When Google announced the Nexus 4 I was genuinely excited, my Lumia was showing its age and I was eager to get back to the platform that I loved, especially one delivered by Google. However month after of month of delays which had me hanging on the order page every day eventually wore my patience down and I swore that Google wouldn’t be getting any money from me this time around. Whilst I’ll admit that I almost caved when they finally became available I stuck to my guns and kept searching for a replacement handset.
Initially I was sold on the ZTE Grand S as it’s release date wasn’t too far off into the future and it’s specifications were really quite impressive. Still being an impatient, instant gratification kind of guy I kept searching for other phones that had similar specs but would have a release date sooner rather than later. It didn’t take long before I stumbled across the Sony Xperia Z which not only matched the ZTE in every way it was going to be available months earlier. Within a week I had dropped the requisite cash for one and not long after it arrived at my doorstep.
The Xperia Z is by far the largest phone I’ve ever owned with a massive 5″ screen with an even more incredible 1080p resolution (yeah, that’s the same as my TV). For someone with large hands who struggled with the smaller screens on iPhones and my Samsung Galaxy S2 the increased screen real estate is just awesome, especially when it comes to typing on it. The screen itself is none too shabby either with that high DPI making everything look clear and incredibly detailed. It is a TFT screen which means that it’s viewing angle is somewhat limited (which is not usually a problem, but its certainly noticable) and it’s a little rubbish when used in sunlight. This can be combated somewhat by turning on auto-brightness adjustments which is strangely set to off by default.
Despite its size and glass casing the Xperia Z is quite light, especially when compared to the hefty Nokia device that I upgraded from. It’s not on the level of the Galaxy S2 where I’d sometimes forget I had it in my pocket, it’s far too large to forget about. I believe this is due to its rather unique construction where the glass layers are actually quite thin which, whilst reducing weight, does mean that when pressing on the screen you can sometimes cause the LCD to warp slightly which is a little disconcerting. Having said that though I’ve already managed to drop mine a couple times and it’s managed to survive with no noticeable consequences.
The hardware under the hood is great on paper (Snapdragon S4 Pro quad-core 1.5 Ghz processor with 2GB RAM, 16GB on board storage) and it doesn’t fail to deliver in the real world either. Out of the box all motions are buttery smooth with all applications reveling with the insane amount of grunt that the Xperia Z has behind it. The only time that I’ve seen it struggle is when I’ve started to make modifications (like a custom launcher and theme) but even that only seems to happen at very particular times and disappears as quickly as it started.
Surprisingly such grunt doesn’t come at the cost of battery life thanks to the massive 2400mAh battery that powers the Xperia Z. Whilst it will gladly chew through all that energy should you give it a reason to (like playing Minecraft on it, for instance) in its default state it’ll last for days on a single charge. I charge my battery every night but most of the time it’s above 50% when I do, showing that it’s quite capable of going for 2 days without requiring a charge. This is all without its crazy STAMINA mode enabled either which disables data connections when the screen is off which I can only assume would increase the battery life further.
The camera is none too bad either being a 13MP Exmor RS chip, similar to the ones that power Sony’s powerhouse pocket cams like the NEX-5. It’s capable of producing some pretty decent pictures, like the one you see above, however like all smartphone cameras it languishes in low light when it tries to ramp up the ISO and just ends up creating a noisy mess. The HDR video also seems to be something of a gimmick as turning it on doesn’t seem to have a noticeable impact on the result video produced. I haven’t done any conclusive testing with it however.
Sony took something of a light touch when it came to customizing the underlying Android OS with their mobile theme being a thin veneer over the default Jellybean interface. They’ve also favoured the in-built applications over developing their own versions of them which is great as whilst Samsung’s apps weren’t terrible they paled in comparison to others, including the stock Android versions. The only application that got a lot of work was the camera app and realistically all that was done to support the not-so-standard features that Sony packed into it. Overall I was quite pleased with Sony’s approach as it shows that they’re focused on providing a great experience rather than attempt to shovel crapware.
However I can’t really give Sony all the credit for that as it really comes down to Android and the third party application ecosystem that’s developed around it. Whilst I hadn’t been gone from Android for long the improvements in many of the applications that I used daily is really impressive and things that felt like a chore on other platforms are just so much better. That coupled with the insane amount of customizability that Android allows has enabled me to make my Xperia Z truly unique to me coupled with all the functionality I had been missing on my Lumia.
Sony has really come a long way with their line of phones, from way back in the day when they launched their first Xperia (which I still have in my drawer at home) to today when they’re building phones that are, in my opinion, best in class. I’ll admit that I was a little worried that I had jumped the gun when I heard the S4 was going to be out soon but the Xperia is not only comparable, it beats it in several categories. The fact that Sony was able to release a phone of this calibre ahead of the competition says a lot about Sony’s development team and I’m happy to say they’ve created the best phone I’ve ever used to date.
I remember buying my first high definition TV way back when my wife and I moved into our first house. Back when I was living in a share house (this was around 5~6 years ago now) one of my room mates made the decision to get one. After moving out I figured that I could go without one for a while since I had a relatively large CRT screen that I could use in the interim. It didn’t take long before the urge hit me and I set out to get one for myself.
My requirements were simple: I wanted a LCD that could do 1080p so that it would last me a fair while. Back then you were lucky to find any content that was greater than 480p that wasn’t on a DVD so I figured a 1080p screen would suit me for the foreseeable future. I had a budget limit too, $3000 was the top price I could pay and not a cent more. Of course all the sets that had my required feature set were well out of my price range, but I eventually lucked out when I found one that had a “bonus” 27″ set that I convinced them to take back and remove the price of it off the larger set. Flush with victory I walked out of there with a brilliant Samsung 46″ LCD display that still sits prominently in my living room today, and probably will for a few more years to come.
Now I consider myself something of an audio/visual buff (not to the point of stupidity, mind you) so there was another reason why I wanted something capable of 1080p. You see our eyes, well ones with 20/20 vision at least, are able to perceive details down to a resolution of about 1/60th of a degree of an arc. With this information in mind we can then extrapolate whether or not a screen of a certain size at a certain viewing distance will show any perceivable difference. At the time I relied on some helpful forums that had rough guides as to what resolutions needed to be viewed at what distances but I just recently found this chart which demonstrates the principle much more clearly:
Looking at my choice of screen (46″, 1080p) with my view distance (around 6~7ft) it’s clear that I made the right choice. Interestingly enough though should I want to go for the next resolution up and get the full benefit of it I’d have to get a screen that’s almost triple the size, which makes sense considering just how much higher resolution 4K footage is compared to 1080p. I’d strongly recommend using this as a guide if you’re considering buying a HDTV in the near future as there’s simply no reason to go for the biggest/highest resolution screen you can get if you’re not going to be able to tell the difference between it and a cheaper set.
This is all rendered somewhat moot by the fact that a set that’s very comparable to mine now retails for just $799 thanks to Kogan. Back when the choice between the biggest/best and the appropriate was on the order of a couple thousand dollars it really did matter. Today it’s not so much of a big deal as a very nice set can be had for under a third of the cost that it used to be and the differences between them are usually limited to the screen size.
You’d think that this kind of price differential would make my blood boil but it’s just the way technology works. If you want something like a HDTV there’s really no point in delaying it for the next model as there will always be something better and cheaper just around the corner. I committed to the purchase fully aware of what I was getting into but I also made sure that my cash would see use over many, many years. So in reality I’ve pretty much came out even and I have never felt wanting for a new HDTV.
7 months down the line and I’m still a big fan of my Samsung Galaxy S2. It’s been a great phone, combining large screen size with a slim, lightweight shell that I sometimes have to check for to remind myself that its still in my pocket. It’s surprisingly resilient as well, having taken more than a couple drops from pretty decent heights and coming out the other end with only minor scuffs and nary a scratch on the screen. Sadly I can’t say much more for the battery life as it seems that the more apps I pile on there the worse it gets, but I can’t really blame the phone for my app hoarding ways.
However I always knew that this relationship would be temporary, I mean how could it not? It started with geek wunderlust and as it is with all relationships that start like that it’s inevitable that my eyes would begin to wander, and so they have with this announcement:
…Ladies and gentlemen, here is the Samsung Galaxy S III:
- 1.5GHz quad-core Samsung Exynos processor
- 4.8-inch “full HD” 1080p resolution with 16:9 aspect ratio display
- A 2-megapixel front-facing camera and an 8-megapixel rear camera
- Ceramic case
- 4G LTE
- Android 4.0
I’ll spare you the photoshopped Galaxy S2 images that are doing the rounds but suffice to say those specs are pretty darn amazing. They’re also fairly plausible as well given Samsung’s research into the component technologies and current trends for both carriers and the Android platform. The detail that caught my eye however was the ceramic case as that’s not a material that you’d usually expect to see on a mobile phone with plastic and glass being the only 2 real choices. There could be reasoning behind it though and if my suspicions are correct its due to the crazy amount of tech they’ve stuffed under the hood.
Traditionally ceramics are pretty poor heat conductors which is why they make for good mugs and insulation materials. However there are quite a few advanced ceramics that are very capable of moving heat just as efficiently as most metals are, some even better. Now anyone who has a dual core smart phone knows how hot the buggers get when you’re using them for an extended period and since most phones are plastic that heat tends to stick around rather than dissipate. The ceramic case could then be an attempt to mitigate the heat problems that will come with the quad core processor and larger screen. This also has the potential to make the phones somewhat more brittle however (ceramics don’t flex, they shatter) so it will be interesting to see how Samsung compensates for that.
With just those few details though I’m already excited for Samsung’s next instalment in their flagship line of smart phones. Their last 2 iterations of the Galaxy S line have gone from strength to strength, firmly cementing themselves as the number one Android handset manufacturer. The Galaxy S3 looks to continue this trend with specifications that are sure to tempt even the most recent purchasers of the S2. I know I’ll find it hard to resist and I’m thankful that it probably won’t be out for a little while longer.
I don’t think my wallet would appreciate buying 2 phones within 7 months of each other 😉
I’m pretty fiscally conservative when it comes to my own cash, agonizing over purchases for sometimes weeks at a time before I take the plunge. It’s enough to outright kill some purchases entirely like the Motorola Xoom that I was convinced was worth at least having around just for the “tablet experience” but couldn’t seem to pass my financial filter. There are however times when my inner geek becomes so impressed with something that it overwhelms any sort of fiscal responsibility and I’ll find myself in possession of my object of desire well before I realize that I’ve taken my credit card out of my wallet. The Samsung Galaxy S2 is a brilliant example of this as I had been looking for a new phone for a while (and the Windows Phone 7 handsets available weren’t wowing me) and a quick trip to the specification sheet had me deep in geek lust, and 3 days later I had one in my hands.
The Galaxy S2 is really another world away from any other handset that I’ve had the pleasure of using. It’s quite a wide unit with the main screen measuring an impressive 4.3″ (10.92cm) across the diagonal but it’s also incredibly slim, being only 8.49mm thick. It’s also incredibly light weighing in at a tiny 116g which you’d think would make it feel cheap when compared to other similar handsets (the iPhone 4 is much more meatier) but the construction of the handset is very solid despite it being entirely plastic. The front screen is Gorilla glass which is incredibly resistant to scratches. I haven’t had a single scratch on it despite dropping it a couple times and putting it in my pocket with my keys by accident, something that would’ve ruined a lesser phone. To say that the first impressions of just holding the handset are impressive is putting it lightly, it’s simply an incredible device to hold.
In fact coming directly from an iPhone to the Galaxy S2 I can see why Samsung is in hot water with Apple over this particular device. I’ve covered the TouchWiz interface being strikingly similar to iOS in my Android review but the handset itself is also very Applesque, sporting the same single physical button on the front right in the same location that Apple has. Although its hard to accuse them of outright copying Apple since you can only get so creative with large touchscreen devices, especially when some of the required buttons are dictated by the underlying OS.
Under the hood of this featherweight device lies immense processing power, a multitude of connectivity options and enough sensors to make privacy nuts go wild with lawsuits. To give you an idea of just how jam packed the Galaxy S2 is here’s a breakdown of the specifications:
As you can see it actually stands up quite well when compared to my Sony. The video and picture quality is very comparable, especially in well lit situations. However it does fall down in low light and any time there’s motion due to the smaller CMOS sensor and lack of image stabilization. The LED flash on it is also incredibly harsh and will likely wash out any low light photo you attempt to take with it, but it does make for a decent little flash light. It won’t outright replace my little pocket cam any time soon but it’s definitely a good stand in when I don’t have (or don’t want to carry) it with me.
The everyday usability of the Galaxy S2 is also quite good for someone like me who has large hands (…ladies 😉 and used to struggle somewhat with the smaller screens on other handsets. However one gripe I do have with the handset is the lack of physical buttons for the options and back buttons for Android. The Galaxy S2 opts instead for 2 capacitive buttons either side of a the physical home button which does give the device a much sleeker look but can also mean accidental button touches should you brush against them. Samsung has also opted to put the power button on the side of the handset instead of the traditional placement on top near the headset port, which takes a little getting used to but is quite usable.
Where the stock Galaxy S2 falls down however is in its battery life. With moderate usage the battery wouldn’t make it through a second day requiring me to keep it plugged in most days whilst I was work lest it die on me overnight when I went home. This could have been the deal breaker for this phone as whilst I’m not the forgetful type I do like to be confident that I can make it through the day without having to watch the battery meter like a hawk. Thankfully the guys over at XDA Developers came to the rescue again with their custom ROM for the Galaxy S2 called VillainROM. After going through the process of doing the upgrade my battery now lasts about twice as long as it used to, only needing charging once or twice a week. I’ve yet to run Advanced Task Killer to attempt to squeeze even more battery life out of my handset, but it’s good enough for the time being.
It should come at no surprise then that this has been a wildly popular handset with both the tech and non-tech crowd a like. In the 3 months since its release the Galaxy S2 has sold a whopping 6 million units and just anecdotally it seems nearly every single one of my friends who was looking for a new phone has got one as well as almost half of my workmates. I used to laugh at anyone who touted any smartphone as an iPhone killer but with the Galaxy S2 not even being available in the USA yet and already garnering such a massive reception it might be the very first single phone that will be able to come close to touching Apple’s numbers. Of course I don’t believe for a second that any single Android handset will be able to take down the iPhone, not for a while at least.
The Samsung Galaxy S2 has set the bar as to what smart phones should be capable of and it will be the gold standard with which all are compared to for a long time coming. The combination of elegant design, incredible power and features galore make the Galaxy S2 stand out from the crowd in a big way, so much so that buying any other handset seems illogical. For many it has the potential to replace several other devices with its top notch multimedia components, further improving the overall value that you can derive from this handset. Overall the Samsung Galaxy S2 is a wonderfully impressive device and if you’re in the market for a new smart phone I really can’t recommend it enough.
I’ve been deep in the social networking world for a long time now and while I’m no expert on how to use them effectively I do recognise their power to drive a product or brand. Most recently this has led me to get involved in the YouTube community, albeit as a consumer more than a producer. Still I couldn’t push back the thought that this was something I’d love to get into, seeing it as a kind of evolution of my blogging efforts of the past couple years. Plus it would give me a great excuse to go gadget shopping and everyone knows I love me a good gadget.
I’d been eyeing off the new Canon DSLRs for quite a while since I’d heard they were capable of doing full HD video recording. Looking over some of the sample videos posted around the Internet the Canon 550D was shaping up to be a good replacement for my 400D, and the camera body by itself could be had quite cheaply. However after bumping into an old friend of my brother he extolled the virtues of the Canon 7D to me, what with its dual processor loveliness and full magnesium body. The camera itself wasn’t too expensive although certainly more than the 550D, and so I resigned myself to get one before our trip over to the USA.
Of course right after that, I started looking at accessories.
Now I’m just a hobbyist photographer and I haven’t invested too much into my kit yet, probably somewhere on the order of $1,500. The 7D by itself would almost double the amount I’d spent thus far but that would still leave me with an expensive camera and only 2 lenses (one of them a not so good kit lens). I then decided I’d need another lens if I was going to do this video thing properly which bumped the total investment up to a point where I started to question just how much I wanted to do this. Thus I decided I should find a cheaper alternative first before sinking almost $3,000 into a hobby that I might not even be interested in.
And so enters the Sony DSC-HX5V.
I had only 2 requirements when I was looking for this camera. The first was that it had to be a compact, not a scaled down DLSR or anything that would be comparable in bulk to my old Canon. Secondly it had to shoot full 1080p HD video as that meant that as long as the quality was at least halfway decent at that resolution I could always scale it down to 720p to get a pretty decent picture. After looking at various Micro 4/3rds and other interchangeable lens cameras I stumbled across Sony’s latest line of compacts and I must say their specs were impressive enough for me to investigate them further.
In particular the HX5V stands out thanks to all the wizardry that they pack into this tiny, pocket sized device. Not only does it support full 1080p video at 50fps but it also does 10 megapixel stills with a 10x optical zoom. Additionally the camera comes equipped with a GPS sensor and a magnetometer so your photos not only have their location in them but also the direction you were facing when you took it. They also managed to fit a stereo microphone on the top of it as well.
Although the camera body is made entirely out of plastic the build quality is good with the whole camera feeling quite solid. The optical zoom action of the camera is quite smooth and is very quiet, great for when you’re using it during video mode. For someone like me with giant hands the camera is actually a bit too small as I can’t hold it comfortably without covering up most of the camera. Still the size lends it to fitting well in your pockets without feeling too bulky so I’m willing to make the trade off for portability. The battery pack is quite adequate for taking hundreds of photos but will run dry rather quickly when recording in full HD video. I think I’ve got about 30~60 minutes total on a full charge, which is pretty reasonable considering its size.
The menu system on the DSC-HX5V is a little confusing at first but most of the regular ones can be found after a few minutes of stumbling around. Thankfully the large LCD on the back informs you what each of the little symbols on the mode dial mean when you switch as some of them (like the auto HDR one) don’t really convey their meaning very well. There’s a button on the back of it to go straight to movie mode which is a nice addition and saves you from having to navigate around unnecessarily.
So how does it shape up as a camera? Well rather than blather on about picture quality and all that I’ll just let the pictures do the talking, below is an album of some pictures I’ve taken over the course of the past month that showcase the camera’s abilities in various conditions:
Ah but I hear you asking, what about the video? Well you won’t be disappointed I’ve compiled a video of some of the footage I’ve taken as well, although I’ve replaced the sound as there wasn’t anything really worth hearing in any of these videos (highly recommend hitting the 1080p button for this one):
Overall I’m very satisfied with this little compact. Whilst it wasn’t exactly cheap by any stretch of the imagination, about $400 on Ebay, the capabilities it provides are well worth the price of admission and it’s the perfect substitute for when my DSLR would be overkill. The picture and video quality are quite good and the auto HDR function provides great pictures even in extremely low light situations. If you’re a budding vlogger or film maker I’d highly recommend this camera as a starting point before you sink thousands of dollars into professional kit. It does unfortunately lack some features (external mic in, bluetooth) which would’ve made it a technological dream but for the price I couldn’t find anything to beat the Sony DSC-HX5V in every area consistently. That might change with the product refresh cycle coming around for this holiday season but that would just mean you could pick one of these up for a bargain price, and I’m sure you wouldn’t be disappointed.