The Xperia Z looks both great and bizarre at the same time. The exterior is a slim, black (or white or purple) tablet vaguely resembling Space Odyssey markers, with no physical buttons on its 5 inch screen and measuring 139mm x 71mm.
It does help the phone differentiate itself from other black monoliths, but the device is just too big to hold comfortably when making a call.
Calls and Skype conversations can also come across muffled due to a speaker’s apparent location at the bottom right side of the phone – just where you hold it to take a call if you’re right handed.
The power button is an odd protruding circle; odd because the rest of the phone is so sleek and the power button just looks ugly. It has a hard casing (the front and back are tempered glass) which makes it scratch and shatter proof ‘ which our testing also backs up. It stood up to the general wear and tear of life, although it wasn’t immune to a scuff here or there.
The Xperia is a sleek looking phone, despite these niggles. It’s very thin (7.9mm) and light (146g) and, along with its cover colour detail, this helps differentiate it somewhat.
Water, water everywhere
As it is water and dust resistant, each plug has a protective tab you have to remove. These worked fine and slotted into place pretty seamlessly but still felt a bit fragile – could be a problem with wearing out and ripping off for more rugged users.
Dunking the Xperia into a jug of water worked a charm and the phone came out good as new.
Where the phone really looks good, though, is on its screen. Sony have, quite rightly, emphasised the screen quality and describing it as razor sharp. For once, this is not marketing hyperbole ‘ this is a fantastic screen.
The Xperia boasts 1920×1080 pixels resolution, for a whopping great 443 pixels per inch density ‘ far above rivals. Colours pop, fine detail is superfine and in all, viewing things on the Xperia is a joy. On a test run of movies, colours were clear, detail was particularly fine and the phone handled black reasonably well ‘ a problem the Xperia T used to have (see our group test on page 42).
Appy – and Sony wants you to know it
The Xperia comes with a plethora of apps, some of which feel like bloatware. There’s the Google version of an app (for instance Play Music) and then there’s the Sony version (Walkman).
Walkman runs fine and has some neat options, like searching for the artist on Wikipedia or karaoke versions on YouTube. However Play Music is your better option for buying music. Walkman takes you to Sony’s PlayNow store, which is badly organised and appears to lack a lot of music (a new version of the Walkman App is on the way).
Walkman also has the option to ‘Throw’ your music, or wirelessly play content from your Xperia on other devices such as a TV or Xperia Tablet Z, and this works for movies and photos also.
One of the cooler in-built apps was TrackID, which recognises any song or snatch of music after about seven seconds and identifies it for you. The app worked eight out of every ten times, even for some of the more obscure tracks in my library, which is fairly impressive given it uses only the first few seconds of a track (and some songs start slowly).
Another fun app is the Smart Connect functionality, which lets users set timers or cues for given events. For instance, when a user plugs in their headphones, they can select particular playlists of songs to immediately play, or when the phone is plugged to a charger or at a given time, the user can set the phone to automatically turn off certain functions like GPS, data traffic, or play songs (maybe a chill out playlist before bed?)
Another, nerdier function I liked about the Xperia was its scientific calculator, which came with pi and trig functions in-built. Handy for the scientist on the go.
There are a whole bunch of other apps pre-loaded onto the Xperia, some useful and fun (Movie Studio, Talk ‘ which allows voice, video and text chats and can, for instance, sync your Gmail chat to your phone, allowing you to continue convos on the go) and others less so (Sony Select is a poor man’s Play Store, as is PlayNow, and there are endless iterations of navigational apps).
The Xperia Z runs the latest Android, 4.1.2 Jelly Bean. It runs a grunty Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro, quad core Krait at 1.5GHz, with a healthy 2GB RAM. Needless to say, this phone is oozing raw power ‘ what you need done, gets done. It has 16GB onboard storage (expandable to 32GB with a microSD card).
The phone handled any tasks thrown at it, although playing movies saw it heat up slightly around the back. Aside from that, it didn’t have any troubles.
The Xperia Z is also 4G LTE enabled so if you’re running 4G on EE (or the other networks later in the year), you will be able to get high speed data and browsing. Sony have also made a big deal about its NFC capabilities, which will allow you to interact with any other Sony product ‘ such as speaker systems, TVs and the soon-to-launched Xperia Tablet Z. You can throw music with a tap, clone your phone screen on your TV and even use it as a remote (it also has infrared built in).
Impressive battery life too
The battery life on the Xperia Z was also a pleasant surprise. Its hardware had me predicting the phone would chew through battery like an iPhone, but generally it held up fairly well against other smartphones – it’s packing a big 2330 mAh battery.
With GPS turned off and with the factory settings for brightness set to default, an hour of movie watching saw the phone drop from 100% to 89%, and to 75% after two hours.
Twelve hours of moderate usage – including a few Skype calls, some videos, texts, emails and a bit of music drained the phone from 100% to 59%, so it mostly lives up to its claimed talk time on 3G of 14h.
Like most phones, games tax the battery a lot more, burning through 16% in 30 minutes. It could be better, but not a bad result at all given the quad core insides. Its battery management software kicks in after 30% to prolong its life which is also useful.
User interface and set up
Set up with the Xperia is simple when first turning the phone on and it has a handy hint on your phone when plugging it into a computer, to install the PC companion guide. The operative word being PC ‘ my Mac refused to recognise the device, but if you have an Android File Transfer app installed, it’s just a matter of drag and drop.
Initially, I found the Xperia user interface a tad confusing ‘ there are Sony apps littered everywhere and it can be almost overwhelming sifting through them all. Once you get past the initial confusion, Sony’s version of Android is simple to navigate. Like most Android phones, generally everything you need is there on the home screen in handy widgets and windows, and will contain some apps you want (music) and some you don’t (a link to proprietary app libraries, such as Sony Connect). Nothing too unfamiliar here.
The Playstation tie-in
The Xperia Z is Playstation Certified, meaning the device can run games from the PlayStation Store.
Set up involves entering a credit card which could make you hesitate when you remember the PlayStation Network hacks of 2011. In the store proper, the games are fairly expensive with some arcade titles costing up to £2.79, and there doesn’t seem to be much choice within the store. Adventure games had one title, and the most populous section was Action with 15 titles.
However one of the cooler developments is that Sony is remastering old titles for its devices, one of which is Lemmings, now on offer free from the store in 3D.
Game play runs well with the Xperia’s screen and smoothly, with no lag, but burned up a fair bit of battery (see Hardwearing Hardware).
The Xperia Z runs with a 13.1MP rear facing camera including Sony’s image sensor technology, Exmor RS for mobile. This also allows HDR video or 1080p and the results are generally pretty darn good. Photos are clear with good colours and fine detail, and video is much the same. The camera is billed as good in low light, but while detail was clear, low light photos still appeared dim with a bit of noise.
The front facing camera is one of the better that I’ve seen at 2MP with 1080p ‘ Skype calls are slightly grainy but in general look good.
All in all, the Xperia Z feels like a great techy phone to please more hardcore users; there’s some impressive hardware to play around with and it’ll run your intensive apps and games like a breeze.
While some odd choices have been made for its outsides, and the screen is just too big for calls, it’s an otherwise sleek looking device with excellent screen resolution and impressive hardware.
A powerhouse phone with a great screen let down by a few design niggles and some annoying apps, Sony’s new flagship is nonetheless a sleek offering that packs a punch.
+ Flawless performance
+ Great looking screen/res
+ Good battery life
‘ Some weird design choices for exterior
‘ Game selection for PS Store is pricey and limited
‘ Screen is mammoth and looks strange on calls