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Sony Xperia Z review

 Review: February 2013  

Rating: 5 stars

In a nutshell: At launch, almost certainly the best smartphone in the world, the Xperia Z offers a superslim waterproof design with the world's first 5 inch 1080p display and an extraordinary 13 megapixel camera.

Today's best buy: Sony Xperia Z5 Dual SIM from Alldeal (£197.18)



Sony have produced some nice Android phones in the past year, but it's been a while since they launched a genuine superphone. But clear the decks - the last word in Xperia smartphones is here (or the last letter at least, geddit?)

Design & looks

Sony are taking no prisoners when it comes to the design, materials and build quality of their new phone. The device is constructed mainly out of glass, with both the front and back surfaces being made entirely from perfectly flat sheets of strong tempered glass. As a result the back of the phone has a stunning mirror effect - just don't mention fingerprints. The power and volume buttons are made from aluminium. Inside, the frame is made from glass fibre polyamide, making it extremely rigid despite its thinness and huge screen.

The Xperia Z has the same length and width as the Samsung Galaxy S3, and is a millimetre thinner. It weighs slightly more, and due to the squarer shape, it isn't quite as easy to handle, although it does look nicer as a result. The phone really is delightfully thin though, being only a hair's breadth thicker than the skinniest of all skinny superphones, the iPhone 5. And despite its enormous 5 inch screen (more on this below) the phone is quite a bit lighter than the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 or the Nokia Lumia 920. It definitely feels and handles like a phone, not like a hybrid "phablet".

We should mention too that the phone is waterproof and dust proof. We say "should" because nobody seems interested in this feature, at least not until they drop their expensive gadget in the sink and discover that a) electronic devices hate water even more than cats do, and b) water damage? sorry, your insurance policy doesn't cover that. Anyway, since toilet texting is an extremely popular activity, this is a definite bonus. The only negative aspect is that all the connections have pop-up flaps to protect them, which means that when you have headphones plugged in the headphone flap will, well, flap around a bit.

Full HD display

Normally we mention a phone's screen in the Design section, but the Xperia Z's screen merits a section of its own. We've seen some impressive screens in recent years, from the Retina display of the iPhone 5 to the enormous 5.5 inch screen of the Galaxy Note 2, but this is the first full HD 1080p screen we've encountered.

The Xperia Z has an astonishingly high number of pixels - 1920 x 1080 pixels spread across an enormous 5 inch screen. This gives it a pixel density of 443ppi compared with the iPhone 5's 326 ppi. Now the Retina display is supposed to have pixels so small that they are invisible to the naked eye, so does increasing the pixel density further have any visible effect?

Well, yes. There are extra levels of detail visible in high quality images and videos viewed on the screen. In fact, video playback is absolutely silky smooth, thanks to Sony's Mobile BRAVIA Engine 2, and the screen is bright with full colour saturation. The OptiContrast panel eliminates an air layer, making it the best that can be achieved from LCD technology.

In short, the screen is nothing short of spectacular, and is the real highlight of the Xperia Z, along with the device's astonishing slimness. At 5 inches, the screen is even bigger than the display on the Galaxy S3, even though the whole device measures no more than about a millimetre longer than the S3.

Google Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean)

Previous Xperia phones have often come in for criticism for running old version of the Android OS, so it's nice to see that the Xperia Z comes with Jelly Bean installed. Not Jelly Bean 4.2 like the Google Nexus 4, but 4.1. 4.2 should be along soon.

Sony has eased back on customisation of the OS. The Timescape app has gone, and this is almost pure Android, with a few extra apps bundled in, such as the Walkman music player and the Sony Car suite of in-car functions.

It's worth mentioning here just how easy it is to type on the 5 inch screen. The virtual QWERTY keyboard is perfectly-sized for fast and accurate typing.


Consider this. The Xperia Z is so thin there's hardly any space inside for processors, memory, etc. So Sony must have achieved some kind of local space-time dilation to pack in all the goodies. For the phone comes with a quadcore Snapdragon S4 Pro processor with each core running at 1.5GHz which is the same as the Google Nexus 4. An Adreno 320 GPU provides 2D and 3D graphics power. It also packs 2GB of RAM enabling it to support the most demanding of apps as well as full multitasking.

In practice the phone zips along, displaying web sites and youtube videos almost instantaneously, although strangely, apps were often slow to open. The camera app was particularly laggy to open. That might be an anomaly in our prototype test version.

When it comes to storage, the phone has 16GB built-in with the option of adding a microSD card for up to 32GB more. That should be enough for the vast majority of users.

13 megapixel camera

Did we say that the Xperia Z's best features were its 1080p display and incredible thinness? Oh, we really meant to say that it was the camera! Because Sony has really pulled out all the stops here.

The main rear-facing camera has a 13 megapixel sensor with Sony's best CMOS image sensor - the new Exmos RS sensor. As well as the huge 13 million pixel count, this features HDR (High Dynamic Range) to handle a wider dynamic range of light and shadow. We tested this against a Canon EOS digital SLR and the Xperia Z was able to match the DSLR for reproduction of light and dark, with good colour reproduction even in shadowy areas of the scene. The Canon still came out on top for overall image definition though, so the days of high-end dedicated cameras aren't over yet. For everyday use though, the Xperia Z is probably a match for even the best compact digital cameras.

The camera has autofocus of course, plus a pulsed LED flash, face and smile detection, red-eye reduction and all the options you'd expect on a dedicated digital camera. It's also capable of recording full HD 1080p video.

The secondary front-facing camera is no slouch either, being equipped with a 2 megapixel Exmor R sensor and also able to record 1080p video. Google Talk enables video chat.

4G Connectivity

Naturally, the phone has LTE/4G support as well as 3G and GSM.

NFC is fully supported with "one-touch" sharing of photos, music, etc between phones and mirroring of the display on a BRAVIA TV. You can stream music from the phone to a wireless speaker or wireless headphones. Sony also sells a range of Smart Tags that you can touch your phone against to activate particular functions, like setting your phone to vibrate when you arrive in the office.

You'll also find a full range of other connectivity options including WiFi (including WiFi hotspot functionality), Bluetooth 4.0, USB 2.0, 3.5mm audio jack, HDMI and DLNA.

Battery power

A superphone eats batteries like a New York cop eats doughnuts, so the Xperia Z better come with a whopper. Fortunately it does. A 2330mAh battery, second only in capacity to the Galaxy Note 2.

In addition, Sony have introduced a "stamina mode" setting that disables Wi-Fi and data traffic when the display is off, while keeping calls and text notifications active. As soon as you turn the screen back on, normal activity resumes. You can customise this setting, for example to keep Facebook notifications active when the screen is off.

In our tests, we found that with heavy use the battery can easily last a day, and that with lighter use and in stamina mode, many days can pass before a recharge is needed.

Conclusion - a pre-emptive strike against the Galaxy S4

The Sony Xperia Z is Sony's first real Android superphone. It's not playing catch-up, it's pushing well ahead of the competition. The Xperia Z has 3 key selling points:

1. The incredible 5 inch 1080p full HD display.

2. Stunning looks and slim dimensions.

3. An amazing 13 megapixel camera.

Add in the quadcore processor, 4G and NFC support, strong battery life and the waterproofing and you have a phone that excels in every single area. It's quite feasible that this is the best phone in the world right now. Is there anything wrong with it? Perhaps just that the size won't be for everyone.

But it's impossible to discuss the Xperia Z fully without mentioning a phone that doesn't yet exist - the Samsung Galaxy S4. Of course, we don't know for sure what the S4 will bring, but a good guess is that it will share a lot in common with the Xperia Z. Samsung may yet have a few tricks up its sleeve, but we'd be surprised if the S4 offers much more than the Xperia Z, except possibly an even faster processor. We doubt that the S4's camera will be a match for the Sony, and it probably won't be waterproof either. The new HTC One also offers a 1080p display, but with a smaller size of 4.7 inches.

So, if you're tempted by the Xperia Z but think the Galaxy S4 might be better, remember this: in the tech world, something better is *always* coming, real soon now. Right at this moment, the Xperia Z is probably, almost certainly definitely, the best smartphone in the world.

Review handset courtesy of O2 Deals.

Sony Xperia Z features include:

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Sony Xperia Z user reviews

Love this product? Hate it? Please share your experiences to help other people choose the product that's best for them. Please do not review this product if you have not used it, and please ask questions in our User Questions section above. Please do not use swear words or offensive language, and please, no advertising!

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Average rating from 14 reviews:

Reviewed by Edward Williams from England on 25th Jun 2014
Decent phone but Sony warranty service is the worst i have ever known. My phone is still awaiting repair after 2 weeks and they aren't bothered that its a bad service. Htc service is much better

Reviewed by MahouJojo from England on 11th Oct 2013
I own a Z since 3 months now, and I like the display and it's power for games and the elegant design.
What I don't like is the battery, it drains quickly and the flaps for headphones and power got worn off and now the stripes for detecting water turned pink, so no warranty and resale value cripled. Alsothe sealing rubber started to come off and is partially missing by the headphone jack, so It's not waterproof anymore after 3 months of normal use.
The store where I bought it told me to contact Sony but since it has "water damage" I will end up paying. You basically can't listen to music while walking in the rain since there is a risk of 1 tiny drop falling straight where the flap and the water detector is. Also the flaps get in the way when it's in your pocket and you listen to music. The colours aren't as nice as on Samsung Galaxy devices, but the resolution is nice. Viewing angles of the phone aren't as goos as Samsungs either and the colours look but washed out. Unless the waterfroof feature is essential (even if it will only last for a limited time) I would reccoment Samsungs alternative.

Reviewed by Akif from Turkey on 8th Sep 2013
This phone is most probably worst phone I have ever used. It drains the battery like nothing else. After a normal use without any video playing or gaming just email check you will end up an empty battery at yoru hand when you arrive to home. If you go out for anything at evening you would not find your home. This may be the best sony phone ever, but it is not best phone at the market.

Reviewed by Kelvin from England on 18th Jul 2013
Absolutely loving this phone. I have used all the latest handsets and can honestly say I feel this is the best phone compared to the HTC One, Galaxy S4 and the iPhone 5. Simple to use, lovely design, good camera and good battery life (when used with Stamina Mode). The only downside I have found is that the handset gets very warm quickly while using it. Other than that an excellent job by Sony!

Reply by Bippity Boppity Boo from Uk on 11th Aug 2013
Stick it in water to keep it cool ;)

Reply by RabWarren from London, UK on 21st Aug 2013
Mine gets really hot too, in the top left hand side where the processor sits. I've also noticed a slight back screen lift in the hot area which as it cools seems to re set itself! Not sure if this is by design, or not? It seems to be ok but my only concern would be if it gets affected by condensation and what effect this may have on the liquid identifying strips under the various access covers.

Reply by Rab Warren from London, UK on 5th Sep 2013
Update Sept 13. Very happy fella, I finally got rid of the Z duffer last week and have got a Galaxy S4 instead. Both handsets have comparable hardware and the same version of Android but the S4 doesn't get as hot as the Sony and at least has open ports to better dissipate the heat that was causing the back screen to rise on the Xperia. Many people recommend heating the back with a hairdryer to melt the glue and clamp with a large bulldog clip with some soft cloth under the clip until it dries but this won't work as hairdryers tend to cut out at 38 degrees and the phone can get to over 43 degrees!!

Reply by strawcrow from UK on 14th Sep 2013
Sony have an issue with this phone as there is now a growing number of people with cracked screens due to the phone overheating. And just like the PS3, they are refusing to admit there is a problem and will not repair this phone under warranty. I, for one, will never buy anything from Sony again.

Reviewed by Pete from Ireland on 24th May 2013
Picked one up for free with a long contract last week. Done a lot of checking of reviews and stuff before I made the jump and I have to say Im glad I did. Moved up from an Xperia T and the difference is unreal. Call quality, music volume, camera, screen are all top notch. Feels quality in the hand. Super fast. Love the fact its a bit waterproof. Getting a full day even with very heavy use. Cant fault it really.

Reply by Pete from Ireland on 24th Jan 2014
Ear piece stopped working. Didn't drop it or use it under water. Bit of a problem with this model apparently. Back with Sony getting fixed. I hope!!!

Reviewed by Pete from England on 7th May 2013
I absolutely love this phone. I had the samsung s3 before, which was a great phone but had stuff on it that I never, ever used (like watching a video while texting etc) but the Xperia Z is, for me even better. Its got a great camera, its lightning quick to open apps, music sounds amazing and everything else is fantastic. Im glad I chose this phone :D

Reviewed by Paul B from England on 27th Mar 2013
Well, what can I say? I have had umpteen smartphones, from the first iPhone to the Galaxy Note 2. I have had my Xperia Z for a few days and it is as advertised - the best smartphone available!
The battery life, contrary to one of the reviews below, is superb. Even with heavy use it lasts a lot longer than most top notch phones. I think maybe that the Note 2 is slightly better but does have a significantly larger capacity battery. The Stamina feature is a very good idea and can be tweaked to suit your needs. The screen is mind-blowing. Better than the iPhone 5 in my opinion. The processor is fast and I haven't found any lag on any apps, not even Need for Speed Most Wanted. Jellybean 4.1 is a welcome relief seeing as Sony normally lag behind where Android updates are concerned. Although this is a 5" screen the phone itself doesn't feel that large and can be used one handed (by me anyway). The quality of the build is up there with the iPhone. One minus is that' there's no dedicated shutter button for the camera. Not a deal breaker but I was surprised considering Sony normally do have one on the Xperia range. The camera itself is quality. Easy to use, settings are accessed easily and the results are truly fantastic. Again, not a deal breaker but the phone itself is a fingerprint magnet, even with he supplied screen protectors fitted. You get both front and rear protectors included in the box, a decent set of earphones, mains charger and USB cable. Overall this is a beast of a mobile, both technology wise and ascetically. If you have the chance to get one - do it. You will not be disappointed.

Reviewed by John from Ireland on 21st Mar 2013
The screen on this phone is awesome, the camera is amazing, the speed is fantastic and its wonderfully light and slim. Typically a phone like this would get 5 stars from me but I must deduct 1 star for the fact that this phone is the worst fingerprint and dust magnet I have every had. Funnily enough the last phone like this was the Experia T. So if smudgy fingerprints and dust are a pet hate of yours don't buy this phone otherwise you will love it.

Reviewed by SLYBOY from WALES on 12th Mar 2013
SONY XPERIA Z ... I've had MANY smartphones both Android & iOS ... just sold my iPhone 5 because id seen 5* reviews for this Sony z ... BIG MISTAKE!!! the phone arrived on saturday 9th march Today is Monday 12th march ... & its packaged up to be returned Why? The Battery Life! or should I say LACK! OF ... phone had been properly charged as per All My gadgets (gadget freak) set phone up to my liking including turning off auto brightness & switching off various battery munching Non essential items etc & literally watched the battery Drain by 15% in about 45mins ... & (No video or music playback) that was just using Basic functions ( What's the point of a 5" Full 1080p beautiful screen ... & NOT being able to use it? could it be the battery? I Very much doubt it? why? because I had a ps vita at launch ... just to play uncharted .... & although the game is Only around 10hrs isn ... I had to charge that 4 TIMES in order to complete That! Yes I know things MAY get sorted via future firmware updates ... But I'm Not going to take the chance of being lumbered with a 24 month contract & a paper weight .... 5 star for screen 2 star or less for battery life.

Reply by Marko from Ireland on 14th Mar 2013
I can understand your frustration and the expectation that your new phone is going to be the best thing since sliced bread :-) But I have the Xperia Z two weeks now and I have not experienced the problems you have just described. It sounds like you have a faulty battery/phone and you should look for a replacement asap. I cannot compare the 'Z' against the iphone5 as I have never used one but I have used the x10, ARC, xperia S and the battery on 'Z' is a MASSIVE BIG improvement over previous mentioned phones. Using the same settings and usage that I had on the xperia S, I now get 2 days out of my battery ON THE 'Z' against 1 day. If you turn on 'Stamina mode' I can boost the battery life up to 2 and a half days approx. When I first got the phone the battery was lasting about 10 to 15 hours as I was trying out everything it could do and it was continually on. I would have no problem recommending this phone to friends and colleagues.

Reply by S21 from UK on 14th Mar 2013
In our tests, we were impressed by just how good the battery life was, especially in stamina mode. Even in normal use it was a lot better than most phones of this type.

Reviewed by Fozzy from UK on 5th Mar 2013
Have had most top end phones (bit of a gadget freak), this is certainly the best looking I've owned. Is it better than the HTC One x+ (which I also have), not really sure? All the phones in the last year or so are blurring into one. I've had the S3, Note 2, Lumia 920, Xperia T and IPhone 5. It seems to me that most of the top end phones of the same platform (android in this case) are hard to distinguish from each other than the looks. They all do the same stuff and I can't remember when something truly revolutionary or unique to a particular phone in the smartphone world happened. So it does what all other top end androids do, so 5/5, as with the others.

Reviewed by a p please bob from england on 2nd Mar 2013
having had the xperia z phone for a couple of days now,
i would say its nearly as good as the htc one x+ & sg s3,
but no better,and i feel that will be its downfall,
its a fantastic looking premium phone,and a great screen,
but you just know the htc one (m7)out later this month
will walk all over it,then when the sg s4 comes out,
it will relegate the xperia z even further down the sales chart.i would wait for the 5* brigade phones before this.

Reply by Chris Winterburn from UK on 4th Mar 2013
the problem with this market is that every 6 months or so, your brand new phone gets walked over the the latest release from this, that or the other. It becomes more about sales charts than the actual phone.

Reply by p please bob from uk on 7th Mar 2013
Chris I would normally agree with the every 6 months A phone comes along and walks all over it but the xperia z Inside weeks not months will have two not one which Will be far better.

Reply by David from England on 10th Mar 2013
Bob, that's just a dumb reply. You're deducting a star based upon the fact that you are predicting a better model will follow from HTC or Samsung. Well, Sherlock, that is inevitable as future models MUST be better as technology moves on.....just as the Sony Z is better (and it is) than the S3, HTC One+. Judge it on its current market competition/performance, and I cannot see how it can be awarded anything less than a 5* Sony have finally seriously muscled in on the top-end phones. I congratulate them on a phenomenal task; achieved! Love it!

Reviewed by Chris Winterburn from UK on 1st Mar 2013
I loved it! Arrived today and just finished configuring everything. Very smooth in operation with no lag at all that I can see. Love the screen! Sound quality is great through the headphones but sounds a little bit tinny through the build in speaker but I'm not one of these annoying people who have to share their music tastes with everyone else so this isn't an issue. I've heard some reviewers complain about the lack of a full stop on the keyboard but the fact is there is one if only people would look under settings then you'll find the option there. Keyboard has a swype function which I wasn't aware of but it is very accurate at prediction. Only used the basics of the camera but am more than pleased with the results.

Reviewed by Miachel from UK on 22nd Feb 2013
I tested a retail model of this phone in the Sony store. I tried it out for about 10 minutes. I love the screen but for 529 I expected a little better, to be more refined. The smudges on the black version were awful. I was the first one to use it too and within a few minutes it started to look not so good and tiny specs of dust managed to get in too. It was much less on the white version so I personally would purchase the white version of this phone.

The speaker annoyed me to be frank. It was poor quality and needed more volume just to be adequate! I tried making a couple of calls and the people on the other end heard me perfectly but I found their voices slightly muffled; well enough to notice. Also you had to hold it in a certain way to get the ear piece right..what I mean is if you don't hold it exactly right (earpiece to ear) the sound is mostly lost. There was no lag in the OS but the chrome browser struggled a bit on heavy sites.

Also I was shocked to see that none of the staff at the Sony centre had a Sony phone (except the manager, i think it was the S)! The guy showing me the phone had an Iphone 5 and giggled a bit when I pointed it out. He was friendly enough to allow me to compare them when no one was around. In all honesty and off course in my opinion, the only advantage of this phone is the Screen, water resistance and connectivity (NFC) etc.. In every other aspect the Iphone 5 was much easier and better in use. Even the maps loaded much quicker on the Iphone and the speakers were much much better. A quick play with the camera's and again Iphone 5 had better IS in video. Colours seem a bit more natural on the Sony but didn't view on PC for proper analysis. As it is Sony, I was expecting better from the camera performance (although the Sony camera menu was excellent with more options etc).

I was bit disappointed with the experience. I was looking forward to placing my pre-order. Perhaps my needs are simpler then what I though (or my age is showing a bit!) but I just want things to work properly out of the box. I know the Andorid experience can vary depending on the manufacturer but I still believe in some kind of unified (standard) experience. Truth be said though, the Sony phone is my favourite Android experience.

I also noticed from the staff members Iphone the latest iOS feautures like the notifications etc. I know I'm not as technical as some people on this forum. There was a time I enjoyed customizing and tinkering with my Symbians, Windows, Ipaqs etc..but people's requirements change. I'd rather spend less time customizing and make use/enjoy some cool apps.

The irony in all this is I went to a Sony store to try out their flagship phone one last time before placing my order. I saw the salesman Iphone 5 and did a side-by-side comparison. I ended up going to the Apple store and purchasing an Iphone 5. If Sony had the price at 450 I might have gone for it. It's a tough trade off these days.

The competition is fierce among smartphones. We have plenty of choice as consumers and it comes down to personal needs and preferences. I'm not a fan of any company. They sell me things and I purchase them with my money. I put in the time to research and listen to other people's experience and feedback. To me 529 is a premium price to pay and I expect a premium experience. I did not feel this with the Sony phone (and to some extent the staff were hardly passionate for it!). I will miss out on that gorgeous screen, but, I'd rather have the other features which in my opinion Apple better in every way.

Reviewed by Ben from UK on 21st Feb 2013
Definitely one of the nicest Android phones I've used and did a very good job of convincing me I want a 5" smartphone (vs my current iphone 4). The screen resolution is amazing although I wish the viewing angle was slightly improved (not that I care - I only ever look from the front heh).

Previously I've had the P800, P910, P990 and P1i - take note Sony, you almost got me back with this phone. A shame about the lock button being so out of place design-wise, and where's the de-rigeur hardware camera button? Even Apple backed down on that one...

Overall, if you want an android and have both literal and figurative big pockets, go for it! 4 stars awarded because it's not perfect, but it is excellent.

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