Sony has always made pretty handsets, and the Xperia Z is no exception. Synonymous with recent Xperia models, the Xperia Z has a minimalist and symmetrical design with a rectangular shape and rounded corners. It's available in black, white and a slick dark purple.
For its size, the Sony handset's 146g weight isn't too heavy, even though it's heftier than the Apple iPhone 5 (112g) and Samsung Galaxy S3 (133g). In fact, we were quite impressed by how light it felt in the hand the first time we picked it up. At 7.9mm, the Xperia Z is just a hair thicker than the iPhone 5's 7.6mm — but we like how the Xperia Z's glass fibre polyamide frame makes it look more svelte.
Meet the Sony Xperia Z.
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While we love the aesthetics of the handset, we find it literally a pain to hold. The straight edges on the back dig into our palms, which can be uncomfortable over a long commute — we preferred the gentle arc of the Xperia V and S.
Unlike the similarly 5-inch long HTC Butterfly — HTC's first 1080p smartphone that was not released in Australia, but can be sourced through some online resellers — the Xperia Z's power button placement, on the side, makes it easier to reach. The power button and volume rocker both have nice tactile feedback.
The micro-USB charging port, micro-SIM and microSD card slots are sealed with water- and dust-tight covers, which is only a slightly annoying trade-off for its IP57 rating. This means that the Xperia Z is resistant to dust, and able to withstand depths of up to 1m underwater for 30 minutes. This is great for quickly washing off after a dirty day out, or for runners keeping up their running schedule in the rain and not having to leave the phone behind and miss logging the run with their favourite running app.
The phone that's not afraid of the water.
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While it's dust and waterproof, note that the Xperia Z is not shockproof. Sony claimed that the material covering the front and back of the handset is made of a durable tempered glass, which is a lot stronger than conventional glass. However, the chassis on our review unit suffered some minor scratches from just a week of use.
The whole glass-covered exterior looks premium, but turns out to be a major fingerprint magnet. The Xperia Z is actually more prone to oily smudges than the glossy finish on the HTC Butterfly.
Three colours. All fingerprint magnets.
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It's a good thing the beautiful 5-inch full HD (1920x1080-pixel) display distracts from those oily fingerprints. Yes, like the HTC Butterfly's 1080p screen, Sony's display gave us smooth edges on the tiniest fonts, and an incredible amount of detail on high-resolution pictures and videos. However, the Japanese company's proprietary Mobile Bravia Engine 2 technology has a tendency to emphasise red, blue and green colours, so that photos and videos appear more vivid and saturated in native apps, such as the gallery and movie player. If you prefer a more natural colour reproduction, you can turn the feature off.
The Xperia Z runs on Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, but has promised an upgrade to Android 4.2 "shortly after launch". Currently, some 2012 Xperia models are still waiting for the Android 4.1 update, so we're understandably a little sceptical about Sony's vague timeframe.
As for its UI tweaks, we only wish that Sony could have included more lock-screen shortcuts to frequently used apps, such as email and messages, rather than just camera and music. On the upside, we like the swipe input on the keyboard — and find the built-in dictionary intuitive and accurate.
The Sony Xperia Z features a 13-megapixel camera with an Exmor RS mobile sensor. The camera delivers excellent macro shots outdoors and indoors — generally performing better than previous high-end Xperia models we've reviewed (ie, the Xperia S and Ion). We did find that when viewed at 100 percent, this phone's camera loses out to that of the Apple iPhone 5 or Nokia Lumia 920 in terms of noise and sharpness — but that's not a deal breaker if you're mainly sharing photos on the web.
Outdoor low-light shot (click to enlarge).
(Credit: CNET Asia)
Also, we noticed that after locking the focus point, the camera refocuses again before snapping a shot. It's not slow, but it may mean missing that action shot or a fast-moving pet or toddler.
Finally, the Xperia Z has almost any connectivity option you would expect out of a high-end handset — you get long-term evolution (LTE), near-field communication (NFC), DLNA and MHL, along with the standard HSPA, GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth options.
The Sony Xperia Z runs on the latest quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor clocked at 1.5GHz, which had very zippy performance, even while multitasking. The chip is complemented by 2GB of RAM — pretty standard for high-end smartphones these days — and LTE support, which brings about a smooth overall performance and blazingly fast browsing and download speeds, respectively.
With its non-removable battery rated at 2330mAh, the Xperia Z was able to last from morning till evening on a single charge. This was on our standard test settings of Wi-Fi turned off, two email accounts set on push and Twitter and Facebook refreshing at 30-minute intervals. Even with LTE turned on, we found the Xperia Z's battery life comparable to the non-LTE-enabled Butterfly's (battery rated at 2020mAh). It's not impressively long like the Samsung Galaxy Note 2's, but it's not terrible, either.
Of course, with heavier usage of viewing videos, playing games and shooting photos, we reckon that you'll definitely need to keep a charger handy. All those pixels on the full HD screen do tend to drain power quite quickly, especially if you like your screen set to maximum brightness.
For those eager to customise power consumption processes, Sony includes a Stamina Mode. By default, it shuts off a lot of data activity to reduce battery consumption to a slow drip. It also can be customised to give certain apps exceptions to keep using data. It's a far more user-friendly option than diving into meatier fare like Tasker, so it could be very useful for many users to wring an extra hour or two out of the handset.
A full HD display doesn't necessarily offer a much better viewing experience over one with an HD resolution for the average user. However, if you like to read using small fonts or have to view spreadsheets on the go, the extra pixels help a lot.
In our time using the handset, we didn't experience any dropped calls, and call quality was generally crisp and clear. However, we found the volume on the speakers too soft for our liking — even at maximum loudness, you may not be able to hear your phone ring if it's in your pocket or bag. This is even with Sony's xLoud feature turned on, which is supposed to boost the speaker's volume.
On the bright side, the ClearAudio+ sound enhancer on the Walkman app brings balanced bass and more clarity to your music. The headphones come with three pairs of different-sized ear buds, which is a nice touch.
If you do intend to get the Xperia Z, you may also wish to consider the compatible NFC-enabled accessories to go along with it. These include Sony's SmartTags, the SRS-BTV5 Bluetooth speaker and DR-BTN200M wireless headset.
The iPhone 5 sits atop a Sony Xperia Z.
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Should you get this phone? If you are insistent on a full HD display and an all-rounded feature set, the answer is a resounding yes. While it doesn't have an impressive battery life, the Xperia Z's stamina is at least comparable to popular smartphones such as the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S3 — which means heavy users should always have a backup external battery pack handy.
Sony has broken down the walls inside its business with the Xperia Z, finally bringing together technologies from across the entire business to create a stand-out smartphone. A gorgeous full HD screen, a nice chassis design and a good camera with excellent software makes the Xperia Z an early benchmark for the Android market in 2013. Battery is stretched hard with such a screen, but Stamina Mode options balance the equation for those who find battery life to be a problem in their daily flow.
Add Sony's smart integration into its wider product portfolio through a commitment to NFC as a "one touch" experience across many devices, and it feels like Sony has a real plan for its future. The Xperia Z is worthy of flagship status and one of the best phones we can expect to see in 2013.
Via CNET Asia