Lumia experience or illuminating Xperia ?

Let the trial begins. Can I jump back to the Android world again? #JumpShipTest #PlusOne #MinusOne #NotPlusOne #NotMinusOne

box

 

A couple of weeks ago, I was blessed to be given a week long opportunity to try out the new Sony Mobile flagship product, Xperia Z2. During the trial, I have been “tweeting” about my experience in Instagram (when I have something visual to talk about!), Tweeter (when my takeaway was just 120 characters long!) and Facebook (when I can’t tweet via Instagram nor Tweeter!). Here’s a consolidation of the experience tweets;

 

First Un-boxing Experience

Z2 retains the DNA of Xperia with the dial like power button, and a dedicated camera button which you can activate the camera function even if your phone is pin locked. Something that I had silently wished for in first Z generation. #PlusOne

powerdial

 

Setting up is a breeze. Android has come a long way, but Sony plays a part here #PlusOne

My first gripe of the phone: Z2 uses micro SIM instead of nano. Now I need to buy the adaptor! #MinusOne

I talked about how the dial like power button is Sony DNA, but I didn’t like the lack of tactile feel. #NotPlusOne #NotMinusOne

 

Sony Mobile has definitely come a long way to make Android phone an end user phone. No doubt Andorid itself, and the likes of Cyanogen, have progressed by leaps and bounds to make the experience less intimidating to technically less inclined end users. Sony Mobile just completes the last piece of the experience puzzle through its layman friendly setup process, simplified but very functional home application and polished applications in Gallery, Video, Mail, Calendar, etc.

 

Z1, Z2 … more than just different codes

Same but not same #NotMinusOne

Z1orZ2

 

On first look, it is not easy to idenitfy which is Z1 and which is Z2. My wife complained that I took her Z1 when I was holding a Z2. There are some subtle differences but generally, its slightly (very very marginal!) lighter, thinner and cleaner (in its design).

The Z2 is clear a winner over Z1, once you look beyond its cosmetic appearance. The screen is a good example. I always feel Xperia Z1 screen is washed out, especially when you place it beside a phone with great display (like the Lumias) and the following photo just proves my point. Good news is Sony had fixed it in Xperia Z2 but that means Xperia Z1 owners would feel shortchanged.

This is how the two screens compare up. No prize for guessing which is Z1 and which is Z2.#PlusOne

screenshootout

Bigger Lumia 1520 vs Better Xperia Z2?

The screen maybe smaller than my 6″ Lumia 1520, but the qwerty keyboard remains functional, even though the keys looks too tiny for my fat thumbs.#PlusOne

I was talking about how the smaller screen in Xperia Z2 remains functional, coming from big screen Lumia 1520. Turns out it’s because of the enhanced autocorrect capability implemented in Xperia Z2. I estimated I have at least 50% of typo mistakes, all thanks to a smaller screen (despite sporting a 5.2″ screen) and my big fat thumbs. Out of which, I estimated 90% of them are auto corrected correctly, even with local terms like kns, wahlao and Tampines! The autocorrect function in Xperia Z2 has this learning feature to learn my past spellings from various sources, including Facebook, Tweeter, Text message and Gmail. Which means you do not need to worry that your Xperia is a strict British English teacher since it can also understand your Singlish lingo. The only gripe I have now is the space bar is too close to the last row of qwerty keys, so I always end up with “v” instead of space. No way the autocorrect function can understand ehatvivwanrvtyped, can it? 

Lumia vs Xperia photo shootout  #NotPlusOne #NotMinusOne

photoshootout

Xperia Z2, with its exmor lens sensor continues to demonstrate its prowess when taking shot in low light condition. Lumia seems to be under exposed although I would say Xperia overcompensate the dim lighting condition. The former still captures all the details and with its ability to have full control over all the camera settings, from shutter speed to white balance, Lumia 1520 remains comparable if not better than Xperia Z2.

 

Is this the moment to join the dark side?

Even though speed could deteriorate over times with an overloaded phone, it’s nevertheless a refreshing to experience the fast navigation in Android over Windows Phone. I have to say the useless application animation has to be one of, if not main, culprit in the latter for giving that lag experience. You don’t really feel it’s slow until you get to see a fast one. Just as you think your Honda is fast until you sit in a Ferrari. #PlusOne

The moment one steps into Android world, it’s like as if a kid has walked into a toy megastore, surrounded by all the goodies. You never know how much you have missed out until you experience the richness of apps again, the likes of #smugmug #plex #blackvue #obd2  #PlusOne

So much has been said about the lack of apps in Windows Phone world. I used to think that app is a nice to have if the phone/phone OS maker takes care of the essential functions like PIM, social media  like Facebook and Twitter, and a good internet browser that can make up for the lack of internet-based apps. However, doing so implies one is essentially restricted to what the phone maker has to offer. Your phone is as smart as the phone maker is, duh! The lack of apps problem however is probably less a concern to business users, so one man’s meat is another man’s poison!

First test on work productivity passed with flying colours. Exchange email implementation is very seamless as I could access EAL (Enterprise Address List) instantaneously, presumably because of a local instance of the EAL. The experience in fact is much better than Windows Phone for various reasons. Sony must be credited for this as I believe this is not an Android experience. #PlusOne

Second test on work productivity passed! At least for now. PowerPoint can now be viewed without format loss, particular on those that uses complex slide objects or slide animation that are found in newer Office 2013. #PlusOne

officeuse

 

My biggest complaint about Android phones in the past has been its amateurish functionality in its office productivity tools such as powerpoint or excel. Even Exchange email and calendar clients were half baked; incomplete or missing Enterprise address lookup feature, calendar appointment sync issue, inability to initiate an invite, etc. Sony Mobile seems to have all these fixed. NB: I stand corrected if these are also fixed in pure Android phones.

No more issues sending an email to an US-based colleague without having to remember his or her name. In Windows Phone, you need to follow the last name first name format in order for the Windows Phone lookup to be able to find the matching contact, but not necessary in case of Xperia Z2. When there are multiple contacts having similar name in the Enterprise Directory, you can’t tell the difference in Windows Phone. In Xperia Z2, I was surprisingly impressed that it could. The other big, if not biggest deal breaker in the past has been Microsoft Office compatibility.  I have tried all the Office apps, from Google Office to QuickOffice, but none of them was able to display slides or spreadsheet without format and/or content loss. Miraculously, Microsoft decides to port the their jewel app to Android and iOS recently. This, I think, has to be the key to unlock the door to the dark side!

I had always thought Windows Phone is less efficient in its network data operation, but this video shows otherwise. Again, I think the cursor animation in Wp8 might have created that slow perception. On the otherhand, Microsoft has done a great job in creating that fast experience, probably through a lower resolution thumbnail and caching implementation. #MinusOne

Readability under direct sunlight is next to zero. Disappointing or does anybody knows it’s not turned on? #MinusOne

Z2 haptic feedback still has the same issue as its predecessors, i.e. Z and Z1. I observed that their haptic feedback mechanism is less superior than other makers. As you hit the screen, the vibration effect is not “firm” and “controlled”, as in you feel like the entire screen is vibrating (alittle exaggerating but I hope you get my drift). Its even more obvious if you hit a qwerty key repeatedly. In some instances, such as the lockscreen, it makes input appears to be less responsive. I have to turn off haptic feedback in the lockscreen setting to eliminate the lag. #MinusOne

Had a first significant concern after all the raves and positive experiences so far. The screen was not responsive yesterday, and it was displaying the animated wallpaper. Thinking that the unit must have hung, I instinctively reset the phone by pressing and holding on to the power button (a practice that I always do when Lumia hangs on me). Then the phone restarts, as expected but what follows surprised me. The phone was actually hard reset-ed. All the settings and configurations were lost, and photos and personal files were erased. Something must have happened to cause a system panic and result in a factory reset. Hopefully it’s an isolated case because I have been liking what I had experienced so far till this incident happened. #MinusOne

 

Xperia Z2 has its quirks, so don’t get away with the impression it is a perfect phone. I have yet to come across one, and this certainly is not. Save the last incident, which I hope its truly an isolated one, those imperfections may not be an issue for those who are not really affected by them, e.g. you don’t use your phone under the sun. In today’s market, this is probably one of the very rare few I would consider if I have to switch over to Android now. The fact that I am ready to jump after a week trial, sums up my favorable opinions about this gem.  The only reason why I am holding my move? No it’s not XiaoMi. It has got to be something that #PlusOne, anybody?

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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 …