Best Full HD phone: Xperia Z vs Ascend D2 vs ZTE Grand S £529
18th Feb 2013 | 16:41
It's a three way rumble between this year's supersize challengers
Sony's Xperia Z launches at the end of February, bringing a high-end 1080p resolution screen to the masses. Or at least, to what Sony hopes will be masses of smartphone buyers.
Problem is, 1080 x 1920 or 1080p resolution displays are about to become commonplace in 2013, as the phone manufacturers of the world, struggling to compete on power now that EVERYTHING is super-powerful, turn to screen density and display clarity in an attempt to beat their competition.
So as well as the Xperia Z, early 2013 will see the arrival of young upstart Huawei and its Ascend D2, also packing a 1080p display measuring some 5 inches, plus its Chinese rival ZTE is launching the equally enormous ZTE Grand S. The latter is another big 5-inch model that again packs a 1080p screen.
This time last year, any one of this high-spec trio would've stunned us with the audacity of offering a 1080p display on a mobile phone. But in the fast moving world of Android hardware, we're now in a position where we can be fussy. So let's be fussy. Which one's best?
Xperia Z vs Ascend D2 vs ZTE Grand S: Operating system
The Xperia Z is scheduled to arrive with Android 4.1 as its launch OS, with Sony promising an update to Android 4.2 shortly after launch. The Sony model features masses of bespoke modifications, though, with Sony incorporating Google's enhanced visual notifications system, adding a custom lock screen, and completely overhauling Android's usual camera and gallery systems. While perhaps a little bland looking, Sony's interface customisations heap on the features and make Android even more versatile than usual.
The Ascend D2 is closer to the "stock" Android experience, with Huawei offering Android 4.1.2 as its initial OS. It's still fiddled with a few things, visually speaking, as part of its in-house Emotion UI skin. This means you get a user-definable number of Home screens (up to nine), a reworked camera system and a selection of power and feature toggles in the notifications pane.
We'd prefer stock Android to Huawei's skinning, but at least Huawei usually offers us the option to turn most of the maker's customisations off and revert to a more standard version of Google's Jelly Bean code.
The Grand S, meanwhile, also arrives powered by Jelly Bean, with ZTE needlessly altering Google's dock icons and widgets, plus the multitasking button we see on most new Android models is absent - the Grand S sticks with the old fashioned Menu button in its below-screen touch button area. There's also the duff TouchPal keyboard pre-loaded for text input, but that's best ditched for the standard Android option.
Xperia Z vs Ascend D2 vs ZTE Grand S: Processor
Both the Xperia Z and ZTE Grand S run on a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro quad core CPU, with the Xperia Z's unit clocked at 1.5GHz and the Grand S maxing it out at a whopping 1.7GHz.
That's the same unit that powers the awesome Nexus 4, so while it's not amazingly cutting-edge and thrillingly new in these days of warp speed mobile tech advances, it's still proven to be one of the most capable and speedy chipsets out there today. It'll be taxed a little harder pushing a 1080 x 1920 display around, though.
The Huawei Ascend D2 is more of an unknown quantity, in that it's running on Huawei's own newly developed 1.5GHz quad-core processor, so we have no real way of knowing what it'll be like out there in the field when asked to run Super Hexagon for nine hours a day.
Xperia Z vs Ascend D2 vs ZTE Grand S: Screen
Sony's Xperia phones have always had superb displays, with the company's blend of BRAVIA tech and the Reality Display thing it likes to talk about doing a great job of keeping everything clear and sharp. The Xperia Z features both those enhancements, boosting the BRAVIA stuff to version two status. What we saw of the new 1080 x 1920 display in our Xperia Z hands on was stunning. It'll be a winner, no doubt about that.
Huawei's also been doing good work in the display world, with its older Ascend P1 and the budget G300 and G330 looking sharp. The Ascend D2 promises to hit a 443ppi pixel density level, making it another super-sharp screen choice. The display's viewing angles also impressed when we went hands on with the D2 at CES.
ZTE, meanwhile, has less of a reputation for quality, seeing as it's been happy chucking out cheap clunkers for years. The Grand S managed to look "crisp and clear" in our CES hands on, although 1080p video playback looked a little disappointing. Hopefully that's something ZTE can amend before the phone's launch.
Xperia Z vs Ascend D2 vs ZTE Grand S: Storage
All three of these phones come with around 2GB of usable RAM, although Huawei's spec sheet says users can expect to see more like 1.8GB reported in actual use. That's literally stacks of RAM, more than enough to ensure Android can handle multi-tasking with ease. Some cheaper phones out there today are still launching with 512MB, to put things in perspective. You won't have to worry about shuffling apps off to an SD card or deleting things for quite some time with these monsters.
In terms of onboard options for storing media, music and other files, the Xperia Z comes with 16GB built-in and an SD card slot, the Ascend D2 packs 32GB internally but has no expansion slot, while ZTE's Grand S mirrors the Xperia Z in offering 16GB inside and an SD card slot for heaping in more Breaking Bad episodes.
Xperia Z vs Ascend D2 vs ZTE Grand S: Camera
Camera spec is another area where there's little to pick between today's top smartphones on paper. It's not until you get a finished phone out there in the real, often dingy world, that megapixels can be translated into meaningful results.
On paper, the Xperia Z claims it'll enhance its staggering 13.1-Megapixel output with Exmor RS technology, which ought to improve low-light images, with an HDR option for jazzing up gloomy locations - and HDR video options, too. The Ascend D2 matches most of this, also offering a 13MP sensor with flash and HDR stills shooting mode, while the Grand S also records images at 13MP resolution.
Front-facing chat cameras are also part of the high-end Android spec sheet these days. The Xperia Z's front-facing camera captures at 2.2MP resolution, the Grand S manages 2MP through the front lens, while the Ascend D2 has a 1.3-Megapixel resolution secondary camera.
All three shoot video at 1080p resolution, too. It'll come down to the lens quality and noise levels in the end, something we'll cover in more depth in future reviews of all three monster mobiles.
Xperia Z vs Ascend D2 vs ZTE Grand S: Connectivity
Sony's been going all-out with NFC support for some time, with the Xperia Z fully compatible with NFC tech and Sony trying very, very hard to make sure everyone knows about it. The phone's also 4G ready for use with the UK's about-to-explode next-generation network, while the Xperia Z also features Sony's own implementation of the Miracast screen sharing tool, for easily whacking your media on an HDTV.
There's no 4G connectivity or NFC chip in the Ascend D2, but ZTE's Grand S is a member of the next-gen LTE club like the Xperia Z and also boasts NFC abilities. All three offer Wi-Fi b/g/n connectivity, Bluetooth 4.0 and HSDPA radios for the best possible 3G speeds.
Xperia Z vs Ascend D2 vs ZTE Grand S: Dimensions and weight
ZTE's Grand S is a slim one. Measuring just 142 x 69 x 6.9mm, it's one of the slimmest Android models on the horizon with just a slight bulge around the back to house the camera optics. It's also pocket friendly in terms of heft, weighing just 110g.
The Xperia Z is a big old fatty in comparison, coming it at a slightly bigger 7.9mm thick (139 x 71 x 7.9mm all round), while weighing a much more substantial 146g. Huawei's Ascend D2 is the real heavyweight in this round-up, coming in at chunky 9.4mm thick (140 x 71 x 9.4 mm). But if it's kind to our wallets, we're less likely to mind the weight.
Xperia Z vs Ascend D2 vs ZTE Grand S: Battery
Big screens require big batteries to keep them alive. Any shortage in this department and you've just committed to spending £36 a month for the next two years on a constant source of disappointment.
In terms of physical capacity, the Xperia Z offers a 2330mAh battery, the Grand S is rated at a low-end 1780mAh that's a surprisingly small choice given the size and power of the phone, while the Huawei contains an enormous 3,000mAh unit.
These will give varying levels of performance when in use, and Sony's making a big deal about the power-saving hibernation features within the Xperia Z, but on paper you'd have to choose the fatter Huawei for its potential uptime if you demand a long-life mobile.
Xperia Z vs Ascend D2 vs ZTE Grand S: Early verdict
There's something to recommend in all three, is the sad, fence-sitting conclusion here. The Xperia Z will feature Sony's incredibly packed and versatile custom user interface, although the Android hardcore will moan that it's not appearing with Android 4.2 as its launch OS. It'll be a great piece of hardware, though.
ZTE's Grand S offers the slimmest chassis and is by far the lightest and most pocketable of the three big-screen phones, but the compromise here is the poor 1780mAh battery - surely not enough given the power demands of its quad-core chipset and enormous display.
The key offering from Huawei is its enormous battery, with that 3,000mAh cell set to be one of the otherwise chunky and otherwise unremarkable phone's biggest selling points. It's the fattest and heaviest of the trio, but with nearly double the battery power of the ZTE model, it'll surely keep you amused the longest.
In summary, we'll have one of each, please.