Sony Xperia Z review: Zero hour

GSMArena team, 17 February 2013.

Controls

The Sony Xperia Z has a pretty standard set of functional elements above its screen. The earpiece is flanked by the front-facing camera on one side, and the ambient light and proximity sensors alongside the LED status light on the other.

Sony Xperia Z
A couple of sensors, an LED flash and the front-facing came keep the earpiece company

Since the Xperia Z relies on virtual navigation buttons rather than hardware ones, the microphone is all you get at the bottom. While the mic does reside under a grill identical to that of the earpiece, the smartphone doesn't have front-mounted stereo-speakers.

Sony Xperia Z
There's nothing but the mouthpiece below the screen

Instead, the sole loudspeaker is mounted near the bottom edge of the Xperia Z's right side. It's joined by the volume rocker and the smartphone's signature power/lock key, as well as the microSIM card slot. The SIM slot is hidden under one of the plastic flaps we mentioned above. Sadly, there's no dedicated camera key here - that's a privilege reserved for the Xperia ZL.

Sony Xperia Z Sony Xperia Z Sony Xperia Z
The right side hosts the SIM slot, the power key, the volume rocker and the loudspeaker

On top you get another plastic lid with the 3.5mm audio jack hiding underneath. While the cover prevents dust and dirt accumulation (in addition of keeping water out), it does have a somewhat negative effect on its accessibility.

Sony Xperia Z Sony Xperia Z
The 3.5mm audio jack is on top

On the left you get the MHL-enabled microUSB with USB host support and the microSD card slot. The dock connector resides underneath the two.

Sony Xperia Z Sony Xperia Z
The microUSB port, the mircroSD card slot and the dock connector

The bottom of the smartphone is completely bereft of functional elements.

Sony Xperia Z
There's not much to see at the bottom

Finally, turning our eyes to the back we spot the 13 megapixel camera lens, the LED flash and the secondary microphone. The primary use of this microphone is noise cancelling, but it also enables the Sony Xperia Z to capture video with stereo sound.

Sony Xperia Z Sony Xperia Z Sony Xperia Z
The 13 megapixel camera is joined by the LED flash and the secondary microphone at the back

Underneath the back cover sits a 2330 mAh battery that should keep the new Sony flagship going for up to 14 hours of talk-time or 530 hours of stand-by.

Sony Xperia Z Sony Xperia Z
Handling the Sony Xperia Z

1080p display

We come to the main event of the hardware show. The Sony Xperia Z 5" 1080p display is definitely its strongest selling point and with a pixel density of 441ppi you can see what all the fuss is about.

We have already mentioned this a few times, but let's go over it once again just in case. You can actually see the sharpness advantage over the 720p displays of the 2012 flagships with a naked eye. However, the difference is by no means as big as when smartphones departed the WVGA screens and started passing the Retina barrier.

Sony Xperia Z
The 1080p display offers impressive sharpness

The Sony Xperia Z also comes with the second version of the company's Mobile Bravia Engine, which should improve its performance for video playback and image browsing. Thanks to that and the immense resolution, the Xperia Z has easily the best smartphone display the Japanase have produced so far. It is also the least reflective so far, which helps it perform much better in bright sunlight. Here's how it did in our dedicated sunlight legibility test.

Sunlight contrast ratio

  • Nokia 808 PureView
    4.698
  • Samsung I9300 Galaxy S III
    3.419
  • Samsung Omnia W
    3.301
  • Samsung Galaxy S
    3.155
  • Nokia N9
    3.069
  • Samsung Galaxy Note
    2.970
  • HTC One S
    2.901
  • Samsung Galaxy S II
    2.832
  • Samsung Galaxy S II Plus
    2.801
  • Huawei Ascend P1
    2.655
  • Nokia Lumia 900
    2.562
  • Sony Xperia Z
    2.462
  • Samsung Galaxy S III mini
    2.422
  • Motorola RAZR i
    2.366
  • Apple iPhone 4S
    2.269
  • HTC One X
    2.158
  • Nokia N8
    2.144
  • Oppo Find 5
    2.088
  • BlackBerry Z10
    2.051
  • Apple iPhone 4
    2.016
  • Sony Ericsson Xperia ray
    1.955
  • Samsung Galaxy Camera
    1.938
  • Sony Xperia V
    1.792
  • Sony Xperia U
    1.758
  • LG Optimus 4X HD
    1.691
  • HTC One V
    1.685
  • LG Optimus Vu
    1.680
  • HTC Desire V
    1.646
  • LG Optimus 3D
    1.542
  • Nokia Asha 302
    1.537
  • Nokia Lumia 610
    1.432
  • Gigabyte GSmart G1355
    1.361
  • HTC Desire C
    1.300
  • LG Optimus L7
    1.269
  • LG Optimus L9
    1.227
  • Meizu MX
    1.221
  • Sony Xperia E dual
    1.203
  • Samsung Galaxy Pocket
    1.180
  • Sony Xperia tipo
    1.166
  • Samsung Galaxy mini 2
    1.114

However, the screen is by no means perfect. First of all its viewing angles aren't really great. They are a step forward compared to the Xperia T, but a very minor one. In that area Sony still has a lot of work before it catches up with the competition.

More disturbingly, the display has rather poor contrast for a flagship unit and not really inspiring colors. As testified by the measurements in our dedicated test it comes nowhere near the standard of its main competitors and it even fared worse than its predecessor.

Display test 50% brightness 100% brightness
Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio
Sony Xperia Z - - - 0.70 492 705
Oppo Find 5 0.17 176 1123 0.51 565 1107
Sony Xperia S - - - 0.48 495 1038
Samsung I9300 Galaxy S III 0 174 0 330
HTC One X 0.15 200 1375 0.39 550 1410
Nokia Lumia 920 - - - 0.48 513 1065
Nexus 4 0.22 314 1447 0.45 608 1341
LG Optimus G 0.14 197 1445 0.33 417 1438
Apple iPhone 5 0.13 200 1490 0.48 640 1320

Finally here's a photo of the Sony Xperia Z display matrix from our digital microscope.

Sony Xperia Z Oppo Find 5
Sony Xperia Z vs Oppo Find 5 display matrix

Battery performance

We put the Sony Xperia Z through our battery routine and it did very good. It scored 48 hours, which means you'll only need to charge the smartphone every 48 hours if you use it for an hour of talk-time, an hour of web browsing and an hour of video-watching per day.

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