Sony Xperia Z: Galaxy Killer? (Part 2)

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Camera test

The Xperia Z is a rare example of a Sony smartphone without a dedicated camera button. In our view it’s a backward step for a device that has lots of potential in the imaging department, but it does bring it into line with most other handsets. As the device we were testing was not running final firmware it is possible that there will be further improvements in the quality of the camera by the time the device goes on sale, but in our initial tests we were happy with the quality and performance of the camera. It is very responsive, with barely any perceptible shutter lag and produced reasonably crisp shots in far-from-ideal shooting conditions. There was inevitably evidence of noise and noise reduction, and the LED flash seems set to be as feeble as they always are. But from what we’ve seen so far we’d have no reason not to expect this to match, if not surpass, the performance of the Xperia T, which is among our current favorite camera smartphone performers.

The full HD display

“You really cannot see the pixels no matter how closely you look”

One of the big standout features on the Xperia Z is the screen. This is the first time we’ve seen a 1080p display in the UK, with the only previous models being a couple of HTC devices for the US and Japanese markets. The pixel density of 441ppi puts it way beyond Apple’s famed Retina display benchmark of 300ppi. The theory is that once you get beyond 300ppi the pixels become imperceptible to the eye, but the Xperia Z’s screen shows that this is not the case. True, when you’re looking at it in isolation you might struggle to notice the improvements this higher-than-ever pixel density makes. It looks bright, clear and crisp, and you really cannot see the pixels no matter how closely you look. But it’s only when you put it directly up against a 720p display that you can see how much of a step up it is.

The pixel density of 441ppi puts it way beyond Apple’s famed Retina display benchmark of 300ppi

Whether it proves to be a major selling point we’re not so sure, but we can certainly expect the entire industry to move to these HD displays this year. Away from the resolution the screen looks like being one of Sony’s best. When we reviewed the Xperia T we found the viewing angles were a notch lower than the likes of the best-in-class HTC One X, but that appears to have been fixed in the Z. The on-board Bravia engine ensures good colors and contrast too.


The Xperia Z will withstand dust, water and anything else you can throw at it One of the differentiating features of the Xperia Z, and something that is likely to become commonplace on Sony devices in future, is that it is waterproof. This means that the ports around the device are sealed, but we can’t vouch for what will happen if the phone comes into heavy contact with water when, for example, you’ve got your headphones plugged in and there is a port exposed. With all the ports closed, though, we can say that the phone continues to work fully when submerged. That’s great for when you’re using the device in the rain, although whether you’d want to pluck it out of the toilet and continue using it is another matter.

The Xperia Z will withstand dust, water and anything else you can throw at it One of the differentiating features of the Xperia Z

The Xperia Z will withstand dust, water and anything else you can throw at it One of the differentiating features of the Xperia Z

Benchmark tests

Normally we wouldn’t benchmark a device running pre-release firmware, but in the case of the Xperia Z there’s really nothing to hide. The quad-core Krait processor has proven itself before in devices like the Nexus 4 and there’s no sign that the experience will be any different on the Xperia Z. It beat the Galaxy S III in both the AnTuTu and Quadrant benchmark tests, which test CPU, graphics and SD card reading and writing performance.

It beat the Galaxy S III in both the AnTuTu and Quadrant benchmark tests

It beat the Galaxy S III in both the AnTuTu and Quadrant benchmark tests

Sony’s software skin

The skin on Sony’s Android smartphones has for some time been considered one of the best, achieving the aim of giving Sony handsets their own identity while remaining fairly light and understated. Sony’s tweaks to the UI have in the past found their way into the stock Android OS, and there are a few on the Z that we’d be happy to see do likewise. Most notably is the ability to create folders of apps in the app drawer itself, not just on the home screen. That would certainly go some way towards helping clear up the clutter of apps, as well as bloatware. There is a certain amount of the latter evident on the Sony Sony Xperia Z. Sony, like Samsung, is increasingly keen to turn its phones and tablets into hubs for all of its products. If you own a PlayStation and a recent Sony TV and want to invest in Sony services then the benefits of owning a Sony phone become clearer, but if not, then some of the added software features on the Z may not be relevant to you.

Sony’s software skin

Sony’s software skin

Among the added software are a Walkman app and the (subscription-based) Music Unlimited service that replicates much of the Google Play Music experience. There’s also a movies service, and a pictures app to replace the stock Android gallery. For gamers, PlayStation Mobile is included, although that service has yet to gain any traction in the market. There are some extras too that offer varying levels of value – bundling security software always seems like a throwback to the old PC days, while Sony Car, with its large buttoned UI for in-car control of music and navigation features seems like it would be of greater use.

Early performance tests

The device we were using was not running the final firmware so we’ll withhold our judgment on the device’s performance until we get a retail unit for our full review.

That said, we encountered no issues with the speed and responsiveness of the system, and the running of some benchmark tests on the device gave us very high expectations of the phone’s speed. Even pushing around more than double the pixels as the Galaxy S III, the Krait processor was able to take everything in its stride make no mistake, this is a real powerhouse of a smartphone. And just in general use our perceptions are similar. There are no traces of lag, and games and full HD video ran smoothly.

Samsung may finally have itself an Android rival

Samsung may finally have itself an Android rival

The one concern may be the battery life, and this was something we have not yet had chance to test. The device is equipped with a 2100mAh battery, the same size as in the Nexus 4 which was able to run for just about a day on a single charge. With larger screen size, greater resolution and 4G connectivity there may need to be some heavy optimizations to deliver good results with this battery. With this in mind Sony has incorporated a power management function into the device which disables certain functions when the screen is off or the battery is low. It will also give you a handy prediction of how long your battery is likely to last.


The Xperia Z made a good impression on us during our hands-on time with the device. We’re not overly keen on the styling, although the fiercely minimalist design is by no means unattractive, but the screen and the general feeling of power and responsiveness are undoubtedly appealing.

With a skin that is lighter and more sophisticated than both HTC and Samsung have been able to muster to date, and one of the best records for delivering updates, there appears to be nothing on the software side to scare off users who prefer their Android devices to be up to date and unencumbered by bloat. And if the phone doesn’t feel like a massive leap forward over the market leading Galaxy S III, there is surely enough here to help Sony build on its second-place position.

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