Tag Archives: Smartphone

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact Review: The Little Dog with a Big Bite

Let's get down to business.
Let’s get down to business.

With a title like that, you might be thinking ‘well that’s great… onto the next one’. And if you indeed do think that way, no problem. However, I encourage you to read further because this review is more than just a write up about a Sony smartphone but more importantly, a review about a Sony smartphone which has snuck under the radar of the Note 4, iPhone 6/6 Plus, Galaxy Alpha and even Sony Xperia Z3 press coverage and managed to deliver arguably the most compelling Android smartphone package ever. So without further ado, I give you the Z3 Compact Review.

As far as first impressions go, this is a beautiful looking bit of kit. The phone is a plastic slab sandwiched in-between two sheets of glass to give it the minimalist style we have come to associate with Sony. The rounded edges make it gorgeous to hold and use one handed, the main selling point of these ‘small’ devices nowadays.

HARDWARE

Its okay honey... I'm dust and waterproof. IP65 and IP68 if you must care for details.
Its okay honey… I’m dust and waterproof. IP65 and IP68 if you must care for details.

The screen is a 4.6″ 720p display, perfect for this size and given the best possible position to impress with minimal bezels flanking its sides. I won’t bore you with the fancy terms used by Sony to describe its display but simply put, it’s one of the finest displays I have ever seen on a smartphone. The colours are life-like, with visibility angles infinitely better than some 1080p displays.

The camera was the first place I started. We have a few times on TekTalk’s weekly podcast the frustration of using recent Sony smartphone cameras. They are not badly equipped but the difference between the camera processing on a Sony smartphone and an iPhone (Apple exclusively uses Sony lenses on their iPhones) is night and day, leading to tech people questioning why Sony would create such beautiful hardware and fall short spectacularly in a department in which they are a legendary name. Well, I can now confirm that those questions need to be put to bed once and for all. Also still lacking truly great night time photos, the Z3 Compact camera is a stunning bit of kit and in my opinion, the first real Android threat to an iPhone in the camera department. The photos aren’t ridiculously over saturated or excessively sharpened like on some high end flagships like the S5 or the One M8. Instead, we have photos showing an accurate representation of what was seen at that time. The shutter button also helps make the experience much quicker than unlocking a phone or doing gimmicky hand twists to start the camera. All in all, a camera worthy of the Sony branding.

 SOUND

Playing a song on the phone through the excellent Walkman app (more on this in the software part), I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of output. Now the quality on the front facing speakers is not even close to my experience with my previous smartphone, the One M8, but it is still much better than 99% of the phones available right now. My audio samples used to test the front speakers (DMX’s No Sunshine, Ariana Grande’s Problem and AC/DC’S Shoot to Thrill) allowed me to get an insight as to how the speakers sound across a broad spectrum of music (the songs have elements of many musical genres) which it passed with flying colours. I noticed low-mids being very clear, vocals not being drowned out by ramped up bass levels and each instrument clear defined and appreciated. The highs were a little flat but by tweaking some settings and turning on ClearAudio for example, those gripes were quickly remedied. If you are into audio quality but not at the level of audiophiles, you cannot go wrong with this phone.

 SOFTWARE

The Z3 Compact comes running 4.4.4 KitKat out of the gate with Sony UI layered over the top. Unlike their previous efforts with Jelly Bean, the UI has been decluttered with some Sony specific apps and services on show. Those apps, unlike most of the apps preinstalled on a Samsung device for example, are generally useful. The PS4 remote play feature is a decent second screen experience that will only get better over time. The Walkman app mentioned earlier is as good a default music app as any I have seen. I really like the interface used, the amount of information presented on artists and albums as well as the audio tweaking settings. Add to that, the Video and picture gallery app (Album) and you have a robust software feature set which Sony should be really proud of. You also get the Lifelog app preinstalled but I did not test it, essentially because I am locked into Endomondo and MyFitnesspal. The Sony UI skin is very light and the more I have used it during the last 6 weeks of testing, the more I have avoided keeping the Google Now launcher on the phone. After the first week, it has been Sony’s UI all the way and that is a high compliment. It isn’t all high praise though sadly. Sony, for some stupid reason has decided to  stick their ‘What’s New’ feature right where you would normally drag up for Google Now. What possessed them to do such a thing, only Sony knows but it is very frustrating when going into Google Now and accidently being put through to essentially an advert for Sony movie, app and music content. I would not mind it as much if it could be deactivated but that is not possible. I hope Lollipop fixes this.

 CONCLUSION

iPhone 6, Z3 Compact and the Galaxy Alpha... Three kings but only one is truly worthy (credit: GSMArena for the picture)
iPhone 6, Z3 Compact and the Galaxy Alpha… Three kings but only one is truly worthy (credit: GSMArena for the picture)

So… how can I sum this experience? In short, it has been a brilliant one. Sony has shown that you can make a ‘mini’ Android smartphone, pack it with the latest and greatest specs and most importantly, adds excellent value software for the most part to create a package which not only competes with the super high end flagships but in my opinion, blows them away. The One M8, Galaxy S5, Xperia Z2/Z3, Galaxy Alpha and even the iPhone 6 are no match for this little beauty. Some would debate the comparison with the iPhone 6 because it’s iOS v. Android but that is not what I am looking at. In terms of experience, the iPhone 6 has had a poor start software wise and with its uninspiring design, it looks like a cash-in sequel of a highly successful franchise. The Z3 Compact however, feels like Sony listened to those cries for a fully specced ‘mini’ Android phone and then the groans when the One Mini 2, Galaxy S5 Mini, LG G3 Mini/S/whatever else LG could think of and the Galaxy Alpha came out and decided to offer a compelling alternative. This is a truly stunning outcome and for me, a former One M8 owner who sold that and invested in a Z3 Compact, the switch was well worth making.

A smartphone which does everything an owner wants with very little in the way of gimmicks… The Sony Z3 Compact is my phone of the year.

Sony @IFA 2014

Sony-IFA

Continuing TekTalk’s summary of IFA so far, we turn our eyes to Sony. Now, they came in with quite a few products waiting to be revealed and from the hands on videos, they have impressed big time.

The Z3 isn’t worth upgrading to

Beginning with their latest iteration of the flagship smartphone line, the Z3 was shown off and although we at TekTalk maintain our stance that this isn’t worth upgrading to if you happen to own a Z2 or even a Z1 Compact but for people who will be upgrading from a phone released in early-mid 2013, this is a a very compelling phone and one that everyone should seriously consider. Sony’s decision to develop their phone every 6 months will draw the ire of a lot of people but when faced with results like the Z3, it is a strategy that has SOME merit.

The little upgrades add up to provide an experience a teeeeeeeeny tiny bit better than its predecessor but if thin margins are what you base your life around, this is worth the upgrade. The camera has a lot more technology crammed into it and could be one to consider for camera buffs, the software has removed some of the stupidity like the Sony content option when pulling up from the home button and the rounded corners have had unanimous praise for how good it makes the phone to hold. The screen is still 1080p rather than 2K but for us, it’s a positive rather than negative. Very wise to wait until content arrives rather than just sticking one on the phone for the sake of it.

Next is what I call the ‘Zx range supporting cast’, which this time round comes in the form of the Z3 Compact and the Z3 Compact mini tablet. What they lack in compelling product names, Sony more than makes up for with the build quality of these devices. The Z3 Compact is an engineering marvel, a ‘mini’ phone by today’s standards but packed full of technology which would make even top tier flagship phones of some companies weep. If I were Apple, I’d avoid comparisons with any other phone and concentrate solely on this device as its competition because for ANYONE that dares to consider themselves a wily technology consumer, this is the phone to buy if you like Android. It is just perfect in every way and I for one am excited beyond words in anticipation of picking one up and backing these words up with a full review.

Finally, Sony released a bunch of wearables and phone accessories, some which have been cruelly overlooked and others which are fairly ordinary. The ordinary category is chiefly made up of wearables predictably chiefly the Smartwatch 3 and SmartBand Talk. The Smartwatch 3 now uses Android Wear rather than Sony’s take on Android and is standard fare for the platform but with Sony’s customisable touch. I wasn’t much of a fan and the same goes for the SmartBand Talk which is exactly what it says on the package. It’s essentially the LifeBand wearable but with an e-ink display and the ability for the owner to talk to it. If only the same amount of attention was given to the Sony camera add-ons, the QX30 and QX1. The QX30 builds on what I thought was a much underrated gadget last year (QX10) by providing any smartphone (5” screen max.) with a powerful lens to take pictures with. The QX1 though could be the jewel in the crown though, for this writer at least. A 1” lens that has the ability to have any additional Sony attachment lens from the professional Sony camera range, onto it and essentially have the innards of the pro camera on the smartphone. Pricing will make or break this product but one thing is for sure, I will be very surprised if ANYTHING is half as interesting as this QX1 lens.

 

That is it for Sony, next up is Microsoft. Stay tuned for that to drop within the day.

Episode 35 – IFA 2014 Preview

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As the title suggests, this is TekTalk’s IFA preview. Or more colloquially known as ‘the stuff we think will take up the headlines for the coming week in technology’. So without further ado:

 Samsung dominates with… Everything!

It has been a trend going back 3-4 years now, with Samsung taking the spotlight and not really relinquishing it through the trade show. This year looks to be no different with the South Korean giant revealing their latest iteration of the Note phablet line-up. Opinions are divided on the device here at TekTalk, all of them can be heard on this week’s TekTalk podcast. As for me, I am excited to see what is on offer. Samsung has hit it out of the park for the past 2 generations of the Note line-up and if we are to believe the leaks (metal chassis, more convincing leathery back case, improved stylus, 2K display) then this could be the device of the year. The other big rumour is that we are getting a Gear S smartwatch, the sixth smartwatch in a year from Samsung. The big selling point here is that it can take a SIM card meaning you can actually take calls on the device. I am not totally convinced this will kick the so-called ‘smartwatch revolution’ into overdrive but we shall see.

 Sony

We are big fans of Sony and of all the companies, TekTalk is very keen to see what they have in store. We know that the Z3 is going to be revealed, which brings mixed feelings for me in particular. The 6 month cycle is understandable from a business point of view but for consumers, it must suck to have a device that is 6 months old or less and become outdated.

They can easily hold back on the device until February 2015, build anticipation for the device and release to inevitable fanfare. Apple has had the crap leaked out of its smartphone offering and with less than a week to go, the anticipation is feverish to say the least. It wouldn’t harm Sony to take tips from its rivals and go down that route. A lot of money must go into the research and development of two devices a year and with recent asset stripping showcasing that all is not well at Sony, money can easily be saved here. Away from the negative, the Lifeband products look likely to be refreshed and new mini tablet hardware set to arrive also. Safe to say, I am very excited about the latter. Sony makes excellent hardware and if done right and made available at the right price, it’s a no brainer over rival Android tablets.

 Smartwatches

We’ve been here before haven’t we? Yes and no. Yes, because 2014 has been the year of smartwatches and no because this is the first event where we could be inundated with a huge variety of Android Wear smartwatches. The jury is still out on the viability of smartwatches here at TekTalk but here’s hoping that IFA 2014 turns that negative stance into a positive one.

 Microsoft

What?! THE Microsoft, at IFA?! Well yes, after their Nokia purchase was complete, there has been quite a lot of buzz around what they will produce and IFA 2014 looks to be the place where they show their stuff. The Lumia 830, Lumia 730, cheap Windows tablets for developing markets… They wil be spreading their reach far and wide for sure, are Microsoft. I am very excited to see what they have in store from a handset standpoint. I make no secret of the fact that Windows Phone is my favourite platform to use and I really hope we get to see something special. Speculation that the Lumia 830 will be Microsoft’s ‘cheap, cheerful and pakced with technology’ device ala the Nexus devices on Android have me on the edge of my seat.

Episode 35

So… that’s it. The predictions for what will be the main stories of IFA 2014. Be sure to share your thoughts on the event as it happens on Twitter or Google+. We are @Tektalkv101 and TekTalk v1.01 community respectively and we look forward to hearing what you have to say. Also be sure to keep an eye out for continuous updates as the event goes on. Thank you.

Withings: Smart Body Analyzer, Pulse and Health Mate App

Gyms are not me, treadmills are not me, spinning is the work of satan and I hate Gym Nazis. OK, so I will admit that when I was once a member of a Gym I used to totally cane it on a cross trainer for about an hours worth of a Hed Kandi or a trance album.  However, in recent years and a move away from the only Gym I ever liked, the only thing I have remotely used to track my health was a pair of analogue scales and recording my weight on the Weighbot app which  while functional did not really add anything to my overall desire to be more healthy.

Now here is where I make a distinction. There is a difference between being fit and being healthy. Fit is when you are capable of enduring runs and marathons and uber sessions in a spinning class and being healthy means being in control of your body, knowing what you put in and generally sorting yourself out before your GP (health practitioner) tells you to sort your shit out.

Partly through getting married and partly because my 11 year old daughter looked at me one day and informed me I had moobs, was a sure way to make me kick start a healthier lifestyle. Certainly hitting 40 puts things into perspective particularly as you realise gravity is a burdensome bitch that adds its own influence on how you look. Realising that perhaps I should get healthier I started to look at what was out in the market. Certainly Nike fuleband and the Fitbit were big names but to me they were aimed at the fitness market rather than the more mundane healthier market. To this day I am still not sure how the name Withings popped onto my radar but certainly Amazon fuelled the purchase of the Withings Smart Body Analyser. Now at roughly £120 its not something that you buy and then toss aside without a second thought, its a purchase that shows and warrants intent.

To anyone who has visited an Apple store it makes perfect sense that Withings products are sold there. Design is a key component of Withings and really thats ‘beautiful design’ in the Apple scale of producing and boxing products. Arriving from Amazon the analyser was in their generic cardboard box but on opening it I was presented with a white slim box with coloured parts to it that are infact reminiscent of iOS 7 and their colour scheme.

IMG_4252As the box shows, the analyser is tied heavily into the app and while it shouts out its an iOS app its also a quieter android app too. I guess the loud dominance of the iOS app is part of the reason Withings features in the Apple retail stores.

The packaging is well thought out, and there is clear definition of what the analyser can do for you from the minute you get it out of the box but again the back makes an overture to iOS fans and iPhone owners.IMG_4253

What you get straight out of the box is a quick start guide and the analyser held in a soft plastic bag. For anyone who has ever opened an iPad box the reveal of the analyser is very reminiscent.

One thing I will say though is that the analyser is quite pointless without the app and the app is really the hub of information and the point of which the analyser communicates to the phone over the wireless network. IMG_4254

The quick set up guide is very much that, a quick seamless setup that allows for you to name who you are and setup the first session on it so it recognises you.  From here other family members can step on and use the app on their own device to set themselves up and the analyser from then on knows (through some technical wizardry) who is stepping on.  What happens when two or more family members are the same weight I don’t know and there is no mention in the set up guide as to any issues that this may create.

English: The WiFi Withings Bodyscale
The WiFi Withings Bodyscale (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What also makes you want to come back to the analyser on a daily basis is its sure beauty in its design, its a blue/black square of succinct gorgeousness with the cross of lighter grey cantering out of the middle silver disc.  At the top of the analyser (the word scale is really doing it a disservice) is the LCD panel that shows the readings of weight, fat %, BMI, the average temperature and Co2 quality of the room that the analyser is based in. It now also tells the weather for the forthcoming day. Yes I had to put a question out on twitter to Withings to find out why a picture of an umbrella with falling rain onto it had appeared on the screen. Firmware updates are brilliant but on a smart body analyser on seeing an umbrella and rain made me panic thinking it was foreboding my own funeral given the state of my body. I am grateful that they were quick to respond telling me that they had updated the analyser and this was a new feature.

The main part of the analyser is the app with its 4 points looking like a butterfly showing how well your health is doing. IMG_4255The aim is to fill the wings as much a possible and as the picture shows I was measuring my heart enough, sleeping almost enough, maintaining my weight but clearly being a lazy bugger and not being active enough. However, here is the thing, the analyser only tells you your heart rate and weight and fat mass %/BMI to get the most of the app and sleep tracking and better activity measurement you do need to buy the Pulse but more of that later. What I should also point out is that while there is the app the information is also available on a web based dashboard that does allow for deeper analysis of your health. What is also a brilliant feature is that Withings have made the Health Mate accessible to other health tracking apps, so for instance you can add runkeeper and myfitnesspal information to the mix that shape the information you provide to gain a better overview of activity and nutrition. The latest update to the app now takes advantage of the (2.1) iPhone 5s M7 coprocessor so if you do not have the pulse there is now an alternative to tracking activity by using the app itself.

IMG_4201

So lets be clear, the picture on the left is not a regular occurrence for me. This analysis was based on one day of my stag weekend at the DGTL dance festival in Amsterdam. I burnt a total of 2,826 calories that day so screw you spinning classes!!

But it shows the level of data that the app holds, based on daily, weekly and monthly totals with options to see the information in the app as a dashboard for the latest information and a timeline for larger historical data too.

I’m impressed both with the analyser and the app, with the app now moved out of a health folder and placed onto the home screen of my iPhone. Using the analyser and the app has helped me lose just under 9lbs since February 2014 and I am far more aware of what is good and bad for my body and what I need to do to maintain the healthier lifestyle that I have developed.

This high level of satisfaction with Withings meant I again turned to Amazon and for £79 I happily bought the Pulse which now through a firmware update has been relaunched as the Pulse O2 as it now not only tracks:

  • Activity – both moderate walking and running paces
  • Heart rate and now Blood Oxygen levels (hence the O2 name)
  • Sleep:
        • How long it takes to fall asleep.
        • How many times you wake up.
        • Length of time in light and deep sleep.

Once again too the packing is gorgeous and praise goes out once again to their design team.

IMG_3921Note that they don’t ram anything down your throats, the suggestion is subtle to track and improve your activity, sleep and heart rate. Its not telling you to get out there and run until you fall down or throw up. It is as I said at the start more concerned with your overall health as opposed to being a fitness tool.

Information is very clear on the box and the clarity and succinctness that was seen on the analyser box is seen here on the Pulse too.

IMG_3923

The app once more features heavily and the Pulse connects to the app via bluetooth. Charging the Pulse is via micro USB and the charge lasts for around 3 weeks. Out of the box, you get the Pulse, a rubbery clip that you can slide the Pulse into and then attach to your clothing for daytime monitoring and then at night there is a soft wrist strap that you slot the Pulse into and then attaches around your wrist via a velcro grip.

Thankfully the Pulse is light and does not feel uncomfortable to wear and is largely unnoticeable during the day but at night if you are not used to wearing anything like this at night then it does take some time getting used to.IMG_3959

The back of the strap has a small gap to it that allows for the sensors to do what they do during the night and I presume they activate to measure your levels of sleep by having the sensor measure your blood flow or something like this. Granted this is not a scientific explanation but really there has to be a reason for why the strap on the side that touches your body has the gap in it.

IMG_3960

Its also a lovely shade of orange which against the black other side shows a nice design cue.

The Pulse O2 also sports a touch sensitive strip with a green OLED display that is response but you need to press the physical button on the top right to cycle through the sections, which at times can be a slight pain if you want to check the time or the battery condition. This here is the slight oddity with the Pulse as Withings has recently introduced a watch strap accessory to add to the clip, and wrist strap.  Now for €12 it is a no brainer to include this into your Withings based life, but its not a smart watch and to get to the watch function is more than three clicks away. The other small gripe I have is that on the website there is only the blue and black plastic strap shown, yet in the promotional video that CNET have below there is what looks like a red tan leather stap that does look more stylish than the plastic one.Withings_Store

Certainly the new strap does bring the Pulse O2 into the wearable tech category but its more of a very clever and advanced fitbit than a pure smart wearable accessory.

I’m not alone in loving this device as CNET Top 5 gave the Pulse O2 the number one spot in their review of fitness trackers (yes I know the f word is used here but even Withings make more reference to health than the f one).

In conclusion, if you are after a fully fledged health companion to your busy or moderate life then the Withings Smart body Analyser, Pulse O2 and companion Health Mate app are highly recommended and when used in conjunction with other apps can make a difference to a healthier lifestyle.

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