Grandroids: Samsung Galaxy S4, Sony Xperia Z, HTC One

Sometimes the planets just align in the world of smartphones. In the space of a couple of months, we’ve seen three flagship phones released that seem so similar in specification that they could have been cast from the same mold. They all have 1080p screens and stupid-fast quad core processors. So: what’s the difference? Which one should you buy?

Firstly, from a performance and utility perspective, there’s nothing between these phones. They all do everything you’d expect from a top-end smartphone, and they all do it screamingly fast. You will not be disappointed to own any of these phones.

Forced to pick their differences, here’s how I see it broken down in a few key areas:

Screen

Sony Xperia ZWhen I first saw the Xperia Z (the first of these phones I laid eyes on), I was absolutely floored by its display. 1920×1080 pixels on these screen sizes is frankly bonkers: you cannot pick out an individual pixel, and the huge space for rendering browser content is wonderful. But. But but but. Compared to the HTC One and Galaxy S4, the Z is just missing something. Slightly washed out perhaps? Poor viewing angles? Not a showstopper, but enough that you can easily feel the difference.

The Galaxy S4 screen isn’t without fault either: it’s incredibly bright and punchy, to the point of being offensive. If you get one I highly recommend going into the display settings and changing the display to “Movie” mode. Colours in that mode are more realistic and the screen becomes more comfortable to look at.

Out of the box, the HTC One’s screen is the best of the bunch in my opinion.

Apps and Launchers

All of these phones run Android 4 and have the Google Play store available to download any apps you may desire. However: they take different approaches to the out-of-box experience. The Xperia Z is the most “vanilla”, with a standard-ish Android launcher populated with a few specialist Sony apps.

HTC goes a bit further with their Flipboard-esque Blinkfeed homepage, from which you can swipe to get at, again, a standard Android icon based app launcher. Blinkfeed looks nice, but I think if I was to use the HTC One as my main phone, I’d replace the launcher with something more standard and fill it with the widgets I’d like to use, rather than having stuff pushed at me.

Samsung’s launcher is fairly vanilla, but it comes out of the box packed to the gunnels with … crap. I’m sorry but there’s no other way to put it. I understand Samsungs intentions here: they see that a large number of Android users don’t really install apps or use widgets, so they’re lending a helping hand: here’s your fitness app, and your photo gallery app, and here’s a voice thing, and a translator, oh and a note thing, and … and.

For a user who doesn’t know that the Play Store exists, this might be useful. For readers of this article, and most experienced Android users, this just means removing widgets and uninstalling Samsung crapware until you can make some space and install the decent apps you need. It reminds me, in a bad way, of the crapware that comes loaded on Windows PCs.

Camera

I want to love HTC’s approach to the camera on the One. The science nerd inside me says that having fewer pixels on a small sensor means bigger “photosites”, less noise, and better response in low light. However, the comparison posts that have popped up seem to show that the Galaxy S4 camera blows pretty much everything else out of the water in all but the crappiest lighting conditions.

As with other aspects, the HTC One and Xperia Z cameras are perfectly fine, and will serve you ok for quick snaps, but if you want the best photos out of your smartphone, then the S4 is the way to go.

Physical Design

Samsung Galaxy S4 Physically, the Galaxy S4 is just shit. The first experience out of the box has you removing the flimsy, bendy back cover to insert a battery. The feel of that cover just gives me no confidence in the build quality of the phone. Once on, it also feels sweaty and slippery. Compared to the HTC One and the Xperia Z, the Galaxy’s physical look and feel just fall well short of what we’ve come to expect of a modern flagship smartphone.

If looks and build quality don’t matter to you, this is not a problem. But even considering the S4’s other fantastic qualities, the physical feel of the phone is almost enough to put me off.

In comparison, the HTC One is probably the best looking and feeling phone of this size that I’ve laid hands on. The weight is fantastic, and the feel in the hand is just right. It’s solid enough to give you confidence while not being chunky, and the blend of curves and hard edges make for a great hand-feel.

Likewise, the Xperia Z looks stunning. An obsidian-black monolith, sealed all around with milspec waterproofing, the thing just wants to be touched. The water resistance is a welcome addition: being able to rinse a phone under running water is not something I expected to like, but after doing it a few times I wish I could do it to every phone I’ve owned.

Unfortunately the convenience of a washable phone comes with downsides: every time you want to charge the Z or plug your headphones in, you have to fiddle with the (thankfully well-engineered) port flaps. I’m not positive if the waterproofing remains in effect with the flaps open, but I’d guess not.

If I had to pick one of these three phones purely on looks, it would be the HTC One. If I was a tradesman or regular watersports participant, I’d go with the Xperia Z.

Conclusion

HTC oneIt’s bloody hard to pick a winner from this bunch. They each have their upsides and some very minor downs. The HTC One camera is a disappointment but it looks smashing; the Samsung feels cheesy but is incredibly light and has a fantastic camera; and the waterproof Z could come in very handy, while Sony have also done amazing things with the modding community.

Forced at gunpoint to pick a phone, I’d take the HTC One, but I’d not be at all upset to take home any of the three.

As usual, I’m happy to answer any specific questions in the comments below.

Samsung Omnia W on Vodafone New Zealand in November

Press release follows:

Samsung delivers a unique smartphone experience with Omnia W, a phone that puts people first

This is the first Samsung device utilising the latest release of Windows Phone and offers power, social connectivity and a vivid SuperAMOLED display that delivers a stunning visual experience

AUCKLAND, New Zealand – 31 October 2011 – Samsung Electronics New Zealand announces the launch of the Samsung Omnia W, its first Smartphone based on the latest release of Microsoft’s Windows Phone, code-named Mango.

Featuring an elegant design, a vivid SuperAMOLED display, as well as an enriched content and social communication experience enabled by People Hub, the Omnia W puts people at the centre of everything.

Stefan Lecchi, Head of Samsung’s Mobile Telecommunications business in New Zealand, says, “We’re excited about the potential for Windows Phone and the possibilities it opens for Samsung customers.

“Mobile consumers increasingly expect to be socially networked through their phones anytime, anywhere, fast. They’re looking for high-performance devices that are easy and intuitive to use, look great and enable them to create and share rich multimedia content with ease.

“The Samsung Omnia W delivers on every count and we’re looking forward to introducing it to the New Zealand market next month.”

The Omnia W will be available exclusively from Vodafone from late November 2011.

Stunning Performance in Vivid Clarity with SuperAMOLED Display

The eye-catching Omnia W sports a minimalist contemporary design featuring a metallic finish. A rich 3.7” SuperAMOLED display provides stunning visuals ensuring that photos and videos captured with the device’s 5MP camera can be enjoyed with vivid clarity.

A powerful 1.4GHz processor delivers seamless performance, allowing a fast and hassle-free user experience. This is further enhanced by the device’s integrated 14.4Mbps HSPA+ connectivity, enabling high-speed data browsing and ensuring that videos and pictures can be shared with friends and family hassle-free.

Enhanced Windows Phone Usability

Windows Phone has been developed to provide an easy, intelligent and socially connected smartphone experience. Users can easily connect and share experiences with their friends using a variety of communication mediums, while the excellent web browsing experience is further enhanced with integrated Internet Explorer9 and Bing.

Mango’s unique and intuitive user interface lays out applications in mosaic ‘Live Tiles’ which flow and move on the screen in response to the user’s touch. The interface provides the benefits of a user environment usually associated with a larger display within the portability of a smartphone screen, delivering a flexible and intuitive experience.

The six specialised Microsoft applications provide an engaging content and communication experience. The Windows Phone People Hub is integrated with social networking services Windows Live, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, ensuring that users always stay in touch with their social community.

Office Hub provides enhanced productivity on-the-go and includes access to Windows Live Sky Drive*, which provides 25GB of free storage and allows documents and media files to be easily stored and accessed anywhere. Users can also create and edit documents through mobile versions of Microsoft Office Excel, Word and PowerPoint, as well as use One Note, a note-taking platform allowing the easy sharing and storage of voice memos, images and text-based notes*.

Seamless access to entertainment is afforded by the integration of a Pictures Hub, Music & Videos Hub – powered by Microsoft Zune – and Game Hub, which provides the latest in social gaming experiences through Xbox Live, meaning that friends can chat with each other while gaming. Windows Phone Marketplace provides access to more than 30,000 apps* for entertainment or productivity needs.

The Exclusive Samsung Experience

The overall Windows Phone experience is significantly enhanced with the inclusion of a set of Samsung-exclusive productivity apps. This includes Samsung AllShare, which provides seamless content transfer between the smartphone and other DLNA-enabled devices such as HDTV’s, monitors and digital cameras. Video Call is an easy-to-use app which allows vivid 3G video conversations with friends and family. Additionally, Mini Diary enables users to capture their experiences in multimedia formats and create their very own personalised digital journal* while on the go. Meanwhile, an upgraded Samsung eBook client will be available from Samsung Zone without cost.

Users can stay up-to-date with the latest news and events through the Now 2.0 app, which provides up-to-the minute current affairs, stock market and weather information on the go. RSS Time allows RSS feeds for newspapers, magazines and blogs to be downloaded onto the device and read in an easily digestible format, while eye-catching articles can be easily shared via email or Facebook*.

The device features enhanced social network integration, with Twitter and LinkedIn woven throughout the Omnia W in addition to Facebook. This means that photos and videos can be instantly shared across a variety of social networking sites hassle-free.

Full specs:

Samsung Omnia W Product Specifications

Network

HSPA14.4/5.76Mbps   900/2100
EDGE/GPRS          850/900/1800/1900

Processor

1.4 GHz Processor

Display

3.7” WVGA(800X480) SuperAMOLED

OS

Windows Phone 7.5 Mango

Camera

Main(Rear) : 5 MP AF with LED Flash
Sub (Front) : VGA for Video Call

Video

Codec : MPEG4/H.263/H.264/WMV
Playback : 720p@30fps
Recording : 720p@30fps

Audio

Codec : MP3/AAC/AAC+/eAAC+/WMA/AMR-NB
Zune Player
3.5mm Ear Jack, FM Radio with RDS

Value-added Features

Marketplace Hub – free and paid Apps
People Hub – Windows Live, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin built-in
Picture Hub
Music & Video Hub – Zune Experience
Game Hub – Xbox Live
Office Hub – Microsoft Office
Samsung’s Enriched Apps
– Now, RSS Times, Video Call(3G), Photo Studio, Mini Diary, All Share(DLNA),Fun Shot, Wireless Manager
– Dictionary (downloadable, except US, Canada, Mexico), Photogram (downloadable),Rubik’s Cube(downloadable)
Windows Live Skydrive® (Free 25GB Storage)
Tile-based Metro UX / IE9 mobile
A-GPS / Bing Map

Connectivity

Bluetooth® technology v 2.1
USB 2.0
Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n

Sensor

Accelerometer, Ambient Light, Proximity, Magnetometer, Gyroscope

Memory

512MB(RAM) + 8GB Internal Memory

Size

115.97 x 58.8 x 10.9mm, 115.3g

Battery

Standard battery, Li-on 1,500 mAh

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Available in New Zealand

Samsung have just announced that the Galaxy Tab 10.1 will be available in Vodafone stores “this week”. No word on pricing or whether sales will be stopped by Apple, like they were in Australia.

Full press release follows:

Samsung GALAXY Tab 10.1 hits New Zealand

Kiwis to get their hands on the world’s thinnest mobile tablet 

AUCKLAND, New Zealand – August 17, 2011 – Samsung New Zealand is excited to announce that the GALAXY Tab 10.1 will make its NZ retail debut this week.

Powered by Android™ 3.1, Honeycomb, the GALAXY Tab 10.1 offers faster and smoother transitions between different applications, more intuitive navigation to and from home screens, and broader support of USB accessories.

The GALAXY Tab 10.1 is the thinnest mobile tablet currently available in the world, measuring an ultra-slim 8.6 millimetres. It also boasts an incredibly light weight of just 570 grams (WiFi) and 575 grams (3G), ensuring outstanding mobility and comfort.

The device features a brilliant 10.1-inch touch screen display with WXGA 1280 x 800 resolution delivering amazingly vibrant colours and crisp clarity. This expansive screen is centred inside a narrow bezel to enhance the wide viewing angle.

“We’re so excited to launch the GALAXY Tab 10.1 to the New Zealand market,” says Samsung New Zealand Head of Handheld Products, Stefan Lecchi.

“It’s a truly outstanding device with a huge range of features to appeal to business users and tech enthusiasts alike – we know it’s going to be a huge hit with Kiwis.

“We’ve combined Samsung’s latest innovations in design and display with an intuitive user experience to create a new class of products that we believe will lead the New Zealand tablet market.”

The Samsung GALAXY Tab 10.1 will be available through Vodafone stores from this week. 

Features

  • Customised User Experience “Samsung TouchWiz UX”
    Samsung’s TouchWiz user experience is designed with a Live Panel menu for customizing the home screen of the GALAXY Tab 10.1 with digital pictures, favourite web sites and social network feeds.
    In addition, the TouchWiz UX includes a “Mini Apps” tray of commonly used features such as task manager, calendar and music player which can be launched while other major applications are already in use.
  • Readers Hub & Social Hub
    The GALAXY Tab 10.1 also gains access to Samsung’s Readers Hub service, a robust library filled with more than 101 newspapers, 24 magazines and 4.3 million books in English. Samsung’s Social Hub service also aggregates email, contacts, calendar and social network connections into a single user-friendly interface.
  • Impressive Speed, Power & Battery Life
    The GALAXY Tab 10.1 supports Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n connectivity to deliver rapid mobile download speeds and reduce data transfer times. The GALAXY Tab 10.1 also includes a Nvidia Tegra 1GHz dual core application processor for powerful gaming and multimedia performance. The Tab’s ultra-thin design does not sacrifice battery life, thanks to a 7000 mAh battery providing up to 9 hours of continuous video play on a single charge.
  • Full Adobe Flash Player Compatibility
    The device offers extensive Web browsing access through Adobe® Flash® Player compatibility. Flash Player delivers beautiful HD video, faster graphics rendering, and high performance on the GALAXY Tab 10.1 and is designed to take advantage of native device capabilities – enabling richer, more immersive user experiences.
  • Polaris Office
    Polaris Office is a Mobile Office Solution which allows users to easily read and edit various PC document formats on their device.
  • Quality Cameras and Sound
    The GALAXY Tab 10.1 features a 3 megapixel rear camera and a 2 megapixel front camera providing smooth video chat capabilities and seamless HD video playback. High quality speakers are positioned on the right and left sides of the device for a rich, deep audio experience. 
  • Optimal Enterprise Solutions

In addition, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 integrates several enterprise solutions to provide support for exchange device management policies, improve the security of data and services maintained on the tablet and meet IT guidelines for remote device access. The enterprise solutions include:

  • On-device encryption of user data
  • Enhanced Exchange ActiveSync Support
  • Cisco AnyConnect SSL VPN
  • F5 SSL VPN

Quickie: Samsung NX100 Review

Samsung-NX100-top A year or so ago I had a play with the Samsung NX10 and was unimpressed. Sure it had a sensor that most full-on DSLRs would be proud of, but it just didn’t wow me. DPReview called it “a good start”.

Now, Samsung have released the NX100. On paper it seems incredibly similar to the NX10. The same APS-C sensor, the same lens mount, similar size. But the difference feels like f2 compared to f22. The NX100 loses a built-in flash compared to the NX10, but overall it’s faster, easier to use, nicer to look at, and just lovely.

I really only had a few days to play with it, but it takes nice shots and the range of tweaks and functions would suit most pro-am photographers. The i-Function lens is a neat addition: press the iFn button on the lens, and the focus ring becomes a control that you can use to dial in changes to shutter, aperture, exposure, and other camera settings. Heaps easier than fiddly buttons on the back of the camera.

You can get i-Function lenses as a 20mm f2.8 prime, or a 20-50mm utility lens. The NX100 also fits all of the existing NX mount lenses if you have any.

RRP is a spendy $1,099, but if you want something more compact than a DSLR with many of the same qualities, it could be a good fit.

Couple of test photos:

Samsung NX100 Test Shots Samsung NX100 Test Shots

Samsung UA46C7000 Review: It has three dees!

Samsung TV ImageIt really is quite stunning. With the right mix of hardware and software, it actually feels like this television is about 2 feet deep, when in fact it’s not much more than an inch.

You do need a mix though. At a bare mimimum you need to add a 3D capable Blu-ray player and a pair of active-shutter glasses. In my case I’ve also tried the P33 with a couple of the showcase 3D games (Wipeout and Motorstorm). But yep, when you get it all plumbed together, it actually works.

More than a gimmick? I’m not entirely sure. The glasses preclude any casual dimension shifting, and at $200 a pair, the kids will be going to bed early on movie night. Also, I couldn’t stand to use the 3D technology during the day. It might just be my situation, but unless you have a windowless home cinema, you’ll notice significant distracting flickering – not from the TV, but from any nearby windows. This isn’t an issue at night.

Polarisation
Polarised light means you can't watch lying down.

But, the effect is amazing enough that – had I the readies – I’d like to own of these devices for the odd occasion that I had a fresh baked 3D movie to watch. Just not when lying down on the couch. Why do they use polarised light? Surely the active shutter does everything required to have separate left and right images?

Elsewhere, the Samsung UA46C7000 is rather brilliant. It’s more computer than TV, with a full operating system, applications, and even a built-in PVR (just add storage). Connect the tellie to your network so you can check Twitter. Add an optional webcam (my common-or-garden USB webcam didn’t work), and you can skype your auntie.

The display quality leaves my n-year-old V-series Sony for dead, with all the good cliches like “blacker blacks” coming rapidly to mind. It’s maddening how quickly display technology moves along.

You can have one of these for a measly 4,800 shekels (plus the other bits you need for full 3D). Full tech specs are here.

Happy to answer any questions or run any tests you may have. Just hit up the comments below.