Thursday, February 19, 2015

Returning to the Xperia Z1

I broke my Xperia Z1 in mid December, and shipped it back to Sony for a warranty repair. Not knowing if I was going to ever get it back (Sony once hung on to one of my RMAs for over a year!), I bought a Lumia 635. Then last week, Sony finally sent me back a new (complete with box) Xperia Z1 6906, which wasn't the same as the 6903 which I had purchased. The difference is that the 6906 will handle LTE in the US, while the 6903 model has a few bands that are more frequently used outside the US. Since you're going to be restricted to 2G outside the US if you're mostly on T-mobile anyway, this was actually an improvement for me.

A few things that I miss between the Z1 vs the Lumia 635:

  • The Lumia 635 has phenomenal battery life. It's a weaker phone with a smaller screen, so I wasn't tempted to use it as much, but with the Xperia Z1, I turned on all the stamina mode features of the Z1 this time around, and have to get into the habit of keeping the phone charged the whole time. The day I didn't do that, battery life was abysmal.
  • The smaller Lumia 635 and the fact that it's cheaper meant that the fitness tracking feature was actually useful. I could stick it in any pocket, and didn't really care if I was going to sit on it. There's a lot to be said for having a phone so cheap that I could buy 6 of it for the price of the Z1. The compactness can be solved by buying a compact Z series phone, but you can't solve for cheapness any other way than by spending less.
But there are also many reasons to be relieved to get the Z1 back:
  • That nice big screen is really sweet. When using it to shop on Amazon, or use Feedly, I never felt cramped or constrained.
  • Apps. It's funny how Outlook is much better on Android than on Windows Phone. This is because Microsoft bought Accompli, but it's still nice. Similarly, I had to pay for Phonly (a view into Feedly) but Feedly on Android was free. People frequently say that having a forked Android store in the form of the Amazon App store hurts the Android ecosystem, but I disagree. Having 2 stores to shop from creates competition, which means that overall prices are lower for apps, and Amazon frequently gives me discounts or free coins to buy apps with. What this means is that apps I might have had to pay for on Windows such as Plex are essentially free on Android. Even  better, because the Amazon appstore is not tied to a Google account the way the Google Play app store is, my wife gets those apps for free too!
  • That camera on the Z1 is just amazing for a smart phone camera. Enough said. As a matter of fact, together with the IP58 waterproofing rating that's the reason to get a Z series smartphone.
  • Waterproofing: lots of people claim that they don't see this as a key feature. The first time you rinse off the phone casually to get rid of fingerprints, etc., everyone else in the room goes, woah, you can do that?
  • Power. Smartphone processors simply haven't been improving as rapidly over the last few years, so the Z1 is still within striking distance of current flagship phone performance. This is no big deal for typical reading e-mail, checking RSS feed, etc., as the 635 shows, but for photo editing and processing videos, it's nice to be able to do this without having to resort to a desktop or a laptop.
All in all, after several months of using the Z1 and comparing it against the 635, I will admit that the improvements over the cheaper phone is probably justified, but requires surprising numbers of tweaks (e.g., to power management) to get there.

The current model Xperia Z3 Compact and Z3 phones reportedly do not suffer from the power management tweaking required to get decent battery life. They do, however, come at a much higher price ($476 and $575 are the current prices), which mean that they're not as immediately a no-brainer compared to the Nexus 5 as the Z1/Z1 compact are. However, since the Nexus 5 is no longer easily available, and the nearest comparable is the Moto X ($399.99), compared to those phones, the Xperia Z3 series would be a no-brainer.

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