Google software day three: Doing it all on the Sony Xperia Z1

Selling at $1000, Sony’s flagship Xperia Z1 cost more than twice as much as the Acer Chromebook C720 I’m using for a week of working exclusively with Google software.

The smartphone’s five-inch screen packs more pixels than the C720. From the right viewing angle it looks better. Although the text is much smaller, it is easier to read.

This got me thinking, could I do all my work using just the phone, not the Chromebook? My immediate reaction is, yes, that’s possible, but I would need to use a Bluetooth keyboard for typing and the only one I have to hand carries the Apple brand.

We’ll leave that thought for another week. Maybe I’ll try and spend a week working with nothing but a top of the line Android phone. It’ll be a useful experiment.

Sony Xperia Z1, computer in a phone

What’s clear is that, typing aside, there’s not much of my normal work that the Xperia Z1 couldn’t handle. The apps are all there. It packs more processing power and, at 16GB built-in plus a MicrosSD slot, more memory than the Acer Chromebook C720. In the right parts of Auckland it rocks along at 4G speeds. I kept finding superfast reception while in the CBD on Friday.

That five-inch screen is a double-edged sword. It’s big, bright and readable. Yet it is also a tad too large for my taste in smartphones. I like the way I can control an iPhone one-handed. I need two hands to work the Xperia Z1. It’s also quite big to carry in the pocket compared with an iPhone.

The camera is first class – but that now seems to be the case with all the high-end smartphones. If photography is your thing, you may find it easier to push this hardware than on some other phones which often hide controls. To be truthful, I haven’t needed to take any pics for work so my testing was totally artificial.

One feature I got to test is the phone’s waterproofing. You don’t need to wait long in Auckland for a rain shower and I decided to let the phone get a soaking. It still worked just fine. This would be useful if I catch the Birkenhead Ferry on a wet afternoon.

A work phone?

All this adds up to a nice work phone. However, I suspect Sony would prefer customers to think of it as a fun device as well.

Sony refrained from tinkering too much with the stock Android software. That’s a good thing, but the phone is on Android 4.2 while most rivals have moved on to 4.3. The soft keyboard is better than most Android phones I’ve used and the word prediction is the best I’ve seen outside of Windows Phone 8.

There’s little included crapware, but that stays out of the way for the most part. One thing I noticed was the Twitter app doesn’t show the envelope icon, so there’s no way to read incoming Twitter direct messages. It’s not a deal breaker. I put it down to a little more Android flakiness, you may have another explanation.

Which brings me to an interesting point. Is Android a better OS for work than ChromeOS? I’m not sure. Ask me again when the week is up. It’s good that Google is giving both options a run. I like the radical simplicity and minimalism of the Chromebook. On the other hand I’ve bumped against its limits.

Sony has resisted to pack tons of its own software on top of the stock Android, so the phone’s OS has a nice spare feel. If Sony gave the Z1 an 11-inch screen and a keyboard it would be a better, albeit more expensive, work tool than the Chromebook.