Sony did their best with the Xperia Z… is their best good enough?
We first met the Sony Xperia Z at the exhibition floor of the Mobile World Congress. We walked away impressed and fortunately we were able to get our hands on a unit when we got back to the Philippines. We’ve been using it as our primary phone for the last few weeks and we’re ready to share our review.
The Sony Xperia Z is Sony’s best smartphone to-date and everything about it, from the specifications to the materials used for the hardware, are all top-of-the-line. It runs a quad-core processor, 2GB RAM, 1080p display, and even LTE connectivity (works locally on Smart as per our tests). For the chassis we have shatter resistant glass both at the front and back. To make them stand out Sony even made the Xperia Z water resistant. However the Xperia Z is up against very formidable Androids. Can it hold its own and earn our hard earned cash? Read on to find out.
Sony Xperia Z Spec Sheet
- 1.5GHz Krait Quad-core Processor Qualcomm MDM9215M
- Adreno 320 GPU
- 2GB RAM
- 16GB Internal Storage, expandable via microSD up to 32GB
- 5.0-inches shatter proof and scratch resistant glass capacitive screen
- 1080 x 1920 pixels, ~441 ppi, Sony Mobile BRAVIA Engine 2
- 13.1-megapixel rear-facing camera with autofocus, LED flash, image stabilization, HDR
- Record video 1080p@30fps, continuous autofocus and video stabilizer
- 2.2-megapixel front-facing camera, 1080p@30fps
- WiFi b/g/n, WiFi Hotspot, WiFi Direct, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, A-GPS, GLONASS
- FM Radio, 3G Connectivity, HSPA+, LTE
- Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean
- 2330mAh Battery
- Comes in Black, White, and Purple
Major change in design philosophy for Sony
The Xperia Z is the first high-end smartphone from Sony that departs from the curved back design that we’ve seen with the Arc, Arc S, and even the T series. For the Xperia Z we get a razor-thin solid block of glass (front and back) and encased in between are monstrous specifications. All the ports have covers to keep the device water-resistant.
There are only two visible buttons or ports on the sides — a silver button for power lock and a docking port which is thankfully water resistant as well. The microSIM, microSD Card, and other ports and buttons are all hidden away in covers.
The scratch-resistant glass, as mentioned earlier is at the front and back of the device. While this gives a crazy premium look and feel to the phone, it also brings with it a couple of annoying inconveniences. For one this is probably one of the most fingerprint and smudge magnets smartphones ever. If you’re OC and you like your phones squeaky clean, don’t bother with the Xperia Z unless you have a cleaning cloth always in your pocket. Another frustrating thing is that there is a tendency for dirt and dust to accumulate along the ridge of the sides of the glass screen and back (ridge connects the glass to the chassis). To clean this part we needed to get toothpicks, lol.
Another thing worth noting about the form factor is that the block design can become uncomfortable at times because it bites into the flesh of your palm.
In short the Sony Xperia Z is definitely a nice-looking premium smartphone but it does have it share of issues when you start using it. There were compromises made to make it look good.
Display Quality: A bit washed out but amazing when you start playing video
The Xperia Z sports a 5-inch display with 1920×1080 resolution. That’s full HD and it comes out to around 441 pixels per inch. When you play HD video via the microSD or even YouTube it looks spectacular. However Sony’s perennial problem of viewing angles is still present. If you look at the screen indirectly the colors tend to wash out. Blacks are not as black as we’d want them to be. Note though that this might be nitpicking already on our part but we feel that any high-end smartphone should have a flawless display, both with PPI, color saturation, and viewing angles so we really had to point it out.
Water Resistant? Definitely. Just make sure you close the trays.
One of the main selling points of the Sony Xperia Z is that it is water-resistant. Well we’ve been putting that to the test for the last month or so and we can give it our stamp or approval. We used it to take underwater shots (swimming pool), took it to the shower with us, and even kept washing it in the sink when it would get smudgy. Here are some photos:
Win. As for the scratch-resistant part, we didn’t dare test it since most of the time scratch resistant glasses are just that… resistant. It’s not really scratch-proof, hehe.
Software Check: Zippy, fast, and smooth Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
Android 4.1 Jelly Bean on the Xperia Z worked out pretty well for us. It was smooth, fast, zippy, and 99% lag free. That’s expected though considering this has 2GB RAM and a quad-core processor, lol. Most of the apps we used also ran smooth. We tested graphics intensive games like Dead Trigger, NBA 2K13, and Wild Blood. We did casual titles. We tried watching HD videos. All of them worked.
We did the usual Antutu Benchmark Test and it scored almost 21,000. It definitely ranks up there with the rest of the big boys like the Asus Padfone 2 and HTC One.
This kind of score also reflected in the basic functions. Texting, e-mailing, transitions, animations, and social networking apps were all buttery smooth. Performance was deserving of a flagship device.
Sony Apps: They need to work on this one
If there’s one particular differentiator that Sony wasn’t able to impress us it was the custom and exclusive Sony applications. There’s Sociallife which is an app that aggregates your favorite content (video and photos) and social networking feeds in one place. It looks good but there’s no breakthrough innovation that will make me use it regularly. There’s a mapping/driving service called Wisepilot but Google Maps is still much more refined and polished. Playstation Mobile, which is supposed to be Sony’s mobile gaming platform wasn’t even pre-installed and not available for download in the PH Google Play store.
This is definitely a major point of improvement for Sony in the future.
The 13-megapixel shooter of the Sony Xperia Z has been criticized by a lot of bloggers and tech pundits. Personally I agree that it can do much better when it comes to low-light conditions but photos taken in natural sunlight and good lighting are excellent. Here are some sample shots:
UPDATE: There seems to be a problem with our hosting service and we can’t upload more photos. We’ll iron this out and update this post as soon as it gets fixed. Apologies for the inconvenience. -EIC
Battery Life: Standard for high-end smartphones
Here’s the rub. When we turned on LTE, battery life dropped drastically. This is kinda expected though for LTE-enabled devices. Even the Apple iPhone 5’s battery plummeted when we used LTE to download stuff and watch HD videos. Normal 3G and HSPA+ was more forgiving (with occasional LTE) and with moderate-heavy use we got at least 6-8 hours of battery life which is quite standard for the flagships of most brands.
Taken everything into consideration we can say that the Sony Xperia Z is indeed the best smartphone Sony has ever shipped. It has all the right specs, a gorgeous, stylish, and premium form factor, and it has all the bells and whistles like water-resistance, LTE, and NFC. That said, it still has some minor issues. After using it for several weeks now, I don’t actually mind the viewing angles or the blocky build (that’s me though, better try holding a unit at the Sony store to see if it doesn’t bother you before you buy). My real issue is how fast it seems to gather dust specs, hehe. I end up bringing out my microfiber cloth more than the usual number of times. If you’re the type that can get over that though then you seriously have to consider Sony’s offering.
The Sony Xperia Z retails for Php32,000+ but online stores like Widget City are selling it for lower prices (Php28,990).