In all the hype and site chatter about the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 it’s easy to forget there is another flagship Android handset doing the rounds right now, the Sony Xperia Z was released prior to the two current media favourites and thanks to Vodaphone UK we have put one through it”s paces to see how it stacks up.
The Xperia Z is a big slab of a handset (that’s not to say it is ugly, it’s not) with glass covering the whole of the front and the back separated by an edge of plastic. The side edges are smooth and clean only broken up by the power button halfway up the right hand side, a thin straight volume rocker below the power button, a gap for looping a wrist strap on the bottom right sided corner and two dock connectors three quarters of the way up the left hand side. There are also slots for an external SD card, the USB port, a headphone socket and the SIM card but these are all fully covered by tight fitting sealed covers.
[toggle title=”Price & Where To Buy” state=”open” ]Available from Vodaphone from £33pm over 24 months.[/toggle]
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With no surprises and no omissions, the box contents are standard faire.
- Sitting proud at the top is the handsome Xperia Z
- Sony headphones
- USB cable and charging plug
- User manual, quick start guide and warranty card
- The box itself is slim and colour printed but doesn’t portray an obvious look of premium quality.
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[toggle title=”Device Layout” state=”close” ]
The Xperia Z comes in white or black and is presented as a large flat slab. With a front and back panel of glass and plastic edging everything is very minimal and simple looking with only the round silver power button, dock contacts and case markings breaking up the mono styling. The device uses on screen buttons for OS navigation meaning very little of the front face is redundant space outside of the screen edges other than two small thin speaker grills. The only other buttons are the volume rockers which sit on the right hand edge by way of a narrow black plastic strip which fit in well with the rest of the phone’s design. All ports and slots are concealed by tight fitting rubber sealed covers to give the handset it’s protection against water and dust.
Functionally the design works very well. With it’s large 5 inch screen it would have been easy to lose the ability to operate the device in one hand, but the physical button placement means that everything is easily within reach.
It is right about now that the Xperia Z sneakily pulls an ace from it’s sleeve and lays a royal flush down on the table. All those rubber sealed port covers are there for a reason, the Z is both waterproof and dust proof, not in a big bulky ugly way though. For most folk this will just be a nice extra little peace of mind, but for others I can see this being sought after.
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- Android 4.1
Not quite rocking the most up to date version of Android, the Z sits one release behind on Jelly Bean 4.1.1, however Sony have promised that a 4.2.2 update is being worked on.
The default Sony launcher is very much in keeping with stock Android with the most noticeable difference being the app drawer, this still has that very distinctive Sony look carried through from older Xperia models.
The phone comes with a large selection of pre-installed apps, but I was disappointed to discover that many of these are for pay services such as music, movies etc. The Sony apps that are included are of a good quality though, with the Album app being a great example. The biggest problem with the software is that there are no killer features, nothing to set it above the competition.
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The Xperia Z main camera weighs in with a hefty 13.1 megapixel sensor which is ideal for capturing all the fine detail you will be looking for. There is a selection of images taken with the Z below and you can see the full detail of each by clicking on them. In almost all cases the Z produced good quality shots with only the image in the bar which has two different light levels really being a disappointment.
My biggest issue was with the default camera app, when you compare it to the latest Samsung and HTC efforts it is very lacking. To begin with the app itself takes far too long to load, it may only be a one to two seconds but with the power of the device and the maturity of the OS I really expect a camera app to be a near instant load. You then get little annoyances when taking pictures, for example the app allows for taking a group of images via a burst mode, a feature which will be used far more often with Google’s work on Auto-Awesome for Google plus, but you have to switch it on from settings each time you want to use it. Why not just use a long press on the shutter button that others have? Then there are the advanced extra features. Samsung and HTC have both made attempts via their software to make taking pictures more fun and easier for those who use their smartphone as their main camera. Some of these features are seen as gimmicks, but others really enhance the capabilities. HTC has Zoe and gallery highlights for showcasing your image groups, Sammy has Drama and Animated Photo, Sony offers nothing. Well that’s not strictly true, I was offered and installed a third party slide show type app which produced terrible results for me.
The camera app is also slow to start, taking from one to two seconds to be functional. I found this little thing to be a big annoyance, the Z is not lacking in power so there is really no excuse for the delay in the app loading.
The above are all software issues though, so hopefully Sony will recognise and address them.
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At 5 inches and 1080p Sony would have really needed to mess up badly for the display not to be impressive. I am glad to say that they didn’t and the screen is great. Although it is not brimming with full on bright vibrant colours i found it coped very well both inside and out in clear sunny weather (yeah we do get sunshine up here every now and then), although I was a little less impressed when using the phone lying down using a sharper viewing angle than you would in the hand.
I found the digitiser to quite visible in normal use, reminding me of older handsets like the HTC One. It is a ‘flaw’ that you become used to and stop noticing after a while, but those with a high OCD level may find it constantly catches their eye.
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As the Z packs the hefty Snapdragon S4 I never came across a single app or function that found it struggling to keep up. Every task was swept through effortlessly and without fuss. There is no doubt that in the future larger more intensive apps will be coming, especially when you consider how much more we ask our phones to do above what were always considered the functions of a smart device. When this happens the Xperia Z should be capable of keeping up with the Jones’s.
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As the Z was kindly loaned to me for this review, rooting the device and testing the quality of the custom ROM’s available was a strict no, no.
I have had a little root around though and unlocking the bootloader and rooting the phone is a pretty simple task only requiring adb, fastboot, a rooted kernel and a bootloader unlock code from Sony available via their site.
A quick check on XDA shows that there are threads for both of the main recovery options, Clockwork mod and Team Win. there are also ROM’s for Cyanogen Mod, Paranoid Android, Android Open Kang Project and a whole host of modded stock ROM’s to try.
While they don’t officially offer an AOSP ROM option Sony do try and help the community by having a team of two software engineers working on AOSP compatibility (more details of which can be found on the Sony blog).
A rumour has also surfaced over the last day or two that Google may also be making a Google Experience edition of the Z bringing into line with it’s main competitors.
[toggle title=”Good Points” state=”open” ]
- Simple elegant design
- Great screen
- Fantastic battery life
- Quick charging
[toggle title=”Bad Points” state=”open” ]
- Highly visible digitiser
- Stock ROM overloaded with pay service links
- Camera not as feature rich as competitors
- Camera slow to start
During my two weeks with the Xperia Z I used it as my main phone for as many functions as I could and didn’t come across a single area where I felt let down in use. I did however manage to scratch both the front and the glass back even though I was careful with how I looked after it. The software on the Z is functional without being fantastic, and in many ways that is also mirrored by the hardware although the hardware does punch a little stronger.
Depending on your circumstances the waterproof casing is either a real boon or an additional safety feature. Plus the look on peoples faces when you stick it under a tap to clean it is priceless.
The Z is without doubt a worthwhile consideration for anyone looking for a high end handset, I know I would not be disappointed if it was my own daily driver.