The Sony Xperia Z is the latest entry in the Japanese company’s burgeoning range of Android smart phones and comes with the kind of specifications that dedicated mobile geeks stay up all night dreaming of. There’s a 1.5GHz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, a 13.1-megapixel camera, 4G cellular connectivity and 16GB of built-in storage, which can be augmented using microSD cards.
All of that lovely cutting-edge tech is protected by case design which will survive a dip in water of a depth of up to 1 metre for thirty minutes. And it's dustproof as well.
The Sony Xperia Z is available on a monthly contract with prices starting at around £26. If you’d rather pick one up SIM-free then you’re looking at handing over a good £450.
If you’re keen to take advantage of the phone’s 4G power, bear in mind that the only network provider in the UK to support the service currently is EE, and it’s yet not known if it’ll be offering the Xperia Z on a monthly contract.
Should I buy the Sony Xperia Z?
The Xperia Z is the first big Android phone launch of 2013, and marks Sony’s entry into the rapidly-expanding quad-core battlefield. It’s also something of a monster, thanks to its gigantic 5-inch 1080p “Reality” display. If you balked at the size of the HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S3, then the dimensions of this blower are likely to cause your hands considerable pain.
Assuming you don’t have the little paws of bear cub, there’s an awful lot to like here. The 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon CPU is blisteringly fast, and features such as HDMI-out and NFC support ensure that the Xperia Z is at the cutting-edge of mobile technology. The lack of Android 4.2 is somewhat disappointing, but Sony is keen to stress that the phone will be upgraded this latest version shortly after release, so it’s not as big an issue as you might imagine.
With the Samsung Galaxy S4 on the horizon, Sony is making a very bold move by launching this phone now, but unless the S4 is capable of making your morning coffee and taking the dog for a walk then I doubt the Xperia Z is going to be totally outclassed. If you’re in the market for a new phone right now and are comfortable with a screen size that's almost tablet-like in its proportions, then this is a recommended purchase -- although it’s worth considering the Nexus 4, which is available SIM-free for around £200 less.
Design and display
The Xperia Z marks a drastic departure for Sony’s designers -- gone are the curved edges and rounded corners which defined the likes of the Xperia T and Xperia Arc S. Instead, we’ve been gifted a slab of tech which looks eerily like the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey (if you’ve got the black version, at least).
It’s a massive stylistic change for Sony, but one I can fully get behind. The Xperia Z looks imposing and beautiful at the same time, and is sure to get the pulses racing of gadget fiends and casual users alike.
In a move which imitates the iPhone 4S and Nexus 4, the Xperia Z is clad in shatterproof glass front and back, giving it a glossy appearance which makes it look seriously snazzy -- but it also means it attracts fingerprints like nobody’s business. At just 7.9mm in thickness, it’s also extremely svelte. Weighing in at 146g, it’s not the lightest phone on the market, but it’s unlikely to strain your trouser pocket either. Around the edges of the phone you’ll discover additional strips of glossy plastic, which further enhance this handsome aesthetic.
You’ll also find yourself inspecting each corner for ports and openings -- which are all covered by flaps in order to facilitate the Xperia Z’s ability to withstand dust and water ingress. The phone will happily take a swim at depths up to 1m, for thirty minutes at a time, which essentially means if you drop it down the loo but retrieve it swiftly, there will be no harm done -- aside from the indignity of having to shove your hand down a filthy toilet, of course.
The Xperia Z’s 5-inch 1,920x1,080-pixel 'Reality Display' pops with colour and vibrancy, and packs a pixel density of 443ppi -- leaving the iPhone 5's 326ppi panel eating dust. If rumours are to be believed, it should also be impressive enough to go toe-to-toe with the Galaxy S4’s display.
This 1080p screen has the kind of clarity you’d normally expect from your television. It’s impossible to discern individual pixels, and high-res images look stunning. Sadly though, some of the app icons on Android haven’t been designed with that kind of resolution in mind, and end up looking a bit blurry and ill-defined. This complaint can hardly be levelled at Sony though. Apart from a very slight issue with viewing angles, the Xperia Z’s screen is a winner.
Processing power and software
It’s taken Sony a while to get there, but the company has finally joined the quad-core club with this flagship phone. Inside that skinny case beats a 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro chip, backed by a roomy 2GB of RAM. This makes it one of the fastest Android phones around, and the usual gamut of benchmark tests reveal some truly fearsome power. Antutu Benchmark gives the phone a score of 20,031, pulverising the Samsung Galaxy S3’s 12,467, while Quadrant Standard awards the phone a 7,995, which trumps the HTC One X’s rating of 4,904.
In GLBenchmark 2.5.1’s Egypt HD on-screen test, the Xperia Z clocks a score of 3,399 at 30 frames per second, and Vellamo -- which tests web performance -- rates the phone at 2,185, beating both the Galaxy S3 (1,580) and the HTC One X (1,625).
Finally, there’s the Epic Citadel benchmark, in which the Xperia Z earns a rating of 56.6 frames per second on the high performance test and 55.7 on the high quality test. This is one seriously powerful blower, and no mistake.
All of this raw power means that Sony’s quad-core beast makes short work of most Android applications and games, but surprisingly there are still brief moments of slowdown and stutter. If I was reviewing this phone six months ago then I’d be willing to put this down to Android’s traditional performance issues, but since the Nexus 4 arrived and proved that Google’s OS can run as smooth as silk, I’m less inclined to let it slide. Hopefully a software update can rectify the occasional pauses.
The phone comes with Android 4.1 on board, although Sony is adamant that a 4.2 update will be pushed out soon after launch. Sony’s own skin sits on top of Google’s OS, and offers a series of exclusive embellishments. The lock screen is particularly fetching. It imitates the look of a set of window blinds, and moving your finger over the surface of the screen causes the blinds to ripple and bend. You can also access your music player and camera from the lock screen, although the camera app doesn’t fire up anywhere near as quickly as the one on the Nexus 4.
Sony has toned down its custom widgets on this phone, and the pointless Timescape social aggregator has thankfully been removed entirely. The Small Apps system which premiered with the Xperia T has been retained, and allows you to launch things like voice recorders and calculators from the Android multi-tasking menu. More of these apps can be installed from the Google Play market, and although the number available is still quite limited, they’re moving in the right direction.
NFC and connectivity
NFC has been part of Android since the Nexus S launched in 2010, but aside from Android Beam and the ability to automate elements of your phone’s functionality with special NFC tags, few hardware manufacturers have been able to fully exploit its power. Thankfully, it would appear that Sony is taking the tech very seriously indeed with the Xperia Z.
NFC allows the device to communicate with other Sony products, such as the latest range of Bravia televisions. Just by touching the phone to the TV, you can mirror the screen to show off your monstrous 13.1-megapixel snaps.
This kind of connectivity feels like the future, and it’s encouraging to see Sony adopting such a forward-thinking approach. Of course, you’ll have to invest in an expensive telly to take advantage of it, but knowing such a feat is possible could influence your purchasing choice next time you’re in the audiovisual section of your local electronics retailer -- a fact which Sony really should be exploiting with more enthusiasm.
The Xperia Z comes with support for 4G connectivity, which means its ready for the future of mobile. Sadly, only one network in the UK is offering this speedy service, so unless you’re already using EE and don’t mind buying the phone SIM-free, you’re not going to be able to take advantage of those blistering data transfer speeds just yet. This of course could change as 2013 rolls onwards -- expect to see other providers offering 4G in the not-too-distant future.
Camera and video recording
Sony’s no stranger to putting silly megapixel counts on its mobile phone cameras and the Xperia Z is no exception -- it offers an incredible 13.1 megapixels of imaging goodness. All the pixels in the world don’t mean a jot if the actual camera is a duffer, but mercifully that isn’t the case here. Sony’s latest phone produces some wonderful images, providing lush shots regardless of lighting conditions.
The usual selection of options are present and correct, including image stabilisation and HDR. You can also use 'Superior Auto' and allow the phone itself to select the correct scene for the snap you’re taking. HDR is also available during video recording, which results in some gorgeous footage -- although like HDR stills, you should be prepared for some almost unreal, otherworldly results.
Battery life and storage
With a bright 5-inch screen and quad-core CPU it’s understandable that the Xperia Z is quite a hog when it comes to battery life. If you’re using the phone a lot and the screen is on a high brightness level, you’ll only get around four to five hours.
Sony is clearly aware of this and has introduced Stamina Mode, which completely disables all mobile data activity when your screen powers down. When engaged at night, Stamina Mode is aggressive enough to ensure that battery consumption is as meagre as possible -- during our test, we noticed that the battery level hardly dropped at all during the wee hours.
Of course, losing all connection to the outside world isn’t going to make the Xperia Z particularly useful in the daytime, which is why Sony has also factored in customisation options. You can add exceptions to Stamina Mode to allow certain apps to maintain a mobile data connection when it is engaged. While it’s true that the same level of power management can be achieved with apps such as Tasker and Locale, it’s encouraging to see Sony take such a proactive approach.
Sony’s previous Xperia devices have always been a little lacking in some way, but with the Xperia Z, it feels like it's finally found its stride. Aside from the lack of Android 4.2 -- which won’t be an issue for very long, according to Sony -- this blower is packed full of good stuff.
The quad-core processor is a monster, the 1080p screen is pin-sharp and the waterproof design will help the phone find favour with butter-fingered mobile users who are prone to accidentally dropping their expensive devices into random pools of liquid.
With the Xperia Z, Sony has fired the first shot in the smart phone war of 2013, and while we’re sure that Samsung’s reply -- which should come in the shape of the hugely-anticipated Galaxy S4 -- will be equally impressive, this is one of the best Android devices money can buy right now.