Saturday, March 28, 2015

1 week with Lollipop on the Xperia Z3

Update: I made a couple quick thoughts on Android 5.1 on this post in r/SonyXperia.  Do give it a read!

When Google announced the L developer preview back at Google I/O 2014, a lot of people -- myself included -- were excited to see what the future of Android would be.  This wouldn't be another 4.X release, but a 5.0 release with many advancements to the Android experience.  In October 2014, Sony announced that their Xperia Z devices would all be receiving Lollipop within the first quarter of 2015.  While this wasn't as early of timing as other OEMs like Samsung and Motorola, it still got me excited that my (at the time) brand new Xperia Z3 and my 1.5 year old Xperia Tablet Z would receive Google's latest desert.

Lollipop on the Xperia Z3 has only rolled out in the Baltic regions as of March 16, and I got impatient waiting for a North American release, so I flashed the Generic Baltic firmware onto my device.  I've been using the firmware for about a week, and I have to say my general impressions of Lollipop are mostly positive, but I have a few quirks.

The Good

But, before we get to the quirks of the experience, let's start with what I appreciate with Sony's spin on Google's latest desert.
  • The User Interface.  I love Material Design.  When Google unveiled their design language for Android L back at Google I/O, it was met with positive criticism for it's modern look.  And for the most part, I really appreciated it as well.  Animations are slick and smooth, and the "floating paper" concept with the bright colours adopted by Google work well to create a pleasant UI.  Sony have decided to not heavily skin Android 5.0, but rather lay a coat of paint on it.  Much of the UI is very similar to how stock Android 5.0 looks, with Sony's iconography and colour scheme.  The icons for all of Sony's apps have also received a "material" upgrade, following a similar design concept to that of Google's.  This is very appreciated, since Sony had been using the same icons for their apps since the release of the Xperia S in 2012.  A refresh was direly needed in my opinion.
  • The Lock Screen.  Android 5.0's lock screen places notifications at the front and centre (not literally, but kind of close to it) of the your lock screen and makes it easy to read notifications by just waking the device.  A new quick access dialer shortcut is also very welcome.  Sony hasn't meddled with the lock screen, except for adding their own clocks.  The new "Sony" clock is similar to the clock style they used with the Z3 devices, with bold hours and thin minutes, but they are stacked on top of each other as they are on the Sony SmartWatch 3.
  • Performance.  Android 5.0 uses the ART runtime in place of the Dalvik, and performance has been as smooth, if not a bit better, than it was on Android 4.4 KitKat.  Apps open quickly and transitioning between apps are also quick and seamless.  Battery life after the first couple days has been solid as well, as I've been able to manage to earn a full day's worth of battery easily (I should note that while the Xperia Z3 is advertised to hit up to 2 days of battery, based on how I use my Z3, I've never been able to hit the 2 day endurance, even on KitKat).  The Z3 is already a powerhouse performer, and Lollipop doesn't hinder it one bit.
  • SD Card Support.  YES.  Something I sorely missed in Android 4.4.  Now, this is more thanks to Google rather than Sony, but we can now manage data on our SD cards without root.  This is especially useful since I usually have all my media on my SD card, and I keep my phone's internal memory reserved for apps.  I have opted not to root my Z3, as many of the functions that I needed root for on my old Xperia arc I don't need to root for on my Z3.  Moving apps to the SD card is also a wonderful addition, as 16 GB is almost never enough on-board storage for anyone.

The Bad

Despite all the positives I've listed above, not all is nice in the land of Xperia Lollipop.  I had a few quirks in the experience that bothered me one way or another.  Most of these quirks are very subjective to my experience with Lollipop, and some of them are just nitpicks, while others are bigger issues.
  • The Status Bar.  Sony decided to go with a status bar that very much resembled stock Android 5.0, from the dropdown to (most) of the information icons.  But there is one problem with their implementation.  What Sony decided to do is colour the status bar with a shade slightly darker than the current theme's main colour.  This is fine within Sony apps.  But when, you come across an app not optimized to Google's new design standards (as pictured on the right with Facebook), it looks like a terrible mismatch and looks very out of place.  A black status bar would've easily sufficed within these apps.  These can be easily fixed with a software update though, so I don't think it'll be around for long.
  • Google's new interruption system.  Google's new interruption system is Google's way to rival Apple's "Do Not Disturb" feature on iPhones, and I think it overall works fine.  What they now have are three profiles: Sound, Priority and Silent (known as None on stock 5.0).  Priority mode allows you to only filter certain type of notifications, such as Events, Calls and Messages.  Silent mode is a fully silent mode, where all notifications -- even alarms -- don't buzz.  My main problem is that there isn't a true silent mode.  Priority mode isn't perfect as I've had a couple notifications -- notably Facebook Messenger -- ring despite being in priority mode.  The lowest volume on both Priority Mode is a vibrate, and this can be a problem when I'm in an environment when I don't want my phone to buzz.  It's sometimes too much of a hassle to tap the Silent option in the volume controls when you want to fully silent the device.  An option for silent mode to be activated using the volume buttons (ie press volume down again after going to vibrate) would be very much appreciated.  Or...
  • Missing Sound toggle in notification tray.  This relates to the previous point of putting the phone into silent being a harder job than necessary.  The sound toggle was the only toggle to not return in Sony's update.  Why this is the case is mind-boggling.  The sound toggle was how I easily placed my phone on silent when necessary.  This would help a lot when I'm listening to music, since I can't access system volume while listening to music or watching a video.  That was fixed in Android 5.1, so hopefully Sony implements it into their 5.1 ROM.
  • Missing Close all button in Overview.  I think this is self-explanatory.  How can Sony remove the Close all button in Overview, especially when it holds more "windows" (since it doesn't just solely hold apps), than in KitKat?  It can be a pain to swipe all of them away individually.  I can imagine this being rectified in the next software update (hopefully).
The Ugly?  Thankfully, there isn't anything ugly.  Unfortuantely, I haven't taken any camera samples to compare photos between KitKat and Lollipop, but I would assume results would be about the same as they were before (I'm also not the mobile biggest photography expert, so I would have a hard time diving into detail about photos).  But overall, despite my quirks with the update, I've come to enjoy Sony's 5.0 update.  I believe all the things I've listed as "bad" can be easily rectified with a software update, so hopefully it comes soon (of course, Sony has to first focus on rolling Lollipop out to the rest of the world).  Am I nitpicking with some of my quirks?  Absolutely.  But these are necessary in order for Sony to help improve the overall experience of their future updates for their devices.  I'm planning to stick with the Generic Baltic update until the Generic US version rolls out, but I don't see myself rolling back to KitKat anytime soon.

Software version: 23.1.A.0.690
Customization version: 1288-5530

1 comment :

  1. Good overview. I can't wait to get Lollipop on my Z3 (T-Mobile).