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Saturday
Aug172013

Review: Sony Xperia Z

Text, video and photos by Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla

Sony’s Xperia Z is one of the most progressive and feature-packed Android smartphones in the market today and it is also one of the most desirable handsets Sony has ever produced.

While it fits the description of flagship Android device on nearly every level, the Xperia Z surpasses most smartphones in its class by being water and dust resistant to a higher degree than anything in the market before it.

Yet, the Sony Xperia Z is a bit of enigma since for a tough and resistant device it looks surprisingly thin and light, which may give the impression of it being delicate. It is reassuringly sturdy and while it isn't fully clad in aluminum, it still feels solid and resilient.

It is also covered in glass which gives it a premium look and feel but also connotes that it is prone to shattering. It isn’t. The Xperia Z uses a glass fibre polyamide, the same material that’s used as a metal substitute in automobile parts. Add the durable tempered glass on front and back and you have a handset that is coated in something a lot stronger than conventional glass with anti-shatter film on the front and back.

Sony says that the Xperia Z offers all the best of Sony and that’s quite true. Everything from the BRAVIA engine powering their HDTVs to the camera software and technology on their point-and-shoot devices as well as Walkman audio technology is integrated in the Xperia Z.

Battery life was average for a smartphone of this size and I was able to get a full-day's use with 4G and WiFi on as well as making 4-6 calls and using it mainly for taking photos, videos and email. Call quality was very good around the city with callers on the other side noting that my voice was clear even in a crowded and noisy mall. 

This Sony smartphone is really geared towards entertainment.  The 5” full HD Reality Display is visually stunning for video and photo playback. Thanks to the 443 pixels per inch pixel density, superior brightness even outdoors and colour accuracy. Viewing angles are a bit of a mixed bag, possibly because the display is coated with another layer for water resistance. It's not an issue unless you're dealing with very bright or reflective situations. The stereo speakers on the Xperia Z are also louder than expected and the sound isn’t tinny or hollow.

While many smartphone manufacturers simply iterate their flagship devices each year, with some not even bothering to change the look or feel of their new phones, Sony has rebuilt the Xperia experience from the ground up.

It is as if everything about the Xperia Z was designed to break new ground. From the use of resilient materials yet a super-thin profile. The Xperia Z may not look like anything special at first glance, but once you get it in your hands it becomes evident that this is an exquisitely designed and engineered statement device and one that any user would be delighted to own.

But, considering that the Xperia Z was in development late last year and showed up first in prototype form at CES 2013 in January, some may find its 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon processor a bit dated. This isn't a big issue as the proccy is quite capable for everytthing you need to do but for certain users seeking the very latest on their devices, this will be a consideration.

Sony really did have the user in mind when it created the Xperia Z. It thought about how most users use their devices and focused on the elements that enrich those activities. Music, video playback and taking and sharing photos are all covered.

You have a relatively recent build of Android Jelly Bean with some of the more recent features and functions and a good balance of Sony's own applications and music and movie ecosystems. The Xperia Z is also PlayStation Certified, a feature that enables some integration with older PlayStation titles. Sony pushed this feature last year and while it is silently available on all of its mid to high end smartphones, no one can really tell where that program is at as of the moment.

This year's big feature is NFC (Near Field Communication) but not necessarily for mobile payments (that use of NFC hasn't yet taken off after nearly three years of being available on smartphones). Sony has put NFC on almost every product it makes and because of this their smartphones are the perfect hub to show off the technology. So, there are various speakers and devices that will easily 'join' with the Xperia Z when tapped. Nice. 

It is a little known fact that Sony makes many of the leading smartphone camera components and sensors used on the leading devices (iPhones, for example). The Xperia Z has a 13 Megapixel camera that's got a host of features and settings for every conceivable shooting condition.

It handles really nicely and for users who have the patience to dig into the menu system, they will be rewarded by a rich array of choices for shooting photos and videos.

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As for the picture quality, it is outstanding in most conditions although certain colours seem to pop more than others. While the camera and photo as well as video quality of the Z10 is very good overall, I struggled with the display which seemed rather reflective and hard to look at in brighter conditions. So, that's something to consider.

Another thing that's new about the Sony Xperia Z is that it is exclusive to Bell in Canada. While Sony had a longstanding exclusive agreement with Rogers for past models, the Xperia Z will be sold on only one carrier. Price is $649.95 for outright purchase and $149.95 for a 2-year voice and data plan. You can get it in black, white as well as purple.

So, there your have it. Sony's Xperia Z is a high point for Sony as a smartphone manufacturer which has, in the past, struggled to keep up with the competition in terms of flagship devices. Great industrial design, thoughtful features and an unbeatable water and dust resistance level not seen in a smartphone of this size. The Xperia Z is a stunner and one that will no doubt delight users seeking a 5-inch Android device that's focused on bringing the best of Sony into the mobile realm.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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