CES 2013: Sony Xperia Z and ZL Preview

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When it comes to smartphones, Sony has some catching up to do. The company has never been much of a threat in the smartphone market, what with its Xperia line of devices only having a minimal presence. Sony hopes to reverse that trend, however, starting with its Xperia Z and ZL smartphones, both of which were announced here at CES just a few days ago. And after spending some time with the devices on the show floor, we’re hoping they catch on, too.

It was good to get some time to see how the smartphones looked and felt, because despite there being two new Xperia models, the Z and ZL are, from a spec standpoint, identical. Both phones are powered by a 1.5 GHz, quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro processor, 2 GB of RAM, 16 GB of onboard storage (with a microSD card slot for expansion), 4G LTE connectivity, and 13.1 MP/2.2 MP rear- and front-facing cameras, respectively. The interesting part is that despite having different builds and dimensions, both the Xperia Z and ZL have the same 5-inch, 1920 x 1080 “Reality Display.”

Sony Xperia Z

That being said, the choice between the two comes down entirely to your priorities and preference. The Xperia Z, which is considered the flagship model of the two, has a bigger build, but it has a more “premium” look to it and is water- and dust-resistant. The flat, glass back and the low profile ports (their covers lie so flush with the body of the phone that they’re actually very easy to miss) admittedly look fantastic. However, the glossiness of the device makes the entire thing a fingerprint magnet.

Sony Xperia Z and ZL Comparison 1
Sony Xperia Z and ZL Comparison 2

And the large footprint of the Xperia Z is just a step beyond manageable. At 139 x 71 x 7.9 mm, it’s a little too large to be held or operated comfortably.

On the other hand, the Xperia ZL is not as durable or flashy as its big brother, but it’s more compact and feels good in the hand. At 131.6 x 69.3 x 9.8mm, it’s a little thicker, but it has a more efficiently-sized bezel to frame the 5-inch display, and the back is comfortable and rounded instead of flat like that of the Xperia Z. And while the Xperia ZL doesn’t have a glossy glass casing, the backing is available in either a matte or textured finish, which I found to be more practical.

The only other difference between the two models is button and port placement; the volume rocker on the right side of the Xperia Z is below the power button to allow for a covered SIM card slot above it, while the SIM card and microSD card slots on the Xperia ZL are located behind a small panel that can be popped off the lower back part of the device. Aside from having the volume rocker above the power button, the Xperia ZL also has a dedicated camera button below it on the right side, whereas the Xperia Z does not have a camera button.

The Xperia Z also has contact points — which the Xperia ZL is lacking — on itsSony Xperia ZL Front-Facing Camera Placement upper left-hand side so the phone can be thrown into a charging dock (sold separately).

The front-facing camera placement differs between the two models as well. On the Xperia Z, it’s in the upper left-hand corner, like most smartphones. But on the Xperia ZL, it’s located in the lower right-hand corner, which Sony argued is a more natural placement. But when it comes down to looking slightly above the screen or slightly below the screen during video chat to see the camera, it doesn’t make that much of a difference.

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