Look and feel
The most divisive part of the Sony Xperia Z is its hefty build. We personally love the long glossy body and iconic power button, but there’s no denying it’s a handful and sucks up dust like a Dyson. Thankfully the Xperia Z is also fully water and dust-proof.
Ease of Use
With its spacious five-inch screen and minimal Android tweaking, the Xperia Z is a pleasure to use. The virtual keyboard is intelligent and filled with features.
The 1080p HD screen and smart 13MP camera are real highlights of the Sony Xperia Z, and our favourite parts. Movie fans will love the sharp, vibrant display and if you’re constantly taking snaps, you can’t beat the smart auto-mode of the camera.
That quad-core processor handles apps and games with ease, and Android runs smoothly as expected. We only saw lag when opening the camera from the desktop or playing around in Socialife.
While the Xperia Z holds battery life well in standby mode, thanks to the power-saving features, you can practically watch the battery meter tick down when the screen is on. Just over four hours of media use pales in comparison to the HTC One X+’s six hours.
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,1/8/2013 12:41:23 PM
Ease of use
Smart and feature-packed 13MP camera;
Beautifully crisp and vibrant 1080p screen;
4G LTE compatible;
Wireless connectivity (with other Sony products)
Below average battery life in use;
Bulky dust-lovin’ design isn’t for everyone;
Sony bloatware and half-baked Socialife app
Sony’s Xperia Z was launched in Las Vegas at the start of the year, and we were instantly taken with its glossy design and beautiful five-inch full HD display. It might not have the prestige of being James Bond’s smartphone of choice, like its predecessor the Sony Xperia T, but with an impressive set of specs and Sony’s broad expertise in crafting highly-desirable mini machines, we were hopeful that the Xperia Z could wow over media fans, gamers and anyone who appreciates a phone you can dunk in your pint without breaking.
Sony’s Xperia Z has a design you’ll either drool over or raise an eyebrow at. It’s a rectangular chunk with straight edges and only the tiniest hint of curvature in each corner, quite unusual for a smartphone. Factor in the size of it – the Xperia Z is taller even than the Samsung Galaxy S III – and it’s quite a handful. We always used two hands when operating it, and could often feel a corner digging into our thighs when we were sat with it in our jeans pocket.
That said, we found the Xperia Z had an instant desirable “you’re real purdy” appeal and we personally love the glossy sheen. The entire front panel is made of glass, as is the rear, giving the phone a premium finish. You might think that renders the Xperia Z vulnerable to drops, knocks and bumps, but it’s surprisingly tough with an anti-shatter coating for added protection. The frame is also made of glass fibre polyamide, which is used as a metal substitute in car parts. The edges feel pleasingly rubbery, and can take plenty of abuse. Our only bugbear was the slight gap between the rear glass panels and the frame, which forms a trench-like haven for dust and annoying white particles.
The Xperia Z has gone through some rigorous military-grade resistance testing, and its watertight nature means it can be submerged in liquid for half an hour with no ill effects. We’ve seen a fair few Xperia Zs dumped in pints of beer over the past month, and even the golden nectar won’t kill this little blighter. Even better, the beer still tastes fine after.
To make the Xperia Z watertight, the ports have all been covered up. Thankfully they’re still easy to access, with tiny grooves for you to stick your fingernails into. One of the iconic features of the phone is its circular power button, which juts clear out of the right edge where your fingers or thumb naturally lie – it looks cool and means you won’t be fumbling to turn on the Xperia, even in the dark.
The Xperia Z rocks Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and setting it up is relatively painless: just tap your way through the usual time/language/account gubbins and you’re good to go. Annoyingly we had to turn on automatic syncing for our Google account, so we could get emails and calendar updates without manually requesting it in the settings menu. This option is buried away under data usage instead of in the accounts section, so it took us a while to find, but once that was done our mails and other bits updated instantly as expected.
As with all Xperia phones, the Xperia Z comes laden with pre-installed apps that take up a fair chunk of storage space: you get 16GB of storage space for your files, but only 10GB is usable from the off (thankfully you get a memory card slot to expand it). The five desktops also come filled with Sony widgets, but it’s easy enough to clear them if you wish. Other than that, it’s business as normal, with Android running perfectly smoothly.
Texting and emailing is a quick, painless process thanks to the virtual keyboard’s flexibility. You’ve got three different keyboards to choose from, and you can further customise the layout in the Xperia Z’s settings – for instance, we opted to have a comma and full stop button always visible, but not a smiley button (as we’re all miserable sods). Autocorrect and the usual features are all present and can be toggled on or off. It’s also easy to add a photo, doodle or map location to a text message, if you’re still onboard the MMS train.
Web browsing is also a joy, thanks in part to the brilliant screen which is spacious and sharp, and in part to the 4G LTE support which means websites spring up a second or two after you click the link – providing you’re in a supported area, of course. Around London we consistently hit download and upload speeds over 10Mbps, often reaching 20Mbps. With more networks leaping on the massive rampaging 4G beast this year, it’s good to see the Xperia Z has been future-proofed with both LTE support and also built-in NFC.
Sony’s Timescape widget, which gathered all of your social media content into one place, always felt like a clunky half-baked idea. That’s probably why Sony has ditched it entirely and replaced it with Socialife, which gives you fast access to your Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts, as well as five different news streams (entertainment, news, tech, woman and ‘mixed bag’ – these weren’t working yet as our review went live). Your content is presented in a clear chronological manner, with avatars so you can see just who’s posted what. You can also post messages to your own feeds.
There’s still some quirks in this early version of Socialife – for instance, pulling down your timeline to refresh it only seemed to work sporadically, and some Twitter/Facebook photos were automatically displayed while others required two taps to view. The widget also proved completely useless and glitchy, often telling us there were no posts to see here, keep on moving please. We’re hoping these issues get sorted out in an update very soon, then Socialife could be an enticing prospect for socialites.
One of the biggest draws of the Xperia Z is the luscious, vibrant five-inch TFT screen. With its 1920 x 1080 full HD resolution, this is one of the finest ways to enjoy movies, games and the world wide web on the move. Images are razor sharp, something you can only truly appreciate by kicking back with HD films and photos, and the rich colour reproduction is like triple chocolate brownies for your eyeballs. The panel is bright enough to counter even harsh glare providing you crank it right up, and viewing angles are excellent.
As a touchscreen it’s also excellent, responding instantly to every poke, swipe and prod. Unfortunately the screen is also a massive dust and grit magnet, so you’ll be constantly wiping it down (or of course dunking it in your beer) to get rid of fluff and debris.
Sony reckons it’s got more NFC-enabled gizmos than any other manufacturer on the planet, and the good news for Sony fans is that they will talk to each other using this short-range wireless technology, making life that much easier. We saw a demonstration of the Xperia Z connecting to a Sony Bravia TV in an instant, simply by touching the handset to the TV’s remote control (which also has built-in NFC). You can then throw your movies, photos, apps and whatever you like onto the big screen, to share with others or simply for comfort.
The Xperia Z will also stream music to compatible headphones and speakers, or back up your files with an NFC ‘Personal Content Station’. This all means you’re tied into decking your home out with Sony gadgets of course, but there’s no denying it’s a slick feature and the way of the future.
Check out our full Sony NFC preview for more info.
Performance and Battery Life
A quad-core processor is buried away in that chunky frame and offers strong performance, whatever you end up doing. We tested some of the latest action-packed games, which demand a powerful GPU to keep those high-res visuals running smoothly, and not once did we notice the frame rate drop. This gave us the edge when playing internet-based shooters like ShadowGun: DeadZone, which pits you against fellow gun-wielding maniacs around the world. The phone gets nice and toasty around the top edge under intense use, but not to a worrying degree.
Of course, all that power can sometimes drain the battery far too fast. Our first battery test involved keeping everything except Wi-Fi turned off, and using the phone as normal – checking emails and texts, occasionally browsing the web or playing around with apps. Even with the enormous power-sucking display, we’d normally hope for over 24 hours of battery life with moderate use, as we got from the likes of the HTC One X+. Sadly the Xperia Z died well before we headed to bed, and under reasonably heavy use it only lasts around five hours. Streaming video over Wi-Fi, we got just over four hours of use.
Thankfully there’s a host of power saving options including auto-brightness, Stamina mode (which disables Wi-Fi and mobile data when the screen is turned off – no good if you stream music) and Low Battery mode (which turns your screen brightness right down and disables pre-selected features when the battery drains to a set level). Unfortunately the Stamina mode is only useful if your phone spends lots of time in your pocket, and as soon as you start using it – even with brightness levels turned down and as many features as possible disabled – the battery still drains far too fast.
You can access the 13MP camera either from the lock screen or the Android desktop, and while the camera app loads in under a second from the lock screen, we found it took around four to five seconds to load when tapping he shortcut on our home screen. Hopefully this is a temporary glitch that’s either limited to our test handset or that will be sorted in a quick update, as it could mean missing out on some impromptu action shots.
Sony’s smartphone cameras get better with every iteration, and the Xperia Z’s is once again the best we’ve seen on a Sony device. The automatic mode is incredibly smart, flipping between dozens of different pre-set modes depending on the atmospheric conditions to get the best possible shot. All you need to do is hit the on-screen shutter button, and the camera does the rest. Our daytime pics are powerfully crisp with realistically reproduced colours, while gloomier shots also came out well, dripping with atmosphere. You can tap the screen to focus on a specific point, which lends itself to fantastic close-up macro shots, or just let the intelligent auto-focus do its job.
When you find yourself in dingy pubs or taking night shots, the Xperia Z more than holds its own against other premium smartphones. Keep the flash off and it does an admirable job of sucking in light to brighten up the shot, and few of our photos suffered from motion blur or other issues that can destroy low-light shots. However, images can look very grainy so you’re best off using the flash. This keeps your subject sharp without over-exposing them.
Switch to manual mode and you can tweak a veritable feast of features, including a smile-spotting auto-shutter, geotagging, ISO levels and white balance, burst mode (takes lots of photos in quick succession with a single shutter push) and plenty of funky filters. You also get the usual panorama mode, plus the ability to record 1080p HD video. Our home movies looked fantastic when played back on a big screen.
Sony’s Xperia Z may rock a hefty body that proves best friend to dust bunnies, and suffer from sub-par battery life, but it’s still a sleek, desirable and durable superphone that’s loaded with power and killer features. The intelligent 13MP camera and full HD screen complement each other perfectly, while NFC and 4G LTE support keep it future-proof.