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Sony Xperia Z expert review

Sony's new flagship handset is set to turn heads with its speedy processor, water resistant design and high resolution camera. But will it meet the rigorous standards of our Geek Squad Agents? Agent Peter Cruickshank finds out.

The Sony Xperia Z is the latest and greatest of the Xperia range, something which is immediately noticeable from the moment it looms out of the packaging. The large 5" HD screen is host to the much-lauded Bravia Engine 2 making this handset ideal for film fans on the move or those that enjoy the more graphically intense games available on the Play Store.


One of the most talked about features of the Xperia Z is the water-resistant and dust-proof exterior which boasts of protecting the phone from damage for up to 30 minutes in one metre of water, something I assume will only work if the dust-covers are firmly pushed in place. Possibly the most striking feature (other than the gargantuan screen size) is the the fact the handset is so thin, clocking in at a mere 7.9mm – making this the slimmest Xperia to date!Like the Xperia S, P and T, the Xperia Z comes with NFC (Near Field Communication) allowing the phone to pair with other NFC-enabled gadgets simply by touching the devices together. This promises to work exceptionally well with other Sony products that use NFC, predominantly Blu-Ray players and TV's, but also with Sony's new NFC-enabled speakers and the Xperia SmartTags which made an appearance with the release of the Xperia S in March last year.

Pros

  • We couldn't wait to drop the Xperia Z in a jug of water - So we did.
    Stunning display quality from the full 1080p screen, supported by the Bravia Engine 2 (the same engine used in the Bravia range of TV's). The 5" screen boasts post-400 PPI, or Pixels Per Inch.
  • The large screen allows for an even wider range of apps to be used on the phone that may be cumbersome or unwieldy on smaller-screened smartphones.
  • Water resistant up to 1 meter and dust proof, with Ingress Protection ratings of IP55 & IP57.
  • The 13-megapixel camera takes very impressive pictures even in low light, in part thanks to the mobile Exmor RS sensor.
  • Screamingly fast 1.5GHz quad core processor can run multiple apps at once with barely a murmur.
  • Near Field Communication (or NFC for short) lets the phone send information to a select group of Sony TV's and Blu-Ray Disc players, as well as a long list of other NFC-enabled gadgets.
  • One of the few recent smartphones to still come with a MicroSD card slot, allowing users to slot in legacy memory cards they may be using in their previous phones.
  • Uses Dragontail, a new glass technology engineered to combine a thin screen with tough protection, and of course it's scratch resistant.

Cons

  • The Xperia Z (left) is substantially than its older brother the Xperia S (right)
    At 7.9mm, the phone is thin; almost too thin for some. The 5" screen is great for viewing media but sits uncomfortably in the palm of small hands, something which is compounded by the thickness of the handset.
  • The dust covers, although very practical, are awkward to remove without a decent fingernail length. As the dust covers protect everything from the USB and headphone ports to the microSD and SIM card slots, some users may want to stop biting their nails in advance of purchasing this smartphone.
  • Early adopters of the new Xperia Z will receive Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) and not Android 4.2 (a more recent update of Jelly Bean). Hardly much of a 'con' as the handsets will be upgraded shortly after launch.
  • It has a slightly lower viewing angle than other top of the range handsets, which can be a problem if you enjoy watching media on your phone from the side instead of from the front.

Design

It has to be said, the handset is beautifully sleek with clean, purposeful lines everywhere. Definitely one of the thinnest smartphones on the European market so far, first impressions of this 5" monster remind me of the Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Shiny and black, the Xperia Z is a fingerprint magnet waiting to happen! The glass casing is scratch resistant and tough enough to withstand knocks and falls and combined with the one-piece case and dust covers will protect the phone even in the event it should fall in the bath or get caught in a Saharan sand storm - we should be so lucky! The dust covers fit snugly into the recesses of the phone, awkward to remove but this is through design rather than a flaw, to enable the level of protection this high-end device is designed to offer.

The new, stylish lock button

Special note has to go to the silver button on the side of the handset which serves as the lock button for the device. At first this seems to stand out too far from the phone but actually offers a really nice way of quickly locking and unlocking the device quickly without having to hunt round the handset or change your hand position to lock or unlock the device which makes a lot of sense. As with all things Sony, the button looks super slick set against the dark, smooth casing that surrounds it.

Hardware

Boasting a 1.5GHz quad core processor and 2 gigabytes of RAM, the Xperia Z is fast to load apps and can run many apps and services simultaneously without much of an impact on the rest of the operating system. Even so, I have noticed some VERY minor stuttering when flicking between home screens which may be down to the amount of Widgets I crammed on to the phone's desktop. After removing a couple of Widgets from the home screen, the stutter had disappeared.

As with most of the recent Xperia handsets, the Z comes with NFC as standard which is a nice touch for those of us with other NFC gadgets around the home. For those of us who haven't invested in NFC-capable hardware, it makes for a great talking point and can be used to pair with other NFC smartphones, but other than that is a bit of a moot feature. There's nothing revolutionary with the internals of the device, it's just seriously top-end of the market and offers serious horsepower for those that want it!

Software

The Xperia Z is pre-loaded with Jelly Bean, the code name for the latest version of Google's Android operating system. It arrives with Android version 4.1 and it should be receiving the 4.2 update within a few weeks of launch, although this is still open to change from Sony's end.

One of the smartest software features packed in to the phone is the Battery Stamina program which first appeared on the Xperia T just a few months ago, but has now been updated and optimised for the Xperia Z. Battery Stamina monitors and shuts off running applications after the screen is powered down, extending the battery life of the Xperia Z to up to 14 hours of talk time and an ambitious three weeks of standby mode. Apps can be whitelisted from Battery Stamina's aggressive power saving tactics, so you can still receive emails and instant messages even after other apps are shut down.

Another of my favourite features of the Xperia Z is the Smart Connect app, which recognises when a charger or headset is connected and can go on to start specific apps or processes. An example of this is when you plug the phone in to a charger between the hours of 10pm and 7am, the phone will assume you are going to bed and switch to silent mode whilst setting your alarms for the following morning. A great feature which, when tailored to your own lifestyle, can truly amaze you with how productive it is.

Agent Verdict

Try as I might, I can't find anything to fault with the Xperia Z. As mentioned in the Cons section of this review, the viewing angle isn't as high as other smartphones but that in no way means it suffers from a poor viewing angle. Even the uncomfortable width and thickness of the handset is not something which would deter me from owning one, a 5" screen is nearly always going to need a fairly unwieldy width to it and my hands aren't exactly the largest.

The thickness of the Xperia Z was my main issue once I'd removed it from the packaging but after playing around with it for a couple of hours I realised that an amazingly thin phone means that I could add a case to protect it, whilst also bulking it up to a more palm-friendly dimension. If I owned any NFC gadgetry, especially in the Sony range, I would certainly consider this as my next upgrade of choice. I was blown away when I saw HD video being played back on the Bravia screen, shocked at how quickly the phone could take photos, and impressed at how attractive such a large handset could be. I give the Xperia Z a whopping 9 out of 10, it may not be flawless but I've struggled to find any major gripes with it. And believe me, I tried.

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