It's two LCDs versus an AMOLED, all three around the same size. Samsung the only company that consistently uses AMOLED displays on its flagships - no wonder since it's making them in-house.
The Galaxy Alpha packs a 4.7" Super AMOLED with 720p resolution and 312ppi pixel density. It's a diamond-pattern PenTile matrix so the actual sharpness isn't quite as high as it sounds on paper. If you know what to look for you can notice some fuzziness in high-contrast areas but it's nothing major and it's more of a nitpicking.
Both Apple and Sony stick to LCD, specifically IPS LCD for some great side viewing angles. Compared to SuperAMOLEDs, LCDs tend to be brighter but have lower contrast, and then there's the whole color accuracy debate.
The Apple iPhone 6 has a 4.7" display with the unusual resolution of 750 x 1,334px or just over 720p, giving it the 326ppi pixel density. Note that apps that don't support the new resolution will be upscaled from 640 x 1,136px, which would actually reduce the subjective image sharpness significantly.
The Sony Xperia Z3 Compact has the smallest display of the bunch, 4.6", with 720p resolution. The difference in surface area is pretty small, less than 5%, but the Sony is the only one with on-screen buttons, which makes more of a difference. They take up an extra 8% of the screen surface area.
Before we jump on to image quality, let's cover the available screen protection first. All three phones use various brands of shatterproof glass. The one on the iPhone 6 has a smoothly chamfered edge, which very pleasantly curves into the sides of the curved metal body of the phone.
The two LCDs in this fight are some of the brightest we've tested, hitting 720-740 nits. That gives them a very clear lead on the Super AMOLED, which tops out at 450 nits. The black levels on the LCDs stay acceptable even at full blast, the iPhone 6 manages a respectable 1,200:1 contrast ratio while the Xperia slips under 1,000:1. As usual the AMOLED screen offers the best contrast, which makes images really pop.
|Display test||50% brightness||100% brightness|
|Black, cd/m2||White, cd/m2||Black, cd/m2||White, cd/m2|
Sunlight legibility is a function of the screen's brightness and reflectivity. The very bright iPhone 6 screen does very well here, coming in behind only a few phones, notably the iPhone 5 and Galaxy Note 3. Samsung's Super AMOLED assembly keeps reflectivity low so it achieves a very good result too, despite the deficit in brightness.
The Xperia Z3 Compact disappoints here, despite being one of the brightest screens it's very reflective too, earning it only an average mark.
We mentioned colors before, mainly because AMOLEDs have a reputation for oversaturating. That's true but Samsung has added several modes to let you manage the exact level of saturation, you can pick between several settings until you find the one that suites you best.
Sony also have display tuning options, but those give you sliders so you can control the white balance. There's also a choice of X-Reality and Super-vivid image enhancing modes. Apple offers no screen calibration options.
Putting the phones side by side, the iPhone 6 screen is closest to the mark in terms of white balance (it's slightly warm). The Xperia Z3 Compact is close behind (a bit too cool), while the Galaxy Alpha has a noticeable yellow tint. We tried switching the color modes but those mainly affected color saturation and not the white balance.
For viewing angles, the iPhone 6 and Galaxy Alpha perform beautifully with no noticeable changes in color and contrast. The Xperia Z3 Compact screen did exhibit some shift but that's only under the widest of angles.
Before the conclusion of this chapter, there are just a couple of features left to cover. Both the Samsung and Sony phones have dedicated high-sensitivity touch modes so they can be operated with gloves. The Xperia Z3 Compact also has a double tap to wake feature, which is a personal favorite in our team.
Winner: Apple iPhone 6. It's the brightest, with the best legibility and with great colors and viewing angles. The chamfered glass is pleasant and the overall image quality is wonderful.
Runner up: Samsung Galaxy Alpha. The white balance is off, but you only notice when you have something to compare it to. The Super AMOLED does very well in direct sunlight and has stunning contrast, but it's not as bright as the LCDs.
Third place: Sony Xperia Z3 Compact. It's smaller both due to its diagonal and due to the omnipresent on-screen buttons, though the bigger issue is that it's just too reflective. It also has the biggest contrast shift when looked at a really wide side angle.
Connectivity - both wide area and local - has mostly evened out. There are still some differences between the three devices that might prove crucial for some. Note that the specs might differ by region, you should consult the specifications and your carrier for exact details.
The main market of the Apple iPhone is the US so it comes with both GSM and CDMA connectivity (plus TD-SCDMA for the Chinese version). The fastest connection is on LTE (again with TD-LTE for China), reaching theoretical speeds of up to 150Mbps downlink.
Apple has upgraded the call functionality so the iPhone 6 can use Voice over LTE (VoLTE), which offers high-quality audio with HD Voice, as well as Wi-Fi calling (also known as UMA this solves some reception issues). Of course, both need to be supported by your carrier.
The Samsung Galaxy Alpha and the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact are pure GSM devices. They have 150Mbps LTE as well though the Snapdragon 801 version of the Galaxy is rated at 300Mbps (not that you'd find such a carrier). The Xperia Z3 also supports VoLTE.
In terms of local connectivity, all three phones have dual-band Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac with hotspot support. Both iOS and Android have separate ways to send files over Wi-Fi, but iOS lacks native DLNA functionality. Bluetooth v4.0 with Low Energy mode is supported on all three devices, the Androids also have ANT+ for sports accessories.
NFC is available on all three phones though Apple has limited it to Apple Pay only. On the other two you can use it to pair devices, transfer files and read/write NFC tags.
GPS and GLONASS are available for positioning, the iPhone 6 and Xperia Z3 Compact have barometers to speed up the initial lock.
Finally, we come down to wired connectivity. Apple is sticking to its own standard, the Lightning port, which can be plugged-in two ways for added convenience. It serves the purposes of charging and transferring data and audio/video but you'll need Lightning cables and adapters and they usually cost more than their USB equivalents.
Sony and Samsung use the industry standard microUSB 2.0 port (Samsung is stepping back from microUSB 3.0). The main duties of the port are charging and data, but Sony has also added included MHL (for HDMI out) and USB On-the-go functionality to their port. Samsung has not, leaving the Galaxy Alpha with no wired TV Out option.
None of the three phones have IR blasters for what that's worth.
Winner: Sony Xperia Z3 Compact. It offers VoLTE and its microUSB port is equipped with MHL and USB OTG functionality. ANT+ and NFC are nice to have and the barometer is also a nice perk, which can speed location services in densely built areas.
Runner up: Apple iPhone 6. Having VoLTE, Wi-Fi calling and CDMA is valuable for US users, but Apple's reluctance to add proper NFC support, plus the proprietary port and the more expensive connectivity accessories keep the iPhone 6 from grabbing the victory. The addition of Wi-Fi 802.11ac and a barometer are welcome improvements though.
Third place: Samsung Galaxy Alpha. The 300Mbps LTE options will leave you looking for a carrier to use it on and no wired TV out is less than perfect.
The current trend in smartphones is for razor-thin devices with enormous displays. This article rails against the massive screens but there's a case to be made against thin phones too - many people consider battery life more important than a slim profile (as long as it's kept under 9-10mm, of course).
The Sony Xperia Z3 Compact is the poster boy, being the thickest of the three but also enjoying a significant advantage in battery capacity. At 2,600mAh it has a good 40% more juice than the 1,810mAh and 1,860mAh batteries of the Galaxy Alpha and iPhone 6 respectively.
We should note that we're using the Exynos 5430 version of the Galaxy Alpha for these tests.
If you read our review of the Z3 Compact you'll know it's an absolute battery champ, falling behind only much larger devices. The iPhone 6 is not bad either, it helps that Apple gets to optimize both software and hardware (including a custom chipset). The Galaxy Alpha did surprisingly well for its battery capacity - Android is more resource hungry than iOS.
The Sony managed an impressive 16 hours 40 minutes of talk time on a single charge. That's 3-4 hours ahead of the other two and essentially means that talk time won't have much of an impact on your total battery life. The Galaxy Alpha beats the iPhone 6 by an hour here.
The Xperia Z3 Compact stunned us with its stamina while browsing the web - it went on for nearly 15 hours before it finally ran out of charge. Speaking of, the phone has a power-saving feature called Stamina mode if you really need to stretch the remaining milliamps in the battery. The Galaxy Alpha has a similar feature, while the iPhone does not have anything of the sort.
Anyway, the iPhone 6 did a respectable 10 and a half hours - surprisingly, not much different time than it achieved in the call test. The Galaxy Alpha loses the fight with a 2-hour deficit to the iPhone. Keep in mind that for most phones lasting 8 and half hours is an amazing result - the 5.5" LG G3 only manages 6:40, for example.
For video playback the Xperia Z3 Compact pulls another 15-hour shift, beating the other two by a huge margin. It lasts nearly twice as long as the Galaxy Alpha and its 8 hour time. The Apple iPhone 6 does slightly better - 9 and a half hours - but it doesn't close the margin.
The final tally shows a stunning 101-hour endurance rating for the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact. Small wonder with these individual times. And it's not just the battery capacity either - 40% more milliamp hours is a good start but the Z3 Compact opened up a bigger margin in some of the tests.
The Apple iPhone 6 and Samsung Galaxy Alpha have relatively similar endurance ratings but part of that is due to the efficient standby of the Galaxy Alpha. The iPhone beat it in two out of three tests with a decent margin.
Winner: Sony Xperia Z3 Compact. It will last you four days of moderate usage, two days of heavy usage and we can't imagine a scenario where you kill it in a day under normal usage.
Runner up: Apple iPhone 6. Getting two days of moderate usage will be a breeze. Even with heavy usage you'll still get two days, though it might die on the second day before the night is out.
Third place: Samsung Galaxy Alpha. It achieves good results with what it has but most of the time it won't make it through two full days of heavy usage.