Back when Sony parted ways with Ericsson, the company promised they would be doubling their smartphone efforts and we caught the first glimpse of it with the launch of the Xperia S, the first Sony-branded Android. Since then, we've seen a wave of handsets being pumped out by Sony in order to plug every conceivable price segment. Most of them were slightly modified clones of the flagship with one unique feature, which differentiated them in the line-up. Cut to the present and it seems as if Sony is running out of alphabets for its phones. The Xperia Z is the latest flagship from the Sony stable, which was launched along with a smaller sibling, the ZL. In true Sony fashion, this handset too has one stand out feature that sets it apart and that’s the IP55 and IP57 certification which makes the Z, the first ever high-end Android to be dust and water proof.
Design and Build
Sony has managed to achieve this feat and still keep the width down to 7.9mm and the weight to just 146g, so you understand why we were so excited to get our hands on it. You have a choice of colours with white, purple and black options. The handset looks good in white although some of us in the office felt it resembled a bathroom tile, which in all fairness, it does from the back. The Z carries forward the block-like design of previous generation Xperias and is completely flat from all sides with the exception of the corners and the edges being rounded off. It does feel unusual in your hand at first and the sides aren’t very grippy either. It’s not the most comfortable smartphone for sure and with a 5-inch display, you’ll have some trouble adjusting if you have small hands. To counter this, Sony has placed the power and volume rocker lower down on the sides so your thumb easily reaches it when held with the right hand. Just below that is the speaker grill, which we’ll talk about more in a bit. The rest of the ports are distributed around the phone and are safely ensconced with rubber-lined flaps. There’s a microSIM, microSD, microUSB and headphone jack, all protected from dust and water. Sony even throws in a lanyard loop at the bottom, not something we see a lot these days.
Around the back, we have a second microphone for noise cancellation, the 13MP camera and an LED flash. Overall, the build and finish of the handset is very good and even a few drops left nothing more than minor scuff marks along the edge. Having said that, all’s not perfect with the Z. The phone is a huge fingerprint magnet and we’re talking about both the glass backs as well as the sides, which are a nightmare to clean. We also noticed that our test unit had developed many hairline scratches, on the display and the back, which spoiled the whole look. This was a little confusing since Sony says the glass is scratchproof.
The screen guard attracts hairline scratches easily and when removed, takes the Sony logo with it
As it turns out, the Xperia Z comes with a factory-fitted screen guard, that’s clearly not meant to be removed since the logo in the front comes off with it. This doesn’t affect the phones waterproof capabilities in anyway and neither does it help the display as it attracts scratches very easily, so why put it there? After removing it, we tried scratching the glass with pins, keys, basically anything sharp and it didn’t do any damage. Clearly, the display is capable of withstanding quite a bit of abuse and it should have been just left as is. Fingerprint smudges got a lot worse however with the screen guard removed.
Power and volume rocker have an ergonomic placement
You’ll be happy to hear that the phone does just fine when dunked in water, hot or cold. The capacitive screen goes out of whack so it’s not exactly usable underwater like the Xperia Active. Other than that, we didn’t face any problems.
Let’s start with the display itself. You get a 5-inch LCD panel with a 1920 x 1080p pixel density, giving you sharp text and images. While this sounds good on paper, the reality is quite different. Even with the BRAVIA Engine 2 on, the colours are washed out and aren’t very rich at all. A Rs13,000 Android with an IPS display manages better colours. Boosting the brightness only worsens the contrast. We can’t really blame the waterproofing for such muted colours since the Xperia go had the same treatment and the screen was definitely better. It’s not a terrible display but when you compare it with the HTC One or the Optimus G, the Z pales in comparison, quite literally.
The new lock screen is super cool
Sony has skinned the Xperia Z similarly to their previous offerings so you’ll be at home if you’ve used a Sony droid in the past. You get onscreen buttons which work much better than the capacitive ones on the Xperia S.