After parting ways with Ericsson, it seems as though Sony had been avoiding facing up to other top models from competing camps with its Xperia series. However, it finally decided to return to the big leagues with the Xperia Z, a device which is setting new standards and which equals the very pinnacle of smartphone technology.
In practice, this device is almost equally impressive as its list of features would indicate. That said, its biggest flaw is in the element where I had the biggest expectations: its screen.
The Sony Xperia Z is the first commercially-available 5-inch smartphone with a full HD screen, which is a feature defining it to such an extent that it was the sole reason why it became such a big hit at last January's CES. Still, the device includes a whole lineup of other impressive characteristics, like a 1.5 GHz quad-core Qualcomm S4 Pro Snapdragon processor as well as a 13-megapixel rear-facing camera, NFC, MHL, and a body that is water and dust resistant.
Build and Design
If there is an area where Sony has never lagged behind the competition, and often surpassing it, it is surely product design. The Xperia Z is no exception to this rule, because this is a supremely crafted device that will turn heads. Despite a 5-inch screen, Sony has managed to keep this smartphone's dimensions within reasonable limits, and it is just a millimeter wider than the 4.7 and 4.8-inch flagship models from other companies released in 2012. Even its mass of 146 grams is not a particular burden for the hand or pocket.
It has a very sharp, masculine design where curves (very discrete ones) are used only on the edges. This makes the phone seem unique on one hand and modern on the other, leaving the impression of an evolved version of previous Xperias. The front and the back side are covered in glass, attracting finger prints, but it is also very easy to clean.
The device's edges are made from polyamide with glass fibers, with a whole line of rubber covers for various slots (to make the device waterproof), making it seem solid and convincing. Even though trying it seems crazy -- the Sony Xperia Z can actually be immersed under water, which I did try. There were no consequences.
It is practical that the phone's edge is 1/10th of a millimeter thicker than its front and back, protecting the device from scratches when put on a flat surface. Rest assured that no Xperia Z purchaser will have the need for a protective (or a less decorative) casing.
The most interesting part of the Xperia Z is its 5-inch 1080 x 1920-pixel (Full HD) display, which is the maximum seen on smartphones at this time. This combination of screen size and resolution results in a record pixel density of 441 ppi, promising unprecedented imaging sharpness. In practice, the sharpness really is above average, leaving the user breathless at first glance.
That said, even though the difference between the HD screens on various smartphones is clear, it is not big enough to be a deciding factor. The difference can easily be spotted on a text written in slimmer fonts and on slim slanted lines, especially while the text is moving. However, keep in mind that the HD resolution on screens of this size (even on bigger dislays, like on Samsung Galaxy Note II's) is more than sufficient for pleasant viewing, and does not tire the eye at all.
It is important to pay attention to several other imaging features that will affect the smartphone experience even more than sharpness. Unfortunately, this is where the Xperia Z is disappointing. The classic 16M color TFT screen provides very poor contrast: its black tones seem washed out and white seem soiled, almost to the point of being tinted as cafe latte. Such poor contrast results in a weaker dynamic range of colors, which seem poorly saturated and unrealistically interpreted.
Even compared to older Xperias, especially the ones with different technologies (particularly AMOLED displays), the Xperia Z's imaging is undoubtedly poorer -- even though it is sharper. Furthermore, the impression is ruined by the small viewing angle -- as soon as the user is not watching the phone straight on, the colors fade even more, the black becomes even brighter and the white becomes even darker.
Sony's Mobile Bravia Engine 2 is comforting, to a certain degree, as it corrects the imaging during multimedia playback, software-wise, which means watching videos or previewing photographs is an above-average experince.
Other Buttons and Controls
With such a minimalist design, not much can be seen outside. The back only bears the Xperia logo and a 13-megapixel camera lens with a LED flash situated under it. It also has a tiny back-facing microphone for eliminating surrounding noises while talking or recording videos. The front includes the main microphone, a speaker, a 2.2-mega pixel camera, and the ambient sensor.
The device's right edge has a cunningly positioned power key which is just within thumb reach when held in the right hand, irrespective of the size of the user's hand -- just a tad above the phone's center. The volume control switch is located just under it, while there is a cover hiding the microSIM card slot above it.
The cover revealing a 3.5-milimeter audio jack is situated on the upper side, while the left reveals the covers hiding the microSD card slot and the MHL equipped microUSB slot. All the covers are for the water-proofing I mentioned earlier.
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