Sony’s Concept for Android is an initiative that the company has been beta-testing since the summer. The trial initially started with Android Lollipop to a small number of users in the Nordic region. The idea behind the Concept was to strip back the software to an experience much closer to vanilla Android, but to focus on battery life, performance, frequent updates and the inclusion of key Sony apps and experiences.
These elements remained the foundation as the Sony Concept programme moved onto Android Marshmallow in October and the trial expanded to a wider number of users. We have been using Sony’s Concept for Android 6.0 Marshmallow edition as a daily driver for a few months now and it has become our favourite Sony Xperia software experience to date. Read on to find out about the potentially very promising future that Sony is heading in.
For those that regularly follow the blog, you will be aware that the Sony Concept for Android Marshmallow edition is only open to two Xperia models – the Xperia Z3 (D6603) and Xperia Z3 Compact (D5803). We have been testing the Marshmallow Concept on the Xperia Z3 and we’ve been surprised how different an experience it is compared to stock Sony Android Lollipop firmware.
The Xperia Z3 flies on Marshmallow Concept
What is most immediately apparent when you first fire up the Xperia Marshmallow Concept is the speed of the handset. The Xperia Z3 just flies compared to the stock Sony experience – apps open almost immediately, there is hardly any lag when swiping between menus and the UI is just a delight to use and navigate. Sony has created very stable software, with few glitches experienced.
Having used every premium Sony Xperia device released, the performance of the Xperia Z3 on Concept Marshmallow firmware has no equal (yes, even compared to the latest Xperia Z5 series). We’ve sometimes been amazed that the Xperia Z3 running the Concept software is actually the same that we used previously on stock. There’s such a difference in performance that if we didn’t know better, we would have guessed hardware differences were driving the better performance.
Battery performance takes advantage of Doze
The more recent premium Sony Xperia handsets already have a good reputation when it comes to battery life. Sony’s ‘two-day’ battery life has been extensively used in its marketing materials for certain handsets and the Xperia Z3 is known to be one of Sony’s best performers. However, combining this with Android Marshmallow’s native Doze feature, delivers even greater longevity to the Xperia Z3.
Unlike Sony’s STAMINA battery mode, the Marshmallow Doze feature does not need to be enabled. It is an inherent part of the Android 6.0 operating system and comes into its own once your device is idle. The mode substantially increases the standby time of your mobile, but doesn’t actually affect what happens whilst you are using your phone. Despite this, we have experienced longer screen-on time than compared to the stock Sony Xperia firmware. We would regularly achieve a screen on time of over four hours with 25% charge left – this is whilst actively using Lifelog and push email.
Frequent OTA updates – with detailed changelogs
We have really enjoyed how Sony has delivered updates to the Marshmallow Concept firmware. All of the updates arrive OTA (over-the-air) and each clearly shows a detailed changelog to show exactly which new features or bug fixes are included in the new software. Many Sony Xperia users have been left frustrated in the past when it comes to new updates with everyone left guessing about what has changed. We would be delighted to see detailed changelogs such as the ones included in the Concept Marshmallow carry over to stock Sony firmware releases.
The Sony Concept Marshmallow engineers have also done a fantastic job in listening to feedback and pushing out timely updates. Sony was pushing out updates on at least a weekly basis up until the turn of the year, which combined with detailed changelogs, gives the impression that the company is genuinely trying to provide a software experience with its users in mind. Obviously, we wouldn’t expect this pace of updates to continue with the official stock rollout, but it bodes well if we see a change of tact nonetheless for more frequent updates.
Expand internal storage through the SD card
One of the great new features of Android 6.0 Marshmallow is the ability to use a microSD memory card as part of your internal storage. Once you insert a memory card you are given the option to format the memory card as internal storage. Once you do so, you will not be able to extract the card and use in your PC to access any files – it will only work in the Xperia device. You will have to re-format the card again if you want to use it as a normal card. The advantage of this is you will not need to worry about worrying about storage, especially if you install a lot of large sized apps or games. However, the downside is that if you use a memory card with low read/write speeds then you may notice some of your apps/games may run more sluggishly than before.
The micro SD memory card acting as portable storage (left) and as part of internal storage (right). Once the SD card is part of internal storage, you can see the total internal storage moves up from 11.57GB to 70.05GB in this example using a 64GB SD card.
We hope Sony plans to implement Marshmallow’s adoptable storage in its official release, we recently saw a number of manufacturers drop this feature for this handsets. For example, neither the upcoming LG G5 nor Samsung Galaxy S7 flagships will feature adoptable storage. We hope Sony leaves the choice down to the user, even if it is hidden in a developer setting somewhere.
Sony launcher allows you to uninstall most pre-baked apps
This is a change that we have started to see more recently in the newer Sony firmware releases. Sony is now allowing users to uninstall many of its own apps, which were once baked in. Recent firmware for the Xperia M4 Aqua was a good example and something much needed for M4 Aqua owners given how little internal storage there is within the 8GB SKU. However, this also extends to some Google apps too, which means you can keep your handset ‘cleaner’ without resorting to root.
Generally, we’re big fans of the new home launcher introduced in the Concept for Android Marshmallow. It offers various levels of customisation to deliver a home screen just how you want it.
Sony’s key apps included
Sony has complemented the largely vanilla Android Marshmallow build with some of its core apps including Album, Music and Email. Sony was adding new features all of the time and was considering adding others including DualShock4 support, FM Radio, Camera API2 and Automatic unlock (pin code) amongst others.
Sony’s camera app is also included, although this is no different to what is seen on other Xperia handsets. Sony has not used the new camera UI as seen in the Z5 series Picture quality was no different to the previous stock firmware from our testing.
Overall thoughts – A strong foundation for future success
Sony Mobile says that the Concept for Android programme is an “experimental consumer driven software” with a long time horizon. It gives Sony the chance to experiment with features and delivery, whilst maintaining a close link with the community. This cannot be said of the official firmware, where in most cases there is very little notice of updates, no changelogs on release and a lot of guesswork from the community.
The Concept for Android firmware has been a success in our eyes and it would be folly for Sony not to build on this, taking the best parts such as fast updates and stable software as a platform for future builds. If the company can take some of these best elements into the consumer release, it is hard to see anything but success for Sony’s software.