2 new Android phones cater to niche markets

Xperia Z1s, G-Flex give users new features to stand apart from iPhone crowd

The Associated PressJanuary 19, 2014 

— One of the reasons Android phones have become popular is the choices they offer: Want a big screen? There’s a phone for you. Want cheap? There’s one for you, too.

New phones from Sony and LG continue that trend. Sony’s Xperia Z1s is a waterproof phone with a high-megapixel camera, while LG’s G Flex has a curved screen that offers a better fit for phone calls.

XPERIA Z1S, SONY CORP. ($528, CONTRACT-FREE, THROUGH T MOBILE ONLY)

The 5-inch Z1s stands out in two ways: It’s waterproof, meaning you can dunk it in water up to 4.5 feet deep for a half-hour. And the camera’s 20.7-megapixel resolution is higher than that of most phones, which means sharper photos when blown up or printed.

Sony also packs the phone with several camera apps that can be useful — when they work.

The waterproofing should give you some comfort in the rain or in a pool, as long as you keep the ports covered with the attached plastic seals. Just don’t expect extensive operations underwater, as the touch screen doesn’t work when wet. You can continue video and music you already have going, but you can’t start new ones. Same with voice calls. Sound quality through the external speaker suffers.

Fortunately, you can use headphones. Sony’s water-resistant Xperia Z phone last summer had a headphone jack that needed to stay covered. There’s no need to cover that in the Z1s.

The Z1s also fixes a shortcoming with the Z. You can set the volume button to trigger the camera shutter for shots while snorkeling. The Z’s touch-only shutter has to stay dry.

The camera’s high-megapixel count means more details get stored, which is important for cropping and printing. However, megapixel is just one factor.

At the U.S. figure skating championships in Boston this month, photos of skaters from my nose-bleed seats came out average for a phone.

I noticed more details in some of the banners across the arena, but a larger factor was how much my hand was shaking when I snapped. In a few of those shots, colors were completely off.

The camera’s Social Live app lets you stream 10-minute video clips live on Facebook. You can choose who can view them, though it doesn’t recognize groups you have created on Facebook, such as “close friends” or “family.” If you’re willing to click on names one by one, or share with everyone, it’s a fun tool for weddings and other shareable moments.

Another app, called Info-eye, gets you more information about a book, wine bottle or landmark after you snap a photo of it. Results were mixed.

The app also is supposed to recognize QR codes. But I got it to work only once out of at least 17 tries.

The Z1s catches up to Apple’s iPhone 5S in two ways: You can snap up to 10 shots per second in a burst mode, and you can see how an Instagram-like special effect will look before you snap the shot.

There’s also a Timeshift Burst app that lets you snap even more shots — 61 in two seconds.

It’s easy to pick the best shots by scrolling through the images like a flipbook, but the app limits you to two seconds.

G FLEX, LG ELECTRONICS INC. (PRICE NOT YET ANNOUNCED, AVAILABLE SOON THROUGH AT&T, SPRINT AND T-MOBILE):

The 6-inch G Flex is much like a bigger version of LG’s 5.2-inch G2 phone from last summer. The power button and volume controls are on the back, which LG believes will be easier to access and result in fewer dropped phones.

Where the G Flex differs: The screen has a slight concavity from top to bottom, giving it a better fit around your head when making calls. It feels a bit like those old flip phones. However, I don’t make many calls to begin with, and I haven’t noticed much difference in call quality or comfort.

LG hasn’t announced U.S. pricing yet, but the phone goes for more than $900 in South Korea. Part of that high price goes toward the display’s size: The G Flex is even larger than Samsung’s 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 3 and HTC’s 5.9-inch One Max. Samsung also has a curved phone, but hasn’t announced U.S. plans yet.

I tested a Korean version of the G Flex ahead of its U.S. release. Text and images on the curved screen look odd. Square photos on Instagram aren’t so square, for instance. The distortion is more pronounced when the phone is held sideways, with the curve from left to right.

The G Flex is for people who want to show friends they have something new and are willing to pay. Otherwise, wait for further advancements from LG and Samsung.

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