March 6, 2013

Sony Xperia Z Review


Feature set summary for Sony Xperia Z

The Sony Xperia Z gives you super fast 4G connectivity. The other standout features are definitely the 1080p HD display, and the intelligent 13-megapixel camera. Those who love watching video and movies will appreciate its crisp, vivid display. The smart auto-mode on the camera is excellent.

Style and handling summary for Sony Xperia Z

The glossy styling, and extra length on the body of this 4G handset make it great to handle. And we love the unique power button. But it is hefty, and quickly uses up battery power. It was great to find that the Xperia Z is properly resistant to water and dust.

Battery power summary for Sony Xperia Z

There are some decent power-saving features on the Xperia Z that keep battery use to a minimum when in standby. That changes when the display is on, as the battery quickly drains. Not ideal in a 4G phone. Watching movies requires a recharge after 4 hours, whereas you get six hours battery life on the HTC One X+.

Performance summary for Sony Xperia Z

The 4G connectivity on this phone is great for fast downloads, amply supported with a beefy quad-core processor, and smooth running Android. A slight lag was apparent on opening the camera, and in Socialife, but that’s all.

User friendliness summary for Sony Xperia Z

Handling on the Xperia Z is wonderful, with the roomy, 5-in display and straightforward Android setup. The feature-packed virtual keyboard is a pleasure to use.

Sony Xperia Z Review Scoring Summary

Style & Handling
User Friendliness
Feature Set
Battery Power
Overall Score grey star

Pros: 4G LTE compatibility; 13-megapixel camera with lots of intelligent features; exceptionally sharp and vivid 1080p display; resistant to liquids; connects wirelessly to Sony products.

Cons: Screen is huge drain on battery; dust and water resistant body means it is bulky; Sony extras bloat the OS; Socialife app not thought through.

Verdict: Sony’s Xperia Z is future-proofed with 4G LTE support and NFC, and its dust and waterproof design ensures it will stay around too. It is a bulky phone though, and the battery life is well below what we’ve come to expect from other 4G phones. This is balanced by killer features including the intelligent camera and HD screen.

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Full Review and Specification for the Sony Xperia Z

The Sony Xperia Z appeals instantly, even if it doesn’t have the 007 cachet bestowed on its predecessor the Sony Xperia T by James Bond. The glossy, sleek design makes it a really attractive phone. Then there’s the eye-popping 5-inch full HD screen. Impressive specs include 4G connectivity, resistance to water and dust, and the expertise you get from Sony engineers used to creating small devices that wow. With this pedigree we figured the Xperia Z would be the 4G phone for media users, gamers, and the accident prone.

Easy typist

It is a joy to browse the internet on the Sony Xperia Z, with 4G LTE support meaning sites whizz up onscreen after you’ve clicked on the link. The speed you’ll get on 4G does of course depend on the coverage in your area. We tested this in London, and frequently reached download and upload speeds of more than 10Mbps. Sometimes even as much as 20Mbps. There are more 4G networks planned to launch this year, so it makes sense to get a phone that can connect to 4G as the Sony Xperia Z does. It also has built-in NFC.

You’ll be able to text and email at speed too. The virtual keyboard is flexible and intelligent in design. There are three keyboards to choose from, and you are also able to customise the layout. We tweaked it so that the comma and full-stop buttons took precedence, while the smiley button got relegated. The features you’d expect, like Auto-correct, are present and can be toggled on or off easily. Throwing in a photo, drawing or map with a text is a doddle.

Good looking

Sony’s Xperia Z is certainly striking. Whether that look is highly desirable or will have you crooking an eyebrow depends on your personal taste. The straight-edged rectangular look is definitely different to most 4G smartphones. It is big though, taller even than the Samsung Galazy S III. It didn’t sit comfortably in the pocket, and often needed both hands holding it when using.

And yet, we loved the phone. It is good looking, in a glossy kind of way. The finish is premium as well, with an entirely glass rear and front. This does make it sound fragile, but that’s far from the truth. It is robust, with an anti-shatter coating. The same material used as a metal substitute in car parts makes up the frame on the phone – glass fibre polyamide. There’s a rubbery feel around the edge that will help it take lots of bumps and knocks. Oddly there’s a tiny gap between the glass panel at the back and the frame. We’d worry about the dust and particles this could trap.

However, the toughness of this phone can’t be argued with. Sony put it through military-level testing. The phone is watertight, and can take being in water for up to half an hour without any damage. We’ve seen more than one handset take a plunge in the amber pint glass of death over the last month without even getting sticky let along stop working. Also, the beer is still drinkable after you’ve fished the little blighter out.

Part of the waterproofing means all ports are covered. Access is via tiny grooves, which are easy enough to open using fingernails. Not a phone for those prone to nail biting then. The Xperia Z has what can only be described as an iconic power button. This is circular, sticking out from the edge of the phone on the right. Just about where a finger or thumb would rest naturally. It adds to the cool styling of the phone, and makes it easy to turn on even in the pitch black.

Full of Jelly Beans

You’ll find Android 4.1 Jelly Bean on the Xperia Z. Setup is straight forward. Set time, language, account information and so forth, and you’re off. Automatic syncing had to be turned on for the Google account, to see emails and calendar updates without a manual request. It took us a while to find how to do this, as the setting is under Data Usage and not in the accounts area. Once on though it all worked as we’d expect.

Like other handsets in the Xperia range, the 4G Xperia Z is stuffed full of pre-installed Sony apps. These annoyingly take up a lot of storage space, leaving just 10GB of the 16GB of storage space for your files. You’ll definitely want to invest in a memory card to expand the storage, and there is a slot for one. There are five desktops, all filled up with Sony widgets. Great if you like them, easy to clear though if you don’t. Android ran really smoothly, and we’ve no problems with the software, other than the bloatware introduced by Sony.


Difficult to use, and not thought through. That’s how Sony’s Timescape widget always came across to us. Maybe Sony had finally woken up to that as well, which could be why they’ve replaced it on the Xperia Z. Socialife provides quick access to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, plus five different news streams. We couldn’t look at the latter as it wasn’t up and running when we reviewed the phone. Content is presented chronologically, with avatars showing who has posted. Socialife can be used to make your own posts too.

But. There’s always a but isn’t there? Socialife still has a few glitches to it. Possibly because it is an early version. If you pull down the timeline it might refresh as it is supposed to. Then again, it might not. Twitter and Facebook photos came up automatically – some of the time. At other times it took a couple of taps to view. Often we were told there were no new posts to view. Even when there were new posts. This, frankly, made the widget useless. Hopefully there will be fixes for all these issues really soon, although it seems strange that Sony went live with a widget that clearly still needs developing. Once it is finished, and working properly, Socialife could actually be quite a good way for keeping up with social media. Any good points are hard to see at the moment though.

Gorgeous display

There’s definitely killer features on the Sony Xperia Z. Beautifully accompanying the 4G LTE support is the gorgeous, bright, and immensely spacious 5-in TFT touchscreen. And it comes with the next killer feature. Full HD resolution at 1920 x 1080. With this combination we can’t think of a better way to watch movies, surf the web or play games while out and about. Images are crisp, reproducing perfectly HD movies and pictures. And to make viewing a truly delicious experience for your eyes, colours are vibrant and deep. The bright screen is viewable in harsh glare, with good viewing angles.

Every prod and swipe is responded to instantly. We did find we had to keep wiping the screen clean as it attracts every speck of dust and dirt passing. Dunking it in beer probably didn’t help though.

Well connected

Out of all the manufacturers, Sony has the most NFC-enabled gadgets, which is great for Sony users who want to make use of this short-range wireless technology. For example, one demonstration shows the Xperia Z touched against the TV remote control for a Sony Bravia TV to instantly connect. The remote obviously had build-in NFC too. Then the connection could be used to sent movies, photos, apps, and anything else straight to the big screen. A more comfortable way to share holiday photos.

Likewise, music can be sent straight to headphones and speakers, where they are compatible. An NFC Personal Content Station can be used to back up files. All without wires. It does rather tie you in to Sony gadgets in the future, but it is still a neat feature.

Specifications and battery

Tucked inside the clunky body of this 4G handset is a quad-core processor, more than capable of handling anything you want to do. During testing we pushed the processor to the limit using GPU-hungry action-packed games. The high-resolution visuals displayed perfectly with no noticeable frame rate drops. It will give Sony Xperia Z owners a definite edge when playing against opponents from around the globe on the internet in games like ShadowGun: DeadZone.

The downside to all that power is the drain on battery. With everything except Wi-Fi turned off and normal usage, the phone failed to make it to the 24 hours we have seen from other 4G smartphones. Sure the display takes up a lot of power, but we didn’t have this problem with the HTC One X+. With reasonably heavy use, and that’s something you’re likely to want to do if you’re using a 4G network, the battery only made it to five hours before dying. Add streaming video to that and you’ll be lucky to get four hours use.

You’ll want to get acquainted with the many power-saving settings. These include auto-brightness, Stamina mode (where Wi-Fi and mobile data turn off when the screen is off – not good though if you’re listening to music), and Low Battery Mode, (where the brightness of the screen turns right down, and you can select features to switch off when the battery reaches a set level). Stamina is great for when you’re out and about with your phone in the pocket and not used. But it doesn’t address the core problem – the speed at which the battery drains once you’ve switched it on.


The 13-megapixel camera can be reached from the lock screen or the desktop. It only takes a second to start up from lock screen. But left us waiting four to five seconds when opened from the desktop shortcut. Possibly this is another early days glitch that will be quickly fixed, or it is just the review phone that has this issue. Really annoying when taking action shots though.

That’s the bad bit out of the way. Now for the good stuff. Each new Sony smartphone has an even better camera, so the Xperia Z is the best one yet. It is super intelligent when in automatic mode, whizzing through the many pre-set modes to get the best shot in the atmospheric conditions for the best photo. There’s no fiddly tapping to get this quality. Just press the on-screen shutter button. Pictures taken in daylight were sharp, with realistic colours. Where lighting was gloomier, photos still came out well. The camera will focus on a particular spot if you tap the screen, and did an amazing job at macro shots. For much of the time you can let the smart auto-focus sort all this out.

Dim interior shots, and night shots, are no challenge to the Xperia Z. With the flash off it works well with the available light to brighten up a shot. We saw less in the way of blur or other low light issues in photos compared to other smartphones. There’s still that graininess though, so overall it is best to use the flash. This illuminates just enough that photos look sharp but not over exposed.

For those that want to do it themselves, there’s a stack of features in manual mode including geotagging, ISO levels, white balance, and lots of filters. Burst mode lets you take multiple pictures in quick succession with just one push of the shutter button. There’s panorama mode, and you can record in 1080p HD video. Fantastic when played back on a big screen.

Our conclusion

It has a clunky, big body, but the Sony Xperia Z looks great. The square edges are rather refreshing, and the glossy finish is an attractive design touch. There’s 4G support, a huge HD screen, and the best yet 13-megapixel camera. With NFC to talk to other Sony NFC gadgets, this is a desirable phone. If only it had better battery life.

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Sony Xperia Z Specification


Type of device Smartphone
Operating System Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
Dimensions 139x71x7.9mm
Weight 146 grams
Form factor Touchscreen
Input Touch Screen
Processor speed 1.5GHz quad-core
CPU Qualcomm APQ8064+MDM9215M
Graphic chipset
Announced January 2013


Screen size 5 inches
Screen type TFT
Resolution 1920×1080 pixels
Display type 16.7 million


Internal storage 16GB
Memory card slot tick


Camera 13.1 megapixels
Secondary camera 2.2 megapixel
Special camera features Auto focus, Burst Mode, 16x digital zoom HDR for both picture/film Face detection, Flash/Pulsed LED and Photo light


3.5mm Jack tick
Music player PlayNow service, TrackID music recognition, WALKMAN application and xLoud Experience
Audio recording tick
Radio No
FM Radio description


Video recording tick
Video player Yes
Video calling tick
Video streaming tick

Additional Features

Browser Web browser (WebKit)
Games Download via Google Play
Voice control tick
Voice dialling tick
Other IPX5/7 (Water-resistant) & IP5X (Dust-proof)


SMS tick
MMS tick
Email tick
IM tick


Wi-Fi tick
Bluetooth tick
USB tick
NFC tick


Band GSM/GPRS/EDGE: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz HSPA/WCDMA: 900/1900/2100 MHz (EMEA) HSPDA 42 HSUPA 5.76 LTE: 800/1800/2600 MHz (EMEA)
EDGE tick
GPRS tick
HSDPA tick
4G/LTE LTE (Bands 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 20)


Colours (Standard) Black, White and Purple
Handsfree speaker phone tick
Customisable ringtones tick
What’s in the box Charging adaptor, USB cable, Stereo headset with In-Line Mic and Call control, Quick Start Guide and reference material


Standby 550 hours
Talktime 11 hours
Battery life multimedia N/A