The unstoppable march of mobile technology

It’s been more than 2 years since my last post about my smartphone. In the time after that post I upgraded my much loved Windows Phone 7 device to Windows Phone 8 (which I got rid of within months, for sucking), briefly used Firefox OS, then eventually used a Nexus 4 for at least a year.

After years of terrible service provision and pricing, I decided I would not stay with my network Orange a moment longer – and in getting a new contract, I would get a new phone too. So on Friday, I signed up to a new £15 per month contract with Three, including 200 minutes, unlimited data, and 25GB of data roaming in the USA and other countries (a saving of £200,000 per month versus Orange). Giffgaff is similarly competitive for data, but not roaming. No other network in the UK is competitive.

For the phone, I had a shortlist of three: Apple iPhone 6, Sony Xperia Z3 Compact, and Samsung Galaxy Alpha. These are all “small” phones by 2014 standards, with a screen about the same size as the Nexus 4. I didn’t consider any Windows Phone devices because they still haven’t shipped a functional music player app on Windows Phone 8. Other more “fringe” OSes weren’t considered, as I insist on trying out a real device in person before purchase, and no other comparable devices are testable on the high street.

iPhone 6

This was the weakest offering, for me. £120 more than the Samsung, and almost £200 more than the Sony, a much lower hardware specification, physically larger, less attractive, and worst of all – mandatory use of iTunes for Windows for music syncing.

iPhone6_PF_SpGry_iPhone6_PB_SpGry_iPhone6_PSL_SpGry_Homescreen-PRINT

Apple iPhone 6, press shot from apple.com, all rights reserved

The only real selling point for me would be for access to iPhone apps. And, I guess, decreased chance of mockery by co-workers.

Galaxy Alpha

Now on to the real choices. I’ve long felt that Samsung’s phones are ugly plasticy tat – the Galaxy S5 is popular, well-marketed, but looks and feels cheap compared to HTC’s unibody aluminium One. They’ve also committed the cardinal sin of gimping the specifications of their “mini” (normal-sized) phones, compared to the “normal” (gargantuan) versions. The newly released S5 Mini is about the same spec as early 2012’s S3, the S4 Mini was mostly an S2 internally, and so on.

However, whilst HTC have continued along these lines, Samsung have finally released a proper phone under 5″, in the Alpha.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha press shot from samsungmobile.com, all rights reserved

Samsung Galaxy Alpha press shot from samsungmobile.com, all rights reserved

The Alpha combines a 4.7″ AMOLED screen, a plastic back, metal edges, 8-core big.LITTLE processor, and 2GB RAM. It is a PRETTY device – the screen really dazzles (as is the nature of OLED). It feels like a mix of design cues from an iPhone and Samsung’s own, keeping the angular feel of iPhone 4->5S rather than the curved edges on the iPhone 6.

The Galaxy Alpha was one of the two devices I seriously considered.

Xperia Z3 Compact

The other Android device I considered was the Compact version of Sony’s new Xperia Z3. Unlike other Android vendors, Sony decided that “mini” shouldn’t mean “low end” when they released the Z1 compact earlier this year. The Z3 follows suit, where the same CPU and storage are found on both the big and little versions.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact press shot from Sony Xperia Picasa album. CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact press shot from Sony Xperia Picasa album. CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

The Z3C has a similar construction to the Nexus 4, with glass front and back, and plastic rim. The specification is similar to the Galaxy Alpha (with a quadcore 2.5GHz Qualcomm processor about 15% faster than the big.LITTLE Exynos in the Galaxy Alpha). It differs in a few places – LCD rather than AMOLED (bad); a non-removable (bad) 2600 mAh battery (good) compared to the removable 1860 mAh in the Samsung; waterproofing (good); A less hateful Android shell (Xperia on Android vs Samsung Touchwiz).

For those considering a Nexus-4-replacement class device (yes, rjek, that means you), both the Samsung and the Sony are worth a look. They both have good points and bad points. In the end, both need to be tested to form a proper opinion. But for me, the chunky battery and tasteful green were enough to swing it for the Sony. So let’s see where I stand in a few months’ time. Every phone I’ve owned, I’ve ended up hating it for one reason or another. My usual measure for whether a phone is good or not is how long it takes me to hit the “I can’t use this” limit. The Nokia N900 took me about 30 minutes, the Lumia 800 lasted months. How will the Z3 Compact do? Time will tell.

7 Responses to “The unstoppable march of mobile technology”

  1. Aww, thanks!

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  2. I have a Z1c as my day phone now (after having used many other Android phones in the last 3 years) and it definitely hits a sweet spot in terms of size, battery life, and performance.

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  3. One minor quibble, you can avoid iTunes for the iPhone by using something like Amazon Cloud Player exclusively. Of course that route has its own caveats. One question: on what grounds did you rule out the moto g?

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  4. OnePlus One! Though I must admit, it’s quite large. The only Android Sony I’ve had was the SP, and it was quite good! I did actually return it for a Nexus 4 when Google had their crazy sale.

    Very pleased with the OPO right now, speed and battery are superb.

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    directhex Reply:

    @Joe, I don’t want a 5.5″ phone, especially one sight-unseen

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  5. I have the Droid Mini and while it’s U.S. Verizon specific so I’m not recommending it I find it amazing that a phone released in July 2013 still holds up so well against other “mini” devices. Usually after a year there are a number of devices I’m itching to upgrade to but not so much now since I would like to stick it a < 5" device.

    At this point I may very well end up sticking with the Droid Mini until a 64bit Android L or above phone with 4GB of RAM comes out… be that in a year or 3. It's "good enough" for all my 32bit needs.

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  6. You will regret going with a non nexus device yes the nexus 5 is bigger.

    However the crappy UI, bugs, lag issues, bloatware and lack of updates associated with *all* the non stock android experiences will far out way the advantage of being slightly smaller.

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