Sony Xperia Z User Review

*This device is a review unit from Sony Mobile Malaysia*

I know I’m not exactly the first to review the Sony Xperia Z in the country. But I recently just got in touch with the folks of Sony Mobile (*waves*) and they were nice enough to loan me a review unit of their current flagship Sony Xperia Z smartphone.

In case you didn’t know, Sony has recently split from the Sony Ericsson joint branding for the mobile phones. Sony has now taken full ownership, branding, designing and manufacturing of their smartphones. The Xperia series smartphone maintains, but it’s no longer Sony Ericsson Xperia phones, it’s just Sony Xperia phones now.

With the new and full ownership of the smartphone brand, they released their new Sony Xperia Z – the first phone designed and manufactured under the Sony brand name, once again.

I’ve spent 2 weeks using the Sony Xperia Z. In case you didn’t know, and/or missed all their TV commercials and marketing messages, this phone is waterproof! How waterproof? Check out the full user review of this along with all the other things you want to know about the Sony Xperia Z.

 

Hardware Overview

Sony Xperia Z
Sony Xperia Z

Sony Xperia Z is Sony’s current flagship Android smartphone, the first all-Sony device after their independence from the Sony Ericsson joint brand. Here’s a quick speecifications overview of the device:-

  • 5″ Full HD Reality Display with Mobile BRAVIA® Engine 2 TFT display (1920 x 1080)(443 ppi)
  • 1.5 GHz quad core Snapdragon S4 processor
  • 16 GB internal storage (expandable 32 GB microSD slot) + 2 GB RAM
  • Powered by Android Jelly Bean 4.1 OS
  • 13 megapixel rear camera (1080p video), 2 megapixel front facing camera
  • 7.9 mm thin, weighing 146 grams
  • 2,330 mAH non-removable battery (11 hours 3G talktime)
  • Connectivity : 4G LTE/HSPA+, WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, DLNA connection, NFC
  • Available in Black, White and Silver colours

For more information, check out the Sony Xperia Z Product Page at http://www.sonymobile.com/my/products/phones/xperia-z/

 

Unboxing the Sony Xperia Z

Sony Xperia Z Box
Sony Xperia Z Box
Unboxing the Sony Xperia Z
Unboxing the Sony Xperia Z

The box is square – that’s a nice change from the traditional rectangular packaging for the other smartphones. Inside the box, you’ll find the device, 2 pin charger adapter, USB to microUSB charge/sync cable, in-ear headphones with extra earbuds, user manuals and warranties.

Sony Xperia Z - Front
Sony Xperia Z – Front

The front has a nice 5″ TFT display screen that Sony calls “The world’s sharpest 5″ ssmartphone display”. Its Full HD Reality Display with Mobile BRAVIA® Engine 2 is super clear and super black. Their engineers took their BRAVIA® TV technology and incorporated it into the smartphone screen. This is truly vivid and amazingly clear images.

Sony Xperia Z - Back
Sony Xperia Z – Back

The device is made out of glass on the front and back. It’s nice and square with somewhat sharp edges on the side. I love the overall build quality of the phone, with premium glass material but I have to admit that it’s a bit of a fingerprint magnet, front and back, unfortunately.

Sony Xperia Z - Hardware Overview
Sony Xperia Z – Hardware Overview

Because the device is waterproof (more on that later), there are flaps covering all ports around the device. At the top of the device, you’ll see the 3.5mm headphone jack at the right. On the right side of the device is the microSD slot, Power On/Off button in the middle and the volume rocker just below it. The bottom is devoid of any ports or buttons, while the left you’ll see the microUSB charge/sync port at the top and microSD port just below it.

Because I have a white coloured phone, you can’t really see the flaps and ports that clearly in pictures. Sorry for that.

Sony Xperia Z - Hardware
Flaps covering all ports

As mentioned, there’s flaps covering every hole and port around the phone. I was wondering how these seemingly flimsy flaps can actually protect the phone from water seeping in to give it the underwater protection. Especially after a long period of opening and closing these flaps, there must be some wear-and-tear concerns. I guess with the short period of reviewing the phone, I wouldn’t be able to test that out.

Unfortunately though, after just a few days, it can get quite annoying these flaps. Having to pry with my fingernails to open the flap for the microUSB charging port to plug in my phone to charge every night. If you’re one who plugs in your headphones for music as well, you’d likely be a little more annoyed, too.

But hey – the phone’s waterproof (and dust-proof too, by the way), so something’s gotta give.

Sony Xperia Z in hands
Sony Xperia Z in my hands

It does, however, even with a 5″ screen, fits nicely in my hands. Not too big, really. The only pet peeve, as mentioned, is the sharper corners and edges of the phone. Not so sharp that it cuts your hands, but just a little too sharp for my liking. Still, holding it in my hands, it feels premium and nice.

I also like that Sony placed the Power On/Off button on the middle of the right side of the device. With a 5″ display, it wouldn’t be comfortable if the Power button was at  the top. Placing it at the sides made sense. In this case, placing it in the middle at the side was perfect! Easy and natural access.

 

Software Overview

Menu, Navigation, Keyboard, Browser

Sony Xperia Z - Menu, Navigation
Sony Xperia Z – Menu, Navigation

Sony Xperia Z runs on Android Jelly Bean 4.1 OS, just a tick shy of the latest 4.2 OS. There is a bit of a Sony skin / theme on top of the navigation, though Sony didn’t really give it a brand name.

In the lock screen, you swipe up or down to unlock the phone. This was done with a Venetian blinds-type of animation, which I like. The look of the Sony skin on the navigation is nice and minimalist with a lot of dark colours and skinny fonts (as you can see on their clock). Since there’s no hardware button on the front of the device, the menu buttons are on-screen and take up the bottom bar of the screen. There’ a “Back”, “Home” and “Multi-Tasking” button.

Clicking on the “Multi-tasking” button launches thumbnails of last opened apps. At the bottom is a bar of small apps from Sony, such as Calculator, Clock, Notes and Voice Recorder. The “+” button launches the option to install more small apps, downloaded or from Google Play Store.

Pressing and holding the “Home” button will show you a half-ring where you swipe up to launch Google Now.

App Drawer is skinned, Sony style. In a 4X5 grid, you can choose to sort the app icons as you please.

Sony Xperia Z - Keyboard
The default on-screen keyboard is not too bad

I read a recent reviewer note his dislike for the default on-screen keyboard for the Xperia Z. Personally, I don’t think it was bad. I almost never stick to using the default keyboard for other Android smartphones. In this case, Sony allows some simple customisation of the keyboard. In my last 2 weeks of use, there were some minor autocorrect mistakes (not too much) and the word prediction have been relatively good.

Of course, as with most Android smartphones, you can always opt to download or purchase a third party keyboard for your phone. Personally, I really like SwiftKey.

Sony Xperia Z - Chrome Browser
Chrome for Android is the default, pre-installed browser

What I love is that the default browser pre-installed is actually Google’s Chrome for Android! My go-to mobile browser. It supports tab browsing, bookmarks manager (that syncs with your bookmarks for Chrome on your desktop), incognito browsing, desktop browsing, sharing and many more.

 

Sony’s Pre-installed Apps

Sony Xperia Z - Pre-installed app
Sony’s pre-installed apps on the Xperia Z

Sony has its own naming for the various apps. “Albums” is actually your Photo Gallery, “Walkman” is actually your Music app, “Movies” is your Video app with files from movies, TV and from your device, Sony pre-installed some apps on the Xperia Z, which includes:-

  • Sony Select – Sony’s own App Store with recommended apps
  • Smart Connect – allows you to connect to various devices, either Bluetooth, DLNA and others and manage it’s uses
  • Xperia Link – connects your smartphone with your tablet, for internet sharing and even SMS/call notification sharing
  • Sony Car – big icons and handsfree usage for calls, music and navigation while you’re driving
  • Socialife – Sony’s branded social media manager app
  • Wisepilot for Xperia – Sony’s own mapping service with turn-by-turn navigation
  • TrackID – allow your phone to listen to a playing music and identify that track for you, just like SoundHound
Sony Xperia Z - WisePilot
Wisepilot for Xperia is Sony’s mapping app

It was interesting to see the mapping app from Sony pre-installed. I played around with the app a little and noted that it includes simple GPS/POI (Point of Interest) listing and navigations, results from TripAdvisor, turn-by-turn navigation and more.

Note : In case you don’t know, Google Maps now finally supported turn-by-turn navigation for Malaysia!!! With Google’s recent acquisition of Waze (the crowdsourced traffic app that shows you traffic jams, roadblocks, etc) for USD$1.1 billion, we know that Google Maps navigation will be getting much better in the near future, very soon.

There are other Google apps that are pre-installed on the Xperia Z, too. Other than Google’s Chrome browser, you’ll also find Google Maps, Google Talk (Hangouts), Google Search, etc.

 

Killer Features

Waterproof and Dustproof

Waterproof Sony Xperia Z
Waterproof Sony Xperia Z

The Sony Xperia Z is certified with IPX5/7 (Water-resistant) & IP5X (Dust-proof). With all the flaps, it protects your phone and ports from dust and water.

Mind you, the device can only be submerged in water up to 1 meter deep, for a maximum of 30 minutes.

I get a kick showing off the phone to my friends and family! I lead them to the kitchen sink, turn on the tap and place the phone under the running water and proceed to rinse it. The reaction ranges from dropped jaws to wide eyes. Some have heard of this “waterproof phone”,  some have seen the Xperia Z commercial, some were completely shocked and pleasantly surprised!

Sony Xperia Z - underwater photography
My attempt at underwater photography in the baby pool

I tested the Xperia Z underwater, attempting to snap a picture of the tiles in the baby pool in my condo. Unfortunately though, the touchscreen is not very responsive underwater. It takes a few tries until it registers my taps. I suppose it’s not really built for underwater photography, per se, just a protection for when you accidentally drop your phone in water (err… toilet bowl, anyone?) or spill drinks on it, or something.

So, there goes my hopes of surfing or tweeting underwater while snorkeling. Haha.

Washing the Sony Xperia Z
Washing the Sony Xperia Z

The other awesome thing about a waterproof phone is that you can just wash your phone if it’s dirty. If you got grease and food all over it, instead of just wiping with tissue or napkin, just wash your phone!

 

Stunning BRAVIA display

Sony Xperia Z - Brilliant display at all angles
Sony Xperia Z – Brilliant display at all angles
Sony Xperia Z - minimal outdoor glare
Sony Xperia Z – minimal outdoor glare

I can’t tell you how much I love the Full HD display on the Xperia Z. There are so many technology packed into this display that I don’t really know how to describe it in a sentence anymore – Full HD Reality Display (crisp HD images), Mobile BRAVIA® Engine 2 (super clear and black), OptiContrast panel (less reflection) and Direct Touch (touch panel closer to display) and more flowery tech jargons.

What you need to know is this – images look amazing, just like watching a Sony HDTV. The viewing angles are great, so perfect for your videos when you’re lying in bed. The screen looks crisp and clear even in direct sunlight.

Although, when the screen is off though, you’ll see all the leftover fingerprints on the front and back of the phone. 😛

 

4G LTE and NFC Ready

Sony Xperia Z - LTE, NFC
NFC and 4G LTE enabled

As with most flagship Android smartphones, the Sony Xperia Z comes with 4G LTE and NFC.

For NFC, you can enable your mobile wallet either with the Operator Wallet or Google Wallet. You can also choose to enable your 4G LTE for super fast speed, or drop back down to WCDMA (aka HSPA+) or GSM (3G). I did a Speedtest with the Xperia Z on Maxis network, and I got a whopping 59 Mbps download speed.

 

Camera

Sony Xperia  Z - 13 MP  rear camera
13 megapixel rear camera on the Xperia Z

Sony packed a good lens and technology on the Camera app. The rear 13 megapixel camera includes Exmor RS™ for mobile – the world’s first image sensor with HDR video for smartphones.

Sony Xperia Z - Camera
Camera app with Superior Auto mode

Just plain Auto mode is not good enough anymore. There’s a “Superior Auto” mode on the Camera app that combines Scene Recognition and high quality image processing technology to snap the perfect picture every time. I have to say, I was impressed with the camera on the Xperia Z.

Check out the images taken with the Sony Xperia Z in the gallery below. Images are unedited and not resized, so hover for image setting/condition and click to see enlarged and original photo.

You can also check out my recent PARAMKL 2013 post on the Bangsar Pasar Ramadhan here, which I snapped using the Sony Xperia Z. Those images, however, although not edited, was resized.

See Also : PARAMKL 2013 : Pasar Ramadhan in Bangsar

Sony Xperia Z - Edit photo
Basic photo editing function

In the “Albums” aka Photo Gallery app, you have the option for basic photo editing like cropping, resizing, colour controls, filters and effects, and some nifty features like Red Eye correction, skin glows, face tanning, etc.

Generally, I have been rather pleased with the pictures taken with the rear 13 megapixel camera, that I don’t find a huge need to edit the photos further. It’s no Nokia Lumia 920(by far the best low light smartphone camera I have ever used) when it comes to low light photography, but in daylight, the Xperia Z images are clear, crisp and sharp.

See Also : Nokia Lumia 920 User Review

 

Battery Life

The Sony Xperia Z comes with a non-removable 2,330 mAh battery.

Sony Xperia Z - Power Mgmt
Sony Xperia Z – Power Mgmt

 

Sony has included some good functions and battery saving technology that you can choose to enable/disable.

  • STAMINA mode – turns off mobile data and WiFi when your screen is off
  • Low Battery mode – activated when battery drops below 30%, includes reducing screen brightness, vibration, WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth, etc
  • Location based WiFi – only turn on your WiFi when you’re near any of the saved networks
Sony Xperia Z - Battery Life
(L-R) Battery life from light to moderate to heavy usage

Throughout my 2 weeks review of using the Sony Xperia Z as my primary device, I flip flop between light to moderate to heavy usage on different days. With only “Low Battery” mode turned on when I hit below 30% battery left, 4G LTE turned on, I managed to get an average of 17-18 hours of battery life in a day. In heavy usage, I suggest you turn on all the battery saving functions, which would likely give you more than 12-13 hours of battery life.

Overall, I am quite impressed with the battery life on the Sony Xperia Z. Especially with their included effort and features to prolong your usage of the smartphone.

One thing I have to note though, is that with heavy usage and prolonged usage of an app (say long browsing, games, etc), I noticed that the top of the back of the phone tends to get rather hot. This happened quite regularly on the Xperia Z that I almost always stop whatever I’m doing and turn off the screen, for the fear of the device overheating.

Any Xperia Z owners out there experiencing the same problem?

 

Pricing and Availability

The Sony Xperia Z has been on sale since 15 March 2013 for the Recommended Retail Price (RRP) of RM 2,199.

Alternatively, you can also purchase the Sony Xperia Z at a discounted price when you signup for any of these mobile telco plans:-

  • Celcom plans from RM 1,268 >> Click HERE
  • DiGi plans from RM 929 >> Click HERE
  • U Mobile plans from RM 999 >> Click HERE

 

Conclusion

Sony Xperia Z
Sony Xperia Z – the Comeback Kid

Sony has really made an excellent comeback with the highly competitive Android smartphone market. After buying back their share and gaining full ownership of their mobile phone market, the Sony Xperia Z is the perfect phone to launch with.

Great display technology, awesome camera lens and function, beautiful design and build quality and packing in the waterproof and dustproof function is just superb!

Here are the list of Top 3 things I like and dislike about the Sony Xperia Z:-

Things I Like

  • Waterproof, baybeh!!!
  • Beautiful display screen
  • Premium build quality

Things I Dislike

  • Overheating from prolonged use
  • Fingerprint magnet, front and back
  • Flaps, flaps, flaps

If you’re looking for a high end Android smartphone to purchase, you’d also likely be considering the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One as well. So, how does this Sony Xperia Z fare among the other 2 more popular smartphone?

See Also : Samsung Galaxy S4 User Review

See Also : HTC One User Review

If you’re the type who constantly get your phone in conditions where it’s dusty (outdoor activities) or wet (dropping it in toilet, using it by the pool/beach, handling it while eating), and want a phone with a good camera and appreciate brilliant screen display, you have to test out the Sony Xperia Z.

PS. As usual, if you like this review, please remember to *LIKE*, comment, share and subscribe to this blog.

 

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