Review: Sony Xperia Z

Review: Sony Xperia Z

The Sony Xperia Z mixes beautiful design on the outside with powerful electronic gadgetry on the inside. The phone gives Samsung a run for its money in the Android market and asks Apple the awkward question: 'when are you gonna catch up?'

Hardware

Sony shows that you don't need to make a rugged-looking phone for it to be rugged. Beneath the sleek black Xperia Z exterior is a device capable and ready to be dropped into a metre of water. I've used the phone in the rain, inside a fish bowl and in the shower – just because I can.

The shatterproof glass front and back makes the device feel secure and sturdy. I haven't done any drop tests, but the phone has survived in the jungle of keys and paperclips I call my pockets, without a single scratch.

The microUSB port, microSD slot and earphone jack are all covered with a plastic flap, protecting them from the environment. The flaps are flimsy and if they are damaged the unit is no longer waterproof. I imagine with regular use these will be the first places to lose water protection.

My one gripe with the industrial design is the position of the speakers on the bottom right hand side of the device. Holding it in your right palm completely blocks the sound, which seems like an oversight of epic proportions.

I didn't make use of the Xperia Z's NFC or 4G capabilities, but it's good to know I could jump on Vodafone's 4G network if I wanted.

Display

Nowadays, when ever I pick up a non-iPhone handset I always ask myself why I put up with my piddly 3.5-inch screen. The Xperia Z's generous 5-inch display hits the sweet spot. It's big enough to give me the screen real estate I need, without becoming a tablet. 

The phone supports high definition video playback with a resolution of 1080 by 1920. Image quality is fantastic and colour brightness is about as good as I've seen on a smartphone. Sony says its pixel density is 443 pixels per inch, around 100 pixels per inch than the iPhone 5. This is mostly marketing for the specifications fans and I couldn't see a noticable difference in image quality when the two devices are put next to each other.

Camera

Sony's 13 megapixel is one of the best I've used, comparable to the fantastic one inside the iPhone 5. The only drawback I've found is the app takes a fraction longer to start than I would like.

I'm not a big fan of automatic modes on my DSLR, but using it on the Xperia Z means I can spend less time thinking about taking the picture and more time actually taking the picture. The algorithm used to determine what mode to shoot in works 7 out of 10 times, unfortunately it favours the macro mode which meant a few out of focus shots.

The phone's low light performance is admirable. This is an area of weakness for most smartphone cameras, but the most recent generation of flagship phones have steadily improved in noise reduction.

The Smarts

The Xperia Z isn't on the latest build of Android yet, it runs on version 4.1.2 Jelly Bean. Sony reps have told me an update to 4.2 is just around the corner, but even this older build doesn't suffer from performance issues.

With its 1.5 GHz quad-core processor and 2 GB of RAM, the Xperia Z is more than capable of running memory intensive apps and games without breaking a sweat. My biggest issue with Android phones in the past has been sudden lagging and unexplained force closures of apps. I haven't come across this flaw on the Xperia Z, although I'm unsure if that's because of Sony's hardware or Google's refinement of Android.

Sony has placed a custom-built user interface layer on top of the stock Android operating system. For the most part it's unintrusive, but getting the camera to start from the custom lock screen is a constant pain.

Battery

With its giant display and beastly processor, I thought it would be a sure bet the Xperia Z's battery life would be poor. Boy was I wrong. With moderate to heavy 3G data use, apps, games, email syncing and a small number of videos – a full charge easily lasts the work day. With the battery saving mode switched on, which shuts off 3G when the screen is locked, I could go more than a day without charging.

Unfortunately I've only used the phone for five days instead of my usual week long review period, so it's possible this performance doesn't last. Zara Baxter over at PC World has told me her Xperia Z's battery life was average at best, but she had similar improvements with the battery saving mode activated.

Verdict

Would I buy this phone? Yes. I haven't used an Android phone as my primary device since the original Samsung Galaxy, but my experience with the Xperia Z pretty much guarantees it's going to be my next phone. 

The Xperia Z is a phone I don't have to coddle, a phone with Android's inherent customisability, and a phone that just looks damn sexy. It gets all my thumbs up.

The lowest price I've seen for the Xperia Z is around $1000 (Update: Both Telecom and Vodafone's phone onlyprice is $999), which makes it competitive against the iPhone 5 and the likely opening price for the Samsung Galaxy S IV.