summarily rejected (they donât even appear) while I notice Jalopnik is fine. When it comes to cars, this is the only place where the publication with the longest history in the sector is outranked by a web-only start-up, whose pieces are enjoyable but not always accurate. The only car piece it accepted from me was about Tesla selling in Indiana, but Renault, Volkswagen, Lamborghini, Porsche, Aston Martin and other manufacturersâ news didnât make it. This I donât get. And I like to think I know a little bit about cars, in the week when Autocade hit 8,000,000 page views.
Now, if this is meant to be an international app, downloadable by everyone, then it should permit those of us in our own countries to have greater say in what is relevant to our compatriots.
Visit the New Zealand category, and you see a few items from yours truly, but then after that, they are few and far between: the Steven Joyce dildo incident, for example, and you donât have to scroll much to see the Otago car chase being stopped by sheep last January. A bit more has happened than these events, thank you. No wonder Americans think nothing happens here.
According to Inside, these news itemsâseparated only by one about Apple issuing a recall in our part of the worldâare far more important to users following the New Zealand category than Martin Crowe’s death.
The UK is only slightly better off, but not by much. I notice my submission about Facebook not getting away with avoiding taxes in the UK vanished overnight, too.
News of the royal baby in Sweden wasnât welcome just now. Nor was the news about the return of one of the Hong Kong booksellers, but news from Bloomberg of a luxury home on the Peak, which I submitted last month, was OK. Lulaâs questioning by police has also disappeared (admittedly my one was breaking news, and very short), though Inside does have a later one about his brief arrest.
Yet to locals, the rejected ones are important, more important than Gladys Knight singing to a cop or a knife on O. J. Simpsonâs estate (which have made it).
This is a very American app, and thatâs fine: itâs made by a US company, and Iâm willing to bet most of its users are American. However, the âallâ feed, in my view, should be global; those who want news tailored to them already have the choice of selecting their own topics. (Itâs the first thing the app gets you to do after signing in.) And if some fellow in New Zealand wants to submit, then he should have the same capacity as someone in the US. After all, there are more of them than there are of us, and I hardly think my contributions (which now keep vanishing!) will upset the status quo.
Or does it?
I mean, I have posted the odd thing from The Intercept about their countryâs elections.
Whatever the case, I think itâs very odd for an app in the second decade of the century to be so wedded to being geocentric. I can understand getting stuff weeded out for quality concernsâI admit Iâve posted the odd item that is an op-ed rather than hard newsâbut this obsession to be local, not global, reinforces some false and outdated stereotypes about the US.
Itâs like Facebook not knowing that time zones outside US Pacific Time exist and believing its 750 million (as it then was) users all lived there.
My advice to app developers is: if you donât intend your work to be global, then donât offer it to the global market. Donât let me find your app on a Chinese app centre. Say that itâs for your country only and let it be.
Or, at least be transparent about how your apps work, because I canât find anything from Inside about its curation processes other than the utopian, idealistic PR that says weâre all welcome, and we all have a chance to share. (We do. Just our articles donât stay on the feed for very long.)
Wildcard has an attractive user interface, and its mixture of news is more appealing, especially if you want more depth.
Admittedly, Iâve only been on Wildcard for less than a day but Iâve already found it more international in scope. It also has more interesting editorial items. It is still US-developedâeast coast this time, instead of west coastâbut it supplements its own news with whatâs in your Twitter feed. Itâs not as Twitter-heavy as Nuzzel, which I found too limited, but seems to give me a mixture of its own curation with those of my contacts. The user interface is nice, too.
Iâm not writing off Inside altogetherâif youâre after a US-based, US-centric news app, then itâs probably excellent, although I will leave that decision to its target market. I can hardly judge when dildos matter more to its users than the greatest cricket batsman in our country.
For me, Wildcard seems to be better balanced, it doesnât make promises about public curation that it canât keep, and Iâve already found myself spending far more time browsing its pieces than the relatively small amount that seem to remain on Inside. It is still a bit US-biased in these first 24 hours, probably because it hasnât taken that much from my Twitter contacts yet. There seems to be more news on it and Iâm getting a far better read, even of the US-relevant items. Iâm looking forward to using it more: it just seems that much more 21st-century.
Other than for the landline, Iâve never bought a phone before. Each cellphone has come as a result of a company plan or a loyalty gift from the telco, but when my Huawei Ascend Y200 began needing resets several times a dayâIâve had computer experts tell me this is the phone, or the SD card (like any endeavour, itâs hard to find agreement; this is like saying that the problem with an axe lies with the handle or the blade)âI decided to replace it. Plus, having built websites for clients it seemed only fair to have a device on which I could test them on an OS newer than Android 2.3, and after a few days I have to say the Meizu M2 Note has been worth every penny. (The Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 was on the shortlist but the Meizu performed better in online tests, e.g. this one.)
You can find the specs on this device elsewhere, in reviews written by people far more au fait with cellular technology than me, but a few things about arriving in the mid-2010s with such a gadget struck me as worth mentioning.
First, I opted for a blue one. Theyâre usually cheaper. Since I have a case for it, I donât have to put up with the colour on the back anyway, so why not save a few bucks if the guts are the same?
Secondly, itâs astonishing to think in five inches I have the same number of pixels as I do in 23 inches on my monitor.
Thirdly, cellular battery technology has come a heck of a long way. (Down side: you canât replace it in this device.)
But hereâs an absolutely wonderful bonus I never expected: itâs Google-free. Yes, the Flyme OS is built on Googleâs Android 5.1.1, but the beauty of buying a phone from a country where Google is persona non grata is that Iâm not stuck with all the crap I had on the Telstra Clear-supplied Huawei. No Google Plus, Google Play Store, Gmail, Google Maps and all the other stuff I had to switch off constantly. I could have had the phone rooted but it never was a big enough priority, even with my dislike of the big G.
I donât know how much ultimately gets back to Google through simply using its OS, but Iâve managed to keep away from signing in to any of their services. In this post-Snowden era, I regard that as a good thing.
The phone booted up for the first time and gave me English as an option (as the seller indicated), so the deviceâs OS is all in the language Iâm most fluent in. However, itâs not that weird for me to have Chinese lettering around, so the apps that stayed in the Chinese language are comprehensible enough to me. There is an app store that isnât run by Google, at which all the apps are availableâInstagram, Dolphin Browser, Opera Mini, plus some of the other admin tools I use. Nothing has shown up in my Google Dashboard. The store is in Chinese, but if you recognize the icon you should be all right, and the apps work in the language youâve set your OS to.
The China-only apps arenât hard to dispose of, and the first ones to go were Netease, Dianping (I donât even use an Anglo dining review app, so why would I need a China-only one?), Amap (again, it only works in China, and it can be easily reinstalled through Autonavi and its folded paper icon), and 116114, an app from a Chinese telco. Weibo I donât mind keeping, since I already have an account, and I can see some utility to retaining Alipay, the painting app, and a few others.
And having a Google-free existence means I now have Here Maps, the email is set up with my Zoho âboxes, and 1Weather replaces the default which only gives Chinese cities.
What is remarkable is that the Chinese-designed default apps are better looking than the western counterparts, which is not something you hear very often. The opposite was regularly the case. A UI tipping-point could have happened.
I also checked the 2G, 3G and 4G frequencies against Vodafone New Zealand’s to ensure compatibilityâthere are at least two different M2 Notes on the market, so caveat emptor. Vodafone also recommends installing only one SIM, which suits me fine, as the other slot is occupied by a 64 Gbyte micro-SD card.
The new Flyme-based-on-Android keyboard isnât particularly good though, and I lose having a full set of smart quotes, a proper apostrophe, and en and em dashes, but far more obscure Latin-2 glyphs are accessible. Iâm not sure what the logic is behind this.
I had an issue getting the Swift keyboard to install, but Iâve opted for Swype, which, curiously, like the stock keyboard, is missing common characters. Want to type a g with a breve for ErdoÄan? Or a d with a caron? Easy. An en dash? Impossible.
This retrograde step doesnât serve me and there are a few options in Swype. First, I had to add the Russian keyboard, which does give an em dash, alongside the English one, though I havenât located a source of en dashes yet. Secondly, after copying and pasting in a proper apostrophe from a document, I proceeded to type in words to commit them to my personal Swype dictionary: itâs, heâd, sheâll, wonât, etc. This technique has worked, and while itâs not 100 per cent perfect as thereâll be words I missed, itâs better than nowt.
I see users have been complaining about the omissions online for three years, and if nothing has been done by now, I doubt Swypeâs developers are in a rush to sort it.
Swypeâs multilingual keyboards are easy to switch between, work well, but I havenât tried my Kiwi accent on the Dragon-powered speech recognition software within.
Going from a 3Â·2 Mpixel camera to a 13 Mpixel one has been what I expected, and finally I get a phone with a forward-facing camera for the first time since the mid-2000s (before selfies became de rigueur). Itâs worth reminding oneself that a 13 Mpixel camera means files over 5 Mbyte are commonplace, and thatâs too big for Twitter. Iâm also going to have to expect to need more storage space offline, as I always back up my files.
I havenât found a way to get SMSs off yet (suggestions are welcome), unlike the Huawei, but transferring other files (e.g. photos and music) is easier. Whereas the Huawei needed to have USB sharing switched on, the Meizu doesnât care, and you can treat it as a hard drive when connected to your PC without doing anything. That, too, has made life far easier.
Iâve been able to upgrade the OS without issue, and Microsoft (and sometimes Apple) would do well to learn from this.
It leaves the name, Meizu (é æ), which in Cantonese at least isnât the most pleasant when translatedâletâs say itâs all a bit Goblin King. Which may be appropriate this week.
Iâm not one who ever gets a device for imageâs sake, and I demand that they are practical. So far, the Meizu hasnât let me down with its eight cores, 16 Gbyte ROM and 4G capability, all for considerably less than a similarly equipped cellphone that wears an Apple logo. And itâs nice to know that this side of Apple, one can have a Google-free device.