Review: Sony Xperia Z

Xperia Z is easily the best smartphone Sony has ever produced.

Xperia Z is easily the best smartphone Sony has ever produced.

Design

The Xperia Z is a well designed smartphone. It's comfortable to hold, has good ergonomics and the completely flat surface on the back gives it a distinctive look and feel. However, the edges of the phone can be a little sharp and often dig into your fingers.

The Xperia Z is a large smartphone but the jump in size from a handset like the Samsung Galaxy S III is not an issue. The thickness of 7.9in certainly helps in this regard and Sony's designers do deserve plenty of credit for cramming all those internals into such a slim body.

Sony has used glass on the back of the Xperia Z to create a unique look. We dropped our review unit twice and it escaped with a few scratches that aren't immediately visible unless you're looking closely.

The large, bulging aluminium power key on the right side is perfectly positioned for one-handed use and offers excellent tactility. The low position of the volume rocker just below it is also ideal and makes it easy to adjust volume using one hand. A left-sided microSD port allows you to expand the Xperia Z's 16GB of internal memory.

The Xperia Z's loudspeaker is poor. It's a single speaker design that's located on the right side, towards the bottom of the phone. We found it lacking in both volume and quality for voice calls and media playback, which is disappointing.

The earpiece speaker during phone calls fares better though you really need to position the phone precisely when you hold it up to your ear to avoid a lack of punch in volume.

Water resistant & Display

The Sony Xperia Z is dust and water resistant, rated at IP55 and IP57 standards. All ports on the phone are covered with plastic flaps which effectively keep water out. Flaps are usually annoying, but this is definitely something we can live with as Sony promises the Xperia Z can be submerged in water for up to 30 minutes without any issues.

The water and dust resistant feature work as advertised, though we wish you could capture photos underwater. The video recorder works when the phone is wet but you need to press the on-screen button to start recording before the phone is underwater. The screen won't recognise any finger taps when fully submerged.

The Sony Xperia Z has a 5in screen with a full HD resolution of 1920x1080. The screen is exceptionally bright and clear and displays very crisp text when looking directly front on, but its viewing angles are lacklustre compared to many rival models.

Software & performance

Sony has made minimal changes to the stock version of Android but most of the changes it has made actually add to the overall user experience. The Xperia Z runs the 4.1 Jelly Bean version of Android but Sony says an update to the latest 4.2 version will be available shortly after launch.

Among the changes include four toggles in the notifications drop down for sound profile, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and data, though you annoyingly can't edit these. The applications drawer can be sorted by multiple parameters including most used and recently installed, and there's also a revamped multitasking menu that includes "small apps".

These pop-up apps can sit on top of other apps allowing you to, for example, browse the Web or type a message with the calculator sitting on screen. Third-party developers can create further small apps and there was a reasonable list in the Google Play Store at the time of review.

We like the minimalist lock screen which includes an attractive, shutter unlock animation and allows users to quickly swipe into the camera and Walkman music app. Sony hasn't clogged the Xperia Z with bloatware apps you'll never use, either. We quickly disabled the default calendar app (replaced with Google Calendar), the Social Life media aggregator and the useless Sony Select app, but other inclusions are quite useful.

The album app, Sony's take on the Gallery, is fast, smooth and provides better sorting and scrolling options than other Android phones. We also like the Walkman music app, which offers an equaliser, a visualiser and has an intuitive interface.

One thing we wish Sony didn't change was the on-screen keyboard. It's functional and also has handy, Swype-like functionality that allows you to draw over letters in a single motion to type words. However, its word prediction isn't as accurate as Google's stock keyboard or the excellent Swiftkey third-party keyboard, its gesture input system isn't as efficient or effective as Swype and the default mode lacks full stop and comma keys on the main layout.

The Sony Xperia Z is a very smooth and fast smartphone. The 2GB of RAM keeps things ticking over nicely and the phone doesn't exhibit any notable lag or slowdown during basic tasks, with one exception. The camera app is notoriously slow to open, often taking about two seconds to open from the lock screen and about three seconds to open from the app drawer or home screen. Once you're inside the camera app there's no lag.

Camera & battery life

The Sony Xperia Z has a 13-megapixel camera with single-LED flash and there's also a 2.2-megapixel front-facing camera for video calls. The rear camera takes good quality images with notable detail levels and reasonable, but sometimes oversaturated colours. Contrast is excellent and detail is notable for a camera phone, but still photos aren't significantly better than many other flagship devices on the market.

Sony also says the Xperia Z is the world's first smartphone image sensor that can record HDR (High Dynamic Range) video. It's actually the second, as the Oppo Find 5 also boasts this feature, but it's a welcome inclusion nonetheless.

Detail in recorded videos is excellent, though we found it hard to keep a steady hand when recording. The camera app itself is fast and functional and has plenty of settings to tinker with including smile detection and a sweep panorama mode.

The Sony Xperia Z is a 4G-capable smartphone that works on both Telstra and Optus' LTE networks. It's also available through Vodafone and will support the Vodafone 4G network when it launches later this year.

The Sony Xperia Z has a 2330mAh battery that performs reasonably well. It pushed us through a full day of use on most occasions and we experienced almost 19 hours of battery life on multiple days. Your figures will obviously vary depend on use but most average users should be satisfied with the Xperia Z's battery performance.

The addition of a "Battery Stamina mode" certainly helps. This feature prevents applications from running when the screen is locked, therefore saving battery and improving standby time. You can individually select apps to bypass the feature if you wish. The screen still drains the battery fast when it's in use but the Xperia Z is very power efficient in standby mode.

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Ross Catanzariti

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