Smart, feature-filled 13-megapixel snapper; sharp, vibrant 1080p display; 4G LTE support; Waterproof; Wireless connections (with other Sony devices).
Disappointing battery life; Hefty dust-loving body won’t suit everyone; Sony bloatware; disappointing Socialife app.
The Sony Xperia Z is hefty and attracts dust like nobody’s business. It also has a disappointing battery life, but still manages to be a very desirable superphone that had loads of great features and plenty of power. The 13-megapixel snapper and full HD display work well together, plus there’s 4G LTE support and NFC for futureproofing.
When Sony launched its Xperia Z earlier in the year, we were impressed with its stunning 5in full HD screen and shiny chassis. Okay, it may not be James Bond’s chosen smartphone – that honour went to its predecessor the Sony Xperia T – but it still boasts an impressive spec list.
The design is of the love it or hate it variety. It’s rectangular and chunky and has straight edges – the corners are very slightly curved. It’s big too – longer than the Samsung Galaxy S III. We found ourselves using two hands when using it, and you’ll certainly know it’s there if you sit down with it in your jeans pocket.
If you need a phone that’s safe from being dunked in a pint in the pub, or dropped in the toilet, the Xperia Z has undergone some tough military grade resistance tests. It is watertight enough to be able to survive being submerged in liquid for 30 minutes.
As well as its tough credentials, it also looks really good, with its lovely glossy body. The whole of the front of the device is made of glass. The back is covered in glass too, which makes the Xperia Z look really classy. Surprisingly, it’s really tough and has an anti-shatter coating to give it some extra protection. The frame of the device is made from glass fibre polyamide, a substance used in place of metal in car parts. The edges of the phone feel rubbery and tough enough to stand up to some rough treatment.
The only thing we didn’t like was the slight gap that appeared between the frame and the rear glass panels, which proves a magnet for dust.
The ports are all covered, in order to make the device watertight. Happily, they’re easy to get into – small grooves have been provided to stick your fingernails into. The round power button is an iconic feature – it sticks out of the right edge so is easy to find, even in the dark.
The operating system of choice is Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. It’s reasonably easy to set up – just do the usual language/time/account stuff and you’re off. It was annoying that we had to switch on automatic synching for our Google account in order to gain access to calendar and email updates without going to the settings menu to request them. This was hidden away under data usage, rather than in the accounts section, where we would expect it to be, so it took us some time to find.
Like the other Xperia devices, a number of pre-installed apps take up a lot of memory space. There is 16GB of space for storing files, but in reality only 10 GB of that is usable – you can of course expand this thanks to the memory card slot.
There are five desktops that are already filled with Sony widgets, although it’s simple to get rid of them if you want. Android runs really smoothly.
Surfing the net is a pleasure, for two reasons – the display is roomy and crisp and 4G LTE connectivity means websites load in a second or so. That is, of course, if you are in a 4G area. In London we managed upload and download speeds of more than 10Mbsp – 20Mbps in some cases.
The onscreen keyboard makes emailing and texting a joy. There is a choice of three keyboards, plus you can customise the layout too – for example, we chose to have the full stop and comma button always showing, but not the smiley button. It has autocorrect and all the other features you’d expect – and they can all be toggled off or on as you wish. It’s simple to add a map location, photo or doodle to a text message.
One of the main attractions of the handset is the vibrant five-inch TFT display. It has a full HD resolution of 1920 x 1080 making it one of the best ways to enjoy games, films and the internet. Images prove incredibly sharp – and you’ll see them at their best when viewing HD photos and movies. Colour reproduction is incredibly rich.
The screen is really bright, bright enough to counter any harsh glare – plus viewing angles are great. It proves responsive as a touchscreen too. It’s just a pity that the display attracts so much grit and dust – you’ll be forever wiping it down.
Sony’s Timescape widget was always clunky, which is probably why it has been replaced with Socialife, which offers fast access to your Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube accounts. It also offers five news streams for news, entertainment, tech, ‘mixed bag’ and woman. These weren’t working when we were doing our review, although they should be up and running soon. Content is shown in a clear chronological way, and avatars show who’s posted what. It is also possible to post messages to your own feeds.
Socialife still has some quirks – although it’s early days for Socialife as yet. For example, when we pulled down the timeline in order to refresh it, this only worked sporadically. We also found that some Facebook and Twitter photos showed automatically, while others needed to be tapped twice. The widget didn’t work well – it often told us we had no posts at all. Once the glitches are ironed out, Socialife could be a useful feature for social media fans.
Inside the chunky chassis sits a quad-core chip that manages the latest action games really well – high-res visuals ran smoothly and we never saw any drop in frame rate. This was a real advantage when we played internet-based shooting games such as ShadowGun: DeadZone, where you’re up against other games players around the world. The handset gets rather hot around the top edge, but not enough to really worry about.
Sony claims to have more NFC devices than any other manufacturer – and the Xperia Z is no exception. It means you can connect your phone to a Sony Bravia TV just by touching the device to the TV’s remote control. This means you can view apps, photos and films on the big screen.
You can also stream music to speakers and headphones that are compatible – or even back up your files should you wish, with an NFC ‘Personal Content Station’. Of course, you are tied into Sony gadgets, but it’s a nifty feature.
All the power under the hood does drain the battery – we’d expect 24 hours when we have everything except Wi-Fi switched off and are doing little more than checking texts and emails, playing with a few apps and doing a bit of net surfing. However, it died before bedtime – and with heavy use we only got about five hours. Video streaming saw the battery drain after only four hours.
The good news is that there are plenty of power-saving options such as Stamina mode (which turns off Wi-Fi and mobile data when the display is switched off), auto-brightness and Low Battery mode (this turns display brightness down and disables certain features when the battery gets to a certain level).
However, Stamina mode is only of use if the device sits in your pocket a lot. We found the battery drains too fast once you start using the handset.
You can fire up the 13-meapixel snapper from either the Android desktop or lock screen. This takes four or five seconds from the home screen shortcut, but just under a second from the lock screen. We hope this is just an early days glitch that will be sorted out in an update – or you’ll find you miss some impromptu snaps.
Sony’s smartphone snappers just seem to get better – and the snapper on the Xperia Z is one of the best we’ve experienced on a Sony handset. The automatic mode is really smart – it switches between loads of pre-set modes to help you get the best possible shot. Just tap the onscreen shutter key and let the camera do its job. Daytime shots were sharp with great colour reproduction – even in low light our images were oozing atmosphere. Just tap the display to focus on a certain area – great for macro shots – or leave the auto-focus to do its thing.
In manual mode there are all kinds of features to play with, including geotagging, smile-spotting autoshutter, ISO levels, geotagging and white balance. There are loads of cool filters, plus panorama mode and the facility to grab 1080p HD video. Our own moves looked great on a big screen.
Snaps taken at night or in dingy pubs are impressive. With the flash off, the snapper pulls in plenty of light – and we saw little motion blur or other issues that often ruin low-light images. They are still pretty grainy though, so you’ll probably choose to use flash.
The Sony Xperia Z may be pretty big, attract dust like mad, and have poor battery life, but it’s a still a highly desirable superphone. It’s sleek, powerful and had loads of great features. The full HD display and smart 13-megapixel snapper work well and futureproofing comes in the shape of 4G LTE support and NFC.
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