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Mobile Phones, Reviews, Sony
February 25, 2013 by Dan Nixon
The Sony Xperia Z is the latest flagship Android device from the Japanese manufacturer and offers a bold design alongside a full 1080p HD display and innovations in camera functionality.
Although Sony remains a behemoth in the world of tech, its smartphone game has been more than a little bit below par in recent times. However, the Xperia Z is a flagship that demands attention thanks to its formidable spec sheet and an eye-catching design. But will it be enough to get Sony back into the elite smartphone party?
Design & Hardware
Just one look at the Sony Xperia Z is quite enough to see that this is a smartphone that’s not messing about. It’s all razor- sharp edges, precision-engineered buttons and beautifully flat glass panels. Yes, the businesslike look will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but kudos to Sony for going out on a limb in implementing a really fresh design aesthetic. Additionally, the subtle Xperia branding on the rear of the device is also to be commended and marks a move away from the usual manufacturer’s trick of slapping a huge company logo on the back.
The Xperia Z is imposing when picked up, thanks to its oversized proportions. While it’s not quite in phablet territory – that moniker generally demands a screen bigger than 5.5-inches – it still makes quite an impression when placed into a jeans pocket or clutch handbag (you’re still going for that look then Dan? -Ed). However, it is worth mentioning that the Sony design team has been pretty clever with button placement, meaning that the device can be used with one hand.
But it’s only when switching on the Xperia Z that its first real strength makes itself apparent; that stunning display. Seriously, the 5-inch full HD screen is quite simply the best we have ever come across in a smartphone. Whether it is scrolling through menus, glancing at widgets or browsing the web, the display is consistently jaw dropping thanks to unparalleled clarity and sharpness.
That’s impressive enough, but get into images and video and things get even more remarkable. Watching a movie on the Xperia Z is as close to a HDTV viewing experience as it gets (only in miniature). Whereas eyes can quickly grow tired when watching videos for extended periods on some handsets, on this Sony it is an absolute pleasure. Similarly, images really pop out of the screen with stunning colour reproduction and a level of detail that is unparalleled.
A display of this standard needs some pretty decent hardware in the engine room to power things along and thankfully, the Xperia Z doesn’t disappoint. A 1.5 GHz quad-core processor ensures that everything runs smoothly, with 2GB of RAM adding support, resulting in a totally lag-free experience. Whether it is processor-intensive gaming, multitasking or extreme social networking the Xperia Z powerhouse is able to cope with aplomb.
Unfortunately, the trade-off for that sumptuous screen and its monumental processing capabilities is substantial power consumption. Sony is one step ahead though, incorporating the very clever STAMINA mode that disables mobile data when the screen is off, switching everything back on when it is unlocked. Its effect is beneficial but not outstanding though, so a daily charge is still required.
Now, durability is a word that gets bandied about by handset manufacturers on a regular basis but as we all know, smartphones aren’t really that durable are they? Well, for the first time Sony can shout about the ‘D’ word with the facts to back it up. You see, the Xperia Z is completely water resistant. Not just splash proof or water repellent, but water resistant down to a depth of one metre for 30 minutes.
All the little flappy-door things covering the USB ports and whatnot have to be firmly closed and the handset isn’t keen on salt water or chlorine (so don’t go dipping it in the sea or a swimming pool). Additionally, the touchscreen won’t work while underwater due to water particles stopping the electrodes in your fingers from interacting with the capacitive touchscreen. But nevertheless, a water resistant smartphone is still an awesome achievement.
Software & Multimedia
The Xperia Z carries Google’s Android Jelly Bean operating system as the platform of choice and as such, contains all of the usual Google bits and bobs such as Google Now, Play Music and Latitude. However, Sony has also seen fit to stuff the device full of its own bespoke software , something that might be slightly overwhelming for any less than ardent Sony fans. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with a bit of bundled software, but are two different movie apps (Video Unlimited and Play Movies) and three different navigation apps (Google Navigation, Latitude and Wisepilot for Xperia) really needed on one handset?
That said, the user interface as a whole is inoffensive enough and navigating around is predictably a breeze. It is still a bit of a mess (this is Android after all), but the bespoke Sony icons for a lot of the bits of functionality give a level of individuality not seen in equivalent HTC or Samsung devices.
Another highlight of the device is its excellent 13 megapixel camera. Sony handsets have always been fairly well endowed in the snapper department (particularly last year’s Xperia S), but the Xperia Z really takes things to the next level. Images are consistently clear and the colour reproduction is up to digital compact camera standards. That beautiful screen provides the perfect user interface to ensure pics are captured as you intended too.
The raft of added extras that provide an amazing level of functionality is what really make the camera special though. One particularly innovative example of this is Superior Auto, which picks the best camera mode for your surroundings and automatically switches to it, allowing you to concentrate on composing the shot rather than scrolling through menus.
Similarly impressive is the camera’s burst mode, which can shoot an unlimited number of images at 10 frames per second, meaning you’ll never miss the moment again. Also Smile Shutter mode, which automatically snaps an image of a face as soon as a smile is detected, is great fun too. Add to this a ton of options such as Quick Launch and Auto Upload, and you have a camera that has both quality and usability in spades.
Video capture is equally as high-end too, with 1080p recording available. The level of functionality here is not quite to the standard of the still image camera, but there are a number of different modes in the mix. One of these is HDR Video, which claims to capture high quality video in high contrast situations such as shooting into direct sunlight. However, when used, the mode did little more than add a bit more colour to the finished video.
Performance & Verdict
So, how does the Xperia Z stack up against its flagship competitors such as the HTC One and BlackBerry Z10? Well, its uncompromising looks will certainly not be to everyone’s taste, with opinion split in the Phones 4u office over whether it is a bit of a looker or a stark slate of a handset. However, it cannot be argued that the display is anything less than astounding. The quality on offer really is unlike anything that has been seen in the smartphone arena before, with HDTV levels of clarity and colour.
The camera is also a real strong point of the device, although it has to be said it does not offer anything miles ahead of either the HTC One or Nokia Lumia 920 in terms of quality. However, that is not to take away from the fact that it is very much in the elite few where image capture is concerned.
Also consider the fact that the Xperia Z can also take a good dunking without any damage whatsoever and it is easy to see what an attractive package this device offers. Sure, the overwhelming amount of pre-installed software might turn a few people off, and the brand might not have the smartphone pedigree of Samsung, but with the Xperia Z, Sony really has put itself up there among the great and good of the smartphone world.
It might not suit everyone's tastes, but there can be no denying that the Xperia Z is a real contender for the mantle of 2013's top Android flagship...
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