Sony Xperia Z Australian Review: The Magic Is Back At Sony

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.

What's Good?

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.

What's Bad?

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.



    This appears to be a great device, but Sony are absolutely attrocious at delivering updates. Quickly cutting away devices with no future support. I'll stick to Nexus devices for that reason alone.

      Looks awesome, great phone/camera combo, probably has a good media player.....but Sony really loose on customer support and updates. Buy this and you will be lucky to get any updates after a year!
      Wait 6 months for the S version.

        I'll do that if it really is only 6 months. Then I'll be deciding between this and the SGS IV

      This is the reason I've not really considered a Sony phone, the lack of updates, they always seem to drop heaps of their devices support as well. I hope that changes.

        You should perhaps consider a Sony phone for being far more open with the DEV community and not loading their phones with heaps of crap that will essentially cripple any decent phone.

          I'm thinking of switching to Windows Phone if I don't stay on Android. The bloat manufacturers throw on is too much. Now matter how much powerful hardware. They don't optimize their software properly. Otherwise I'll get a speedy nexus device.

            I thought the same thing myself, but my Lumia 920 was hit with reboot bug. I regretted the change and went back to my One x.

      Sony are easily one of the best for open developer realtions.
      If you really want to be on the forefront of updates the Cyanogen stuff will get you there.
      If you want a stable OS stick with what Sony do. If anyone here has used the Galaxy S3 especially when Jellybean first came on it they can attest to how bloody awful it is/was.

        Where there is manufacturer support, Cyanogenmod is as stable if not more so than anything released by a manufacturer.

        This is not surprising because they simply can't produce a good ROM if their lives depended on it so leave it to CWM and other ROM developers to do it for them.. Lazy Lazy IMO...

      Better off hanging out for the SGS 4 IMO.. Sony's promises of updating their more recent phones like the Xperia U, Go, P and others to jellybean is falling by the wayside (ie, promised in Dec 2012, nothing yet) I'd have to say a big FU to Sony, and better luck next time....

      And to the writer, sure its probably a touch better than the Nexus 4 (although other reviewers have said the camera on the Z absolutely sucks dogs b4lls) at least the Nexus will get Key Lime Pie first and will probably have it 12-18 months before the Sony Z ever even breathes life into such Android goodies...

        okay well we waited for the SGS IV and its just a fancier 3

      are u mad??? sony was the only company to give the whole 2011 series an ics update....neither samsung nor htc has so shut if u dont know ....nd as far as the nexus is concerned...enjoy with 16 gb memory only(12gb available)..... hahah!!1

      If you think Sony are attrocious at delivering updates...use a HTC and have to wait to be release regionally and it comes super late.

    definitely worth considering... however, it'd be wise to wait for the Galaxy S IV announcement on March 14 to see which will be better.

      Why on earth someone would spend $750 on this with a processor that is already a year old is beyond me.

      Especially went the Samsung Galaxy S IV is right around the corner! The people who preorded this phone are suckers.

        Why?? A lot of people (I for one) like this phone and would get one. The processor is still very good. The Galaxy S4 is being announced next week and no release date has been given. At least this phone is now out on the market and getting some market share.

        Honestly if the rumors are true that the S4 will have 8 cores in the processor...that's just overkill

          The heterogeneous core setup that is rumoured is 4+4 not 8 at once

    could be a good replacement for my note 2

      Do you actually replace your phone every 6 months?

        I buy outright and federal govt salary sacrafice makes it quite worthwhile

        so yeah every 6-9 months I buy a new one

          good to know my tax dollars are hard at work subsidiising your phone habit.

            It's his pay though? He can do what he wants with it.

            Could be worse like putting $ in the pocket of a dole bludger....

            I think you probably need a lesson on what salary sacrafice is, they dont buy me the phone, it comes out of my pay pre-tax. Dont hate on me because you are stupid.

              I LOVE Salary Sacrifice and Salary Packaging. I have both at max and don't pay any tax for the first 30k i earn.

    When is it releasing in AUS, i have preordered mine ! just cant wait for it to arrive !! any ideas on when will they ship. I pre-ordered it on the 2nd of March :)

    My wife has a Sony device and I cannot stand all the extra stuff in the app drawer. I don't see it as value add, just extra junk. My wife never uses any of it.

    I changed the ROM on my last phone to get rid of the Telstra crap and am looking to getting a Nexus for my next one. Very good experience with my Nexus 7.

      If 100mb of junk apps annoy you, just uninstall them. Yes there are a few you can't uninstall but there are only about 4 like the facebook app. Besides there are useful ones like Neo reader, which is a darn good QR code reader.

      You don't necessarily need to change your ROM to get rid of junk apps. If your phone is rooted you can use Titanium Backup to remove just the ones you don't want.

    Is it just me or do the photos not look particularly impressive?

      I have to agree, the daylight photos look very washed out. Could potentially just be the conditions. I guess we'll find out in other reviews

    No Mention of the display quality? i.e. viewing angles (non IPS) colour (bravia engine does not work for all thinks displayed) contrast. etc. A lot of other reviews said they were sub par. This is a real shame considering the screen is one of the biggest selling points. And Sony should know how to do good displays.

    At least HTC understands the importance of the thing you are looking constantly on their flagship devices. I which everyone else would get on board.

    If you want to see the phone, have a look at it in a Sony Centre store. The 3 shops in Victoria all have one. Check it out for yourself before you make a decision.

    I just went through 3 xperia s within a year, thank god for insurance. Everything died on it,first was the camera then the hold button stopped waking my phone up. Really need to impress me again to pull me away from Samsung now.

    what abt battery? there are many complaints abt it. Its the only reason i'm holding (but i will still get it when i have enough funds ;p)

    How is it faster than the Nexus 4 Luke? They have the same processor and the same amount of Ram and the nexus 4 is updated to the latest Android 4.2.2. I have the nexus 4 and it is amazing and I test drove an Xperia Z at the Sony store in Perth city last week and it certainly did not seem faster, it actually felt a little sluggish because of that UI they are using.

    Please tell me how on earth it was quicker, with the same specs being used and an added skin applied to the Xperia.

    Looking forward to your response Luke.

      Wtf? He based it on the GeekBench score he quoted in the article.....

        Sorry I overlooked that. We'll still, one benchmark when there are four hardly looks like it is so much quicker than the writer is so excited about. The phone is still dead on arrival considering the processor is at least 12 months old. I mean the HTC One which will be released at the same time will already have the updated Qualcomm processor. Sony had once again not delivered a true flagship.

        What till the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S IV, with the 8 core processor. That phone will shit on this.

        All I'm saying is that Luke shouldn't get too excited considering what is around the corner.


      A standard or point of reference against which things may be compared or assessed.

      Evaluate or check (something) by comparison with a standard: "we are benchmarking our performance against external criteria".

        Well aren't you smart you know how to a look up definitions in google. Your mummy must be so proud of you. Idiot.

          Given your whining asinine question in your above comment asking "how, Luke, how is this phone faster than mine? I refuse to believe it, I just won't" I thought you'd need some explanation as to what a benchmark is.

          Your question was idiotic, yet you call me an idiot?

          Last edited 05/03/13 4:04 pm

            Don't get your jocks in a knot mate. Stop being a smartass and just stfu.

              Looks to me like you're the one getting all menstrual over this.

                You're a joke buddy. Want to search the definition on google for the word 'joke'?

                  Nerd fight!

    I don't get in on the Luke bashing like everyone here seems to love to do.
    however i found this:
    Which indicates the nexus 4 gets a score of 2034.
    When Luke ran the test, the sony scored 2119.
    It's a bigger number, so as far as benchmarks are concerned, I'd say it's a reasonably fair comparison?

    nice design but sony is great at slowing their devices... mate's Xperia S has slowed down big time and bought the same time with my SGS3 4G! I couldn't even root his phone!!

    i really thought that sony were going to make a big comeback with this phone but im not sure now.too many user and pro reviews are saying the battery is awful,the screen has washed out colours and doesnt compare to the htc one,the processor is old,the camera is not good,it overheats,the speaker isnt loud enough for phone calls and the ring volume isnt loud enough either.once they fix up all these problems in future phones,sony will be back.the build quality is superb and people will get tired of samsungs plastic.i know i am.soon enough,it will be a 3 horse race

    Foolishly didn't check my pockets and put my S3 through the wash today! Will be picking up one of these badboys tomorrow

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