The Xperia Z is Sony’s current flagship handset. Hot off the production line it has just gone on sale, and is kicking up something of a storm. I’m not surprised, actually, as Sony might just have got as much right with this handset as it has ever got right with any other. I’m not making a backhanded compliment here. The Xperia Z stands up well against the top end competition. Three kindly provided me with a sample to try.
The Xperia Z is a giant. Its 5in screen ensures that. Not that Sony has been profligate with chassis space. The chassis actually leaves little room to spare around the screen. There are just a few millimetres of screen bezel on the long edges. While the bezel is around 12mm on the top edge and 13mm on the bottom, the screen does appear snug in its surroundings. But still, it’s a handful at 139 x 71mm.
Sony has been very smart, though, in keeping this handset slim. At 7.9mm it doesn’t feel oversized. It isn’t inordinately heavy either, at 145g. And there’s a nice trick that should please people like me who have smaller hands – the power switch sits towards the centre of the right edge. I didn’t have to struggle to reach it as I would have if it had been on the top edge.
I’m going to have to mention at this point that there is more than a nod towards the iPhone in the general design. There. It’s done. The bigger issue here is that Sony has given plenty of attention to design. I didn’t much care for the Xperia T, but the Xperia Z is in a whole new class. My white sample had an attractive shiny back and neat white edges that look fantastic.
The edges give away a selling point of this phone. All the ports sit under hinged covers. As you can’t remove the backplate, this includes the microSIM card slot. The covers have little lips you can work at with a fingernail, but if you lack nails then getting to the microSIM card slot on the right; the top-mounted headset slot; and the microSD and micro-USB/HDMI slots on the left might be tricky. Still, these covers mean the Xperia Z is dust- and water-resistant.
There are a couple of incongruities in the design. The back is rather marred by all the necessary product and certification information – it would have been so much better if this could have been consigned to the inside of the phone. And there are two contacts on the left edge that allow you to use the Xperia Z with a charge and dock station in which it sits horizontally.
Good design is one thing, but what really shouts out as being superb, is the Xperia Z's screen. I’ve already mentioned that it measures five inches diagonally, and its Full HD resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels means it delivers stunningly sharp and clear content. Reading webpages and other text is as close as I’ve got to reading the printed word on paper. Graphics looks great too. The Sony Bravia Engine 2 helps colours appear bright and strong. Really, this is probably the best video-watching experience any handset has given me.
Sony has done the same trick with regard to Android shortcut buttons here as it did with the Xperia T. They are part of the screen rather than the bezel so they disappear when the phone is switched off. They are responsive to the touch, and the icons rotate when you turn the phone in your hand. I really like this arrangement.
Internally, Sony has pushed the boat out – thought with a notable exception. For a handset with so much media capability it would have been nice to see more internal storage. 16GB feels, for such an otherwise high-flying phone, a bit mean.
There is no such argument I can make against the processor. Supported by 2GB of RAM, the 1.5GHz Qualcomm quad-core processor helps the Xperia Z run like a knife through butter.
Connectivity options are plentiful too. Of course there is Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC and DLNA all on board. The handset also supports LTE, so it should be able to handle 4G if and when you decide to upgrade your connection. Apparently you can use the NFC with the latest Sony Bravia TVs for instant media transfer, but I wasn’t able to try that.
To top off the specifications list, there's a 13-megapixel, 1080p, rear-facing camera that incorporates a range of useful features including a sweep panorama shooting mode and a burst mode.
The Exmor RS sensor helps the camera take sharp, clear photos and I really was impressed with what came out, while the Superior Auto setting tries its hardest to decide what shooting mode you are after for each shot, displaying the setting it has made discretely in one corner of the screen. It successfully selected document photo, macro mode, landscape shooting mode and more, but if it gets things wrong you just need to tap its icon in the screen and you can manually select a shooting mode instead.
With all that going on it’s a pity there is no dedicated camera button, though to be fair it is no bother putting a shortcut to the camera on the main screen and you can launch the camera from the lock screen. The front camera is only 2-megapixels, but it too can shoot 1080p video.
If there’s an area I’d like Sony to hold back on, it is apps. Now, some of what is here is superb. As with the Xperia T, I'm very taken with the Small Apps concept. These are mini apps you can overlay onto whatever you happen to be doing. They are called up by tapping the Recent Apps button. There are only four pre installed – a calculator, timer, sticky notes app and voice recorder, but you should be able to get more from the Play Store over time.
I also like Sony Car, which gives you an alternative user interface based on large icons, which are better to use when driving. This is something HTC has been offering for a long time, of course.
But Sony goes to town with its own apps such as Sony Select, an apps store; Music Unlimited and Video unlimited for making purchases; and also adds confusing extras and apps you might not want. WhatsApp, for example, is easily downloaded if you need it, and irritatingly pre-installed if you don’t.
With such a large screen and powerful processor, battery life is crucial. I found the 2,330mAh battery allowed me to run all day on battery mode with relative ease and it’s certainly one of the better performers in this respect. If things get really iffy on the battery front you can switch into Stamina mode and disable most communications when the screen is off in order to extend life further.
Sony’s handsets tend to frustrate me more often than they please me, showing glimpses of greatness let down by some annoying issues. The Xperia Z, however, gets so much right that my grumbles seem almost wilful. These boil down to a request for more memory and less application bloat, with even the latter tempered by the lovely Small Apps idea.
Manufacturer and model
Sony Xperia Z
1.5 GHz Qualcomm APQ8064+MDM9215M quad-core
5in, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels
139 x 71 x 7.9 mm