Sony’s new flagship device has a lot to live up to, with the company proclaiming it to be the next step in innovation, comparable to its iconic Walkman brand. Sony are talking a big game in marketing the Xperia Z, and anything less than first-class performance and features are going to be seen as falling short.
The Xperia Z didn’t feel as awkward or heavy to use as we were expecting. Despite being used to a smaller screen, the 5 inch display isn’t overwhelming or as excessive as it may first appear. The increased size does mean that it’s not easy to use single-handedly, but being reviewers who prefer two-handed smartphone use, this wasn’t an issue; although those that like to multi-task while texting or browsing may not love it. The shape of the phone itself is quite angular and it’s not necessarily the most ergonomic phone we’ve seen of late.
This doesn’t mean it looks cheap though, with a stylish glass design that has more in common with the iPhone than many other Android devices. It’s pretty, but a fingerprint magnet – after a few minutes of use both the front and rear looked greasy, and you may find yourself constantly wiping the phone down if, like us, you’re slightly OCD about smudges on your touchscreen. It also means that it’s more likely to slip out of your hands, as getting a firm grip on the device could occasionally be hindered by the smooth feel – which brings us to the question of the Xperia Z’s durability.
The phone is encased in tempered glass which is supposedly shatterproof, and perhaps its biggest drawcard is that it’s both waterproof and dustproof. The fact that Sony have managed to give the Xperia Z this level of protection without sacrificing aesthetic appeal is impressive. The downside to this is that features such as the headphone jack, microSD card slot and USB port are hidden under flaps to protect against moisture and dust. While not a huge inconvenience, it’s fortunate that this reviewer had nails long enough to open up the flaps in order to charge the phone or try out headphones – users who bite their nails may find it more of a challenge. Doing this just once mightn’t be a problem, but remember you will be opening some of these flaps every single day.
If you’re used to Apple’s iOS, you may feel some initial consternation as to whether you will find the Android operating system difficult to figure out. However, for the most, part, the 4.1 Jelly Bean interface relatively intuitive (although not quite as much as when using an iPhone), with a lot of neat tricks that you’ll discover after only a short period of use.
The Z comes preloaded with what seems like a lot of apps. Some of these appear a little superfluous (Email and Gmail?), while others just take you directly to the Google Play Store and don’t really seem have a purpose in being pre-installed.
All of the expected Google apps are accounted for; Chrome, Google Play, Google Maps, Google +, Messenger and several more. Using essential apps such as Messages and Contacts and making calls is relatively simple – this is a phone, after all – although the apps themselves are quite minimalist and nothing exciting to look at.
Regardless of the phone’s 1080p display and the introduction of Sony’s colour enhancing Bravia Mobile Engine 2, the screen didn’t exactly take our breath away. Color-wise, the interface and photos have an almost washed-out feel that no amount of brightness adjusting can change, especially when viewing it from certain angles. Blacks come across as almost a dark grey, and although switching on the Bravia feature adds a degree of vibrancy to colors in your photos, the display felt a little disappointing considering the resolution. However, text is incredibly clear, which makes Web browsing a lot less frustrating for anyone with less-than-perfect eyesight.
A major bummer concerning the camera: there’s no physical button located on the phone to snap pictures, meaning you’ll have to use the touchscreen to take shots. While this may not be a deal-breaker, it does make it a little trickier when taking landscape photos or even selfies (if that happens to be your thing).
The camera does feature 13 megapixels and Sony’s new Exmor RS sensor, facts which have been hyped up considerably in the Xperia Z’s marketing. However, unless camera phone photography is a consuming passion, most users aren’t really going to notice a huge difference. The inclusion of various options and filters is a nice touch, but nothing spectacular, and nothing that you couldn’t achieve by downloading a photo editing app or Instagram.
The Xperia Z supports HDR when recording video, and while this might sound amazing, there wasn’t a hugely discernible difference when testing the feature indoors. Overall, while image quality was respectable, it varied greatly depending on lighting, and seemed to veer between bright and overly saturated or somewhat dull.
Generally, the phone’s performance is swift and efficient, without lagging or other issues. Occasionally, the camera took several seconds to load, which for some may be the difference between a perfect snapshot and a being a few frames too late. Attempts at accessing it from the lock screen were mixed, with the camera failing to load altogether on several occasions.
In spite of the much-touted 1.5GHz quad-core processor, the Xperia Z doesn’t necessarily amaze with blistering speeds. It’s really not noticeably different to any other new top-end smartphone, and will be more than satisfactory for the majority of users. Video and music playback works great, though, reinforcing the Xperia’s status as phone for users who love portable entertainment.
Despite hearing about the Xperia Z’s great battery life, it wasn’t especially impressive – it seemed that relatively non-taxing tasks such as replying to text messages or browsing through photos used up battery percentage unexpectedly quickly, and it didn’t deliver outstanding results in our battery tests.
However, the combination of Stamina Mode – in which data-using apps are automatically shut down when the screen is not in use – and low battery mode work well to extend the Xperia Z’s power, especially when the device is in standby. The phone’s Stamina Mode should go a long way towards preserving battery life, and in Sony’s defence the phone did last several days unattended with no usage. But frequent use of the Xperia Z without either of these settings switched on may find the battery running out quicker than expected for many users.
Overall, the Xperia Z doesn’t feature any major disappointments and is a powerful, relatively easy to use smartphone. The biggest lure for many users will be the ability to get the phone wet or dirty without ruining it, and for anyone working outdoors or in a physical job needing a phone that can withstand the elements, the dust, water and shatter-proof qualities of the Xperia Z are a huge plus.
As the new flagship device for Sony, it features everything you’d expect from a top-end Android device, and is definitely well worth putting on your shortlist. But aside from its durability, there aren’t really any ground-breaking elements to completely set the phone apart from competing Android handsets, and phones like Samsung’s Galaxy S4 and HTC’s One do have much better screens plus a raft of other unique features.