Sony’s Xperia range is getting even bigger with the launch of the Xperia Z, a 5-inch flagship with an incredible display and a form factor that nearly breaches phablet territory. Sony has taken technology used elsewhere in its other products and built it into this high-end handset, with the results promising to be incredible.
- 1.5GHz quad-core processor
- 5-inch display
- 16GB internal storage
- 13.1 megapixel camera
- 1080p video recording
- 7.9mm thick
- 146g weight
- Android Jelly Bean
- 2330mAh battery
- Water and dust resistant
Design and Build
Sony’s design team has done an impressive job of trimming away any excess space around the display and, for a handset with a 5-inch screen, the Xperia Z feels comparatively small. However, we did have some trouble with one handed use and a smartphone this big really needs to be used with two hands to avoid discomfort.
Sony has made an excellent concession for those people who want to use the device with one hand however, positioning the unlock button on the right hand side of the device (putting it on top would have made it difficult to reach).
The curves and arcs seen on some older Xperia models are gone and have been replaced with a minimalist form factor covered with a layer of Dragontrail scratch-resistant glass. While no doubt protecting the device well, we did find that this coating was prone to collecting finger grease and bits of dirt, taking some of the sheen off an otherwise sleek chassis.
An unusual quirk of the Xperia Z’s bodywork is that it is water resistant to a depth of one metre thanks to all of its ports being covered with plastic flaps. This gives the device an extra level of protection during everyday use should it get splashed or accidentally dropped into water, and also opens up wild possibilities such as underwater filming.
While the capacitive touchscreen will not work when immersed, the camera can be set to capture before dunking and it will continue to function, leading to some interesting results with strange distortions to footage caused by the water.
The Xperia Z’s highlight is undoubtedly its display, which uses Sony’s BRAVIA Engine 2 to excellent effect and creates incredible visuals that are unmatched by anything else on the market. With a resolution of 1920×1080 and an incredible ppi of 443, the visual prowess of the Xperia Z is almost breathtaking, with depth to images and a level of clarity previously unseen on mobile devices.
However, it is with video that the display really comes into its own. HD playback results in the footage almost leaping out of the screen and creating a near 3D effect. Colours are bold without being overpowering and the display is never tiring on the eyes, even on full brightness. Sony has created the best smartphone display on the market and is pushing the boundaries of visual reproduction technology. Hopefully others will follow its lead.
Under the Hood
Powered by a quad-core, 1.5 GHz processor, the Xperia Z has the internal specs to match other high-enders and the performance it offers is smooth and fluid. The device’s 16GB of internal storage may leave a little to be desired but even with an absence of higher capacity variants there is still plenty of room for storing media and apps.
Having a display as big and bright as its 5-inch offering means that the Xperia Z is unlikely to offer outstanding battery life due to the drain it puts on the handset’s reserves. Even with a 2330mAh power cell the device struggles a little and we noticed that after being on for only a few hours, taking around thirty photos and uploading a couple, followed by some web browsing and music playback, the power was down to just over 50%.
Users of the Xperia Z may just have to sacrifice battery life for that fantastic display and you’ll need to ease off on using it to get a full day out of one charge. However, one look at that display and maybe it’s all worthwhile.
Operating System and User Interface
Jelly Bean is the OS of choice, as can be expected of a high-end Android nowadays. Sony hasn’t gone overboard with the UI adaptations and has undertaken a simple reskinning that will look familiar to users of older Xperias, with only a couple of additions, both of which prove very impressive.
The device’s keypad is nicely spaced out, making good use of the large display, and the Android predictive text system works brilliantly to make typing messages easier. Also, a simple adaptation to the user interface sees the wallpaper displayed behind the app menu, much like on Samsung’s recent Android devices. This is an entirely cosmetic touch but it makes for a better looking UI.
With Clear Audio+, Sony has created what could be a competitor to the Beats Audio technology now commonplace in HTC devices. The Xperia Z’s audio capabilities are impressive on their own, with the device offering clear sound, good low-end frequencies and a variety of customisation options such as preset profiles and a versatile equaliser.
However, Clear Audio+ gives a real, discernible boost to audio quality, ramping everything up without pushing it too much so that things distort. The effect is similar to that created by Beats Audio and hopefully we’ll see (or hear) more of this in the future.
Camera and Video
There are two things to be said about the Xperia Z’s photographic capabilities; the camera is excellent and the display makes pictures look outstanding. Together, they create a very impressive platform for mobile photography.
Sony has used its Exmor RS sensor here, which reduces noise and adds detail to images. This, backed up by a 13 megapixel sensor, means the handset is capable of producing excellent photographs that are clear and detailed with accurate colour representation.
Video, in 1080p at 30fps, is smooth and fluid, matching the quality of photographs produced. Light changes are handled well and overall, the video function is capable of producing high-quality results.
When each of these functions is combined with the outstanding display on the Xperia Z the result is staggering. The almost 3D effect mentioned earlier comes across again, with images and video leaping out from the screen quite a remarkable manner.
Connectivity and Multimedia
A range of connectivity options are available from the Xperia Z, including NFC for contactless payments and data transfer. The device’s USB 2.0 port is MHL compatible, allowing the device to be connected to an HDMI television.
Performance and Verdict
Sony’s high-end creation centres itself around its incredible display and several of the device’s otherwise impressive functions are better because of it. While the camera is excellent it is even more remarkable when coupled with the outstanding screen and viewing video on the device is simply amazing.
The device’s water resistant nature has created headlines for the handset, and not unreasonably, but it is its display which deserves the greatest attention and accolades. For mobile photography there are few handsets that can match the standards set here and as a media powerhouse the Xperia Z really is second to none. Sony has managed to create a large, high-end handset that sets the bar higher in terms of visual performance at the very least, but which also pushes the boundaries in many other ways too.