Sony hopes to make that a tougher question to answer with their Xperia Z, an Android smartphone which looks set to try and knock the two giants off their perch. It’s expensive, it’s impressive – but is it any good?
Sony Xperia Z Design and Build Quality
The Xperia Z’s design is as beautiful as it is simple. It’s obvious that it is a very high-end device from the moment you lay eyes on it; and let’s face it, this is exactly what you want for the amount of money you’re paying (RRP R7,999).
The front and back are both done in smooth glass, with a black frame and a touch of aluminium around the edges. The screen takes up the majority of the real estate; you won’t even find a basic home button on the front, which takes a little getting used to. The typical home, back, and menu buttons we expect to see at the bottom of the phone actually appear on the screen itself, except when using full screen applications or watching videos.
On the top left you’ll find the 3.5mm audio jack and a micro USB port, complete with covers. The right side has an discreet volume rocker and a more obvious shiny metal power button. Sony has really gone the extra mile by advertising the device as water resistant – I wasn’t brave enough to test this particular claim, but it does explain the port covers.
One thing to keep in mind is that like most high-end devices of its kind today, this is a very large phone. Thus you’ll have to possess the requisite proficiency in hand gymnastics to operate it single-handed – but this is also true of the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One.
Sony Xperia Z Internal Hardware
This is where the Xperia Z really shines. Sony has packed some serious power into this elegant case, with a Quad-core 1.5Ghz CPU paired with a tidy 2GB of RAM. It should come as no surprise that it’s near impossible to get any lag out of this thing – it can comfortably run anything you throw at it, and the interface is as fluid and easy to navigate as you would expect.
On our AnTuTu benchmarks, it blew almost everything else out of the water with an average score of 20,194 – this makes it one the fastest Android devices we’ve ever tested, edging out the HTC One which scored an average of 19,950, but falling short of the Samsung Galaxy S4 which scored 27,582.4.
It comes with internal storage of 16GB, but if you’re a multimedia enthusiast this can be expanded with a microSD card, up to 64GB.
Sony Xperia Z Screen and Responsiveness
The display on the Xperia Z is beautiful. With a Full-HD resolution of 1920 x 1080 and a pixel density of 441ppi, it doesn’t get a whole lot prettier than this. This is the same resolution you’ll find on the HTC One, but the screen is slightly bigger, making text a little easier to read, particularly when browsing.
However, this is a TFT screen, unlike the AMOLED screens found on devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S4. The result is slightly less saturated colours, but this is difficult to criticise, primarily because it’s a matter of preference. For some, the colours on AMOLED screens are a little too saturated, making the colours seem somewhat unrealistic. I have heard Samsung’s colours described as “too bright”, so the AMOLED style is obviously not for everyone.
The Xperia Z’s screen isn’t lacking in brightness (it can easily double as a torch when Eskom is on a break), and performs well under direct sunlight. The one criticism I can make is that the viewing angles could be a little better, but they’re by no means bad. Considering the powerful hardware, it should come as no surprise that the Xperia Z had no problem detecting ten simultaneous touch points.
Sony Xperia Z Camera
It’s a recurring theme with this phone, but once again Sony has pulled out all the stops. The Xperia Z boasts a whopping 13-megapixel camera with an Exmor RS sensor, which is particularly good in low-light conditions. I was impressed – shots taken inside and out were crisp and clear, with very good focus and bright colours. That said, I have seen better detail on other cameras such as that found in the S3, but the Xperia Z by no means underperforms.
Video recording was mostly great; although I did find that in low light it occasionally had difficulty focusing.
While the camera is excellent, there are better ones out there, and the Xperia Z’s ability to handle low light and exposure comes at the cost of finer detail.
Sony Xperia Z Battery
The Xperia Z is powered by a non-removable 2,330mAh battery. It didn’t perform particularly well in this department, but it will get you through a full day. On the AnTuTu battery benchmark it scored a rather mediocre 322, which for reference puts it below a Samsung Galaxy S2. All that power has to come at a cost after all.
However, Sony has attempted to combat this with Stamina mode, a neat feature which suspends all activity when the phone’s screen is off. The assumption is that if the screen is off, you don’t actually need all those background applications to be running, but you can whitelist certain apps if you want to. It’s not ideal, but it does work surprisingly well.
Sony Xperia Z Software
The Xperia Z comes out of the box with the latest Android version, Jellybean 4.1.2. Sony haven’t done much tinkering with the interface, the software is very close to standard Android.
The main differences you’ll spot are the likes of application branding such as Walkman, but otherwise it’s very close to what you’d expect to see on a Google Nexus. The Walkman application is actually a great music player, with a very intuitive and easy to navigate UI.
Sony have also included a feature called ClearAudio+, which when listening through headphones, makes a dramatic difference in sound quality.
There are of course all the standard apps you’d expect to see as well; social media, Google apps, and a bundled version of OfficeSuite. One thing I really liked was Sony Car, a menu which gives large, driving-friendly shortcuts to things you’d probably need, such as Google Maps and calling options. Not that I’d ever operate a phone while driving, of course.
Sony Xperia Z Conclusion
This is Sony’s flagship phone, and it shows. The company has left nothing to chance, packing the device with blisteringly fast hardware and every feature you could want. At an RRP of R7,999, it’s a good thing they did.
Comparisons are obviously going to be made to the biggest and best on the block, the Galaxy S4. From a technical standpoint, the Xperia Z is going to sit in second place. However, it’s almost a moot point – both devices are more than capable of handling anything you throw at them, and an AnTuTu benchmark score in the 20,000s isn’t going to disappoint anybody.
This is a truly excellent phone, but then again, so is the HTC One and the Galaxy S4. So how do you decide? It’s going to come down to preference – you have to figure out which display, which interface, and which design you like best, although the Xperia Z surviving a drop in the toilet does give it a small edge.
The Xperia Z is a worthy competitor in the top echelons of the Android smartphone market.