Z3 Compact review

After using the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact for over 18months I have to say I am underwhelmed by it. At the time of purchase there were no good flagship 5inch screens, the sweet spot for me that has a decent size screen versus hand holdability. So I opted to go smaller.

The smaller screen would have been acceptable if a large chunk of the lower screen was not obliterated by the onscreen buttons. I would estimate the 4.6 screen is actually 4.5 or even slightly less on day to day use due to these buttons. This makes the screen rather tight in my opnion for day to day use. The previous and best phone I have ever owned the HTC one with its 4.7 inch screen and no on screen buttons was noticably larger.

The other major gripe I have with the Sony was the build quality. This phone is supposed to be waterproof. After using the charging flap a few times it now never fits snuggly back into the recess it came from. Furthermore the top right of the screen has come away three times. I have sent it in for repair under warranty twice and will be sending it in yet again. The phone is averaging 6months each time before this fault occurs. I would not want to put this phone anywhere near water with this poor build quality.

The next gripe is the screen. Its soooo dull. Even on maximum brightness it does not look anywhere near as bright as a Moto G or Moto E on half their brightness. This means its totally rubbish in bright sunlight and having it on maximum brightness all the time drains the battery quickly. This is then compounded by the useless Android 6 update as noted below.

Then the sound from the speakers is not that great. Thankfully as I use headphones most of the time this is not so much of an issue. But the sound from the headphones is alright but did not come close to the HTC One.

Then my last major gripe is the camera. The HTC Megasuperulta pixel camera was all right and took reasonable pictures. The Sony was tauted as being amazing. Well it isn’t. It takes pictures but cannot handle dull or low light situations very well. It also takes out of balance white level pictures, offers lots of glare and all lights have chronic halos.

The operating system skin by Sony is passable and isn’t as in your face as the HTC or Samsung ones but feels unpolished.

Then lets move onto updates. Sony realeased Marshmallow without their proprietary battery saving technology. This meant I had a noticable drop in battery life since the update to Android 6. The battery used to last two days light use and one day heavy use well into the evening. Now it lasts 1 and half days on a good run and usually conks out after a day and a day of heavy use requires switching into extreme power saving to keep it going.

Sony did provide a token update on this but it did not offer the customisation prior to marshmallow. So Sony in my opnion failed to produce an update that carried on one of the reasons for buying the phone.

So I got the phone for camera, battery life and pocketability. Only one of those met expectations but due to build quality I think this phone is decidably underwleming.

This phone whilst two years on (allegedly) from the HTC One and (allegedly) a flagship feels very much like a mid to low end phone. Sony will not be getting repeat custom from me again for phones as this phone has not been worth the money they charged for it.

Oh well only 6months left of this phone…..

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New Phone 2

Previously I noted that the best options for me were the Z3, Z3 compact, Moto G 4G, Moto X. Recent developments mean that these options have changed slightly!

The options are now as follows, the Z3, M4 Aqua, Moto X and possibly the Moto X 2015.

So what has happened? I decided to bite the bullet and get myself a Moto G 4G. It looked great, had a sharp screen. I found the screen was a little small (4.5″ compared to my current 4.7″) but I thought I could live with it. However the OS was still Kit Kat and bare bones Kit Kat looks horrible compared to Lollipop. Quite gross actually. Even with replacing the lockscreen and launcher I found the phone quite clunky. Also I found that it was not responsive as my wife’s Moto G. There were distinct pauses when installing apps and trying to do other activities and lag when using Go Launcher. It was a definite step down from the HTC One M7 despite its faults. But I thought I would give it a couple of days. However the battery died horribly to the point that I thought the phone had bricked itself. However after coaching it back to life it did charge. Then on top of that i got the random touches that do not exist problem with the phone, if I touched home it tried to touch it several times.

So i had a faulty phone and have sent it back. It’s rather soured my Moto G experience.

So onto to looking at other phones. Sony has recently released the M4 Aqua. This is roughly the same size as the Z3 but is lighter but is a lot cheaper. This might be an option but is over my size limit really. There is also a Moto X 2015 rumoured so I might wait and see what that offers!

New Phone

As my contact with Orange (running on EE’s 3G network) is coming to an end (yay!), I am now in the market for a new phone (also yay!) but I am really stumped as to what phone to get.

My criteria for a new phone is as follows:

  • Nice looking
  • Not Apple (don’t like the ecosystem)
  • Android preferrable
  • Reasonable storage on board or SD for expansion for music / photos
  • Camera that is not bad
  • Screen size around 4.5 – 5 inches.
  • Reasonable reception
  • Does 4G
  • Good battery life

What I find frustrating with phones at the moment is that companies are on the bigger is better bandwagon. I don’t want a phabbing phablet at 5.5 inches or more. If I wanted large screen real estate I would get a laptop or tablet. Not a phone.

So looking at the top phones out there at the moment which Techradar think are good.

  • Nexus 6 – too big
  • Sony Xperia Z3 – on the large end of preferance, does 4G, good battery life, reasonable camera. Looks good. Downsides is made of glass and several people on the internet claim that it shatters if dropped. Not so good.
  • iPhone 6 Plus – Too big
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 4 – Too big
  • Sony Xperia Z3 compact – on the small side of preferance, though has the same issue of glass as the Z3. Though at this size a nice cover might be an option
  • LG G3 – Too big, chews through battery life
  • Samsung Galaxy 36 Edge – Size on the large size, curved glass seems a gimmick. Very expensive. High resolution might chew through battery.
  • HTC One (M9) – It has a better camera than the M7 (sorted that problem), still the grilles so its a no go.
  • iPhone 6 – Its Apple
  • Galaxy S6 – On the larger side of preferance, concerned about QHD display chewing through battery. Looks like the best Samsung phone I’ve ever seen though.

So really only two from this list, the Z3 and its sister phone the compact. With an outside possibility of the S6.

Also available are Pocket Lint’s suggestions.

  • Microsoft Lumia 735 – Change of ecoystem from Android but might be an option, budget end phone
  • Nexus 6 – see above
  • LG Flex 2 – Not sure about the curvy screen. Also 5.5 inches is too big!
  • One Plus One – Looks good, has good reviews, doesn’t work on some 4G bands, so a no go
  • Huawei Ascend Mate 7 – Too big
  • Nokia Lumia 930 – Looks great – the bigger brother of the 735, might be an option
  • Motorola Moto G 4G – This looks great, screen size is spot on, everyone thinks its great and am really impressed with my wife’s first generation Moto G
  • Motorola Moto E 2015- too budget, the Moto G 4G is better
  • iPhone 6 Plus – See above
  • HTC Desire Eye – Hideous front facing camera
  • Samsung Galaxy Note Edge – Why? Plus too big
  • Xperia Z3 Compact- see above
  • LG G3 – too big
  • Motorola Moto X- The bigger brother of the Moto G. So might be an option the 5.2 display might be too big though, no SD card slot so the 32GB version would need to be sought
  • Sony Xperia Z3 – See above
  • HTC One M9 – See above
  • HTC One M8 – Whats this doing on this list?
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 4 – See above
  • Samsung Galaxy S6 edge – see above
  • iPhone 6 – See above
  • Samsung Galaxy S6 – See above

Well both reckon the Galaxy S6 is the best phone around but I am not that sure its the best for me. There are very few sub 5.1 inch premium phones around. For small hands and pockets these phablet phones are ridiculous.

I think that options for me break down to the Z3, Z3 compact, Moto G 4G, Moto X. That’s it. Its crazy that so many companies are missing a market for high end medium sized phones. The only phone in this category is the Z3 compact!

There are coming out this year the Moto X updated version and the Z4 (which was announced recently). So I am hoping for a Z4 compact that might sport a 4.8inch screen!

HTC One (M7) review

I recieved my HTC one (M7) as part of a contract agreement with Orange about 20months ago. The HTC seemed like a good contender at that time for a really good phone, a Ultrapixel camera good in low light, Beats audio for good sound, front facing speakers for good speaker volume and a really sharp big screen. Combined with an aluminium body I thought this would be a phone to last at least three years. Compared to my friend’s Samsung phones which died after a year of use or broke easily due to the flimsy plastic and compared to my previous Sony Ericsson Neo which was slow and ran a very old version of Android at the time this was to be a dream phone.

Alas this was a dream phone that was not to be. Until the first update I had to disable bits of the Blinkfeed as this was a horrible thing. Tried using for a while and it chewed my limited data allowance.

I have had several software issues where it would not work properly and ended up having to factory reset it three times.

Then there are hardware issues, the sensors for proximity fail to work quite often and I end up randomly pressing things with my ear or cheek. I have hung on people, called other people and managed to change all sorts of settings in the quick settings menu due to this. Its really frustrating. Another hardware issue is the reception. This phone has really poor reception compared to my previous phones and also my wife’s Motorola Moto G. The Moto G is a quarter of the price yet has vastly better 3G and wireless reception. Which when on a network with blackspots would be really helpful.

The worst feature of the HTC one is the front facing metal grilles. This is a fundamental design flaw that has not been fixed in the M8 or the M9. These grilles get clogged with skin and other detritous and reduce the volume of calls etc drastically. This happened to the point where I had all my calls on maximum volume and could not hear very well anyone at the other end. This never happened on any of my previous phones. When trying to clean them with a toothbrush to remove the clogged holes a lot of the muck falls into the void behind these metal panels which means all my calls now have dust and muck vibrating on the speaker. This is seriously poor!

Another major piece of rubbish is the Camera. Whilst 4MP was low I thought the better sensor would help produce better photos. Nope. It took similar photos to my Sony Ericsson Neo and the W995. All of which have bright light bleed with washed out colours and low light high grain. With the 4MP on the HTC one the camera noise is very noticible in complete lack of detail in areas.

So the poor reception, naff speakers, pants camera and software glitches make it a not so great phone when it could have been an amazing phone. Until HTC change the design of their grilles I won’t be buying an HTC phone again.

HTC one cover

After much looking around I bought a case for my HTC One to give it a little protection. I decided to get an Incipio as they came recommended by many reviews. The one I chose was the “Feather”, this seemed like a good option.

My initial thoughts were that it did not add much bulk but seemed to offer some modicum of protection. I would not however like to drop it with this case as the case was hard and seemed to offer no impact protection.

Positives

  • I have dropped my phone and it survived. I do not know whether this was the case or the phone but I strike this one up as a positive for the Incipio case.
  • It was thin. This made the feel of the phone in the hand easier as some cases add so much bulk the thinness of the phone is negated.
  • It looked good and did not spoil the look of the HTC one.

Negatives

  • There was a bar over the volume rockers that was so thin that after about two weeks this broke. This then left sharp pieces of palstic that needs to be filed off.
  • The case has a lip at the charger end for no apparent reason. This means that apart from the HTC default USB cable this prevents virtually every single USB cable from being snuggly inserted into the USB port. This required the case to be removed during this process. See also the point below.
  • The case is hard to take on and off and required some bending to remove. This eventually broke the case after about 14 / 15 months of use.

IMAG1603

IMAG1604

Lollipop Now Live

Lollipop, Android version 5 is now available for the HTC One (M7) in the UK. At first glance there is not much difference between this version of the Sense skinned Android and the previous 4.4 one. There are a few little differences though. The pulldown for notifications and quick settings is now combined. So two finger pull down no longer gets the quick settings. The lockscreen now has your text messages on it. I have turned this off as I feel its a privacy issue but you might like this feature.

I did notice that with Poweramp the lockscreen displayed stretched grainy album art, but thankfully there is a toggle in Power Amp to stop album art from being displayed on the lockscreen.

I have as yet not found a good way to get a music widget on the lockscreen.

So positives, not a massive leap up, battery life is still about the same.

So negatives, no lock screen music app, the quick settings are harder to get at, I’ve had widget freezing on the home screen since the update and a cache clear has not helped so its a factory wipe again, and thecamera app is not as easy to use as it was. Also Chrome was integrated into the long list of apps that is now the task manager. This I found difficult to use with its many apps squashed into a whirling selection. But some might like this.

So out of the features that Android lollipop was meant to bring, like the material design, HTC decided to Sense that out and other improvements were missing. Thankfully HTC left the slient mode in their update.

Dropbox on a Network Drive

Are you in an office environment where you have a main computer but hot desk on another machine or machines? Say for specialist software? You have a mapped network share that is designated for your own files? You use this drive as you hot desk? Want to access your dropbox from the other machines but the stupid installer won’t let you install on this drive?

Here is how to install Dropbox so you can access it from all machines you use in the office by using your mapped designated drive. This is usually on a NAS or server. I have taken a lot of the commands from this post and replies.

  1. Download Dropbox and set it installing, it will say completed. Then go to advanced to change the location, now leave that one there and follow the next steps.
  2. Unload your mapped drive, for this example we will use P:, however it could be any letter. This is done by right clicking and going to disconnect. Make a note of the path as we will need this later.
  3. Go to your C drive and make a new folder. Call this something like dboxtemp, something short and without spaces.
  4. Open up a command prompt and type

    subst P: C:\dboxtemp

  5. This will create a new drive and call it P, this is the bit to trick Dropbox. All files in the P drive will actually be located inside dboxtemp!
  6. The select the P drive in your Dropbox advanced folder. It will now sync your dropbox. Once it is complete, exit Dropbox.
  7. Now we remove the temporary drive we created called P by typing

    subst P: /d

  8. Now re-map your shared folder to drive letter P.
  9. Copy the contents of dboxtemp on your C drive to your P drive.
  10. Re-open Dropbox. Now it should be syncing files to your shared folder!

Phones 4U

If you live in the UK you might have noticed that another really good chain of stores has gone under. This time probably not due to a credit crunch but to being shafted by the mobile networks in the UK.

Phones4U was an excellent seller of phones, they offered great advice, no hard-sell and if you didn’t want you could walk away. I had been using them regularly for many, many years after being totally burned by Carphone Warehouse (who I won’t support, even if they are the only independent store left).

It is a shame that it always seems that the best option gets shafted and disappears, Betamax anyone? HD-DVD?

I am cynical enough to believe that EE and Vodafone’s withdrawal of contracts with Phones4U was a setup, as strangely enough both EE and Vodafone have “decided” to buy the stores that have shut. If not a setup between the two of them, it was a tactical manoeuver to reduce competition.

UK release of HTC One 4.4.3

If you have an M8 HTC One you will probably have already received the 4.4.3 release, that is unless you are on EE Which always seems to be last in providing updates.

Integration EE still behind

Integration EE still behind

 

This website claims that 4.4.3 was out in the wilds in Europe from mid August, however if from past experience, the UK seems to lag behind some of the other countries in Europe. 

This update brings not only 4.4.3, but the security updates of 4.4.4 and some bug fixes. Also includes updates for the camera and Gallery. 

Screenshot 4.4.3 Update

Screenshot 4.4.3 Update

Sense 6

So you updated to Sense 6, or lucky enough to have an M8? Or unlucky? Sense 6 brings with it so great new features but also in my opinion alters some things for the worse.

The standard blurb of what is updated is available here from HTC. Or if you like it in text rather than pictures check out Droider’s notes.

I will run down, what I like and don’t like about this update.

 

Color coded themes for easy navigation – really?

This is hideous. They have introduced a completely non-sensical (excuse the pun) set of colours that now make the phone look like its a toy. The default theme has so many colours it is distracting, these are quite bright and I find them visually inconsistant breaking the visual flow across the phone. It looks like each app was made by a different company.

To make matters worse there are only 4 themes and they are not custimisable.

Even worse, one of the styles has purple for the buttons that makes it nigh on impossible to see. Black with dark puple highlighting? Nice.

Thankfully there is a black version to get the overall look to be reasonably consistent, however this introduces a green background for the buttons, text suggestions in email and text etc. This is not a very nice green and it appears no way (unless you root and hack some XML files) to change this to a softer colour. But this seems to be the best of a bad bunch.

 

Personalized font style

This is welcome as the new font for Sense 6 is very thin and I find this quite hard to see. If you want to change it, it appears that any of the Flip Font styles will work. If you want to go back to using the font that is similar to Sense 5.5 (Roboto Condensed), you can get it from here. I have found that whilst I am not keen on the Sense 6 font, Roboto Condensed does not seem to work well with Sense 6 theming either.

 

Addition of new Extreme Power Saving Mode

This is welcome addition that scales the phone back when nearing the end of its juice. As a regular user of the normal Power Saver feature this will hopefully squeeze even more life out of my battery.

 

New interface for Gallery and Camera

Yet again they have fiddled with the Gallery. Sense 5 layout is still the best, 5.5 added the landscape strips that makes it hard to see what’s in the photos. Sense 6 changes the gallery to have newest first rather than chronological order. Currently I cannot find any way of altering this.

Also each gallery now has a stupid slideshow at the top that is not that helpful. If I wanted a slideshow I could create one, but this now takes up a load of room for seeing thumbnails of my pictures and seems completely unneccessary to me. Again I cannot find a way to turn off this.

The camera app has been totally revamped. The layout is more intuitive and you now don’t accidentally press the Zoe button to take a photo.

However the settings icons have been made white. Great for a black background. Not so great if you are looking at the phone in strong sunlight with a light background. Makes them unreadable.

 

Blinkfeed improvements & HTC Sense TV improvements

As I don’t use Blinkfeed (the Sense 5.5 option to turn it off was very welcome) and Sense TV I have no comments on these two updates.
Wifi icon looks different

We now have a new WIFI icon. Its ugly.
Lock screen reworked

You can swipe in 3 directions to get to “just unlock”,  “unlock to regular home screen” or “unlock to blinkfeed”. Swiping up starting over home button unlocks directly to Google Now.

This is all well and good if you use Blinkfeed. I now have this silly animation to unlock the phone that shows me three flashing arrows that all do the same thing. This is a big step back from the visually clean look of the swipe to unlock from Sense 5.5, this is visual clutter.

Not only that when you touch to swipe one of these three icons an annoying rectangle appears around the clock (to allow you to edit it). So the lock screen now has a flickering rectangle and a bunch of huge arrows. Awful.
NFC toggle in drawer

This is most welcome. As I don’t want NFC on all the time I like to turn it off. Plus as HTC inexplicably decided to add a giant NFC icon to the status bar in Sense 5.5 I also like to turn it off to clean this up. Its bad enough having a headphone symbol, the beats symbol etc. cluttering it up without adding another one. So thankfully at last HTC have added a quick toggle.

Removal of Weather from App drawer.

I found this quite useful, if I wanted to quickly check the weather. However now you either have to turn the phone off and look at the lock screen or plonk a widget on the homescreen (or use Blinkfeed – yuck).