What does a Gigabit LTE smartphone look like?
It’s pretty easy to find out what the fastest phones on the planet are. Just read a few reviews, check out some top tens, or visit the database pages of the Geekbench and GFXbench websites. You’ll see the usual suspects sitting at the top of the charts: from Samsung to Sony – anything with a top-end SoC.
If you want to find out how fast a phone’s cellular download speed is, though, that’s a different kettle of fish. It’s a much harder thing to test and that’s because it’s not something you can test very easily – mostly because there are so many factors involved.
Not only do you need the right hardware but you also need the right network support and conditions to reach the phone’s full potential. Even then, the number of users connecting to any given cell at any particular time will affect the speeds you can get.
Gigabit LTE: the 4×4 MIMO difference
For the most part, though, telling one handset from another when it comes to Gigabit LTE comes down to the specification and implementation. First, you need to look for the right SoC and modem combination. The Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 835 with its integrated Gigabit LTE modem are your best bets here. Due to a variety of clever technologies (carrier aggregation, higher order modulation and MIMO), they’re capable of delivering blistering cellular download speeds of up to 1Gbits/sec.
However, that’s not all you need to be aware of because if a manufacturer doesn’t implement the correct antenna design, the phone isn’t going to get anywhere near Gigabit speeds.
In this instance, if your phone doesn’t have 4×4 MIMO, which is to say if it doesn’t have four antennae, it isn’t going to reach its full potential. And this is why one phone might not be a match for another when it comes to cellular download speeds.
How do you get Gigabit LTE?
So what’s the best phone for Gigabit LTE at the moment? That’s a pretty easy question to answer, actually, because there’s only a couple around that combine the Qualcomm Snapdragon Gigabit LTE modem and 4×4.
Sony’s flagship smartphone for 2017 is a great example and a beast of a mobile device. It’s not only one of the select few to be fully Gigabit LTE certified, it’s streets ahead in other respects, too. It’s the only smartphone this year to have a 4K screen, it’s the only phone to give you 960fps slow motion video recording, and it’s also one of the most beautiful handsets you can buy.
Its sharp corners and chopped-off top and bottom edges and fabulously glossy Gorilla Glass 5 front and rear panels make it one of the most eye-catching and sophisticated-looking smartphones money can buy. It also has wonderful battery life, it hangs around at the top those benchmark charts, and (bonus!) it’s dust- and water-resistant to IP68.
How fast can it really go? Answer: wildly fast
So what about those download speeds then? Exactly how fast can the Sony Xperia XZ Premium go in real world conditions? And how does that translate to what you’d do with the phone on a day to day basis?
Have I mentioned before how it’s one of the only phones on the market to combine a Qualcomm Gigabit LTE modem with a 4×4 MIMO antenna array? Well, it is, and the two in combination deliver the strongest signal and quickest downloads ever seen in a smartphone.
At the launch of Gigabit LTE in the UK, at Wembley Stadium, with the Xperia XZ Premium tethered to a laptop via USB, we witnessed speeds reach 765Mbits/sec. Staggering stuff, but this is a test run in ideal conditions with little to no contention on the network.
Later on, in our own quick tests, at the same time as several demos were running on the network, the phone reached 359Mbits/sec when testing with the Ookla Speedtest app. Not nearly as fast, but still quick enough to stream video from Netflix or Amazon Prime in 4K HDR and leave enough headroom to download a hefty video presentation for work in the background.
There’s one other location for Gigabit LTE in London, though, and it’s in a far more demanding place. The heart of London’s Tech City, near Moorgate Underground station.
Here, with thousands of commuters arriving for work, I saw speeds drop to 192.3Mbits/sec on the download and 46.9Mbits/sec for uploads. That might seem like a bit of a comedown from 765Mbits/sec, but it’s still fast enough to stream seven simultaneous Netflix movies in 4K, so watching one is absolutely no problem. There’s barely any buffering and no dropped frames at all.
And this sort of speed is enough to cover any sort of download or upload you might want to do to and from Google Drive or from any other media service you care to think of.
High-resolution audio is a hot topic at the moment, so I also took the opportunity to download the entirety of Prince’s album Diamonds and Pearls in “Hi Fi” quality from the Tidal streaming service. This album – nearly 0.5GB in size – downloaded in its entirety in 1min 8sec flat. It takes longer for me to download a 40MB podcast over normal 4G on my regular smartphone.
Finally, it’s also worth noting that the 4×4 MIMO antenna array on a fully Gigabit LTE-enabled smartphone will also likely deliver superior download speeds to regular 4G phones in areas of weak network signal and even where the network hasn’t been upgraded to Gigabit speed. In our office basement, for instance, I was able to achieve a download speed of 62.5Mbits/sec with one bar of 4G signal strength on the Sony Xperia XZ Premium, while a non-Gigabit LTE phone with a 2×2 MIMO antenna array averaged barely half that speed at 28.6Mbits/sec.
Gigabit LTE: Not all phones are made equal
If you want to get the full benefit of Gigabit LTE in the UK, it comes down to a small selection of smartphones and, of those, the Sony Xperia XZ Premium is a great choice.
Not only is it a fantastic smartphone in its own right, with great design, a great camera and superb battery life, but it also has all the right bits and pieces to deliver super fast Gigabit LTE class downloads. If you didn’t have enough a good reasons to buy a “proper” flagship phone before, now you’ve one more reason to help you decide.