Remember when Sony could do no wrong? Back in the days of awesome CRT TVs, Discmans, Walkmans, miniDisc players and killer sound systems? The shine has been off Sony's apple over the last few years, but ever since last year's IFA tech fair in Germany, we've been seeing hints of the Sony sparkle here and there. With the release of the Sony Xperia Z, however, it's confirmed: the magic is back at Sony, and this is the best handset it has ever made.
What Is It?
The Xperia Z is Sony's flagship Android handset that it debuted at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
It's packing a 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage with a microSD expansion slot, a 13-megapixel camera complete with Exmor RS image sensor for better low-light performance and 1080p HDR video recording, all wrapped up in a waterproof, dustproof body.
The screen is a 5-inch 1920x1080 (1080p) affair with a shocking 441 pixels per inch. The screen also has the wet-finger tracking that debuted on the Sony Xperia go so you could feasibly use it underwater, while it's wet or even when taking a shower.
The Xperia Z is serious kit.
Everything. The Xperia Z is my new favourite Android device and it's going to take a goddamn miracle to knock it off.
The Xperia Z's guts are packaged inside a sleek case without a beginning or an end. the only interruptions to the beautiful finish on the device are two logos reading "Sony" on the front and "Xperia" on the back and the front- and rear-facing cameras. It's beautiful. We've been testing one in purple, but it also comes in gorgeous white and sleek black.
The screen on this thing is absolutely incredible. A 1080p screen with 441 pixels per inch shines out with beautifully crisp colour thanks to the Mobile Bravia Engine. It's the best screen we've seen on a smartphone yet, and going back to something like the iPhone 5 or the Lumia 920 makes my eyes sad.
The 13-megapixel camera performs admirably in low-lighting conditions...
Click to enlarge...
Sony Xperia Z — Low Light At Bondi Beach
iPhone 5 — Low Light At Bondi Beach
...and in full-lighting conditions, the 13-megapixel camera is a beast. Look at these test images!
The camera also impressively captures 1080p HDR video now, too.
The addition of waterproof and dustproof technology seems like such a no-brainer in the high-end smartphone space these days, so Sony just went ahead and did it to the Xperia Z like it did the Xperia go. Except the difference is that the Xperia go is rubbish and the Z is the opposite.
The Xperia Z slays its competition on the test bench, reporting a GeekBench 2 score of 2119. To put that in perspective, it's ahead of the world-eclipsing Nexus 4, the power-packing Samsung Galaxy Note II and it's only a few hundred points behind the fastest tablet in the world: the Nexus 10. Holy crap. If you needed a phone to restart a planet, the Xperia Z is the way to go.
It's also quite reasonably priced for what you get, too, clocking in at roughly $700 outright or on $60-$80 plans — if early indications are to be believed.
Sony has also done its best to squeeze as much life out of the 2330mAh batter it possibly can by adding Stamina Mode. Sony says it can boost the battery stand-by time to four days just by telling the software to turn off data connections, Bluetooth, push notifications and other battery-hungry tasks as soon as the user locks the phone. You can turn these back on if you want, but Sony lets you configure which apps can bypass Stamina Mode so you can see exactly what is using your battery power. Sony is right, we did get about 3.5 to 4 days out of our Xperia Z on stand-by mode, but it still doesn't solve the battery being devoured by 4G data, a crazy screen and powerful processor as soon as you turn it on. Still, at least Sony is trying.
It ships with Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean, which is refreshing for a Sony Xperia handset and shows that the company is really starting to get it: we don't want old software anymore. We look at the Bond Phone — Sony Xperia TX — that was released only months before the Xperia Z and it's almost like it was designed by a completely different company.
The TX's biggest problem was the software. The Timescape UI was a horrible software experience that let even the best piece of hardware down. Sony took that on board with the Xperia Z and paired back the Timescape UI to make something amazing. The Experience Flow UI is lighter, less in your face and ultimately better to use than ever.
As long as Sony keeps the updates coming for the Xperia Z then we're going to keep getting on just fine.
The best thing about the Xperia Z is that you can see how it has been designed. Rather than Xperias of the past, the Z has been designed not to fit in with a price point, but to fix stuff we all hate about smartphones: poor battery life, lack of durability, and mediocre specs.
Sony designed a superphone with market-leading specifications, added waterproofing and dustproofing while coming up with some nifty battery tech to fix the worst problem in the industry today.
The Xperia Z is amazing from every angle.
Despite the fact that Sony has re-engineered the UI to make it easier to use, it still has a glitch here and there. By far the most annoying one we found was with the camera shortcut on the lock screen. Whenever you activate the camera from the lockscreen, it takes ages to jump into app so you can take a photo. Might as well not be a shortcut at all.
Weirder, however, is the fact that whenever you want to view a photo that you've taken in said mode, it throws you out of the app and onto the homescreen to unlock the handset before you take a look. That's a privacy and security thing, I understand that, but to do it even when the phone doesn't have a passcode is super-annoying. iOS even manages to find a way to let you view only the photos you took while locked without being bounced back to the unlock screen. It's like Experience UI is fighting with Android.
The only other thing I really have any issue with is the size of the whacking, great power button on the right-hand side of the phone and the fact that the body picks up more fingerprints than a forensic investigator.
Should You Buy It?
Yes. A thousand times yes.
It's faster than the Nexus 4 and better featured than the iPhone 5 and the Lumia 920. It's also relatively inexpensive for the gear you're getting.
With gadgets like the Xperia Z, the magic is well and truly back at Sony, and we know that it plans to keep kicking goals this year with the announcement of the Sony Xperia Tablet Z at this year's Mobile World Congress conference in Barcelona. Welcome back, old friend.