Review: Xperia Z, Sony's Flagship Smartphone for 2013

Xperia Z, Sony's Flagship Smartphone for 2013

Our score: 3/5
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July 15, 2013 3:08 PM
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Published: March 21, 2013 2:16 PM
Updated: January 24, 2014 2:36 PM
By Florence Legrand
Translated by: Hugh Ehreth
Sony's first smartphone with a 5-inch Full HD display, the Xperia Z is the latest feather in the cap of a company that's striving to become the Number One Android brand of 2013.

To this ambitious end Sony has spared little with the Xperia Z, giving it a careful design, brand recognition up the wazoo, a Full HD display, a 13 Mpx camera, 4G and NFC compatibility, a 1.5 GHz Qualcomm quad-core processor, 2 GB of RAM and an in-house user interface laid on top of Android 4.1.2. On paper, this means serious performance. Oh yeah, and it's dust- and waterproof (IP57-certified)!

But how does the Xperia Z stand the test of practice? How responsive is it? Does the camera crush the competition? Is the 2,330 mAh battery enough to feed the large screen? Answers and more below...

Design & Handling4/5



Smartphone design is always a matter of taste, so we won't judge the Z on its look. Suffice it to say that whatever your preferences may be, no one can deny that Sony went to great lengths to produce a minimalist device that's chic, polished and well-proportioned, all in a glass body that represents a change from the company's usual plastic moulds.

Sony Xperia Z - port covers

Top-notch manufacturing: protective covers help shelter the MHL micro-USB port, microSD slot and headphone jack from dust and water

We like the thin border surrounding the display. It helps keep the overall dimensions in check, despite the large screen. It's a good choice; the competition could learn a thing or two here.

Sony Xperia Z - interface

The silver ON button on the right edge is part of Sony Mobile's new visual identity (you'll find the same button on the Xperia Tablet Z).
However, this isn't necessarily the most practical place to put it for righties. Your thumb lands right on it...


With an angular profile and non-negligible width, the Xperia Z isn't the easiest smartphone to hold; it's too big to fit snugly in your palm.

It was a funny choice to put the speaker on the bottom-right edge of the phone—your hand tends to cover it up and obstruct any outcoming sound (less of an issue for lefties).
 
But it's an impeccably designed phone. The only exception might be the thin groove separating the screen and the body, which collects dust. Also, Sony sent us the black model and we couldn't help but notice that smudges quickly add up and they're difficult to get off. Necessarily, that detracts from the whole "elegant" angle Sony is going for...

Sony Xperia Z - back

The top end of the phone noticeably heats up when you use it for a while, which isn't the most reassuring feeling.

Sony Xperia Z - water

The Xperia Z is dustproof and water-resistant up to 1.3 metres for 30 minutes.
If smartphones are made to go everywhere with you, then why don't they all have this??

 

Display3/5



The Xperia Z's Full HD display contains 440 dots per inch—that's the highest pixel density of any smartphone! (Then again, there's always the question: do you really need that much?) Excellent resolution aside, what about the other factors that can make or break a smartphone screen?

The contrast is a very low 489:1, which is far from what AMOLED displays offer. Here, black looks more like dark grey.

And the colours could be much more accurate, with a Delta E of over seven (the lower the Delta E, the purer the colours, where three and below is considered perfectly accurate). For the past year or so most smartphones, especially high-end smartphones, are closer to five, if not four or three. In other words, we've seen better.

But the Xperia Z makes its comeback with the screen brightness, which is, quite simply, exceptional. It's bright enough to make the display perfectly legible under direct sunlight. Also, the surface doesn't give off much glare, making it even easier to read in brightly lit settings.

Sony Xperia Z - screen

The viewing angles are wide open, but you can still see a drop in colour when you look at the screen from the side, sort of as though you were to lay a veil over the screen (yellow turns to beige, dark blue turns to pale blue, etc.). It's weird. Colours are decidedly not the Xperia Z's strong point.

The response time is 9 ms, which is excellent, much higher than average.

When we take each of these bits and pieces and put them all together, under our rating criteria, the Xperia Z's screen just makes it to four stars. A large part of that is due to the resolution, which really is astounding. Even when you squint your eyes and bring it right up to your face, you can't see a single pixel.

Interface & Navigation5/5



In order to put its stamp on the Android experience and compete with HTC's Sense and Samsung's TouchWiz user interfaces, Sony has revised its in-house software overlay.

Sony Xperia Z - UI

Both practical and scaled-back compared with the competition (it's easy to find your way through the interface and Sony hasn't entirely blotted Android out the way some companies do), Sony's overlay has a number of neat little features for the user. There are up to seven homescreens (and choose which one is your main one), shortcuts to several quick settings, resizable widgets (the apps aren't resizable), and more. Sony's UI is a success.

Sony Xperia Z - homescreens

As you'd expect, the Xperia Z has several built-in Sony services for doing things like renting movies, buying PlayStation games, purchasing music, and so on.

Sony Xperia Z - menus

Not only did we find the interface enjoyable to use, but the performance is exemplary, making it an agile and alert smartphone. Whether you're downloading an app, launching an app, navigating through the menus, browsing a web page or watching a movie, the speedy Xperia Z is always responsive.


Multimedia5/5



Sony Xperia Z - web

For looking at photos, watching movies, surfing the net and playing video games, the large screen and overall responsiveness make the Xperia Z is an excellent device for consuming content. Not to mention the fact that Sony has included a lot of dedicated apps (Album, Movies, Walkman...) to enrich the user experience.

Sony Xperia Z - Walkman

The Xperia Z's headphone output is perfectly satisfactory, despite the low volume. There are no traces of distortion and the reproduction is high fidelity.

The Walkman app has just about everything you could want out of a music player with, for example, an equaliser by default. The built-in speaker is okay; it can go relatively high without causing too much distortion. But remember, the speaker is located right where your hand blocks the sound.

As for video games, all games and any games run without a hitch.
 

Camera3/5



In case you missed it, we published the results from our camera test two weeks ago. Here's some of what we said. For more details, check out the camera review here.

Sony Xperia Z - Barbie
Sony Xperia Z - scene



Whereas last year's top-of-the-range smartphones mostly came with 8-Megapixel cameras, the Xperia Z has upped the game with its 13-Megapixel snapper (f/2.4 aperture / 4:3 aspect ratio). Sony is promising higher levels of detail and increased light sensitivity for improved picture quality in low-light conditions (among other things). The Xperia Z is therefore out to compete with the Nokia Lumia 920, an excellent pocket snapper in low light.

With a practical and comprehensive interface, fans of manual modes will have plenty to go on.

The Xperia Z takes decent-quality pictures, with levels of sharpness and detail that are both good. On the whole, that's a good thing.

But unfortunately, pictures taken with this phone have a very artificial look. They seem too heavily accentuated, too over-emphasised, and Jpeg compression is quite heavy-handed. The white balance is very cold, which gives pictures a blue tinge and makes colours very intense. When viewed on the phone screen with no zoom, pictures generally look quite nice. You could get away with 4" x 6" (10 x 15 cm) or even 5" x 7" (13 x 18 cm) prints, but we wouldn't recommend going any bigger than that. Even when you zoom in on a photo on the phone screen, and even with a scene shot in good daylight, a noisy coloured grain appears all too soon.

Sony Xperia Z - camera

The Sony Xperia Z is certainly up there with other good cameraphones of the moment (Lumia 920, iPhone 5, etc.), but it doesn't stand out and, on the whole, it doesn't outdo its rivals. As it stands, the iPhone 5 still does a better job, giving a more natural result with neutral colours and a slightly higher level of sharpness.

In all, the Sony Xperia Z camera scores three out of five in our tests. That's a not bad score, and this camera is perfectly fine for sharing photos on social networks. Still, it isn't an exemplary mobile phone camera.

The 1080p video function isn't bad at all. It gives relatively fluid and stable images, although the audio recording could use some work.


Battery Life3/5



As mentioned earlier, the Xperia Z's battery is 2,330 mAh. Is that enough to last all day?

Using Battery Benchmark, an app that tests Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Internet, multimedia and varying levels of brightness to produce a solid stress test that fits with the results we obtain in practice, the Xperia Z lasted just over 11 straight hours (about a day and a half under normal use), which earns it four out of five stars.

In order to optimise the power consumption, Sony included Stamina, a mode you can select in the settings that turns off all data activity (e-mails, social networking, etc.) and the Wi-Fi whenever the screen is turned off. Luckily, you can also choose to leave specific functions running, such as outgoing e-mails and downloading apps. With Stamina activated the phone function stays on and you continue receiving phone calls and text messages.

At that point, what you basically have is a smartphone without access to data. Which is essentially not a smartphone. We didn't notice any remarkable gain in battery life with Stamina turned on. And, besides, with the Xperia Z's excellent connectivity, who wants that on anyway?

3/5 Sony Xperia Z DigitalVersus 2013-03-21 15:16:00

Pros

  • Display: high resolution
  • Polished design
  • Quality manufacturing
  • Dust- and water-resistant
  • Exemplary responsiveness
  • Sony user interface is effective and well integrated
  • Screen brightness
  • Good phone function

Cons

  • Display: low contrast
  • Finger smudging...
  • Camera can't compete with the best
  • Speaker location

Conclusion

The Xperia Z has lots of selling points: elegance, quality finishing, high responsiveness, an effective user interface, a good phone function... But it isn't perfect: the camera function is disappointing and the body smudges like crazy.

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