[Review] Sony Xperia Z

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Sony’s new flagship superphone, the Sony Xperia Z was launched a while back and we at vernonchan.com were given the opportunity to put a unit through some tests. If you haven’t read through our First Impressions post, you may want to, as we’ll be focusing on a number of issues that we brought up during our first ‘date’.

Design & Build

Without a doubt, the Sony Xperia Z is a sleek and sturdy monster. The full glass front and back with the side metallic power button is a nice touch and the black version of the Z looks extremely classy. Gripping the phone may need some getting used to, due to its squarish design and may feel a little jagged on the edges, but this phone will definitely get you style points.

The shatterproof and scratch-proof glass is also a plus, however after some testing, it would seem there was a minor design flaw. The shatterproof layer isn’t scratch-proof, and you’ll likely notice hairline scratches once it comes in contact with other objects. A pity and this also means you’d be dealing with scratches unless you get a screen protector.

That aside, the water resistance feature is a plus, although it does add a slight inconvenience when you need to access the ports as they are enclosed. In my opinion, this isn’t really an issue, considering you’d rarely open your SIM or microSD slots all that often. Besides, who wants to see ugly ports sticking out of their smartphones.

Hardware

The Sony Xperia Z sports a 13.1-MP main camera, a 2.2MP secondary camera, a Quad-core 1.5GHz Krait processor (Qualcomm MDM9215M / APQ8064 chipset), 5″ shatterproof scratch resistant glass with the Sony Mobile BRAVIA Engine 2, 16GB of internal storage with the possibility of expansion via microSD (up to 64GB) and is equipped with a non-removable Li-Ion 2,330 mAh battery. LTE is also supported.

In terms of hardware, it’s way up there – matched only by the HTC One and beaten only by Samsung Galaxy S4′s non-LTE Octocore in terms of speed. The 13.1MP shooter is decent in low light conditions and will need to be manually configured for optimal performance as the auto feature seems to be slightly on the darker side. The 5″ screen is amazing, in terms of size and display quality.

Despite not being advertised, the video camera works like a charm in water, however, the water-resistance feature is meant to be a form of security. So I’d really suggest users to refrain from dunking it in water just for fun or use it as an underwater camera. Besides that, if you ever dropped it in a pool, you’d have 30 minutes to save it before water seeps in. Good news is, you’d know if water made contact with any part of the rubber enclosure inside, as it will turn pink on contact with water.

Software

Running on the Android 4.1.2 on launch, the Sony Xperia Z also comes with a light bundle of apps which is pretty standard for smartphones. It also has some customization options to save you some much needed battery life, dubbed “Stamina Mode” which increases the standby duration of your Xperia Z.

It’s pretty nifty, especially when you can choose which features and services you turn off once the mode is activated. Other than that, the display is equipped with the Sony Mobile BRAVIA Engine 2, which can be turned off to save some battery life. Considering that the screen will take up 80% of the battery life, you may consider turning it off for normal usage. (Has no notable effect on text messages anyway.)

Battery Life & Performance

Battery life is a common issue with smartphones, unless you’re using a Motorola RAZR Maxx HD, in which case can be charged every two days. The standard battery life for smartphones is around 8-14 hours with constant usage. The Sony Xperia Z pretty much suffers the same problem, although it will definitely last much longer if you learn to reply messages without the screen turned on. I kid. Well, not really.

The biggest battery drain comes from the display, and its battery life will be determined by how long the display is on. Leaving it permanently on would drain it at approximately 1% per minute. That sounds really fast, but that’s pretty much standard with a 5″ display and quad-core processors.

In our first impressions post, we took note that there was a huge possibility that heating would be a problem, considering the Quad-core processor and its glass back. We weren’t wrong. While it didn’t overheat (Not through normal usage, anyway. More on that later.) it would certainly be uncomfortable to hold. The heat however, is focus towards the top of the back glass, which makes it bearable, for a duration. This heating issue could be related to the Android version it comes with, 4.1.2 (Jelly Bean) which seems to cause certain Android smart phones to heat up dramatically and also cause a huge drain in battery life. This was apparent in the HTC One X that I used and one can only hope for an update soon.

Tests

  1. Music Play: About 30 hours
  2. Video Playback: About 5 hours
  3. Games: Dungeon Hunter 4 – approx 2 hours of gameplay
  4. Water Resistance: 1.3 meter Swimming Pool, A glass of cold water

Here’s a funny issue that came up during our pool test. The phone overheated in water. Imagine that. This is a demo unit we’re talking about though, and it was in a depth above recommended levels. The phone worked fine in cold water though. Even answered a call. I refused to talk and dunked it in my ice water.

Video footage taken with the Sony Xperia Z in swimming pool:

Pricing and Availability

The Sony Xperia Z is available now in retail channels for RM2,299 RM2,199 (RRP). [Correction: price edited]

Summary and Verdict

This would definitely be Sony’s best smartphone so far. It’s features are logical and practical to some, while the design is attractive and simple that you’d want to take a closer look at it anyway. There are flaws, certainly, and by far the biggest one would be the scratch-proof glass, shatterproof layer fiasco. However, that has been an issue all smartphone users are pretty accustomed to, screen protectors, phone covers – it isn’t something new. It was however, advertised as a feature and that may disappoint quite a few people, particularly those who love to test their new toy in front of friends. Shame on you for showing off anyway.

What’s good

  • Snappy performance
  • It’s a sexy beast
  • Great display
  • Water resistant
  • LTE and wide range of GSM and HSPDA support
  • Supports 64GB MicroSD

What’s not

  • Not exactly scratch-proof
  • Heating may be a concern

Brian Chan

Former Lecturer. Gamer. Idea Generator. Tournament Organizer. Loves Kairosoft games. Lived in a box twice in Recettear. Never turns down a Catan challenge. Cheats in Monopoly. Broke Skyrim. Sucks at Dance Central. Plays a fem Shep. Heavy bow-gunner in MH3p. Completed Persona 2 Portable 4 times. Well, he's just too damn free.
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