2 weeks of rendezvous with Sony Xperia Z

Having switched over to a Windows Phone for a month, the ownership experience is like a love-hate relationship. Beneath the grouses of the phone’s shortcomings (and there happens to be a lot of them), lies the beauty of simplification and strong fundamentals. Just as I thought I’d adapted to the life of imperfection, Sony Mobile decides to lure me back to the dark side with their new flagship product Sony Xperia Z. I was given a test drive opportunity, and at the end of the two weeks trial, it was a tough decision if I should ditch
my Lumia for the new found love in Xperia Z.

Sony Xperia Z

Sony Xperia Z

Having owned some of the top selling phones like the HTC One X, Samsung Galaxy S3, and Sony’s previous Xperia models like the Xperia S, I thought Sony Mobile had the best form factor in Xperia Z. The 5″ phone does not look excessively huge unlike the Samsung Galaxy Note, thanks to its edge-to-edge display in a typical 4.3″ phone form factor. With just 7.9mm thickness, while not exactly the thinnest phone in the world, the phone feels elegantly light, and comfortable to hold with one hand. The back of the phone has a glass finishing, surrounded by a set of refined but sturdy buttons and ports fitted firmly with watertight port covers, collectively giving the phone a premium quality feel. Samsung’s plasticky SIII and HTC’s bricky One X (and Lumia 920 too!) all looked out of place in comparison.

The setup procedure was simple and straight forward, with some touch up from Sony Mobile to polish up the user experience. With Android Jellybean (4.1.2) pre-installed, Sony Mobile creates a layer of mobile entertainment experience over the default Google
user interface. The end product is a very sleek and nifty mobile digital photo album, music walkman and high definition video entertainment player. The speaker position is far from ideal though, as my hand would inadvertently cover it when holding to watch a
video playback. Paired with my Beats by Dr Dre headphone, the audio reproduction was impressive, although I admit I am not exactly the audiophile you would expect for audio system feedback. I love the “Throw” function, as I can stream any photo, music playback
to my UPnP-enabled Samsung TV wirelessly. I had problem streaming video (both Xperia recorded video and mp4 video) to my TV though, and hopefully it is an issue that can be easily fixed by Sony Mobile.

The 1080p razor sharp display, packed in the 5″ screen using its mobile Bravia engine, creates a vibrant screen with punchy colour and stellar contrast reproduction. The display passed the outdoor test with flying colours, as the content in the screen remained visibly clear under bright sun lighting with its glare and reflection reduction capability. The Lumia 920 had a slight edge over Xperia Z though with its deep colour and black depth, but Xperia Z is no slouch. That said, when I placed it side by side with my Lumia 920, the display did look slightly washed out, especially when viewing at an angle. It could be the choice of TFT display, but after seeing the contrast difference between the two screens, I think Sony can further improve on its display feature, given its rich visual entertainment heritage.

Sony Mobile has a great track record of producing excellent cameras in its Xperia series, at least with the Xperia Arc and Xperia S that I had owned previously. Xperia Z didn’t disappoint me with its 13MP exmor r sensor with f/2.4 aperture. Technical specification alone does not guarantee quality shots, as evident in the Galaxy SIII. Thanksfully, Xperia Z camera lives up to its specifications. It is capable of taking photos under dim lighting conditions, or video record fast moving subjects with high quality. I have not tried its HDR video recording capability but from some of the sample videos posted on youtube, the results are mixed. If there is any imperfection, it is the lack of a physical shutter button and shortcut to quickly get into camera mode from the lockscreen. The former might be a constraint due to the Xperia Z’s water resistant feature but the latter is a huge inconvenience for me, as it means I have to hit my 8 digits pin code before I can take a candid snapshot.

NB: The lack of camera shortcut issue is probably not applicable if you are not subjected to  Exchange Server policy which enforces pin lock security to the phone. Also, I  was advised by Sony Mobile that there’s  actually a workaround for this: you can select Screen Lock as Swipe and slide to the left to activate the camera. Please let me know if this workaround works especially if you are subjected to your office’s Exchange Server policy enforcement

I never had strong opinions about Office integration in Android until I experienced it in the Windows Phone and could see a contrasting experience between the two. In the Windows Phone, the office client is so complete that Powerpoint slides, Excel spreadsheets or Word documents can be reliably opened regardless of the sophistication in smart arts, formulas or text formatting. Outlook emails and appointments can be sent or edited as if I am doing it from a desktop. The same can’t be said for Xperia Z. But to be fair to Sony Mobile, this is a prevalent issue in Android, and I think it is something Google and Android phone makers need to seriously look into if the aim is to push Android phones into both the consumer and business market, and in the mobile world, there is really no clear distinction between the two. That said, there were some bugs or lacking PIM features in the Xperia Z which I think Sony Mobile can and should resolve. The calendar app stopped working when I tried to edit or cancel a meeting invitation while I could not look up email contacts in the Exchange address list when I tried to send an email to a colleague.

Xperia Z Glass finishing

Xperia Z Glass finishing

Not withstanding some of the issues highlighted, Xperia Z still ranks among the best, if not the best, in the list of smart phones that I have owned so far, which includes the likes of HTC One X, Galaxy S3 and Nexus. Not only is the phone highly spec-ed with top notch build quality, there are clear signs that Sony Mobile is listening to its customers’ feedback. I had previously provided feedback to the local team on Sony’s implementation of its exchange policy as well as the power off lock security feature, and they were all addressed satisfactorily. I was even asked to test my reported feedback after the product development team implemented the fixes. I could be naive, but at least Sony Mobile gave me the impression that they are acting on my feedback, and I think that’s what a consumer always likes to see or hear.

For all of the above, the Xperia Z had won over my heart. Unfortunately, it did not win over my head as work productivity remains a key selection criteria for me, especially after I’ve experienced what I can achieve work-wise while on the move. So while it has been a
fantastic 2 weeks of flirtatious rendezvous with the Xperia Z, I am reluctantly going back to my normal but boring relationship with the Nokia Lumia.

And my search for a fun and serious phone (no it’s not an oxymoron) continues …

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1 Month Takeaway on Nokia Lumia 920

It has been more than a month since I bought my Lumia 920 Windows Phone. (I did had two weeks of break to have a hands on on the new Sony Xperia Z, more on that later).

Lumia 920 on charging pad

Lumia 920 on charging pad

Instead of the usual review, i tweet about my takeaway of the phone as I use it. Total of 12 key takeaways (see below of the details), 7 minuses, 4 pluses and 1 neutral view. While it might look like a very ‘negative phone’ to use, two of the pluses are big pluses for me. The office and outlook capabilities, and the camera photo quality. That’s good enough for me to keep my Lumia, even though Xperia Z flirted with me for 2 weeks. What’s your take?

 

WindowsPhoneTake #12: feeling bored with look and feel of the interface, change the theme color and “suddenly” I have a new interface. Duh! #minusone

WindowsPhoneTake #11: Windows Phone 8 soft reset is volume-down + power button. So much for being intuitive. And best of all, all SMS doesnt work after a soft reset, and suddenly I saw a steady stream of “new” messages just to realise they are actually old messages. Turned out the date/time setting was wrong, after a soft reset. #minusone

WindowsPhoneTake #10: What was Microsoft thinking when it designs the outlook mail functionalities? I can only attach photos and not documents? Please tell me my eyes is “stuck with stamps” #minusone

WindowsPhoneTake #9: Bing still can’t make it. Not only it does not do a good job searching with location context, it returns result with the news that are days olds, and in one instance 4 months old, as their top/first result. Its quite disappointing that other than a colorful search page, there isn’t much improvement since it first attempt to seriously challenge Google. #minusone

WindowsPhoneTake #8: (thisisprobablyanokiatake) Nokia Carl Zeiss lens does not just wow me with its big f2 aperture lens (which gives a very nice dof and bokeh) but also its flash capability. I always avoid flash photography especially with pns camera, but Lumia 920 seems to have good algorithm to avoid over exposure which created harsh lighting. With bulb mode in videography, you no longer take silhouettes when you are in an indoor party hall. Coupled with the impressive Windows photo sharing capability, Facebook and Instagram should invest their resources on this platform, if they are evaluation their next strategic step. You would wonder what had Microsoft been doing given the elementary abilities of these two social networking apps in Windows Phone. #plusone

WindowsPhoneTake #7: I lamented about the lack of apps, perhaps it is because the store has not completed its renovation so they are not ready to sell more apps? While I am just being sarcastic here, the fact is Microsoft seems to be doing little to make its store as friendly as its competitors. First off, there’s no way for me to tell if I have installed or purchased the app, until I click the app itself. I can’t contact the app developer, unless I install the app and hope that the app has some contact informatiln about the developer. As a matter of fact, I had some problem with an app, there was no way I could contact that developer because he used dummy email address! Windows phone support site was cumbersome process and it took me awhile before I can get the billing team to reverse the billing. In google, the moment I find the app is defective I can ask for refund immediately. Store in Microsoft is nothing just a place to download app and nothing more. #minusone

WindowsPhoneTake #6: Internet surfing on Windows Phone is so fast, that it is almost a saving grace for the lack of internet connected apps, like posb/dbs, Facebook (yes, the official one is useless), etc. I suspect Microsoft has put 90% of their r&d resources to engineer a near perfect data connectivity and page rendering capability. Of course I am just joking but kudos to the product team in this regards. But people should remember that app is still the king to make or break the experience. #plusone

WindowsPhoneTake #5: Live tiles concept is good, but at the moment it is nothing more than expandable square icons with notification counts, something you already see if Apple and Android (albeit not expandable). I would love to see tiles like scrolling marquees, that flips random or latest messages (or related notification message). #noplusorminus

WindowsPhoneTake #4: While I mentioned that Microsoft “cheats” in its claim of blazingly fast photo upload feature, it is still an amazing experience because most of the people probably care less about resolution when they upload to Facebook. I was impressed when the phone took less than a minute to upload a 1 min video to Facebook! #plusone

WindowsPhoneTake #3: (thiscouldbejustnokia) phone signal band switching (e.g 4g to 3g) seems to be lagging, and can take up as long as 5 minutes just to find the next available band. #minusone

WindowsPhoneTake #2: The geomapping feature is clearly at infancy stage otherwise we would have a Bing map app to compete with Google map app. It didn’t help that the market store has no established navigation app like Garmin, Tomtom or Sygic. Oh wait, it has Navigon (but not for this part of the world) and it costs an arm! Nokia drive+, is slick but very elementary in its features and map coverage. Its recommended route always attempt to bypass highway for some weird reason, and you have no choice between fastest or shortest route. The most ironical part is I had to use Google map to locate my destination, and enter the street address in Nokia drive+. #MinusOne

WindowsPhoneTake #1: the ability to manage your work documents and productivity (appointment scheduling, etc) is definitely the most robust and rounded feature I have come across so far. #plusone

 

 

Windows Reunion with Nokia Lumia 920

The last time I touched a Windows mobile phone was May 2010. Back then I love WM phones, because it opened up so many development opportunities, from application to rom. I developed a couple of apps, and if app store was the only way to install app, I probably earned a tidy sum for some of my work, specifically StayUnlock. I subsequently went on with ROM development for my TouchHD then, and Merlion Leon ROM was my first attempt at OS level development (My subsequent attempt was modifying Android kernel for my Galaxy S) . I probably explore everything a developer could do, and then Microsoft decided that they need to overhaul their mobile product, and I told myself I should explore elsewhere while Microsoft goes figure their next journey.

Nokia Lumia 920

Nokia Lumia 920

It was the start of my 3 years Android journey and I had the full dessert course. I saw how Android evolved from the likes of Cupcake and Eclair, trying to find its footing in Gingerbread and Icecream Sandwich, to finally maturing as a yummy and addictive Jellybean. I would be lying if I said the desserts were all sweet and nothing else. They were bitter or sour moments, but its a choice between growing to be smart, or pretending to be already one. I chose the former and I am glad I had seem Android growing by leaps and bounds.

In recent months, I had watched Microsoft development with keen interest. It was almost like being home sick and you want to find the right timing to head home. WP 7 development started with a refreshing concept and innovation in its metro UI and live tiles. I thought it needed a couple of hardening through Mango and Tango. When WP8 was first announced last year. It really caught my full attention. And when Nokia announced its flagship Lumia 920, superceding its 900, I thought the opportunity had come knocking my door.

But it was not without some hesitation. It is like when a salesman comes knocking your door with a great deal, you will skeptically wonder if it is a scam. It didn’t help that Nokia Lumia 920 was launched and introduced with some controversial marketing advertisement.

First, the look is not really inspiring, it looks just like its predecessor (or so I perceived). In fact, many would agree it might even be mistaken as its sibling, Lumia 820. The weight is also mind boggling. Perhaps Nokia is trying to enhance its paper weight value proposition like manu other smart phones. Having own a couple of  light and slim phones like Galaxy S3 and S2, I was worried that I would need to strengthen up my biceps just to handle the extra 50-60 grams of weight. The lack of apps in the appstore is the other concern. Having seen the pathetically half filled Windows 8 store, I was worried if I will have cold turkey the moment I step into the store.

Will Windows be a key player in mobile space?

Will Windows be a key player in mobile space?

The lure of slick metro UI interface AND superior Carl Zeiss lens eventually won me over, despite being adequately satisfied with my Jelly-beaned Galaxy S3. The weight problem did falter away after some getting use to, probably because my biceps were already tuned to such weight when I owned Xperia S previously (just compared the two bricks, and Nokia Lumia is still the winner).

Having used the Lumia for 3 days, I am pretty certain that whatever I experienced will be the same in the next few months.  And it will only get better, although I do not expect miracle change overnight. The beauty of Windows Phone lies on its simplicity. Metro UI  with simple (but slick) navigation are all that makes up the entire user experience of the phone. There are no cluttered menus, and every content chunks are layered nicely that the navigation is intuitive (but only if you realised that you can swipe left/right to “layer” through) In that regards, Windows Phone hit an almost perfect score.

Networking capability seems to be superior than its competitors too. Before we get too carried away, Microsoft’s “Smoked by Microsoft Challenge” is a combination of marketing gimmicks and its capable networking feature, at least from my personal experience. When I share a photo to Facebook, indeed it was almost instantaneous, blazingly faster than any phones I have used (except when I share via photoUp in Android phones). It turned out that the photos are not only compressed, they are resized into a lower resolution, by as much as a third. It is therefore not a rocket science to explain why the photo sharing can be lightening fast in Windows Phone. That does not mean that Windows Phone is just all show and nothing real. I do observed that it handles small data transfer far more efficient than its WM predecessor, and probably Android and Apple as well. With our phones so tightly intertwined with internet, such efficiency helps to ensure the navigation experience continues to be butter-ly smooth when the connectivity crawls. The camera is one of the best camera phone I had owned so far, when compare to the likes of HTC One X and Sony Xperia series. What I like of  Nokia’s implementation of camera functionalities  is I could activate the camera function even when my phone is pin-locked. Not all Android phones manufacturers implemented this feature consistently, and not surprisingly only Sony understands why this is seemingly trivial but important feature for photography enthusiasts like myself

My main gripe with Windows phone, as expected is the lack of apps. Perhaps the apps will come in times to come, but something must be done to entice the creative developers to develop in this platform. Some missing apps are as simple as 3G data usage tracker. Perhaps Microsoft has assumed that with their more efficient networking capability, such tracker is a redundant. But with the telcos clamping down on 3G/4G usage with removal of unlimited or reducing quota, this miss is a glaring one for me. But of course, I cannot be whining with just this trivial app miss. I can no longer do streaming of my favourite mp3 from my home media server over internet, use Runkeeper to track my running exercise (thankfully, I rely more on my Garmin watch now), or use my phone to remote control my TV (edit: it looks like there’s an app for it now, but I need to see its compatibility). More critically, as we see more gadget startups like Pebble sprouting with great ideas to transform mobile phones beyond just a personal communication device, most of them are still focusing on developing their ideas on Apple and Android platform. Microsoft needs to take a different approach in the mobile and consumer world. It needs to reach out to these start-ups more pro-actively. I think its attempt to entice developers through significant payout was a good start, but I have the inkling feeling that it just sit on incentive framework it had created for the developers which  I thought was just too passive. Microsoft should realise that their success is greatly dependent on the startup just as the latter depends on it.

It’s now or never.

Run for food: Year end report card

Year end Report Card

Year end Report Card

Time flies, it seems just yesterday when I started to drag my near one-tenth of a tonne body to get some workouts. It  has been a year, and a year of running I am proud to say. Despite suffering a injured ankle ligament and still in process of recovery, I did not gave up like what I did 10 years ago where my fitness dove downhill after I suffer feet injury. I learnt that momentum must be built on, otherwise the inertia would be more than ten times of my weight.

More report cards

More report cards

December has been a slow month so far, I decide to go for shorter, but more frequent runs, as I frankly prefer to run more than swim and even cycling. Shorter run would give my feet more recovery time as I always feel the ankles losing its support after 45 minutes of run. A year have gone, I have chalked up nearly 1500km of distance, spending over 196 hours running, swimming and cycling, and consequently burning close to 131,000 of calories! Guess what? That’s equivalent of clearing calories gained for eating this super burger!

All in all, here’s the “score card”

Exercise Statistics Dashboard (as of 14th December  2012)

 Activity Type  Activity Counts  Activity Distance (km)
 Running  143  1041.48
 Cycling  14  356.24
 Swimming  62  91.4

Run for Food: 1000km milestone!

It has been more than 11 months since I started my running regiment. Today, I reached the milestone of completing 1000km of running. It is not a lot for a seasoned runner, but certainly a magic number for me. 11 months ago, I would not have thought I would clock a mileage of 100km, let alone 1000km.

 

 

From the chart, you can tell that I had cut down my running activities in Aug – Sept period. It was due to the injury I sustained in August, and in fact am still recovering from it. Thankfully, it didn’t hold me from attaining my goal.

Incidentally, I had curry fishhead for dinner, what a way to celebrate the goal accomplishment, and keep the motivation going!

Run for Food: Peak October and Lazy November

October is the peak month in terms of the duration and calories burnt. But I am expecting the level to tapper down to a more realistic one. The “3-2-1” regiment is not sustainable as I usually would feel tired up on Saturday to go for a 2 hours cycling routine. So it has been swim and run, and for the last 2 weeks, I have skipped “Wednesday” and declared that as a rest day. Getting lazy!

Ankle support

Fitness wise, I observed a steady improvement based on the outcome of some of the workouts. On running, I am doing more zone-3 running, and shorter distance interval training. I am not sure if that had helped in improving my fitness, as I could stay comfortable with running at an average pace of 6.30 min/km for 3-4 km before my heartbeat goes into zone-4. Something to improve on, i.e. keeping at that pace for a longer duration.  It helps that I am doing a more effective forefoot running now, which makes the run more efficient than heel foot running. I also attribute the improvement to better ankle support guard which I got recently. But the ankle still cannot sustain more than 45 minutes run, as my feet will start to feel the strain again, regardless of the ankle support I have.

Exercise Summary (Dec’11-Nov’12)

On swimming, I was pleasantly surprised that I completed a 1km freestyle swim under 25 minutes in one of the swim sessions. It is probably not something to shout about for most swimmers, but certainly for somebody like me who is not a natural swimmer. I also stretched my swimming distance to 3km on 27th October; The completion satisfaction level was high especially considering that I had to endure 86 minutes of mundane routine.

 

Exercise Statistics Dashboard (as of 23rd Nov  2012)

 Activity Type  Activity Counts  Activity Distance (km)
 Running  136  995.13
 Cycling  13  317.48
 Swimming  60  87.4