Jeremiah Rogers

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How I Found My New Android Phone

Please forgive the typos. I’ll fix those soon, this was written tonight and it’s already late.

About two weeks ago my LG G2 screen broke. I managed to get it replaced in Phnom Penh but then it promptly broke again, leading me on the search for a better and more durable Android phone.

Given how brittle and thin the glass was on the display I wasn’t ready to get another screen installed on the G2. It may either get sold or stick around as a general purpose micro computer for uploading files while I’m on the go.

Now the G2 is still a fantastic phone, but it’s not water resistant and it doesn’t have an expandable Micro SD card slot. Also, and I only found this out after buying it, I ended up with the obscure Brazilian model that can’t run Cyanogenmod and was late to get updates.

Chiang Mai, Thailand. July, 2014.

The models I considered replacing it with were the iPhone 5 and 5S, Samsung Galaxy S5 (terrible hand feeling), the Sony Xperia Ultra (too big), and the Sony Xperia Z2, Z3, Z1 and and Z3 compact models. I also looked at the Huawei Ascend Mate 2 and Mate 7 (no Cyanogen) which have big screens and fantastic battery life. The One Plus One is not available in Cambodia and the Oppo phones look great (N1, N3, Find 7) but were too expensive ($500ish).

I ended up finding a Sony Z2 for about $320 used in amazing shape. To be fair I also priced shopped the iPhone 5 and 5S. But those iPhones cost over $350 for below average battery life, no water resistance, small screens and high “steal me” value. It wasn’t worth it.

The iPhone 6 costs $750 used in Cambodia with 16 gigs of storage and around $1,000 with 64 gigs of storage and a 1080p display (the plus model). That’s three times the price after I added in an SD card for music storage to the Sony.

Cameras

In practice I shoot few photos on my phone but I still want it to have a passable camera. When comparing phone cameras I always look to DxOMark mobile for objective comparisons.

The Z2, Z3, and S5 occupy spots 3-5 on the DxOMark rankings. That’s below both variants of iPhone 6 but above the iPhone 5S (#9) and iPhone 5 (#15).

Note that the Z3 Compact has the same camera as its bigger. So you’re not missing anything buying the smaller and lighter model. (Honestly I might have preferred a Z2 compact — but they don’t seem to exist).

Why the Z2

I picked the out of date Sony Z2 because it is almost the same specs as a brand new $590 in Cambodia Sony Z3. I’m serious: Sony updates their phones every six months, the Z2 and the Z3 are basically the same thing. They have the same screen, almost the same processor, and the same camera.

What makes the Z2 great is the huge 3200 mAh battery, the 1080p IPS display, the 13” sensor and the water and dust resistance. That 13” sensor is larger than the iPhone 6 Plus and the size of many point and shoots 1. It can also shoot 4k video which I don’t need.

As far as durability: I’m probably not going to put a case on my Z2 but it feels far more durable than other glass phones I’ve used. Battery life: this morning I woke up with ~60% battery after forgetting to charge it overnight and it still lasted until the end of the day walking around playing music and reading.

What I find most remarkable about these phones is how Sony is fitting bigger batteries, bigger camera sensors, three times the RAM and higher resolution displays into lighter packaging than Apple which is also waterproof. How? The iPhone 6 and Z3 compact both weigh 129 grams but the Z3 has 40% more battery capacity. What is Apple doing with all those grams?

The full-sized Z3 has a slightly smaller screen than the iPhone 6 Plus (5.2 vs 5.5 inches), the same screen resolution, a bigger battery, and it is also lighter. Again it’s also waterproof and has expandable storage.

Software

I love Cyanogenmod. Cyanogenmod 12 is the best mobile OS I’ve ever used and I’m using a nightly build. It’s just remarkably good. Lollipop is there.

It’s hard for me to tell which features are part of Lollipop and which are Cyanogen, but the design and multitasking is phenomenal. The handling of notifications and dozens of apps is much better for me on Android than iOS. There are a few minor bugs but fewer in practice than I’ve had on iOS 8. (From a nightly build!)

My advice if you ever buy an Android phone is to make very sure that the SKU you buy works with Cyanogenmod. It’s a great way to future proof your way into software updates. It’s also the only way aside from rooting your phone to get a very uncluttered Android experience from most manufacturers.

Sony’s stock Android ROM is very uncluttered and nicely designed, but it still had a few apps (Sony apps, but also Facebook) that couldn’t be uninstalled. I dislike that for a few reasons, but the main one is that the default apps stay on the phone and eats bandwidth and space updating themselves and clutter the UI. It also means I have to root the phone and risk security issues in order to get the UI I want.

Sony has an official page allowing you to unlock the bootloader on your device. Holy crap! This is a beautiful commitment to open source software from a company which people love to hate.

So if you’re in the market for an Android phone print out the officially supported Cyanogen Mod phones and bring it with you to the store. Check to make sure the exact model number you buy is supported by Cyanogenmod (on the Settings->About This Phone page). I’d recommend just getting a Sony and flashing it as soon as you get home, mine took 30 minutes.

Chiang Mai, Thailand. July, 2014.


  1. Apple uses Sony sensors. This implies that either Apple is using better lenses or better software to get their better images. I’d put my money on software. [return]