This is a short novel. Of how leaders can become followers, and followers proving that they have the potential to lead. This is about Samsung & HTC as the leading Android Manufacturers and how Sony evolved with the Xperia series into the Z1.
With the beginning of 2013, the front line of ‘smartphone battlefield’ was led by massive 5 Inch Full HD smartphones. This was an expected step up as the last battle was dominated by smartphones wielding 720p displays. The fierce and highly competitive battle continues and, and is only beginning to get crazier (especially with the US variant of Note III, already capable of capturing 4K/ Ultra HD Videos, resolution – 3840×2160 compared to Full HD 1920×1080). If you’re actively following the mobile industry, you may have noticed the iterative increase in larger smartphone sizes and displays as an apparent trend. And it’s not necessarily a great idea. I personally prefer the ideal device screen size to lie between 4 and 5 inches anything beyond that, I consider it to fall outside the smartphone category, inclining more towards the phablet or a tablet zone. I would prefer owning a 5″ smartphone and a 10″ tablet, both serving totally different uses, instead of the thrifty zone of “getting more and both of two segments for the same price”.
The Evolving title of Smartphones into the ‘Phablets’ moniker
Size does matter, but only to the extent of its utility. Not many challenge the odds and go beyond the buffer zones of the predefined standards. Sony’s Xperia Z Ultra was one such device to go 6.4 inch mammoth screen on the body height of a 7 inch tablet, at the same time retaining its sleek body. Sony, known for outstanding design and displays in general always lagged behind the leading Android Manufacturer Battle of Samsung and HTC. The reigning duo continued to outdo each other though in different aspects, one in hardware and another in design, Samsung through its marketing prowess always bested HTC in the overall market reach. Both consistently remained strong, but Samsung maintained its focus on maximising the internal hardware, and gradually pushing the software package beyond the need. While HTC stayed true to its craftsmanship, designing beautiful devices in almost all the price range with comparatively less to offer in terms of the internal machinery.
Display, LCD vs AMOLED
Smart-phone displays should be judged on the resolution depth, the level of realistic color reproduction it may offer and NOT in terms of how flashy, colourful, and attractive. Samsung is popular for making poor designs, but makes up significantly in hardware performance, and software bonanza which is beyond excess. Evidently, that restricts the hardware output more than it manages to lure ‘loyal’ customers who base their decisions on the well crafted ads showcasing the features in the most idealistic environment suited for them to work.
Sony Z Series and The Z1 Flagship
Sony has set a benchmark by taking remotely used features like elemental resistance, be it dust and water, mainstream and yet retaining the visual appeal or rather surpassing its rivals in that context. When the Z1, Sony’s latest flagship comprises two layers (front and back) of the Dragontrail glass, which evidently surpasses Gorilla glass. And add a layer of shatter-resistant screen protector (both sides, front and back) which lowers the chances breaking, but at the cost of increasing the chances of scratches. The scratch-resistant glass lies beneath the shatter-resistant protector on which the front Sony logo is baked.
What does one do with a 1920 x 1080 Full HD display on a 5 inch screen, usually preferred on 40-50 inch living room TV set?
At first, you just stare at it and be amazed. Is this what you would like to do? I, coming from an S III, a 720p 4.8 inch display, to Xperia Z1 with 1080p 5inch one, happened to notice the huge difference. It should be easily noticeable (maintaining a 1-2 feet viewing distance, from your eye to your device’s display, when holding the device in your hand). Though a 1080p might seem like an extreme pixel accumulation (441 in a 5 inch device), many might not even consider it as a need for a smartphone to be this dense and rich, but, it is definitely more than just a privilege when you have it.
A good way to judge a screen, is through browsing activities. I take the example of Dolphin because it best replicates the desktop browsing experience. Reading feels just right on Xperia Z1. You can read a webpage on desktop mode without having the need to pinch the screen all the way.
720p to 1080p jump & OmniBalance
720p displays are decent, but when you push them to a 1080p display, the text appears ‘floating’ on the upper surface of the glass. Another OmniBalance design implementation that eliminates is a layer of air. What I mean is, it is bound to the glass and when you notice closely, it just floats right beneath your finger.
How the Design Build Quality Adds-up to the Daily Use
Did I mention that the front and back made of the Z1 is made of reflective and durable tempered glass and how it amounts to the phone’s elegant design? This feature was last seen in Xperia Z and Xperia Z Ultra. Now, this has improved with glass sides along aluminium uni-body on the Z1. Sony calls it “OmniBalance” design, which is a genuine design expression. According to Sony, OmniBalance is creating balance and symmetry from all sides. Having this while retaining a decent body weight of 170gm which might seem more than the usual, but when you consider the glass body and one piece aluminium frame, it is justified. The Xperia Z1 feels just right. While holding the device, rest other devices feel like sham.
Battery, Camera and Other Daily Utilities
The most liberating feeling of switching out from a Samsung phone is the de-bloated, and non-impairing software. If you have used the Samsung’s Touchwiz skin, you might be familiar with that nagging lag, which occurs every now and then, turning those smooth animations into haphazardly jerky ones. Son’y UI had similar issues earlier; it’s all fluid performance now, like one would expect from a Vanilla Android. Only in this case it is more feature rich, but topped with some nifty tweaks which still retains the software performance and let the underlying hardware do its job well. Battery life is decent. The phone’s battery can last for more than one day, under moderate use. When you use the phone for playing multimedia, then you might just get by through the day. Or you can use the stamina mode, which is another great add on for a device with a non-removable battery.
Camera, 1/2.3″ 20.7MP, Exmor RS™, G Lens, BIONZ™
Camera, which should have been the eye catcher of this flagship, sadly, isn’t. If you are switching from an 8 MP shooter, this will still feel like a huge upgrade, which should be obvious considering the powerful hardware of the camera specialists. Apparently, the software falls short. Grains, artefacts and some bad processing is a common occurrence, but this is only under daylight and scenic modes. This is weird because the performance for low light, macro and short to medium object distance otherwise great. This seems to have been fixed in the recent software update.
Then the speakers which are loud enough for your phone notification/ringtone to be audible in the next room, but music performance isn’t exceptional, but that is only in terms of loudness. This isn’t a concern unless you were planning on blasting some desi tracks on your Z1 while going to work. Also there are some useful audio settings which give you clarity as well as loudness boost.
Ones, Notes, G2s & Ultras
This year was filled with some great devices, like the Sony Xperia Z, HTC One, Samsung Galaxy S IV, Sony Xperia Z Ultra, the Z1, the unprecedented LG’s flagship G2, as well as the widely anticipated Note III. The devices could not help but strut in some department. All of them definitely created a lasting mark though common shortcomings like, good display but poor battery, powerful hardware but unpolished software, astounding speakers but average camera, any several other polarising pairing of inherent features managed to still exist.
As a flagship, Sony Xperia Z1 good, but not an excellent device. It’s definitely worth if you consider indulging in not just the Android software prowess but also the premium hardware and unique design experience Sony has to offer. Furthermore, this device, is more of an indication of Sony taking the Smartphone race seriously. Sony can retain its current state and continue outperforming is with improved device support, timely software roll outs, updates and fixes (which Sony already is likely to roll out KitKat on Z1 second, next to Nexus 5). The attention Sony as a manufacturer is giving its existing devices and not orphaning them is commendable. If Sony launches another flagship with only a few months difference after Z1, it might cause some previous devices to be pushed into the long waiting line of updates.