Samsung still holds the number one position in the smartphone market but truth be told, the Korean giant is facing one of the toughest years. The company is cornered in the high-end market by Apple whereas the entry-level and the mid-range segment is eaten up by companies like Asus, Lenovo, Motorola and Xiaomi.
Samsung will most likely answer Apple’s onslaught in the high-end market with a new Galaxy flagship in a couple of months but Samsung considers the Z1 as the solution to tackle the highly intense entry-level segment. But is the phone enough to lure consumers from Android to an altogether new ecosystem? Let’s find out.
The device holds a special status in Samsung’s wide smartphone portfolio for a simple fact that it is the first smartphone from Samsung to run Tizen OS. While we’ll talk about the OS in detail below, let’s start with the design first.
Design of the Samsung Z1 is largely unchanged from rest of the Samsung smartphone range. A quick glance and you’ll easily mistake the Z1 with a Galaxy smartphone. The Z1 retains a square Home button, compared to the rectangular Home button on the Android phone. The button is flanked by the touch-sensitive menu and back buttons.
Other placements like the Power, volume keys, microUSB port and 3.5mm audio jack are identical to its Android siblings.
The back of the Z1 features a clean finish with a rubbery feel that offers a good grip on the device.
Overall, I feel the design of the Z1 is unexciting and has minimal difference to set it apart from an Android-running Galaxy counterpart.
The Samsung Z1 features a 4-inch PLS display panel that supports WVGA (800×480) resolution. I’m not sure what Samsung means by “made with advanced Samsung technology” because the screen is underwhelming. The colours are good but the viewing angle is bad. There’s no ambient light sensor as well, which means the display brightness has to be controlled manually. Thankfully, there’s a slider in the notification panel and an option to activate Outdoor mode that brightens up the display for 15 minutes.
Powering the Z1 is Spreadtrum’s SC7727S 1.2GHz dual-core processor and 768MB of RAM. Considering the competition from devices on other platforms, the Z1 looks like a weakling but despite the limited processing power, the Z1 handles Tizen well.
The Z1 comes loaded with Tizen 2.3 OS and just like the phone’s body, it’s easy to mistake as an Android device because Tizen’s user interface is similar to TouchWiz on Android.
The phone can be unlocked by swiping anywhere on the screen and even places a camera icon for quick access to the camera. The OS supports different types of screen locks ranging from a simple swipe to a PIN or a password. One interesting thing Tizen offers is the ability to set special day wallpapers. Special day wallpapers are nothing but lock screen wallpapers that are automatically changed on Indian public holidays. For instance, this wallpaper reflects the Republic Day celebrated in India on January 26.
The home screen is a mix of widgets and app icons but there’s a subtle difference when you place it side by side with an Android device. The widget support seems to be limited to Samsung apps and eight persistent app icons appearing on the home screen. Surprisingly, you cannot place an app icon on the home screen for quicker access (except for Whatsapp because the app does it automatically). The only way you can do is by placing the apps in the two persistent horizontal app grids.
There’s no app drawer icon but can be opened by an upward swipe. Tizen supports folder creation and pre-loads apps like a file manager, YouTube (which is nothing but a web app), Facebook, Google Search, Maps courtesy HERE, Samsung Smart Switch and Joy Box that includes an assortment of entertainment apps included as a part of free stuff with the device.
New apps can be installed through the Tizen Store and quite frankly, there’s a serious dearth of good apps. Sure, there are apps from some Indian developers and few games from Gameloft, EA and 11 bit studios but the store lacks quality if not quantity.
Biggest disappointment for me was the lack of a Twitter app (can be accessed through the mobile link though). There’s no solution for Instagram users as well.
Clearly, Whatsapp is the priority for Samsung and it actually makes sense for a country in India where there are more active users on Whatsapp than on Twitter or Instagram. I’m happy to report that the world’s most widely used mobile messaging service works with Tizen but with a workaround. Whatsapp needs another app to work – ACL for Tizen. Short for Application Compatibility Layer, its a solution by OpenMobile and works like an emulator. In fact, the Whatsapp app on the Tizen Store lists OpenMobile World Wide Inc. as the seller, which means Whatsapp didn’t really play a hand in creating the app and considering Whatapp’s recent stance on banning third-party apps, I hope Samsung or OpenMobile have the approval to provide the app on another platform.
Speaking of ACL for Tizen, the application layer allows users to run Android apps on Tizen OS. However, it’s not as straight forward as side loading an APK file and ACL will run the Android app. ACL will only work with compatible apps that too downloaded from the Tizen Store and currently, Whatsapp seems to be the only ACL-enabled app on Tizen. ACL also brings its own keyboard that is different from Tizen and looks more from the Android 2.3 era.
The Samsung Z1 integrates a GPS with the maps software provided by HERE. The software is similar to what we have on the Android OS.
Android’s biggest advantage is the flawless integration with Google services and though Tizen is not exactly user-friendly when it comes to such integration, the OS does allow users to sync Google accounts for email, calendar entries and contacts. The phone also supports Microsoft’s Exchange ActiveSync and Dropbox integration. Sidenote: Make sure to login to Dropbox to get 48GB of cloud storage for free for a year.
Some of the features that has been accommodated from the Galaxy range to Tizen is the Ultra Power Saving Mode and Private Mode. Ultra Power Saving Mode does not change the screen to monochrome but simplifies the home screen and limits access of the applications. Just like on Android, the UPSC mode allows a total of six apps to be added on the home screen but doesn’t offer access to Whatsapp. Private Mode keeps personal content on the phone safe from prying eyes.
I told you about Joy Box above and the pre-installed assortment of apps include Club Samsung, FM Radio, Hungama, nexGTv and BoxTV. These entertainment apps excluding FM Radio, allow users to enjoy premium music, videos, movies, TV shows for a period of 90 days and a year in case of Club Samsung. FM Radio works with a connected headset acting as an antenna and even allows users to record the stream.
Tizen also comes with some security features like pre-installed Mcafee antivirus that checks the phone for viruses and protects the browser from phishing or any other sort of web scam. Another interesting security feature is SOS. Quickly pressing the power button three times sends an alert to the primary contact that the user needs some assistance and will send pictures from both the cameras as well as a five second audio recording.
Tizen also wins some points when it comes to theme customisation that allows users to change the colour of the theme or change app icons. I hope Samsung allows the option to add third-party themes and customisations in the future.
Let’s talk about phone’s performance. Despite what could be called as low-end hardware, the Tizen 2.3 OS is handled well. The animations are fluid and you’ll rarely see the phone dropping a frame or two in the interface. As for games, I tried Gameloft’s Minion Rush and Uno and both worked fairly well.
Web browsing is handled by the bundled web browser (suspect it is UCWeb) that compresses data to save on bandwidth and even supports desktop view, tabbed interface and even Secret Mode (incognito, in other words).
The phone has a built-in music player and a potent video player that supports a variety of audio and video formats. Music player comes with an equaliser and Sound Alive to spruce up the audio quality while the video player can play 720p videos with ease. Full HD videos are not supported on the device but the player may play the audio from the file. One surprise feature that Samsung hasn’t advertised with respect to its video player is the pop-up player that pops out and allows users to multi task.
Samsung claims the Z1 has a fast camera and I agree but the quality is not up to the mark. The phone comes with a 3.1 megapixel rear-facing camera whereas the front-facing can shoot at VGA resolution. The noise is evident in the pictures but the camera app comes with interesting features like auto detecting face to click a picture or Dream Shot that offers a variety of designs to experiment while taking an image. The phone only supports VGA resolution video recording.
The Z1 supports dual-SIM connectivity with 3G support in both the slots. However, 3G can only be active in one slot. The dual-SIM management is easy, allowing users to set the preferred SIM for calls and messages and data or users can set it directly from the notification panel (calls/SMS only). The phone also supports Smart dual SIM that enables to receive calls from both the SIMs but that could result in extra charge from the operator. The call quality is good as well.
Samsung has fitted Z1 with a 1500mAh battery and though this battery may seem small if you’re using an Android device, the Z1 works amazingly well. The phone runs well over a day with moderate use with two SIMs, Whatsapp, calls and constant data or Wi-Fi. The usage can be extended further with Ultra Power Saving Mode.
All said and done, Samsung’s decision to bring a new OS on an entry-level device is an interesting one. Although Tizen does have a lighter footprint and as a result an improved battery life, the reason to go with an entry-level phone seems to be the evident lack of finish on an OS that has been in the works for more than 3 years. Lack of quality apps is also an issue despite Samsung and Intel’s attempt to excite developers with their yearly developer conferences. Don’t get me wrong, Tizen has potential, just like bada had but its success depends on how serious Samsung is with newer, better Tizen smartphones at various price points. In its current form, Samsung has some catch up to do and it certainly isn’t the Android replacement everyone is making out to be.
As for the phone, Z1 offers a good battery life but when you keep it side-by-side with the competition running Android or Windows Phone, the phone falls considerably short. One way Samsung can bring consumers aboard is undercutting the competition with a lucrative price.
The phone retails in between Rs. 5,500 to Rs. 5,700.