Hands-on With Samsung Z1: Tizen Makes Its Debut On Mobile

After years of delays, Samsung (KRX:005935) unveiled its first handset running Tizen in India earlier this month. The phone signifies a new direction for Samsung in the ever competitive entry-level segment as the South Korean manufacturer sees to regain momentum. The pricing of the device at $90 (Rs. 5,700) is very aggressive, and is in line with what manufacturers like Xiaomi and Motorola are targeting.

The device

The Samsung Z1 looks like any other Samsung device in terms of external design. Plastic is used in abundance, and the menu, home and back button configuration is also present. The home button has been slightly altered and is more rounded. There’s also a metallic finish around the sides of the device. While the design is not drastically different, the Z1 retains the great build quality that is associated with all Samsung handsets. 

Also present is the removable back cover, which houses the dual SIM card slots. Coming to the hardware on offer, the Z1 has a 4-inch TFT display with a resolution of 800 x 480. Other budget handsets like Xiaomi’s Redmi 1S and Motorola’s Moto E offer a better screen — 720p and qHD — but for the amount that the Z1 costs, pixel density of 233 ppi is great. Contrast levels as well as viewing angles are decent, which is a good thing considering that the display is a TFT and not an IPS panel.

Internal hardware is in the form of a Spreadtrum SC7727S SoC, which features a dual-core Cortex A7 CPU and Mali 400 GPU. There’s 4GB internal memory, which can be extended by a further 64GB via the microSD card slot, 768MB RAM, 3.15 MP camera at the back along with a VGA front shooter and 1,500 mAh battery. In terms of connectivity, you get Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.1, A-GPS and microUSB 2.0. FM radio is also included.

The Z1 does not offer anything out of the ordinary in terms of hardware, but that isn’t what Samsung is aiming for. With the Z1, it is all about the software and Tizen.

Tizen is finally here

Tizen on the Z1 feels a lot like TouchWiz. It actually feels like what TouchWiz should have been to begin with, as there is barely any lag whatsoever when using the device on a day to day basis. The design itself is very similar to that of the newer iterations of TouchWiz, with the drop-down menu utilizing a bright green color hue. The menu has easy access settings for Wi-Fi, cellular data, sound, flashlight, Bluetooth and others, which is once again very similar to what is offered in Samsung’s Galaxy series of devices.

A noticeable change in Tizen is the lack of an app drawer, with all apps accessible with a swipe action. There is a dearth of content — as one would expect — in Tizen, but Samsung is looking to address the glaring omissions by launching custom versions of apps like WhatsApp. Users will also be able to install Android apps on Tizen by first installing OpenMobile’s Application Compatibility Layer from the Tizen store.

Samsung is incentivizing the purchase of the Z1 by offering a host of content for free to customers via Club Samsung. With the promotion, anyone buying the Z1 will be able to stream or download over 270,000 songs through Hungama, access over 80 live TV channels, watch several Bollywood movies on the go and more.

There are a few nice touches bit into Tizen that makes it all the more enticing for first-time buyers. When setting up a service like WhatsApp for the first time, the phone detects the confirmation text message and keys in the value without any user intervention.

Overall, the Z1 is astonishingly fluid for the hardware it features. Tizen was claimed by several leaks over the course of the last two years to be much more lightweight than the likes of Android, and that indeed is the case. There isn’t a noticeable lag when launching apps, and the user interface as a whole feels seamless, which is a drastic improvement

The device itself may not feature hardware to write home about, but it is the sheer amount of content Samsung is bundling with the Z1 that makes it worthy of consideration. Giving away a lot of premium content isn’t a new strategy for the South Korean manufacturer as seen with the Galaxy Gifts promotion for the high-end Galaxy Tab S, Galaxy S and the Galaxy Note series. But this time around, it is doing so with a device targeted at the entry-level segment. 

The market scenario

With the Z1, Samsung is going for the first-time buyers. While Tizen looks like it offers an interesting mix of features, the fact that it is in its nascent stages will deter several potential customers from buying the Z1. Also, vendors like Xiaomi, Motorola and others are offering much better hardware for the same price, and even if the Z1 is not as hardware-intensive as similarly priced Android devices, that mentality of comparing specs has become entrenched in the Indian market. Often, specs do not dictate how well a mobile performs, but with devices offering octa-core processors for as low as $140, consumers are increasingly judging the merits of a handset based on its spec sheet.

Samsung does have a loyal userbase in the country, but it remains to be seen whether the manufacturer will be able to claw its way back in this segment with the Z1. The device itself is not at fault, and is actually one of the better offerings from Samsung considering that even until a few years ago, we’ve had to contend with the likes of the Galaxy Star. Where Samsung will struggle with most when it comes to the Z1 is in marketing a device running a new OS that doesn’t feature anywhere nearly as good hardware as the Android mobiles it is going up against.