Tag Archives: Galaxy S IV

HTC Butterfly: The practical alternative to the HTC One and Galaxy S4


The 2013 is proving to be the year of Full HD screens, and where quad-core is become a minimal requirement for a flagship.  However HTC launched a small scale release of an interim flagship to the HTC One X, when they released the HTC Butterfly, also known as the HTC J and Droid DNA in other markets.

The Butterfly was the first Full HD phone from a leading manufacturer, and also featured an even more improved LCD compared to the HTC One X (which was already considered one the best) and named the Super LCD3.   In addition year 2011/2012 had been the year for Nvidia to rule, but as with the Nexus 4 setting the trend late 2012 saw Qualcomm take the lead ,and the Butterfly followed suit featuring an awesomely powerful QUALCOMM Snapdragon Pro S4 quad-core paired to a very powerful Adreno 320 graphics core.

Hence the Butterfly was equipped to the very best at the time of its launch on the hardware side, and matched by an sleep and light body.  But being planned as a limited edition, it was meant to be replaced by the HTC One, which was to feature a major “shift” in camera expectations, and some in HTC felt that playing it safe and have a backup plan would be a good idea.  Turns out the decision was a good one, lack of supplies and issues with the microphone patents have dented HTC One supplies, and the Butterfly has now been launched in many more markets to fill in.

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The Butterfly maintains a simple and clean design, but does not feature anything outstandingly new, as HTC kept all this for the HTC One.  In many ways the HTC Butterfly is a upgraded HTC One X, compared to all out new phone.

The phone features the same Polycarbonate body, but this time without the matte finish HTC has opted for a gloss finish, targeting the Asian market for the phone.  The body is now more sharper than rounded, and gave clues to the HTC One design that was to come.

The centerpiece was the large 5” Full HD screen, with minimal bezel. The sides have the speakers grills, but only one side actually has speakers, the other is merely for the design, shame as that would have been awesome.  The speaker grills are colored red for the red, which mutes the design, but in the white the silver grills look awesome.

The back is standard HTC with nothing but the camera and flash, and the Beats Audio logo. 

The phone is super light for a 5” specially if you happen to have used a Galaxy Note 2 🙂 (the Apple users feedback was of course, my word its so huge, wonder what they will say when they hold a Galaxy Note 2) and the balance is superb.  It feels so much smaller than the 5” and can be easily used single handedly.  Its what you call a very likeable phone, similar to the HTC One X.

HARDWARE

The Nexus 4 set the trend with the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro, the Butterfly features the same, and in many ways its identical to the highly regarded Sony Xperia Z and ZL.  The Butterfly features the Snapdragon S4 Pro, before it was mildly tweaked and rebranded the Snapdragon S600, and has a 1.5Ghz Quad-core processor, coupled to a super fast Adreno 320 graphics that is capable of providing 60fps+ even at Full HD resolution.

Unlike the HTC One X, the Butterfly also has now upgraded in the memory area, with 2GB of RAM, making it future proof and also capable of supporting the memory requirements for the newer games and applications.

INTERFACE

The Butterfly is current still running Sense 4+, but its going to be the first HTC from the “prior to the HTC One” to get the Sense 5 upgrade, scheduled to happen in end May 2013. Hopefully HTC will stick to their schedules. 

Update: The update to Sense 5 was rolled out a bit later than scheduled by HTC, but only for the Taiwan phones with CID HTC_621.  Months have gone and yet the rollout has not happened for the other region phones, while the same update was rolled out for HTC One X+ phones for more regions. This has frustrated a lot of users based on the feedback visible on the HTC Singapore, Malaysia and India Facebook sites.

I checked out a HTC One, and noticed the new Sense 5 has a really nice font and simple interface, though the BlinkFeed launcher seems to be a bit “marketing” to me, but i need to try it to really see it.  However the fancy Zoe photography feature is missing in the leaked ROM and all hope that it will make it to the final drop since the Butterfly and HTC One have near identical hardware, so there is no real reason to drop it saying there is no processing power to handle it, so lets wait and see.  For now if you have an HTC One X/X+, the interface on the Butterfly is on different except for a new “App & Shortcut” widget which seems to be a HTC Butterfly one inclusion.

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UPDATE: The Sense 5 update has almost all the features first seen with the HTC One, with the only exclusion being Zoe which seems to be an exclusive for phones with Ultra pixel type cameras (possibly this might be linked to the different imagechip used for these phones).

However once the Sense 5 update comes, I will update it, as that’s the true upgrade that has many cool features which we have come to expect from new phones and have seen Samsung and Sony include in their customizations in recent times.

DISPLAY

HTC remains faithful to the LCD brigade and i am for one are happy for that, since the LCD screens have proved to be more accurate on colors than the AMOLED units. In addition many of the AMOLED units even in the S4, S3 (and the HTC One S) are pentile units, which have lower number of pixels than in reality.  The new Super LCD 3 screens is superbly sharp, and the colors are very natural.  The Full HD resolution means the pixel density is one of the best, and the text is sharp and clear.

Unlike the Xperia Z, the HTC has touch buttons so the screen resolutions is a true 1920x 1080, and you really appreciate the quality of the screen when you keep it next to a lower resolution screen.  Viewing angles are pretty good with the Butterfly and the screen is very rugged as its protected by a layer of Gorilla Glass 2.

CAMERA and VIDEO

The back camera is where HTC has played it safe, and it seems the Butterfly features the same sensor and lens as the HTC One X+.   The camera in the One X+ was one of the best cameras in 2012, but was beaten by the Galaxy S3 and IPhone 5 for outdoor shooting, though the F2.0 lens cut down the advantage by offering good indoor performance. 

While the camera performance is good, the pictures tend to be a tad noisy, a historic issue with the HTC range in recent times.  However under low light the camera performs quite well, possibly due to its large aperture lens. One of the advantages with HTC is that the Field of View (FOV) of their cameras are exceptionally wide, both in stills and videos, an advantage for group shots and landscapes compared to Samsung.

The HTC implementation also supports constant focusing on video, similar to the Sony Xperia, and under good light this works quite seamlessly but under lower light conditions, the focus tends to hunt and its best that this is disable if being used indoors.  The video quality though is definitely lacking in detail compare to the video footage from the Samsung S3 (see

The camera interface is superbly implemented, and provides a great set of features including very easy to select camera effects to be applied on the fly.  The camera also supports real time HDR, which is very useful when taking photos in testing light and bright light situations. The focus and burst performance are exceptional, as it was with the HTC One X.

The front camera features a new introduction, that would be seen on the HTC One, with a F2.0 lens for low light, and a wide angle 88 degree view for group and a 2.1MP, and is considered the best front camera in the market, even better than the one on the Galaxy S4.

PERFORMANCE

Well with the hardware spec it should fly and it does fly, though if you already use a HTC One X/X+ or Samsung Galaxy S3, you will notice that the interface is smoother, and browsing is faster but you are not going to say wow, coz the snapdragon S4 Pro does not really make this that faster on normal usage, but it does so in gaming and also sustain the performance when there is high load from background processes.

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The popular Antutu benchmark shows that the Butterfly outpaces all the older devices, including the near identical configuration Google Nexus 4, and this is commendable considering Antutu includes a 2D and 3D test run at native resolution, and here with almost twice the pixels to push the scores are still better for the Snapdragon S4.  However the Xperia Z is faster than the Butterfly, and evaluation of the scores indicated that the Xperia Z had better scores on 2D and 3D, so Sony has tweaked things better than HTC?  I feel the HTC Butterfly being the first Snapdragon S4 Pro, and HTC wanting to make the HTC One shine may have not tweaked things much, and the next release of the 4.2 Jelly Bean should match the Xperia Z scores.

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One test for browsing performance is the Vellamo test suite.  Here we see that the Butterfly does manage to beat the older generation quad-core units, but is again second to the Xperia Z.  Clearly HTC has work to do.  This is also one test where the Nexus 4 a Snapdragon S4 processor device with lower resolution seems to struggle, a question that has remained a puzzle. Some say that many “leading manufacturers” have tweaked the phone software to detect the benchmark being run and made things “artificially fast”, and with the Nexus 4 having no such tweaks, could this be the reason 🙂  Another good news is the suspect usually have been Samsung and many Chinese firms such as Huawei, etc.

DESIGN PROBLEMS

Every phone has their different quirks, and some maybe user opinionated since each of us have different usage styles, however here are mine with regard to the butterfly.

  • The POWER button placement at the top for phone of this size is not very ergonomic and is rather hard to use, a side placement or side mid (as in the case of the Xperia Z) is definitely a must
  • The covers for the charger and connectivity port (bottom) and the micro-SIM and SD-card (at the top) are very hard to remove, and if you are not careful you can easily crack the cover.

CONCLUSION

The HTC Butterfly may have been an interim flagship and shadowed by the “Ultra Pixel” camera bearing HTC one, but it offers an unique design, excellent handling for a 5” phone, exceptionally light but practically rugged including the waterproof feature.  The hardware is top of the line, and specially the 2GB RAM makes it very future proof.

For those who may not like the IPhone-ish design of the HTC One, and its “premium” price, the HTC Butterfly offers nearly the same for much lower price, and comes the the added  goodies of a waterproof body, larger screen and microSD expansion and flexibility of storage which for many could be a lot of practical advantages.

The Sense 5 release for the Butterfly is due soon (as i write this) but HTC could have done better by offering the update since its been more than a few months since the HTC One release, and the Butterfly has been used to fill the void in the supplies for the HTC One.  Sadly this is an area that HTC continues to be late, which is releasing new firmware updates, specially for phones which are still very much high end (e.g. the HTC One X and One X+ are due to get the Jelly Bean 4.2 update with Sense in Sep 2013!). 

HTC clearly is showing they are wanting to get back loss business from Samsung, but Samsung is not the same company it was 2 years ago when HTC was able to compete in equal terms, and hence has to be a Mohamed Ali, and move like a bee, and be fast as lightening.  This means quicker updates on software than Samsung, while continuing to stay focused on providing only useful new custom features (Samsung puts out a lot of crappy features, good for marketing but mainly useless for most users) and very importantly improve their camera photo quality, an area they have beaten by all the big boys right now.

Ultra pixel is going to take time, so HTC needs to keep improving the camera implementation and performance tweaks of phones such as the Butterfly, HTC One X/X+/S, and the mid range to make it big again.

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Sony Xperia Z, the 2013 flagship with a design to kill, and backed with the hardware to match


Sony has had a reputation from the time it entered the Android market that its phones had the design element, but were always a step behind in hardware, and so so on the software side.

The Xperia Z (and its sister phone) the flagship for 2013 heralded a first for Sony that the hardware was at the time of the launch the top most specification among the available droid phones, and was backed up with awesome 5” Full HD Bravia display that was only beaten to the market by the HTC Butterfly (a limited production model) and a cool design that had buyers and reviewers drooling over.

However Sony’s rule as the topmost spec in the market was short lived, as the launch of the flagship phones by the two other giants in the android space, first by HTC with their one, and then followed by Samsung with their Galaxy S IV so the specs eclipsed (marginally as the difference in performance is marginal, as the new flagship only users a slightly newer version of the Snapdragon chipset).  But still these competitors (specially the once again all plastic Galaxy S IV) trail on the design element.  If this can help Sony rebuild and grow in the Android space is to be seen, but the Xperia Z is a clear indication that Sony wants to get a bigger piece of the smart phone market, and that bodes well for its follow up launch of smaller models that should also feature top of the line hardware.

HARDWARE

The Xperia Z featured a 1.5Ghz  Krait configuration, consisting of a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro (APQ8064) chipset (this chipset has since been increased in speeds and called Snapdragon 600), backed by the Adreno 320 graphics core, 2GB of RAM.  The combination at the time of the launch was the hottest, and matched the Nexus 4 and HTC Butterfly that featured identical hardware.

The processor and graphics offered performance that left the Nvidia Tegra 3 standing, and many say that even the Tegra 4 would be hard pressed to match this performance.  The story seems to hold true, as for this year there is no Tegra 4 based releases yet indicated by any manufacturers, and all the leading manufacturers have used Qualcomm units, a bad sign for Nvidia indeed.

Design

Sony continues to do what its good at, which is the design.  IMG_20130319_190537The Xperia Z features a slim sleek profile with a scratch resistant tempered glass front and like the Nexus 4, a glass back.  It also features a cool Z sticker, which adds a touch of class.

The beautiful full HD display only has a very small bezel around it, which makes the phone quite easy to handle for it size, and the overall weight is also minimal.

Since the phone is a water proof and dust proof unit, Sony has omitted the usual camera button that one finds with its phone, but in case you do not want the water resistant feature, the much cheaper and near identical Xperia ZL features the camera button along with a simple plastic back.  For many though the glass back design alone will make their purchase decision.

Display

The year 2013 is all about Full HD screens and the move up in size.  The Xperia Z is among the first few to feature a full HD screen.  The large 5” screen resolution is actually 1776×1080, as the bottom pixels are taken for the soft key buttons similar to the Google Nexus 4.

The display when compared to the phones of 2012 such as the HTC One X, Galaxy S 4 and Nexus 4 show how much more sharper the higher resolution has made things.  However users will have to be be vary that apps will still be targeting the 1280×800 resolution that is still the common resolution, and until the Galaxy S IV with a similar resolution enters the market in big numbers, the application compatibility and the fact that applications harness this extra pixels will not be truly applicable.

Sony like HTC has stuck on to TFT type screens, and to me that is a good thing. TFT screens tend to be sharper than the AMOLED screens, and also offer much better visibility when used outdoors.  The Xperia Z screen continues on the sharpness that you appreciate, and has great colors.

The problem for Sony is going to be HTC, who with their HTC J/Butterfly/Droid DNA already showed that the could offer a better LCD type screen than the Xperia Z, and the new HTC One is definitely going to do better, so why Sony could not put out a better display for their flagship is going to hurt them.

A common complain that you will see on the Xperia Z is that the color fade based on the viewing angle.  To me if i was the user of the phone, i am not going to see that much, unless you want to use it as a group video player (do we do that a lot?).  So don’t go by reviews and take this as a bad thing, for me the fact that the neighbor cannot clearly see my screen is a  good thing.

Sony also applies it video and picture optimization called Bravia 2, which to many is simply a contrast boost but it works fine, as it pops the colors out.

Camera and Video

Sony though a camera giant, tends to play safe on the camera phone market, and this to me is a sad thing.  The Xperia Z has the same size sensor as the 8MP units but this time it features 13.1MP, which may mean sharper photos in good light but in most conditions the pictures are going to look grainy with all those pixels cramped into a such a small sensor.  The lens maybe a F2.2, a larger aperture than the traditional F2.4 lenses we have seen with Sony cameras in the past, but the boost is marginal and to me the increase in mega pixels is going to be negative on the photo quality.

The Xperia Z for a phone so large also features are rather small LED flash and i felt the high mega pixel, small sensor and the small flash could only mean that the Z was in no way going to be the best camera phone.

The photo samples confirmed this, as other than in good light the camera struggled to focus and provide anything called good photos.  The photos to me looked much worse than what got from my One X, S 3 and the Xperia S unless it was under very good light.  Even with the flash indoors under lower light conditions the photos were nothing great.

The focus performance under good light was good but not lighting fast as i had come to see with the HTC One X, and under poor light it struggled.

The camera also features something called a Superior Auto, which does a lot more optimizations than the standard auto mode, and yes this feature does seem to do well but it also means the photos are limited to 12MP (a good thing!)

The other feature that would prove to be an irritating one, and something that Sony users will be puzzled is that the the camera app takes about 5 seconds to load.  Why this is remains a mystery, as camera app loaded much faster on the Xperia S, and with so much hardware its a sad story for the 2013 flagship on the still photo arena.

The video of course is capable of 1080p, at 30fps and so it should be with the kind of hardware the Xperia Z is running on.  Sony also is heavily marketing that the Xperia Z is capable of doing HDR in video mode as well.  On the video department the Xperia Z performs better, but still under low light the crammed sensor will struggle.

The Xperia S also featured one of highest megapixel cameras with a 12MP unit when all the competition were doing 8MP.  However based on the pictures i have taken and reviews read, my feeling is that Sony tried to win customers by marketing higher mega pixels than true better picture quality/video.

The unit features the same F2.4 type lens that all are familiar with the Sony Arc S launch, and for some the Arc S remains the better shooter.  The extra mega pixels have further highlighted the lower quality of Sony camera images, and this is an area Sony still has work to do.

What is crazy is that Sony has such a pedigree when it comes to compact cameras with small sensors, and that their camera units and processing is being thrashed by Samsung, HTC and Apple is something that Sony should be ashamed.

The video like HTC features constant auto focusing which is great for slow moving footage, but remember to disable this when doing fast moving footage if not you are going to feel sad.  The video is also capable of 1080p HD, and the quality is good enough and the camera performs decently even in poor light.

A feature increasingly common with most flagship phones is the ability to take still photos while recording video, the Z can do that, but the still photos are limited to 1MP!, this is rather poor when the HTC and Samsung implementations in 2012 with lesser hardware could already do full resolution stills while video recording.

Video playback and sound

The stock video player is good supporting most formats including MKV and Div X.  The video playback is awesome on such a large high resolution screen, and in case you are into videos this phone is excellent.

The audio quality on voice calls are good, but for a phone of this size the loudspeaker performance is nothing great, and it seems this maybe due to Sony trying to make this phone water resistant, and had to sacrifice on the size and design of the speaker.  The fact that the phone only has one speaker is also going to hurt it with the HTC One coming out with large stereo speakers on a smaller foot print.

Sony as followed Apple on its new design for the ear phones with the flat type, sadly i could not test these out as I only had the phone for a short while.  However the ear phones to me looked a bit budget in the quality of finish, and i felt Sony cold have done better on the quality of finish compared the Apple ear phones.

Storage

The phone only comes with 16GB on-board, a strange decision when Sony always went with 32GB for their flagship phones, and the trend this year is that its 32GB or higher.  With the base OS taking a fair amount out of the 16GB, the decision for Sony to reduce the flagship internal storage seems crazy, specially since the phone is not cheap!

However Sony has made up for its miss in the past by including a microSD card slot that is capable of taking cards upto 64GB, providing the expansion capability.

Battery

With a more powerful chipset and graphics, larger screen ,and higher resolution the battery drain is going to be a question on everyone’s mind.  Sony has boosted the battery of the Xperia Z with a fairly large 2330mAh unit, and the phone needs it.

Gsmarena showed the phone standby performance is great (it should with such a large battery) but once you start using that display things don’t last that long.  Under normal use the phone will struggle to last a day if the display is used a lot, as the display is the key battery consumer.

The battery is not a removable type, which is not a big problem unless your battery dies on you.  With so many portable external battery chargers available the removable nature of the battery is not a big concern anymore, but how many recharge cycles can this battery hold with the continuous drain on this unit will only be proven on a long term tests.

Software and Customization

The Xperia Z launched with Jelly Bean but not the latest version, opting to go with the 4.1.2 version rather than the 4.2.1 version that may have improved performance.  The update for 4.2.1 is due but with competing flagships launching shortly with 4.2.x version, Sony needs to move fast, but it seems that is not going to happen.

Sony in recent times has not attempted to include any heavy customizations, which has also enabled the phones to  provide good performances. The Xperia Z does have some level of customization, but compared to the Samsung and HTC implementations, the Sony implementation is light but also lacking in features.

There is now a permanent pop up feature that you can use for some apps, which is a bit like the multi-view feature by Samsung.  Sony wall papers look great and add to the finish of the phone.

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The extra resolution means split screen implementation for the calendar and email are not cramped and easily viewed.   However some of the widgets like the calendar widget still have too much white space and don’t take benefit of the higher resolution.

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Usage issues and problems from known from forums

  • The phone when used for browsing in particular tends to get very warm at the top bottom. The glass back does not help here, as it amplifies the heat.  The heat is easily  noticeable even after a short period of browsing.
  • The screen though supposedly rugged has several examples that have cracked under light use, indicating their maybe a design issue rather than a quality of material problem.
  • There is also a reported issue of the phones dying if the battery charge goes very low, and the phone sometimes can be brought alive using a recovery process but not always.  Sony has confirmed this issue, which is a big minus point for the phone.
  • The loudspeaker if immersed in water will be low until the water clears out, again a poor design issue
  • The camera interface does not rotate and seems to have been designed to work with the ZL hardware camera button

Performance

I have compared the performances of last year flagships and the Nexus 4, along with the Xperia S to give an indication of the improvement in performance.

One has to note that the graphics and internet rendering performance cannot be compared apples to apples since the Xperia Z has to render on much greater pixels, so in case the performance matches that alone is a major achievement.

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Compared to LG Google Nexus which has a lower resolution, the Xperia Z screams and also shows that Google does not optimize its phones much.

Compared to the 2012 flagships, the Xperia Z is able trounce them on all departments which indicates how much more powerful the Snapdragon S4 Pro processor is.  The slightly faster but near identical Snapdragon 600 on the HTC One and the international version of the Galaxy S IV will surpass this but not by much. Except the next update from Sony to make things even better.

The chart also shows that the quad core krait in the Xperia Z is able to offer a heavy improvement compared to the dual-core version that was featured in the HTC One S.

Chipset GPU Android Antutu 3.0.x Quadrant Nenamark Vellamo 2.x GeekBench 2.0
Sony Xperia Z 1.5Ghz Quad Snapdragon S4 Pro Adreno 320 4.1.2 20486 7871 59.9 2178 1991
Sony Xperia S 1.5Ghz Dual Snapdragon S3 Adreno 220 4.0.4 8219 3306 37.9 1393 996
HTC One S 1.5Ghz Dual Snapdragon S4 Adreno 225 4.0.3 10558 4707 61.0 1535 NA
HTC One X 1.5Ghz Quad Tegra-3 Nvidia Tegra 3 4.1.2 14781 6805 57.1 1578 1359
Samsung Galaxy S III 1.4Ghz Quad Exynos 4412 Mali400MP Quadcore 4.0.4 14300 5343 58.9 1569 1824
LG Google Nexus 4 1.5Ghz Quad Snapdragon S4 Pro Adreno 320 4.2.1 17640 5014 57.8 1302 1302

Conclusion

The Xperia Z has many things going its way.  It definitely has a great design, and is maybe only second to the upcoming HTC One (the Galaxy S IV looks just like the Galaxy S 3, so Samsung yet again fails on the design element and quality of materials).

The design is backed by a a very good screen that is also large, and offers full HD resolution.  Sony has also gone to the extra length of making the phone water resistant and dust resistant.  Practical things since that means if the phone was to get wet in the rain or was in your pocket, this phone is going to come through fine, and that is one worry you don’t need to concern over.. nice.

The Xperia Z features a great processor and graphics, that means excellent performance in games, browsing, video, etc.  Add the microsd expansion slot it makes it an ideal multimedia device.  Well done Sony.

BUT the poor camera is a big negative for a camera of this price and status, and Sony’s decision to go ahead with a ridiculous 13MP sensor that is the same size as the 8MP sensor we have seen in 2012, and backed up with a smaller flash only made things harder for the Sony software guys working on the still photo area.  The performance of the camera to me is worse than most 2012 phones, including Sony’s own phones, sad.

The heating issue and the durability of the screen is also a concern, and adding a clunky screen protector is going to hurt, but here Sony has a solution, opt for the ZL version with the plastic back, but then you loose the water resistant feature, ouch.

However no phone is perfect, the Xperia Z ticks many good things and with a design so elegant, it must sell well.  But the world seems to buy phones based on marketing, and Apple and Samsung are very good here, and that is something Sony seems not capable of matching, and until that changes the Xperia will remain second or third to most.