At Sony's very recent launch event, I got the chance to check out the much awaited 1080p display toting Xperia Z and its sibling, the ZL. Although the ZL was not launched in India, it was at hand for a bit of testing and I couldn’t resist. The two handsets are almost identical, with a few minor differences in specifications to set them apart. Here’s what I thought of Sony’s new high-end smartphones:

Here's a quick look at the Xperia Z on video –


Design

It seems like the latest trend for mobile manufacturers is to stick to the basics – rectangular frame, flat front (naturally) and, in most cases, a flat rear panel as well. Personally, it doesn’t thrill me, but both aesthetically and ergonomically, this design form is quite sound. The Xperia Z and ZL employ what Sony calls an Omni-Balance design. This translates to a well laid out set of innards that is designed to give users a well-balanced experience in terms of weight dispersion. It seems to be quite accurate. The weight is evenly distributed throughout the devices, making them comfortable to manage and handle with one hand, or two if need be. At just 7.9mm in depth, the Xperia Z is also one of the slimmest handsets available today.

The Xperia Z is one of the slimmest handsets on the market

The Xperia Z is one of the slimmest handsets on the market

The ZL is a slightly wider handset and makes better use of the real estate provided, i.e. the screen appears wider as the bezel is far more limited compared to the Z. Both are equipped with 5-inch displays and feature full HD (1080p) resolutions @441ppi. The Z is a little longer and narrower but equally well designed as the ZL. The ZL comes with a dedicated camera shutter release/activation key, which some will find to be more compelling compared to using the on-screen option. Both have a well accentuated Power/Sleep button on the right side in the middle. The Z features the volume rocker on the same side under the Power button while the ZL has them above it. 

The Xperia Z is IPV57 Dust and water resistant, quite hardcore!

The Xperia Z is IP57 Dust and water resistant, quite hardcore!

The left side of the Z is where you’ll find the micro USB/MHL port (top) followed by the microSD card slot (both the devices come with 16GB internal memory and support memory cards up to 32GB) and two dock connectors, one underneath the other. The microSIM card slot is located on the right just above the Power button. The ZL has USB/MHL port in the same position as the Z, but the SIM and microSD card slots are located under a little panel that pops up from the lower section of the rear panel. Both handsets have a 3.5 mm handsfree socket at the top. All of these ports are very neatly protected by flaps that are flushed in very securely with the handset – they’re almost invisible. 

Now here’s where things get really interesting – the Xperia Z, not the ZL please note, is totally water and dust resistant. I tossed it around in a little sand box and then doused it with water for a good cleansing. It emerged unscathed and ready to go. The Wet Finger Tracking technology ensured that even if your finger or the display was wet, the handset just didn’t seem to mind and none of the functions were encumbered. The Z is IP57 certified and can handle water depth of up to one metre for about 30 minutes. The display, I was told, is shatter-proof with durable toughened glass. The rear is also built the same way. That’s impressive, to say the least, and naturally the cave-man in me would like to see the degree to which it can stand the pressure. It’s a unibody design that also employs polycarbonate on the sides to withstand impact on hard surfaces. 

All ports on the Xperia Z are well protected from the elements

All ports on the Xperia Z are well protected from the elements

Both handsets seem well balanced and designed well enough for comfort of use. We’ll be able to tell you more once we’ve actually used them for a while.

Features

In the features division, both devices share the same facets. They’re equipped with Qualcomm (Krait) processors of the 1.5GHz Quad-Core variety with Adreno 320 GPUs and 2GB RAM each. The demo devices were swift and lag free even though they were loaded with HD videos and hi-res images etc. The UI on the Xperia Z devices also seemed well-designed but close to stock Jelly Bean (4.1.2, with upcoming updates) with a few tweaks in some areas. Thanks to Sony’s Mobile BRAVIA Engine 2, the colour reproduction on the display is vibrant but not tacky. 

Sony has redesigned the gallery section for videos and pictures and while some found it to be better than stock offerings, I thought it seemed a little cluttered. However, the size of each thumbnail can be adjusted with a pinch. The notification area is a little minimalist compared to previous iterations, but that could prove to be better for some. 

The new gallery section has a few tweaks of its own

The new gallery section has a few tweaks of its own

Sony has also tossed in a Walkman music player with the company’s Virtical Surround Technology aka Virtualphones Technology or VPT. There were EQ presets included as well as a full graphic EQ option to customise audio to your own preference. Features like ClearAudio+ have also been added to strengthen the core audio performance. I was unable to test the quality at the venue, but we will do extensive testing when we receive the test unit. 

Sony’s packing the Xperia Z with quite a few extras like Sony LIV App for free TV streaming of Indian TV shows, Sony Music App that lets you download unlimited audio off the site, DRM free and the X4 video player that can play four videos simultaneously. It’s more of a quick view scenario but does show off the processor's prowess. The Xperia Z is also a PlayStation certified handset.

With regards to connectivity, the Sony Xperia Z and ZL are loaded to the hilt. Options include: Wi-Fi (dual band), Wi-Fi Direct, Hot Spot sharing, DLNA, NFC, 3G, EDGE/GPRS, Bluetooth 4.0 with A2DP and USB OTG (for the Xperia Z). That’s quite a bit. 

Sony's focusing on rich media offerings

Sony's focusing on rich media offerings

The Xperia Z and ZL will come with a 13MP camera with an LED flash. The phones will also feature 2MP cameras up front for video calling, self portraits etc. Sony has placed the forward facing camera on the bottom right hand side of the ZL which seems like an awkward postion seeing as right handed users would more than likely end up blocking it with their palms. What should make these cameras stand out from the lot is the Exmor RS sensor thrown into the mix. It's been designed to offer great image quality irrespective of lighting conditions with tons of features, including HDR for those who like personalising their photos. The device can capture video in full HD 1080p @30fps. 

Finally, the Z packs in a 2330 mAH battery while the ZL comes with a 2300 mAh battery. STAMINA mode should be able to provide for extensive usage for longer periods with better battery management. Again, this is something I’d love to see for myself. 

Here's another quick look at the Xperia Z and ZL
[@galleryid:307372] 

First Impressions

Sony seems to be one of those companies that take the outdoors very seriously. Its range of water and dust resistant handsets is steadily growing and making its way into the tablet segment as well with the Xperia Tablet Z (more on that later, so stay tuned). After the Xperia Go, these devices are the company’s next rugged offerings and have great potential to go far in India. They’re well-designed, well-protected from the elements and offer quite a few extra services that help add value to the price tag. At Rs 38,990, the Xperia Z comes out way ahead of HTC’s butterfly and even the Lumia 920, all things considered and especially in terms of pure specifications on paper.

If Samsung doesn’t seriously up the ante with the S IV (coming on March 14), then Sony could just wind up on the top slot with the Xperia Z. 

Check out our specs review of the Sony Xperia Z and ZL smartphone here.

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