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Sony Xperia Z Review

on March 19, 2013 – 9:45 amNo Comment

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A few weeks back, Sony announced its 2013 flagship device i.e. the Xperia Z. Quite possibly the best designed Sony handset ever, it combines impeccable craftsmanship with performance worthy of a class leading device. Sony has also attempted to build on its heritage of mobile, gaming and imaging by building components of each of those pillars into its device. It is a new design language which makes erstwhile gorgeous Sony handsets appear rather pedestrian. However in the weeks that have followed, both HTC and Samsung have revealed their plans for the year ahead which has allowed us to add a bit of perspective to our review. Keep reading on to find out if the Z has what it takes to take on these titans head on.

Unboxing

Here’s a quick unboxing video to show you the contents of the retail package of the Xperia Z.

 Video Review

Hardware

The Xperia Z is one of those devices that you need to see in real life to really appreciate. The handset feels solid with vary a creak while the mirrored sides of the phone give it an appearance that could well be described akin to polished marble. The front of the smartphone proudly features a 5inch 1080p display panel which makes use of Sony’s Bravia Mobile Engine 2. We’ll talk in depth about the display further down the line.

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The right side of the handset features a circular power button with a volume rocker below it. Above it is the recessed SIM card slot. Similarly on the top left you will find the microSD card slot and a micro USB port hidden behind flaps that can be rather hard to open but this is not surprising given the IPX5/7 rating of the smartphone.

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The headphone jack is hidden behind a similar flap at the top of the phone while the left side has a covered slot for the microSD card. Contact points for using with docks are located on the left as well. A rather curious addition which is not too common in today’s unibody devices is the lanyard pinhole at the bottom of the phone.

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Over all we were quite impressed by the design of the handset though the materials used end up being a major fingerprint magnet. Over the course of a few days of usage we also noticed scratched appearing on the shell. The handset seems to attract a lot of lint as well but we believe Sony’s claims of the handset being dust resistant as we did not spot any dust getting through inside the display. This will of course require extended testing and we’ll be sure to update this space with any further information.

Software

The Xperia Z runs a very clean UI layer on top of Android 4.2.1 with a focus on minimalism that frankly speaking, we prefer to the cartoony mess that is TouchWiz.

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It would be quite fair to say that Sony has one of the best preloaded application suites out there. A Walkman app that ties into the Music Unlimited service merges aesthetics with above average capabilities. The application supports DLNA streaming and the usual graphic equalizers.

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The “Movies” app in particular is very impressive as not only does it tie in with Sony’s service and also DLNA sharing but also has a very nifty recognition feature. The application tries to recognize a movie and offers cover art,  basic movie info. In case automatic recognition fails, users can search and select the correct details.

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The gallery is also a stunner and offers an iterative update over the previous version. A very attractive globe view populates a map with your photographs on the basis of GPS data in the EXIF info. The application integrates with Facebook, Picasa and Sony’s own PlayMemories service.

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Additional software features include a social aggregator that not many will use and a link for Playstation Mobile. The latter is just another way to get most of the same games that are available on the Play Store. That said, you might want to check back from time to time as Sony offers free games once in a while via the Playstation Mobile channel.

Performance

The Xperia Z is powered by a Snapdragon S4 processor which has four 1.5Ghz Krait cores, Adreno 320 GPU and 2GB of RAM. What this means is that it has more than enough power to get you through pretty much any task you throw at the phone. The specifications are also identical to the HTC Butterfly that we reviewed earlier. Any performance difference between the two devices here will essentially be down to optimization and the UI layer on top.

In AnTuTu, the Xperia Z has a minor lead over the Butterfly. The benchmark is an all rounder and tests CPU, GPU performance as well as memory speed.

In Linpack too the Xperia Z leads but by a very small margin. Linpack can be used to test single threaded and multi threaded processor performance. Over all the Xperia Z is one of the fastest devices out there at the moment but only till the time the HTC One based on the Snapdragon 600 processor, the octa core Exynos chip running Galaxy S4 are widely available. Check out the entire set of Xperia Z Benchmarks.

Display

The Xperia is part of the new breed of handsets to have a Full HD screen. The amazing pixel density makes everything look just that much better and the fairly small bezel makes the 5″ panel feel just about the perfect size.

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The display itself is significantly better than the previous generation displays seen on Sony devices. That said, it is not even close to the Super LCD 3 panel on the HTC One or for that matter the one seen on even the One X. Viewing angles are limited and contrast levels are quite unimpressive. Sony’s Mobile Bravia Engine 2 technology boosts the contrast and brightness levels in photos and movie mode but outside that you’ll still end up being disappointed by the screen.

Camera

Sony has increased the resolution on the Xperia Z to 13MP and is using its Exmor RS stacked image sensor technology on the phone. The tech allows for a larger light sensitive layer which should theoretically result in better photos both in bright and low light. On the other hand, the phone does not have the relatively esoteric OIS system or super sized pixels as seen on the Nokia Lumia 920 and HTC One. How much of an effect does this have in real life ? Read on to find out.

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The phone shoots stills at 13MP resolution in 4:3 mode but switches to 9MP 16:9 photos. Sony has an interesting new Superior Auto mode baked into the camera app that switches scene modes based on the type of conditions. In our experience it worked quite well. Images are generally good though you notice a fair amount of noise at 1:1 levels.

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Photographs in bright lighting conditions look great if only a bit extra vibrant due to the enthusiastic color processing. There is a bit of noise in the shadow regions showing the limited dynamic range of the camera.

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Macro capabilities are also a bit of a hit or miss. The phone struggle to get a focus lock on macro objects however once it does, images tend to look quite good. The shot above was the only one in a series of five shots that ended up being in focus. This is more of a software issue than a hardware problem and one that we hope Sony will fix in a subsequent software update.

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The usual range of modes like panorama and burst mode are also included in the camera software package. We found the stitching in panorama mode to be pretty much perfect and always ended up with a usable shot.

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Low light shots are predictably not so good with a significant amount of noise. The camera lacks optical stabilization as seen on the HTC One and Lumia 920, which makes it not very competitive in low light situations and especially for videos.

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Battery Life

The Xperia Z is equipped with a 2330 mAh non removable battery. The fairly frugal sensor and good optimization by Sony means that it is very much possible to get a full day of use on a single charge.

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Sony has bundled in a few battery management options as well that promise to increase longevity on a single charge. Standby performance is particularly impressive on the phone with it barely sipping power while syncing data in the background.

Miscellaneous

Possibly the first global flagship device to be certified as water resistant and dust proof, the Xperia Z can be used in all weather conditions.

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We tested out Sony’s claim regarding the phone’s water resistance and found it to be accurate. Amongst other features, the phone also supports Miracast based mirroring but we couldn’t test this one out because of a lack of a miracast adaptor.

Conclusion

The Xperia Z is a very good device but is let down by its disappointing display and a not so great camera. The build quality while attractive is susceptible to scratches and is most definitely a fingerprint magnet.

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While it does have speedy performance, the upcoming competition will have processors a generation ahead and should theoretically perform even better. Priced at Rs.38,000 the phone is a good choice for anyone looking for a high end, attractive, weather proof Android phone. If the best camera, display for multimedia creation and consumption are what you crave then you’ll be better served by the upcoming HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S4.

Pros

  • Good build quality
  • Waterproof / Dustproof
  • Decent battery life

Cons

  • Display
  • Not so good camera

 

Photo Credits : Sandeep Sarma

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Dhruv Bhutani is a technology enthusiast who is always in sync with the latest and greatest in tech. He is currently using a Nokia Lumia 1020, HTC Butterfly S and whatever device he is reviewing at the moment. Suomirock ftw! . Catch him on Twitter @DhruvBhutani , you can also reach out on Facebook or .