Android smartphones

Android smartphones: Sizing up the competition

From left: Sony Xperia XZs; LG G6; Huawei P10 and P10 Plus; Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+
From left: Sony Xperia XZs; LG G6; Huawei P10 and P10 Plus; Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+

With most major Android smartphone manufacturers having released their latest phones within the first four months of this year, it might be daunting to decide which one to go for should you want to upgrade your current device. In this one-page guide, The Straits Times Digital presents the top four Android phones recently released in the market for a quick and convenient comparison. The pictures of the phones on this page are all to scale, and we look at the screen, the camera and one feature unique or exceptional to the phone to help you decide on your next phone purchase.


Not quite flagship but the Xperia XZs holds its own

The biggest feature that Sony has added to the Xperia XZs is a triple-stacked memory sensor, which allows the XZs to record and process images at very high speeds.
The biggest feature that Sony has added to the Xperia XZs is a triple-stacked memory sensor, which allows the XZs to record and process images at very high speeds. PHOTO: SONY

Compact version comes out first, with Sony saving its Premium model for a later launch

Sony's first smartphone of the year, the Xperia XZs, is, surprisingly, not the Japanese firm's 2017 flagship.

At a time when other smartphone manufacturers are launching their premium flagships, Sony is still playing it coy, saving its top-end Xperia XZ Premium for a launch later in the year.

It feels like the XZs is a tantalising appetiser to the main course in a dining hall where other tables are already waiting for dessert.

However, the XZs holds its own against the premium flagships released so far, as it is basically a compact version of the XZ Premium that does away with a 4K screen for a smaller form factor.

At first glance, it is hard to tell the XZs apart from last year's Xperia XZ. There are a few tell-tale clues, like the realignment of the power, volume and camera button lower on the right edge of the phone, but the XZs' rounded body shape along its sides and hand-feel follow the same design trend of last year's models.

  • TECH SPECS

  • PRICE: $898

    PROCESSOR: Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 Processor (Dual-core 2.15 GHz, dual-core 1.6 GHz)

    DISPLAY: 5.2-inch Full HD, 1920 x 1080 pixels, 424 ppi pixel density

    OPERATING SYSTEM: Android 7.1 Nougat

    CAMERA: 19MP, f/2.0 (rear); 13MP, f/2.0 (front)

    MEMORY: 64GB (microSD expandable up to 256GB), 4GB RAM

    BATTERY: Non-removable 2,900mAh

  • RATING

  • FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 3/5

    PERFORMANCE: 5/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

The fingerprint sensor is still on the phone's power button, which is quite nifty when picking the phone up with the left hand as that's where the index finger will rest naturally.

Unfortunately, this makes the XZs look painfully dated next to its competitors, due to the relatively large bezels on the top and bottom of the front screen at a time where other phones are slowly perfecting the bezel-less look.

But look under the hood and the XZs redeems itself somewhat with a new camera sensor technology. It is still a tough sell, though, in a market where consumers are demanding the best-looking phone out there since that is what they will be looking at all the time.

The biggest feature Sony added to the XZs is what the company calls a triple-stacked memory sensor, which is a component usually found in compact cameras.

This sensor allows the XZs to record and process images at very high speeds, leading to its camera being able to do two cool things: super-slow-motion capture of up to 960 frames per second and predictive capture that snaps shots even before you hit the shutter button.

This ups the strength of the XZs 19-megapixel rear camera, which is a potent-enough shooter that takes sharp and clear photos, with colours that tend towards the warmer side of the spectrum but with good dynamic range.

The super-slow-motion mode is able to take vivid shots of things that happen within the blink of an eye, such as a balloon bursting or the flaring of a matchstick, in beautiful, impressively dramatic slow motion.

It works best in bright natural lighting, as the flicker of lightbulbs will distort the video. This does limit the number of chances you'll get to use the mode. It also takes some skill and trial and error to hit the slow-mo capture button in time to snap the event, which makes it work best when shots are planned beforehand.

The phone's predictive capture feature lets users shoot the exact moment something happens. The sensor is able to sense motion when readying a shot and will save cached images while doing so, which lets it capture shots of things that happen milliseconds before the shutter button is even pressed.

This mode generates four different photos so users can choose the best shots of the event that was captured. In most of my tests, which involved taking pictures of my brother shooting a piece of folded-up paper from a rubber band slingshot, the XZs was able to pinpoint the time of launch just about half of the time, making the feature still quite reliant on good timing and a bit of luck.

Aside from the novel uses of the XZs' new sensor, there is not much that differentiates the phone from Sony's previous flagship.

The software remains relatively clean, save for the usual Sony apps, along with Sony's acclaimed battery-saving tech that lets me eke out a good three to four hours more of battery life when I switched it to Stamina mode.

• Verdict: While the Xperia XZs may not be Sony's flagship, it packs new camera technology that might impress smartphone photographers out there.


Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+: Bright, sharp and colourful screens

The Samsung Galaxy S8 smartphones have one of the sharpest cameras in the market.
The Samsung Galaxy S8 smartphones have one of the sharpest cameras in the market. PHOTO: SAMSUNG

Samsung's Galaxy S8 and S8+ look to be the smartphones to beat in the first quarter of the year, by bringing to the table some of the best features in any smartphone released so far.

The immediate standout feature of both phones is their gorgeous, almost full-length quad-HD Super Amoled screens, which are bright, sharp and colourful.

The 18.5:9 screen aspect ratio of the phones also gives them a modern, elongated look and feel, as well as more screen real estate to better display media.

Apps can be scaled to fit the taller and narrower screen, avoiding the problem of having ugly black bars around the border of the screen.

The phones also have one of the sharpest cameras in the market.

And, of course, there is Bixby, Samsung's own artificial intelligence assistant software that can be summoned through a press of the dedicated Bixby button on the left of the phone.

Hitting it takes you to a helpful screen that shows your schedule, preview of photos you may have taken that day, weather updates and a scrolling news feed of important articles for the day.

Another cool feature is how you can unlock the phone in four different ways: with a regular PIN or password, rear fingerprint sensor, iris scanning and a new face-recognition feature. The last two are fast and convenient - just hold up the phone to your face and it's unlocked within a second.


Huawei P10 and P10 Plus: Photos with lots of detail and clarity

With the Huawei P10, shutterbugs can combine beauty mode - which sharpens and beautifies one's skin tone - with Huawei's faux-bokeh effect that blurs the background.
With the Huawei P10, shutterbugs can combine beauty mode - which sharpens and beautifies one's skin tone - with Huawei's faux-bokeh effect that blurs the background. PHOTO: HUAWEI

The Huawei P10 and P10 Plus carry on the legacy of the Chinese company's P-series of smartphones to feature lenses made by the renowned German photography firm Leica.

Both the 5.1-inch P10 and 5.5-inch P10 Plus smartphones sport a 20-megapixel monochrome and a 12-megapixel colour sensor on their rear, with an eight-megapixel front-facing camera.

The cameras capture pictures with lots of detail and clarity - though with some slight issues with dynamic range at times - by over- or under-exposing some parts of the photo.

Selfies are a serious business on the P10, as shutterbugs are now able to combine beauty mode - which sharpens and beautifies one's skin tone - with Huawei's faux-bokeh effect that blurs the background.

Both phones are very nicely designed, with Huawei eschewing the ongoing glass-and-aluminium trend in favour of an anodised metal back that gives the phone a matte feel and hence a more secure grip.

The Home button doubles as a fingerprint sensor and an alternative way to navigate through menus on the phone.

If you want more screen real estate by doing away with the soft Android navigational keys, you can swipe up on the button to go back, swipe left or right to open recent apps and hold it to go to the home screen.


LG G6: Display looks bigger than it actually is

The LG G6 cameras lets you take tight street shots and wide landscapes with the press of a button.
The LG G6 cameras lets you take tight street shots and wide landscapes with the press of a button. PHOTO: LG

The LG G6 is another phone whose screen is its main selling point.

The screen stretches out nearly edge-to-edge to give an almost bezel-less look. LG's decision to go with an 18:9 screen aspect ratio, over the traditional 16:9, makes the 5.7-inch display feel and look even bigger than it really is.

The unusual aspect ratio presents no problems for apps, as they scale to fit the screen, but it's quite noticeable when watching videos, such as those on YouTube, as there will be black bars at both ends.

The cool thing about the local G6 unit is its quad digital-to-analog converter, which lets you boost high-resolution music by letting the phone power up even the most power-hungry headphones.

Not everyone might enjoy the G6's slightly thicker body, but it does make the phone easier to grip - an important detail, given the slightly slippery glass-and-metal construction of its body.

However, the default LG user interface might not be to everyone's taste, with a garish mix of preppy colours like green, orange and pastel pink scattered across menus.

The G6's two 13-megapixel rear cameras consist of a standard viewing angle and a 125-degree wide-angle view, so you can take tight street shots and wide landscapes with the press of a button.

The colours of the photos the G6 takes are quite faithful to the subjects, but might appear washed out to those used to the vivid, over-saturated colours that other models, like the iPhone, push out.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2017, with the headline 'Sizing up the competition'. Print Edition | Subscribe