February 22, 2013

Sony Xperia Z Review

The Xperia Z is Sony's flagship phone for this year, and continues the screen size and resolution arms race with its 5in, 1,920x1,080 display. It also has all the specifications you would expect from a high-end smartphone, including a quad-core 1.5GHz processor and a camera with a huge 13-megapixel sensor.
Sony Xperia Z
The display's Full HD resolution is the same as that of this year's HTC One, but the slightly larger screen size should make text more legible at this resolution. We found we could view web pages in desktop mode and still read all the page's text easily without zooming in. This is a trick that the HTC One also pulls off, but we found the Xperia Z's extra 1/3 inch screen size made reading more comfortable.
Sony Xperia Z browser
Browsing desktop web pages without zooming in is possible on the 5in 1,920x1,080 display
The display is hugely bright, but we did notice some slight light leakage around the edges when looking at large blocks of black. The screen also suffers in comparison to AMOLED screens such as that of the Samsung Galaxy Note 2, which has far deeper blacks. It's still an impressive display, though, and seeing as no smartphone has an AMOLED screen of both this size and resolution it would be churlish to complain.
The display's certainly good enough, and large enough, for watching films and for gaming. We tried it out with the Asphalt 7 racing title, which looked fantastic, and almost like something off the PlayStation 3.
To accommodate such a big display, the handset is understandably huge, and you'll struggle to use it while carrying an umbrella. It's only 3mm wider than the HTC One and has a larger screen, though, so the Xperia Z isn’t excessively large as this generation of smartphones goes. A screen this big also requires a large battery to power it, and Sony has gone for a chunky 2,330mAh model - very similar to the 2,300mAh battery in the HTC One. We haven’t been able to run our battery life benchmark yet, but during 40 minutes of intensive use surfing the internet and playing games, the phone's battery dropped 10%, showing you should be able to play around the phone constantly for six hours on a charge.
Sony has taken a different approach to HTC when it comes to the phone's design. Instead of the HTC One's all-aluminium body, the Xperia Z is all about the glossy plastic. It does look good, but we didn’t find it as comfortable to hold as the HTC One with its rounded edges and cool burnished aluminium.
Sony Xperia Z
You could never say it was ugly, but we think HTC has trumped the Xperia Z with its aluminium One
The Xperia Z does have a party trick, though; it's fully sealed against water and dust ingress, so will survive a rain shower or a drop from a top pocket into the toilet. The flaps covering its various ports are rubber-sealed and feel very sturdy when they clip in and out, so we're not too worried about them breaking off.
The Xperia Z runs Android 4.1, rather than the very latest 4.2 version. However, Sony claims that version 4.2 will be available for the Xperia Z "shortly after launch", so you won’t have to wait long for the new version's lock screen widgets and improved notification bar.
In the meantime, we have absolutely no complaints about the phone's performance. It may have scored a relatively slow 1,890ms in the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark, compared to under 1,000ms for the fastest phones, but its 1.5GHz quad-core processor runs Android smoothly without any jerkiness or hiccups. Sony's customisations to the operating system are tasteful; a large chunk of the homescreen is dedicated to a huge Sony Entertainment Network link/advert, but this is easy to remove if you don’t like the look of it.
Depending on how you like to use Android, you may prefer Sony's light-touch customisations to the rip-it-up-and-start-again of the latest version of HTC Sense, which turns your entire homescreen into a giant news feed from your social networks and various content providers.
Sony Xperia Z homescreen
Apart from the (removable) advert for the Sony Entertainment Network, Sony's Android customisations are fairly unobtrusive
We were impressed with the Xperia Z's keyboard; the screen is large enough that it’s easy to type accurately and quickly. At first, having to switch to the second-screen of buttons to access the full stop and comma keys annoyed us, but it's easy to customise the keyboard layout with the keyboard settings wizard, which gives you the choice of turning on comma and full stop keys, and adding punctuation as a long-press to each key.
Sony Xperia Z keyboard wizard
Sony has made sure you can get the keyboard layout you like
The Xperia Z's 13-megapixel camera uses an Exmor RS sensor, which is designed to be particularly impressive in low light. Compared side-by-side with a Motorola RAZR i's camera, which is a fairly standard smartphone model, under low light the Xperia Z's sensor produced brighter images with far more detail. We haven’t been able to compare our standard outdoor test shots with key competitors such as the HTC One X, but we'll update this review when we've assessed the Xperia Z's camera performance in more depth.
Sony Xperia Z test shot
The Xperia Z produced well-exposed indoor shots with bright colours
Motorola RAZR i test shot
Our own Motorola RAZR i is significantly worse under the same conditions
The Sony Xperia Z has the looks and the high-resolution screen to make it a worthy high-end smartphone. Currently, at least until the Samsung Galaxy S4 is released, its main competition is the similarly huge-screened HTC One. We prefer the HTC One's aluminium body, but if you don’t like the sweeping changes HTC has made to Android with its new Sense interface, you may prefer the more lightly-customised Xperia Z.
We're suckers for metal phones, so the HTC One is our choice for the moment. However, a more in-depth test of both the HTC One and Xperia Z's cameras - so seeing how Sony's 13 megapixels stack up against HTC's four 'Ultrapixels' - may well change our mind.

Details

Part CodeXperia Z
Review Date20 Feb 2013
Price£500
Rating***** stars out of 5

Hardware

Main display size5.0in
Native resolution1,920x1,080
CCD effective megapixels13-megapixel
GPSyes
Internal memory16384MB
Memory card supportmicroSD
Memory card included0MB
Operating frequenciesGSM 850/900/1800/1900, LTE bands 1, 3, 5, 8
Wireless dataHSDPA+, LTE
Size139x71x8mm
Weight146g

Features

Operating systemAndroid 4.1 (JellyBean)
Microsoft Office compatibilityWord, Excel, PowerPoint
FM Radioyes
Accessoriesstereo headset, charger, USB cable
Talk time11 hours
Standby time23 days




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