My Google Play Experience Galaxy S4 is dying; that is, it occasionally powers down during use and then won’t boot for hours afterwards. This makes it harder to trust it for alarms. So I’m looking for a new phone again. sigh I’ve narrowed down my options a lot, but nothing satisfies all my requirements.

I want Marshmallow on the phone right away, but that looks like it limits my options too much, so I’ll accept a promise of “coming soon” from a reputable company. I care a lot about having a good fast camera. I want a 5-inch class screen. I am annoyed that replaceable batteries are generally unavailable now in current-class phones. I am looking for the fastest current processors because I actually use the CPU from time to time. I would like microSD but it’s not an absolute requirement; if not a microSD then I need more room on the phone, obviously. I actually use the IR blaster feature to control my camera. (Etc, ad nauseum…)

The HTC M9 would be an option if it supported all the T-Mobile LTE bands, but it doesn’t. That wasn’t a particularly wise choice on HTC’s part.

Since I understand that the unlocked Samsung Galaxy S6 has RAW support, it’s an option. There are lots of belt holster cases, and that’s the only thing that works for me. But it doesn’t have microSD and it’s not clear to me when Marshmallow will be available for it, or whether Samsung has even made a commitment to update.

The Sony Xperia Z5 looks like a generally good option technically, though it’s not sold directly in the US. It does cover all the T-Mobile LTE bands (2/4/12), it seems. It even has FM radio, which I like for listening to WCPE. Other than needing to buy an international version since Sony isn’t selling it in the US officially, the two main technical problems I have with the hardware so far are no “IR blaster”, no optical image stabilization. (Also, there are fewer belt holsters available.)

However, +Sony Xperia is unfortunately waiting for more customer requests before enabling RAW camera support. That’s really dumb. Talk about cheap features to add… I like the idea of a Sony sensor because they have done a generally good job of making image sensors, but not adding RAW support for a Sony sensor in a Sony phone is like selling an otherwise highly capable sports car, and telling the customers that if there is sufficient demand, they will consider removing the governor that artificially limits the engine to 80HP.

Soooo close!

Camera2 API? - Support forum

Hollis Blanchard November 26, 2015 23:18

I had a problem with my Nexus 4 powering down unexpectedly… and then realized it never happened while plugged in. I replaced the (non-user-replaceable) battery, and it worked fine again.

(I believe I had literally cooked the battery in the sun on a car dashboard mount on a very hot day.)

Eugene Crosser November 27, 2015 00:26

I (along with +Darren Hart, as far as I know) am quite happy with Sony Z3. Battery life twice as long as typical competition, there is an SD slot (unless you opt for dual SIM). Being an incremental update to that, Z5 ought to be all right.

(And I don’t think any smartphone camera is as good as a mid-range P&S…)

Darren Hart November 27, 2015 00:30

Still very pleased with my Sony Xperia Z3. One correction +Eugene Crosser, the dual-sim model (the one I got), does still have an SD slot.

Michael K Johnson November 27, 2015 08:17

Z5 battery life is reported less than the Z3 but I charge my phone every night as a matter of routine and I’m satisfied with that. I hadn’t been thinking of a dual-sim model since t-mobile comes with mobile data and my data needs abroad tend to be satisfied by the 2G that t-mobile provides.

(I should think about that, though. I have no experience with dual-sim phones. With dual-sim would I be able to select that all data is via a local data sim, and keep my t-mobile sim in to take phone calls? Then I could post pictures with throwaway local sims… Not that I travel internationally much.)

+Eugene Crosser I want “the one I have with me” to work well. My work phone is an S6 and the camera is really usable and tremendously better than my own S4. The S6 is on Verizon and for reasons to which I am not privy they disabled RAW support when they pushed the 5.1.1 update to the S6; as far as I know all other S6 models have RAW support now.

The S6 has optical image stabilization and I strongly suspect that is why it has been capable of usable night shots.

So basically if the camera is as good as the S6 I’ll be satisfied, especially if I can have RAW support so that I can do my own post processing, especially for color balance.

+Hollis Blanchard Yeah, a dying battery is one thing that has occurred to me. But I did drop the S4 and shatter the glass a few months ago (first time I’ve ever done that with any phone), and the supposedly OEM replacement screen was not only inexpertly applied but also clearly not oleophobic, so I’m both inclined in the direction of replacement and aware that the drop may have damaged more than the glass.

Darren Hart November 27, 2015 14:31

The dual sim has been nice for picking up disposable SIMs while traveling and not having to safely store my primary SIM. You can select which SIM you use for what, although I always just use the travel SIM for everything since AT&T international policy is a bit insane. As a phone camera, I’ve been very pleased with the Z3, although a friends iPhone6 was clearly superior, and it doesn’t have optical image stabilization.

Michael K Johnson November 27, 2015 15:50

Expansys has the dual-sim model for $30 more than they charge for the single-sim model (which is itself almost $30 more expensive than on Amazon where I can’t find the dual-sim model at all, so almost $60 total premium) and it looks like otherwise the same phone.

The main reason I would use dual-sim would be to keep my home phone number abroad so that people to whom I didn’t give the disposable sim number could call me. Enabling people who don’t know I’m abroad to call me at the wrong time for the time zone I’m in seems probably not worth $30-$60. ☺

Seriously, if I travelled internationally more dual-sim would probably be a no-brainer, but in the lifetime of my next phone I’m not likely to travel internationally more than twice.

T-mobile’s international 2G data is kind of chancy; in Germany in particular I had to keep twiddling my network settings to make it work at all. It was good to have OSMAnd+ with offline maps loaded. But it was enough to keep up with email, which was all I really cared about.

Michael K Johnson November 29, 2015 21:10

I ordered a replacement battery for my S4, hoping that it lets me put off this decision for a while. ☺

In the meantime, I am recording the summary of my research for my own convenience, especially since I hope not to need this until I’ve forgotten all these details…

T-Mobile sells a T-mobile variant HTC M9 that supports their bands but not as wide frequency support worldwide. They are sure proud of it at $650. I can buy a lot of phone for $650. I don’t see any benefits over the Z5, and I don’t want the “Sense” UI. So it doesn’t look like a winner.

International, unlocked 32GB S6 at $470 is much less expensive than (closest equivalent) international, unlocked 32GB Z5 at $590; the 64GB S6 is $570—still $20 less than the 32GB Z5. T-mobile sells their version of the 32GB S6 (with US warranty) for $480 and they are willing to unlock their phones. T-mobile doesn’t carry 64GB or 128GB variants, however, which I see as a problem.

The photo samples I’ve seen comparing S6 and Z5 (e.g. at gsmarena) clearly favor the S6, and I don’t care for “megapixels for the sake of megapixels”. I think optical image stabilization probably makes a difference here. So far from sample images it looks like Samsung has the better camera implementation.

The information I’ve seen so far on updates to Marshmallow look similar between the S6 and Z5; expected early 2016. Hard to say who will get the update first at this point.

It looks like my choice is:


  • $470 (or more for additional flash, dual SIM, US model, etc.)

  • Better camera

  • RAW reportedly available when not vendor-crippled

  • IR Blaster


  • $590 (or more; no US model available)

  • microSD

  • water-resistant

  • FM (yes, I know it needs wired headphones as antenna)

  • Available in a green color I really like

If I had to choose today, it would be the S6, and I would be deciding between international, US sim-unlocked, and T-Mobile models. I would probably get the 64GB model in order to fit my music on it. (It’s a good thing I don’t need 128GB since it seems to be made of unobtainium; B&H lists it but backordered with no shipping estimate and I haven’t found it anywhere else.)

If I’m lucky and the battery solves the problem, maybe I can wait until I’m choosing between phones with USB Type-C.

Darren Hart November 29, 2015 22:12

Heh, green color :-) Color is defined by the case anyway.

Michael K Johnson November 30, 2015 05:50

Oh, it’s actually the bezel that makes a difference for me, because it’s rather easier if it is noticeably different from my work phone. And the more similar my phones are otherwise, the more true that is. Which means that a black S6 would be a bad choice for my personal phone. ☺

Michael K Johnson November 30, 2015 05:54

And today, Amazon is selling the US warranty unlocked S6 for $399. The black 32GB model. sigh.

Darren Hart November 30, 2015 10:34

Never look back. The burden of the optimizer. :-)

Michael K Johnson November 30, 2015 20:13

Over the past few days, I had the phone plugged in most of the time and it kept running. This evening, with the battery display looking a bit over 50%, it displayed “Power Off” and shut down abruptly. I have noticed the “Power Off” message each time. Replacement battery expected tomorrow…

Michael K Johnson December 17, 2015 14:11

Replacement battery did seem to fix the problem, though unrelated flakiness continues. Today Amazon has a special on the Moto X Pure, which has the same Sony sensor as the Z5, but also has a MicroSD slot (so 32GB internal is fine), for $350. There I know I’d get Marshmallow. I would lose IR (I think), OIS, FM, and green. And I don’t know whether it provides RAW images. Hmm.

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