• Sony Xperia Z Review And User Experience

    When you first pick up the Xperia Z, It might feel unexpectedly light. But at 146g, it’s actually heavier than the Galaxy S3.

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    Sony Xperia Z

    Sony Xperia Z

    The reason it feels light is because of how thin it is. It’s almost as thin as the iPhone 5. There’s just 0.3mm difference between them. The Xperia Z also manages to do well in terms of overall size. It tucks that 5 inch display into a body that’s just a couple of millimetres taller than the Galaxy S3. There’s a drawback though, At least for me, with my medium sized hands. The Xperia Z just isn’t as comfortable to hold as other large display phones like the S3 or the Lumia 920. It fits my hand better than these phones, Because of how thin it is, But it’s very slab like, with a flat back and sharp edges. You quickly begin to notice these edges once you’ve held the phone for a while. But the flat design is impressively modern to look at. And you know it’s a sturdy phone as soon as you hold it. It has tempered glass, front and back, With anti-shatter film coated on top, So it’s going to be durable. But because of this coating, It feels a bit more like plastic and doesn’t have the premium glass feel of the Nexus 4. However, I’m pretty sure the Xperia Z would survive a heavy drop better than the Nexus 4. Though, I’m not going to test out that particular theory here. I should mention that the black phone tends to attract dust and fingerprint smudges like crazy. I’m constantly cleaning it, But luckily it’s easy to wipe down. The Xperia Z’s durable build continues along its sides, Where there’s a glass fibre polyamide edging that rounds off the corners, And surrounds the glossy side panels. These side panels are interesting, Because they’re part of the reason why the Xperia Z is water and dust resistant. You won’t see open ports like the headphone jack or microUSB port along the sides, Everything’s hidden away behind water-tight flaps. So if you accidentally drop the Xperia Z in the bath, It’ll still work. Provided you kept all the flaps closed and fished it out within thirty minutes. If you look carefully at the phone’s sides, You can see small tabs where the individual covers are. There are four of these covers. One for the headphone jack, The microSIM slot, the microSD card slot, and the microUSB charging port. The phone looks a lot less streamlined with all four of them open. The covers dangle out on white plastic bits, which are quite flexible but tough. There’s rubber lining on the inside of the covers, So when you close them, it produces a nice tight seal. It’s not difficult to open the covers. I initially found it a bit frustrating to have to open the microUSB cover every time I wanted to charge the phone. But I got used to it quite quickly. So what about the Xperia Z’s other physical features? Well, there are just the usual minimum. Above the display you’ll find the 2.2 megapixel camera, earpiece, light and proximity sensors, and LED notification light. And below the display there’s the main microphone, it isn’t a speaker. The Xperia Z has on-screen back, home and menu keys, not capacitive ones, So the screen is empty when the phone is turned off. On the top, there’s the covered headphone jack. The covered microUSB and microSD card slots are on the left, along with a dock connector. There’s nothing on the bottom, except a corner slot for a lanyard. Everything else is on the right of the phone. Right at the bottom is the Xperia Z’s single speaker, Which I feel is in an awkward place, Because I keep covering it whenever I’m holding the phone. Above the speaker is the volume rocker button. Right next to this is the unmissable power button. It’s big, round, and aluminium, And it’s something you’re either going to love or hate at first sight. Personally, I’m not a big fan of it. I don’t like the way it interrupts the phone’s streamlined look. But that’s just me. The way the power button is placed, It’s easily reachable whether you’re right-handed or left-handed. There’s no dedicated camera button on the Xperia Z, Like there is on Sony’s similar phone, the Xperia ZL. I’m guessing that Sony didn’t include one here in order to keep the Xperia Z water resistant. Above the power button is the covered microSIM slot. On the back of the phone is the 13 megapixel camera and LED flash, And near it you’ll find the secondary microphone, Which is mainly there for noise cancellation, But also helps the Xperia Z record video with stereo sound. The back cover is non-removable, So the 2330 mAh battery inside is non-swappable. Below the camera is an NFC sticker, which you can remove. The Xperia Z comes with 16 GB of onboard storage, But you’ll be able to get more space using a microSD card. The Xperia Z is 2013’s first mass market 1080p smartphone, So it’s naturally generated a lot of interest. And that’s quite understandable, Because what you get is a full 5 inch display, With a true HD pixel resolution of 1920 x 1080, And a huge 443ppi pixel density. We’ve moved from 2012’s flagship smartphones with their 720p displays, And 330ppi pixel densities to this. At the very least, we should see sharper images and videos on the Xperia. I’m going to use Google’s Nexus 4 as a comparison. This has a 720p LCD display with a pixel density of 320ppi. So now let’s take a look at some text and my display test video on both these phones. This is in bright sunlight, with brightness set to maximum on both phones. Compared to the Nexus, The Xperia produces a more visible image with better detail. The Xperia Z has what Sony calls ‘OptiContrast’. This is their term for the top glass cover being optically bonded to the LCD panel below. The idea is to reduce the air gap between the glass and the LCD, Which then increases display brightness and reduces glare or light reflection from the glass. The benefit is better sunlight visibility, As you can see. Even in more normal daylight, The Xperia produces a clearer picture. Some of this may also be due to the Xperia’s Mobile Bravia Engine being on. And we’ll see that in more detail very soon. This is text in the Kindle app on both phones, Again at maximum display brightness. In bright sunlight, The Xperia Z has more contrast, So text is more readable on it. In normal daylight, however, Both displays are similar. Text indoors is similar on both phone displays. The extra 123ppi of the Xperia’s display isn’t making a huge difference when it comes to reading. Let’s look at some video colour comparison now. There’s an option in the Xperia Z to turn on Mobile Bravia Engine 2. This is based on Sony’s best selling BRAVIA Tvs, And it’s supposed to improve the contrast and sharpness of pictures and videos. It’s really interesting here, With the Bravia Engine turned on, You can see how much brighter the video becomes. There’s some loss of detail because of that. The Bravia Engine also makes colours pop, They look like bright paint-pot colours. Without the Bravia Engine, The Xperia colours come closer to the original, And show more finer detail than the Nexus 4. And you can again see here how detail is lost when the Bravia Engine is on. The Bravia Engine might be useful for watching movies in bright sunlight, But inside, when it loses detail, The whole video can end up looking slightly blurry compared to the original. This is the Xperia Z’s side-viewing angle compared to the Galaxy S3 and the Nexus 4. And all three displays are at maximum brightness for this. The image on the Xperia’s display is viewable, But the brightness is washing out detail when seen at an angle. I got the same result whether the Bravia Engine was on or off. The Xperia Z runs on a 1.5 GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro processor, and 2GB RAM. It’s the same power set-up that’s inside Google’s Nexus 4 as well. The Xperia does quite well in benchmark tests for processor and graphics capabilities. It showed better results than the other phones in most cases. There’s a benchmark comparison table for different phones on uoobe.com The link to that is in the description below. The phone is built to be fast, But I did come across a few small issues during my use. There was a slight lag when scrolling through the home screens, especially if they were widget-heavy. And I noticed a similar lag scrolling through the app drawer. But when I used Nova Launcher, instead of the Xperia’s stock interface, There was no lag. If you’re opening the camera app for the first time that day, Then it takes three or four seconds to respond and boot up. This can be an issue when you’re trying to take a quick photo, The back of the phone gets a little warm when you’re playing graphic intensive games. But it’s similar to what I’ve come across in many phones, So I wasn’t especially worried about that. The phone’s internals are powerful, And the lag I noticed came from the software. Sony could probably improve the performance with a quick software update. Sony’s Xperia Z is their first phone running Android 4.1, Jelly Bean, out of the box. It’s not the latest version of Android, Since Google’s Nexus 4 is now running Android 4.2, But Sony has promised updates soon. Sony’s overlaid their custom user interface over the stock Android, But it’s more subtle compared to HTC’s Sense UI or Samsung’s Touchwiz. You can see the Xperia Z’s interface in more detail in the interface video on Uoobe.com I’ve included a link in the description below. The Xperia Z has a whole range of connections, Including wi-fi, bluetooth, and 4G-LTE. NFC works with Android Beam, So you can transfer small data files to other NFC-enabled phones. There’s also Google Wallet. The other thing you can use through the Xperia Z’s NFC are Sony’s Smart Tags. These are like little badges that you hang around the place, And as soon as you touch the back of your phone to one of them it does a function you’ve set for it. So you can use it to turn wi-fi on or off, turn on the GPS, etc. The tags don’t come with the phone, and they’re about $20 or £13 to buy. The microUSB port is for charging and data transfer. It also supports USB-on-the-Go so you can link external flash drives. For data transfer, The Xperia Z links quickly to a Windows PC. It mounts as a drive. On the MAC, I used Air Droid to connect wirelessly. GPS has Assisted-GPS and Glonass support. The Xperia Z locks on to satellites very quickly, And keeps a good connection. I had no problems with the GPS while I was driving around with it. No lost signals or any such. Call reception is very good on the Xperia Z, And I didn’t have any dropped calls even in weak signal areas. To give you an idea of in-call quality, Here’s something wise from Lisa Brooks: I’ve learned that things change, people change, and it doesn’t mean you forget the past or try to cover it up. It simply means that you move on and treasure the memories. Letting go doesn’t mean giving up… it means accepting that some things weren’t meant to be.” Listening to music through headphones on the Xperia Z is a great experience. Sony’s walkman app does a good job. Clearaudio+ adjusts audio clarity giving music a crisp sound. Now, have a listen to the loudspeaker. I recorded this with the Xperia’s sound enhancements turned on. There’s Clear Phase, which adjusts speaker sound quality, And xLOUD, which increases loudness. I’m comparing the Xperia Z’s speaker to the Nokia Lumia 920’s. Both phones have volume set to maximum, And I recorded this at a distance of one meter from the phones. The Lumia 920 has one of the best loudspeakers that I’ve come across in a smart phone, So for the Xperia Z to have reached it’s level would have been impressive. Sadly though, the Xperia’s speaker is nowhere near. Not only is it’s sound quieter overall, It also loses a lot of the mid-range and bass, Making it sound tinny. Also, with the speaker being on the side, I’m always covering it with my hand when I’m holding the phone. If you want to know how the Xperia Z does against other phones, You can listen to and compare call quality and speaker quality for different phones on Uoobe.com I’ve included the relevant links in the description below. The Xperia Z has a front 2.2MP camera and a rear 13.1MP camera. You’re seeing me speak through the Xperia’s front camera now. Both the front and rear cameras capture 1080p video at 30 fps. They both have Sony’s Exmor sensor for mobile. This is the first image sensor in a mobile phone that lets you capture High Dynamic Range or HDR video. This setting lets you see a greater dynamic range between light and dark areas in the image, So photos and videos come out with vivid colour and better contrast, Even in poorly lit conditions. Here’s a video I took on a really sunny day. It’s not HDR, And the colours look okay here, quite normal. With these pink flowers, There’s a lack of vibrancy overall. Now for comparison, I’ve used a Canon 60D video, And you can immediately see how the Xperia’s video is less sharp, And slightly saturated in the greens. There’s also loss of detail in dark areas. And on this hedge the Xperia video is over-exposed. This indoor video was shot in very low light. The Canon is showing the original colour. The HDR video shows very saturated colours, And is really not at all sharp. With HDR off, there’s still some saturation, But the overall video quality is much better. In this indoor video with better lighting, The HDR video has come out much better. I think that’s the secret to taking HDR video with the Xperia Z, Have good lighting. Autofocus isn’t snappy, but eventually gets there. Macro photos do show very good detail. In this photo comparison with the Canon, The Xperia Z’s photos lose a lot of natural vibrancy. These shots were taken with the Xperia’s superior auto-mode on, And it generally gives better results than the normal mode. It optimises for 36 different scenes, by automatically activating HDR and noise reduction when needed. It reproduces objects in more vivid colour than normal mode. These videos were all shot at the same distance from my little lego man. They give a comparison of the Xperia Z’s 13 MP camera against the other phones’ 8 MP cameras. These are flash only photos taken in complete darkness, And the light you see is from the Phone’s LED flash. The Xperia’s single LED flash doesn’t shed as much light on the scene as the Lumia’s dual flash. It still manages to autofocus well though, And the photos haven’t come out blurry. The Xperia Z is powered by a 2330 mAh battery. It’s large, but with a 5 inch 1080p screen and a quad—core processor to power, It’s got an awful lot of work to do. In my testing, I spent a day using pretty much everything on the phone, Browser, GPS, watching movies, calls, etc, All at 50 percent display brightness, And the battery lasted nearly 6 and a half hours. The screen on time was 4 hours and 44 minutes. 6 and a half hours isn’t bad, Considering I was using the phone a lot. I want to break down the result a bit, These are 10 minute battery usage stats for different activities done at 50 percent brightness, and all connections turned off. The Xperia Z doesn’t do as well as phones like the Nexus 4 or the Galaxy S3, Especially for playing games. There are other comparisons as well, And if you want to see a battery comparison table for all the phones I’ve reviewed so far, click on the Uoobe.com link in the description below. The Xperia Z has ‘stamina mode’ if you want the battery to go further. What stamina mode does is it cuts off mobile data and wifi access whenever the display is sleeping. You’ll still receive your calls, text messages, and calendar notifications, But if you want to keep your emails syncing in the background then you’ll need to add it to the list of allowed applications. Sony promises four times more battery life in stamina mode, But in my test, With the same sort of use as I mentioned before, The battery lasted 7 and a half hours. An improvement of one hour. Stamina mode will work really well for you if you only occasionally use your phone throughout the day, But if you’re a power user, Or just like me and want to use that 1080p display as much as possible, Then stamina mode isn’t going to add much extra, Since the display needs to be off for it to do its thing. The Xperia Z offers a lot, But a few issues stood out for me. I’m not keen on the speaker placement. It’s already quiet, And the speaker being on the side of the phone, means I’m constantly covering it with my hand and damping the volume even more. There’s also some lag with the user interface, And the camera app can take too long to open. However, these last two points being software issues, I’m hoping they’ll be quickly corrected with an update from Sony. The 1080p display is sharp, But the difference isn’t so mind blowing, That you’ll be throwing your 720p phones in the bin and rushing for the Xperia Z. And that’s what it comes down to really. If you already have one of 2012’s flagship phones, Like the Galaxy S3 or the Nexus 4, Then the Xperia Z probably won’t be on your upgrade list. But coming from anything else, And this phone is a great performer. Also, if you’re someone who desperately needs a water-resistant phone, Then this is the one for you. Just make sure all the covers are firmly in place before you drop it into a muddy puddle. All things said though, The Xperia Z is the best Sony smartphone available right now.

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