Sony Xperia ZL review: Off the bench
Having finally scored a homerun, and a desperately needed one at that, Sony is keen to bring another hitter off the bench. And they sure hope it's the Cadillac-driving kind. The Japanese mean business - and the Xperia Z did its best to get that point across. The Xperia ZL now has plenty of momentum to build on but a certain weight of expectations too.
The double-backup is something Samsung has been doing for a couple of years now with a Galaxy S flagship in the spring followed by a Note phablet at the end of summer. Sony's going for what looks more like a one-two punch with the glass-clad, water-proof Xperia Z and the more compact, less extravagant, but just as premium Xperia ZL. The timeframe for their arrival to market has been shortened too - pretty much a must, considering that chipset is only getting older.
Sony needs users to like the ZL, because the Z probably won't make it on its own. On paper, the Xperia ZL has all the trimmings of its sibling save for the IP57 certification. And it should be just as capable as most other flagships of the latest generation. Here go the specs.
- Quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE support; 3G with HSPA; LTE
- 5" 16M-color 1080p capacitive touchscreen of 441ppi, Mobile BRAVIA Engine 2
- Android OS v4.1.1 Jelly Bean with custom UI
- Quad-core 1.5 GHz Krait CPU, 2 GB of RAM, Adreno 320 GPU; Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro chipset
- 13 MP autofocus camera with LED flash and geotagging, HDR
- 1080p video recording @ 30fps with HDR mode, continuous autofocus and stereo sound
- 2 MP front camera, 1080p video recording
- Wi-Fi a/b/g/n, Wi-Fi Direct and DLNA; Wireless TV out
- GPS with A-GPS, GLONASS
- 16GB of built-in storage; microSD card slot
- MHL-enabled microUSB port
- Bluetooth v4.0
- Standard 3.5 mm audio jack
- Accelerometer and proximity sensor
- Active noise cancellation with dedicated mic
- Shorter footprint than most 5” smartphones
- Non user-replaceable battery
- Uninspiring camera performance
- Notably thicker than Xperia Z
- Dubious back panel build quality and aesthetics
If you're after a FullHD five-incher the Xperia ZL is the most compact handset that fits the bill. The difference, of course, is by no means huge but having a smaller footprint than the Samsung Galaxy S4 is a great achievement. On the other hand, a 10 mm thick body is nothing to brag about. Yet, if that's the price for getting a proper shutter key and an Infrared port, it should be fine for most people.
Anyway, Sony opted for two distinct versions of a 2013 flagship and then had to sit down and think about how to make them... distinct. Having a more compact option of what's virtually the same package as the flagship makes every bit of sense. But is it worth the extra millimeters around the waistline?
It was probably important to Sony to send a clear message that what's on offer is essentially the same package - the difference boils down to size, choice of finish and waterproofing or not. A sensible plastic case doesn't look half as good as glass but has its advantages. Water resistance is a great asset but not everyone needs it. Plus... a proper shutter key, half press and all, is something we always welcome in a cameraphone.
But will Sony's two-flagship strategy pay off? Can the Xperia ZL coexist with its better-looking, and ultimately more prominent, sibling or is it better off as a regional option? What kind of users do these two have in mind? It's the kind of questions we'll be trying to answer, while we explore the Sony Xperia ZL. Let's get going.