Reviewed by Charlotte Kertrestel
The Sony Xperia Z was revealed in all its glory at this year’s CES in Las Vegas. We managed to get our hands on the Sony Xperia Z at MWC in Barcelona last month, and instantly loved how well Sony had transferred the best of their expertise in the television and gaming industries into this sleek, stylish and incredibly well-built smartphone.
Known around the world for its spectacular water and dust-proof capabilities, how will the Sony Xperia Z stand up to the test of being dunked, dropped, and scrutinised within an inch of its life?
On lifting the Sony Xperia Z out of its unusually square box, I was pleasantly surprised by the device’s high quality look and feel. With an entirely tempered glass back and sides, the phone doesn’t look cheap and plastic in any way, unlike the Samsung Galaxy range, which really makes you feel like you are getting the best that Sony has to offer with the Xperia Z.
The phone is also quite slim and light, weighing in at just 146g, which isn’t bad considering the phone’s 5 inch screen. Speaking of the Xperia’s 5 inch display, because the screen covers most of the phone’s fascia, it doesn’t make the device feel any larger than a 4.7 inch phone, and in fact felt smaller than the Samsung Galaxy S3 which has a 4.8 inch display.
The body itself, apart from feeling sturdy and well-built, has taken on a rather square design with corners rounded enough to make the phone fit perfectly in your hand, but not too rounded as to cheapen the design of the phone. Because of the relative lightness of the device, the Xperia Z in no way feels bulky, which is a testament to Sony’s impeccable design.
Although the back isn’t removable on the device, the Xperia Z has a respectable 16 GB internal memory and an SD slot in order to extend the memory to 32 GB, which isn’t always an option on fixed-case phones.
One of the key features of the Xperia Z, which Sony has been plugging in all of its adverts for the device, is its ability to be submerged into one metre of water for up to 30 minutes without dying a soggy death. In spite of seeing the Xperia being dunked into a container of water at this year’s MWC, I still thought that I would test the device’s waterproof capabilities myself, by gingerly immersing it into a sink-full of cold water. And, much to my relief, the Xperia Z lived to tell the tale!
However, because of the phone’s ability to be waterproof, all of the ports have removable covers that stop any water from flooding into the device. While this is obviously integral to the Xperia’s waterproof design, I found it made the ports really difficult to access, especially when plugging my headphones in and out of the jack. That said, I really like the industrial looking aluminium disk that is the power button, which again adds to the phone’s sturdy build.
One thing that Sony sure has got right with the Xperia Z is its brilliant crisp display. With a 441 ppi density, the device surpasses the pixel density of both Samsung’s Galaxy S3-which has a 312 ppi- and the iPhone 5-which sports a 326 ppi display.
My only complaint with the Xperia Z’s display is that even the lightest touch leaves the most obvious smudges over the screen and the glass back, which meant that I was constantly polishing the phone, even when I wasn’t using it!
Finally, after spending some time using the various apps, features and functions on the device, I found that the back casing became quite hot, which isn’t a major drawback, but is a little irritating if you are using the phone for prolonged periods of time.
The Sony Xperia Z is run by Android Jelly Bean (4.1.2 v), though it is also compatible with the 4.2 version of the operating system. However, while the device resembles the familiar layout of home screens and apps like any other Android, Sony gave it a slightly different feel, making the Xperia Z differ from a run of the mill Android.
What also makes the Sony Zperia Z stand out from other Android mobile phones is the ability to organise your apps in an order of your choice, from sorting it along the lines of the alphabet, recently installed, most used or even your own customisable order. This is in addition to being able to drag and drop your favourite applications to the five home screens that are on offer.
One useful feature of the device is the ability to access both the phone’s camera and music player from the lock screen, demonstrating the Xperia Z’s main function as a multimedia device.
The Xperia is powered by a 1.5 GHz Krait processer which makes flitting through the home screens incredibly fast. However, I did feel that opening up apps from the home screen wasn’t quite as rapid as I’d have liked.
As you would expect from a phone from Sony, the Xperia Z is a device designed especially for the multimedia fans, and this is reflected in its features. However, I didn’t find any particularly outstanding features that made the Xperia Z stand out from its Android companions.
The Video Limited app pretty much does what it says on the tin. Linked to your Sony account as opposed to your Google account, the app allows you to rent or buy all the latest movies and TV programs.
Because of the device’s 5 inch display and high quality graphics, making full use of the Video Unlimited app is easy to do.
The Music Unlimited app does much the same thing as Video Unlimited, and allows you to download and listen to an unlimited number of your favourite tracks using either the internet or 3G.
The app also allows you to save your songs to various playlists which enables you to listen to your tunes anywhere and anytime. The only downside, however, is that the app costs £9.99 per month, but if music is your life, this is a small price to pay.
If you don’t want to subscribe to Sony’s Music Unlimited app, but love music all the same, the Xperia Z’s Walkman application makes listening to your favourite tracks easier than ever.
Not only can you access the Walkman app from the lock screen, making it quick to change, pause or stop tracks, but the app has also been placed in a prized position on the phone’s home screen.
I was incredibly impressed by the sound quality of the Xperia Z. Listening to audio with and without the headphones is really clear, and the fact that the speakers are located on the phone’s fascia and right hand side of the handset means that the sound isn’t muffled when you place the phone down on a surface, a problem that all too many phone manufacturers choose to ignore when building smartphones.
When I reviewed the HTC One S and HTC One X I was a huge fan of the Drive functions, which essentially turned the phones into a Sat-Nav. I was equally pleased, then, to find that the Xperia Z also featured a driving application, called Sony Car.
However, when I came to plan my route to Portsmouth from Birmingham last weekend, the device struggled to find my location, meaning that I had to revert to Google’s trusty navigation app in order to get me there.
Also, when testing out the Places feature within the app, I found that it didn’t always find the closest, say, restaurants, cafes or ATMs.
One plus point was Sony Car’s ability to let you select music from your Walkman or radio while you are driving, meaning that you don’t have to rely on changing CDs while driving at top speeds along the motorway.
The Xperia Z features a 13 MP camera like the Xperia T, which seems to be becoming the norm amongst smartphone cameras, with Samsung announcing last week that its Galaxy S4 will also sport a 13 MP lens.
However, when I road tested the Xperia Z on a dull day in Portsmouth, I found that while the device only took 1 second to take successive shots, the phone’s ultra-shiny screen meant that I couldn’t actually see what I was taking a photo of. I often found myself pointing the camera at what I wanted to capture and hoping for the best! That said, I think the images came out pretty well, despite the rain and greying skies on the south-east coast.
What I did like about the Sony’s camera function is that you could use it much like a traditional camera, with the volume buttons acting as the camera’s zoom. You also have the option to enact the device’s ‘Touch Capture’ feature, which, like the BlackBerry Z10, lets you take photos by simply touching anywhere on the screen. Sony has done well to make this feature optional, as some critics have complained that Touch Capture capability makes it too easy to take photos accidentally.
I was really impressed by the variety of pre-production photo editing features on the Xperia Z, too. For instance, you can choose from burst shot mode, sweep panorama and scene selection, which includes anti-motion blur, landscape, night, pet, snow, party, sports, fireworks and much more!
Another cool feature is the Partial Colour option, which allows you to tap the screen where you want colour to show, with the rest remaining black and white- perfect to create those vintage-looking colour block shots. Other effects that you can enact include Filter- which only focuses on the object you want, blurring the rest- Nostalgic, Fish Eye, and Sketch, to name a few.
|Fish Eye Lens||Sketch Lens|
Although you can access camera from the lock screen which is handy, in theory, when you want to take a photo quickly, I found that the Xperia Z takes about 2 seconds on start-up, meaning I’d missed the object that I had wanted to take a photo of!
What’s good about the Sony Xperia Z is that all photos that you take are automatically uploaded to Sony’s Play Memories online.
I felt that the battery life on the Xperia wasn’t anything to write home about. In fact, after listening to just three songs the battery went from 46% to 39%, and then when I returned to it an hour later after leaving it idle, its juice levels were down to an incredible 20%.
That said, the Xperia does feature ‘Stamina Mode’ which allows you to disable certain background apps when the phone is locked and the screen thus turned off. You can tailor the Stamina Mode in order to keep apps that you need to run running even when the device is locked, which can help you to save battery without having to compromise on the functionality of your phone.
Sony claims that its Stamina Mode in fact increase the Xperia Z’s battery life fourfold, and after putting it to the test, I found similar results, meaning that I could leave the device switched on for an entire weekend without its battery dwindling too much.