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New devices impress, but leave something to be desired in each case

On Tuesday press event at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada Sony Corp. (TYO:6758) highlighted its work on 4K video (including collaborations with Google Inc.'s (GOOG) YouTube and Netflix, Inc. (NFLX)).  Sony Electronics President Mike Fasulo showed a lot of things including Alpha-series mirrorless, lightweight d-SLR designs, waterproof electronics, and a second generation 4K videocam.  Most of this was a recap of what we've seen in recent weeks/months.

But Sony Electronics did have a little suprise up its sleeve.

I. The Z1 Compact --Beautiful, Yet Flawed

It expanded its Xperia smartphone lineup to include two new U.S. geared models.  The first, the Xperia Z1 compact is a downsized and degraded version of the Z1.  Sony Mobile president Kunimasa Suzuki comments:

We've taken the power of the Xperia Z1 and we have made it smaller without compromising on features. The Xperia Z1 Compact houses all of the power of the flagship Z1.

Well, not exactly.  Here's the spec of the mini phone:
  • Form Factor
    • Size:   127 x 64.9 x 9.5 mm (5.00 x 2.55 x 0.374 in.)
    • Weight: 137 g (4.83 oz)
  • OS
    • Android 4.3 Jelly Bean (upgradeable to 4.4 "Kit Kat" at a later date)
  • Launch Window
    • EU: Mid-February
    • U.S.: ??
  • Launch Price (unlocked)
    • UK: £400-450 [source] ($660-740 USD)
    • EU: €550 [source] ($750 USD)
    • U.S.: ??
  • Colors
    • Black
    • White
    • Luscious Pink
    • Lime Green
    • Yellow
    • Red
  • Hardware
    • Screen
      • 20.7 MP (fixed-focus)
      • Carl Zeiss optics f/2.0
      • 1/2.3-inch sensor
      • 1080p video @ 30 fps
      • LED flash
  • SoC
    • Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM) Snapdragon 800
      • MSM8974
      • 2.2 GHz
      • 4 cores
      • Krait 400 core design
      • Adreno 330 GPU
  • RAM
    • 2 GB
  • Battery
    • 2,300mAh lithium-ion
  • Storage
    • Internal:16 GB
    • External: MicroSDHC, up to 64 GB
  • Camera(s)
    • Rear
      • 20.7 MP (fixed-focus)
      • Carl Zeiss optics f2.0
      • LED flash
      • 1080p video @ 30 fps
    • Front-facing
      • 2 MP
  • Wireless/Cellular
    • 4G LTE
    • NFC
    • A-GPS+GLONASS
    • FM Radio
    • Bluetooth: v4.0 LE
    • WiFi/WLAN: 2.4/5Ghz a/b/g/n
  • Sensors
    • accelerometer
    • multi-touch input
    • proximity sensor
    • Other
    •  IP55/58 water and dust resistance
So first the good: the colored metal alloy-frame and colorful backplates of the Xperia Z1 Compact are beautiful.  Assuming the user can find a color they like, it's one of the most compelling designs out there, rivalling HTC Corp.'s (TPE:2498) One, Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) iPhone 5S, and Nokia Oyj.'s (HEX:NOK1V) Lumia 1020 (now a Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) product).

Z1 Compact

Aside from the frame, the hardware is overall quite solid -- with a couple of critical exceptions.

The bad parts of the screen pretty much all revolve around the screen.  First, from a design perspective the front glass is a fingerprint magnet.  The iPhone 5 and 5S, for example, have oleophobic coats that help them resist fingerprints even a year or two after purchase.

Z1 Compact backface

Moving on to technical criticisms, there's a noticeable degradation in the switch to 720p.  losing a third of your pixels is kind of a big deal.  Had the Z1 Compact been 1080p, it would have truly been something to write home about.  As is, at 341 ppi (pixels per inch) it's not even among the leaders in the smartphone space in terms of pixel density.

Z1S

Further the touch on the device felt slightly labored.  Responses were slow.  I'm sure it's not the processor (which is blazing fast).  I can only conclude that some combination of the hardware/firmware and perhaps the Android skin Sony uses were to blame.  But at the end of the day the device feels weak touch-wise, a critical flaw in a beautiful device.

Xperia Z1S v. Z1 Compact

So the Xperia Z1 Compact joins the likes of the Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KRX:005930) Galaxy S4 Mini and the HTC One Mini, as an attractive, if a bit flawed small Android handset.

II. The Xperia Z1S -- Not as Beautiful, but Packing a Better Screen

They always say looks aren't everything.  In the case of the Z1S -- which will be an exclusive in the U.S. to carrier T-Mobile USA (a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom AG (ETR:DTE)), this holds particularly true.

The Xperia Z1S looks okay, but it comes nowhere near matching the striking, appealing design of its diminuitive new counterpart.  But its ho-hum looks come with a surprisingly solid screen, removing the key Achilles heel of the Z1 Compact, hardware wise.

Here's a rundown on the spec of that device:
  • Form Factor
    • Size:   144 x 74 x 8.5 mm (5.67 x 2.91 x 0.335 in.)
    • Weight: 170 g (6.00 oz)
  • OS
    • Android 4.3 Jelly Bean (upgradeable to 4.4 "Kit Kat" at a later date)
  • Launch Window
    • EU: ??
    • U.S.: Jan. 22 (preorder on Jan. 13)
  • Launch Price (unlocked)
    • $528 USD
  • Colors
    • Black (for now the only hue)
  • Hardware
    • Screen
      • 5 inches TFT LCD
      • 1920 x 1080 pixel (720p)
      • 441 ppi
      • "Triluminous" pixel technology
  • SoC
    • Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM) Snapdragon 800
      • MSM8974
      • 2.2 GHz
      • 4 cores
      • Krait 400 core design
      • Adreno 330 GPU
  • RAM
    • 2 GB
  • Battery
    • 3,000 mAh lithium-ion
  • Storage
    • Internal: 32 GB
    • External: MicroSDHC, up to 64 GB
  • Camera(s)
    • BIONZ image processor chip
    • Rear
      • Exmor RS sensor
        • 20.7 MP
        • 1/2.3-inch sensor
      • Carl Zeiss "G Lens" optics
        • f/2.0
      • 1080p video @ 30 fps
      • LED flash
    • Front-facing
      • 2 MP
  • Wireless/Cellular
    • 4G LTE
    • NFC
    • A-GPS+GLONASS
    • FM Radio
    • Bluetooth: v4.0 LE
    • WiFi/WLAN: 2.4/5Ghz a/b/g/n/ac
  • Sensors
    • accelerometer
    • multi-touch input
    • proximity sensor
    • Other
    •  IP55/58 waterproofing (up to 4.5 ft for 30 minutes) and dust resistance
The biggest difference in terms of performance versus the Z1 Compact is clearly the 1080p screen, which is retained from its predecessor the Xperia Z1.  Oh, and the screen seemed more responsive and more oleophobic (fingerprint-resistant) than the Z1 Compact as well.  In other words, in caveman speak: Z1S screen good, Z1 Compact screen bad.

Z1S wide

Versus its predecessor the storage has doubled and Sony has bumped the battery life by 33 percent, which could take the Z1 from the back of the pack to a contender battery-wise.  The headphone jack has also shifted to the center-top of the device, and is no longer covered.  As a result it is usable undewater when you're swimming laps.

Xperia Z1S

Otherwise the Z1 design is left the same.  The Z1 itself was similarly a slight bump (in terms of processing power and camera) from the Xperia Z, which was announced at last CES.

Thus you're left with a flagship phone which is a bit unfufilling design which is a very nicely rounded option in terms of hardware.  Given its availability on T-Mobile USA -- America's fastest growing carrier, I have no doubt it will do well.

Xperia Z1S

But with HTC and Samsung expected to unveil new flagship devices in the February-April window (assuming HTC can survive financially) there's an opportunity for the competitors to raise the bar in hardware.  If that happens the Z1S may go from proficient and solid hardware-wise, to second best.

Source: Sony [blog]



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Why
By Reclaimer77 on 1/7/2014 9:47:25 PM , Rating: 5
Why is every Android phone NOT 1080p criticized, yet the same press gives Apple a virtual free pass when they've never even had a phone hit 720p yet?

Jason I'm not ripping you, because I see this almost everywhere. Does a 4.3" screen really NEED to be 1080p? I don't see this phone as being flawed at all, it's NOT a flagship after all.

Personally I'm impressed. People are always complaining there are too few quality ~4" Android handsets out there, and admittedly this is a segment that's not targeted often, but by all accounts this is a stylish well built and equipped smartphone.

Sony flies under the radar, but they make some damn nice phones.




RE: Why
By GulWestfale on 1/7/2014 10:19:16 PM , Rating: 2
does anyone actually proofread these pieces? i'm pretty sure a phone is "downgraded", not "degraded", and there a whole bunch of sentences that don't make any sense in this article as well. the spec list has empty bullet pints (screen: 20MP). do you guys just dictate into dragon naturally speaking and then never check anything before publishing?


RE: Why
By Fujikoma on 1/7/2014 10:19:43 PM , Rating: 3
I'm in the same boat with pixel density. 300 dpi is photo quality, so I don't get why the author is whining about 341 dpi. The author would be better served arguing that anyone can tell the difference between 16 bit and 20 bit audio, 32 bit and 64 bit colour or a myriad of other subjective areas that fall outside the realm of human perception for most people. What dpi is acceptable for smart phones?


RE: Why
By Nortel on 1/7/2014 10:19:53 PM , Rating: 1
Larger the screen size, the more pixels you need to get a decent PPI.

All I see are two more snapdragon 800, ~5 inch Android phones that look like so many other Android phones. The Lenovo Vibe Z, these Sony offerings, nexus 5, etc... are pretty much the same phone.


RE: Why
By GulWestfale on 1/7/14, Rating: 0
RE: Why
By EasyC on 1/8/2014 6:50:24 AM , Rating: 2
4.3" is NOT 5"

Reading is fundamental.


RE: Why
By Dr of crap on 1/8/2014 9:09:29 AM , Rating: 2
Really !
It's ABOUT 5" !!

The high today will also be 27.5 degrees how's that?


RE: Why
By Reclaimer77 on 1/8/2014 10:12:56 AM , Rating: 2
Uhhh the surface area difference in a 4.3" screen and 5" is pretty damn significant.

Nortel obviously didn't realize the screen was so small when he began his rant, and deserved being called on it.


RE: Why
By troysavary on 1/9/2014 2:52:22 PM , Rating: 2
I have to agree with reclaimer77 here. 4.3 rounds to 4, not 5, if you feel you must round it.


RE: Why
By Camikazi on 1/8/2014 10:29:15 AM , Rating: 2
4.3" is closet to ABOUT 4" than it is to ABOUT 5", you can't go up by that much and just say "oh, it's close". Using about in this way is the same as rounding, you to the closest whole number and that would be 4 not 5. Or you could just say 4.3" and not round up where it makes no sense just to make some random and idiotic point.


RE: Why
By retrospooty on 1/8/2014 7:39:12 AM , Rating: 2
"All I see are two more snapdragon 800, ~5 inch Android phones that look like so many other Android phones"

That is because you are conditioned like a sheep to not like anything that doesn't begin with an A.

BTW, tell me about all the different screen sizes and form factors and different options you have in the iPhone lineup.


RE: Why
By EasyC on 1/8/2014 6:56:04 AM , Rating: 2
Amen, I'm on a MotoX now (coming from an HTC One). There isn't a discernible difference when viewed from normal distances. 720p also saves on battery life.

I'm actually excited for this phone. I hope it starts a trend. There are a lot of us who don't want a tablet held up to their face. Having a smaller phone with flagsphip phone specs is a huge step forward.

So, the way I see it, is either the author NEEDED to come up with a negative (unless Apple) or he believes phones need to have unnecessary pixel density to win the paper wars and thus, forces his opinion as if it were fact.

Either way, decent coverage of the device, poor journalism.


RE: Why
By Flunk on 1/8/2014 12:44:30 PM , Rating: 3
Well obviously if you smash your eyeball up against the glass and see even a tiny bit of aliasing then it's not acceptable. Anything below 400dpi makes babies cry and dogs howl.


RE: Why
By bug77 on 1/8/2014 12:55:02 PM , Rating: 2
Just wait till later this year, or maybe the next, when Apple will invent 720p/1080p "on a smartphone".


RE: Why
By JasonMick (blog) on 1/8/2014 1:23:58 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Why is every Android phone NOT 1080p criticized, yet the same press gives Apple a virtual free pass when they've never even had a phone hit 720p yet?
Oh I agree totally but I think you know my critique comes from a more brand agnostic position.

I did not write launch article on the iPhone 5S/5C, but trust me, had I would definitely mention the weak resolution... I recall discussing that issue w older iPhones.

I also agree the Z1 Compacts are beautiful devices.

I mostly disagree w Sony's presentation. Had it billed these as budget devices like Samsung and HTC did w their minis it wouldn't be as valid to nitpick. By billing it as a full spec scaled down Z1 it opens itself to criticism.

Lastly, the one thing I must also emphasize though is the touch felt rather labored... Also it is VERY prone to soaking up fingerprints... Versus Samsung, LG, Apple, and Nokia all of which are pretty print-resistant this flaw also really stands out. Its possible these two issues are just a problem w the early prototypes... They have a month to iron it out... I hope they do; if they can the Z1 Compact would be on my short list to replace my Windows Phone Lumia 900 (I like Windows Phone but am on the fence about WP v. Android when I jump off AT&T onto my GF's Verizon account (discounted 25 percent) or T-Mobile in April.


RE: Why
By troysavary on 1/9/2014 2:22:56 PM , Rating: 2
Weren't you criticising Nokia's when they weren't 1080p?


RE: Why
By Reclaimer77 on 1/9/2014 4:18:59 PM , Rating: 2
No. I was criticizing WINDOWS PHONE for not even supporting 1080p when Android handsets were already being made in that resolution.

There ARE 1080p Android handsets available. This just isn't one of them. That's a huge difference to the single vendor solution that is Windows Phone, where if Microsoft doesn't support a feature on the software side, and Nokia doesn't support something on the hardware end, you're pretty much boned.


RE: Why
By troysavary on 1/9/2014 3:00:05 PM , Rating: 2
Sony does make some pretty nice hardware. I have no desire for an Android, but Sony is among the best of the Android manufacturers.

As someone who doesn't give rat's ass about thin and light, my ideal phone would have the ruggedness of a Toughbook, the water resistance of one of those Sony phones, 2 or 3 days battery life, Windows Phone as the OS, Nokia's cam and mic, and the replaceable battery and Flash slot of a Galaxy. If it is twice as thick and heavy as an iPhone, I could care less. Just give me ruggedness and long life, dammit.


Mini only in the name
By Doh! on 1/8/2014 7:25:25 AM , Rating: 2
The width of the phone nears that of a Nexus 5 which has a much bigger screen. Sony needs to shave off a big chunk of the bezel to have a more competitive design.




RE: Mini only in the name
By Strunf on 1/8/2014 8:12:26 AM , Rating: 2
Much bigger? one is 4.3" the other 4.9", the difference is like 14%. Also one is 16/9 the other 16/10.


RE: Mini only in the name
By JasonMick (blog) on 1/8/2014 1:30:47 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
The width of the phone nears that of a Nexus 5 which has a much bigger screen. Sony needs to shave off a big chunk of the bezel to have a more competitive design.
Thats because the battery is the same capacity as the Nexus 5 (2,300 mAh). Perhaps you missed that?

I didn't even single that out as it's pretty much impossible to squeeze that much battery into a 8.5 mm frame at that screen size. As the other op says your comparison is silly as its a smaller footprint/screen. Look @ the Z1S.. Sony has no problem getting slimmer at larger screen sizes.


By flyingpants1 on 1/8/2014 7:22:52 PM , Rating: 2
1920 x 1080 pixel (720p)




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