Smartphones of 2013: Sony Xperia Z

The past couple of months have seen a dizzying array of “hero” smartphones hit the Australian marketplace. They’re all around the same kinds of price points outright or on contract, so which one should you pick? First up, Sony’s pitch to the high end: The Sony Xperia Z.

On the plus side

The Xperia Z is a great looking phone. Phone designs have rather stabilised over the past few years — helped, no doubt by the ongoing and frankly rather ridiculous patent wars that have dominated the space — so if you’re aware of one vendor’s design philosophy, you could probably pick their phones out of a lineup. The Xperia Z is no different, with a design that borrows heavily from Sony’s TV DNA; a gorgeous 5″ 1080p display on top of a 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon processor, 16GB of internal storage (plus whatever microSD you care to throw in there) in a variety of colours. My review sample is the rather fetching purple; clearly this is the phone that Prince would own. Oh, no, wait, he probably wouldn’t, what with the Internet being full of numbers and all.
It’s also a very solid performer; for those who like benchmark specifications it scored 1991 on Geekbench 2. Given that there’s only so many processors underlying hero phones these days, performance is often a matter of software choice beyond Android itself, and the Xperia Z certainly isn’t laggy, even though if you really do fuss about such things, it’s possible to get phones such as the HTC One that’ll generate larger benchmark scores. Sony’s phones used to be horribly cluttered (Timeline, anyone?), but the Xperia Z doesn’t fall into that category. As you might expect, the smartphone camera is good, although it faces stiff competition from the HTC One and Galaxy S4. I’m waiting on a review S4 before doing a proper shootout, for what that’s worth.
Solid is also a good way to describe the build quality. The Xperia Z’s particular ace up its sleeve is that it’s waterproof and dust proof; while the demo I gave it above is on the relatively light side, and I wouldn’t advise anyone goes deep sea diving with it, if you’re the clumsy sort it’s a big plus.

On the minus side

Sony whacks a 2330mAh fixed battery — a consequence of its waterproofing sealed design, and that should be enough to last it a full day, even within 4G network zones.
Sadly, that’s not so, at least if you want it as a fully functioning smartphone. It appears that Sony’s well aware of the issue, as the Xperia Z comes with very aggressive power management built in. Specifically, there’s a Stamina mode that can bump the life up from less than a day to 2-3 days estimated, depending naturally on what you do with it. Problem solved, right?
No, not really. It’s an interesting step, but the way that the Xperia Z manages this particular trick is by switching off data — both 3G and Wi-Fi — when the screen is powered down. If you’re only an intermittent smartphone user that’s a decent step, but I’d argue strongly that the point of buying a high-end smartphone is to use it all the time. Flicking the screen on only to find it searching for networks and only then fetching emails and messages is something that I found highly frustrating. So I tend to leave it on full power… which means that it runs out before the day is done.


In contract terms, Telstra’s currently offering the Xperia Z at entry level on a two year $63/month contract with $600 “worth” of calls and 1GB data per month; Optus’ entry level plan is $45/month for 200MB of data and $200 “worth” of calls and Vodafone’s entry level is a similar $45/month with 200MB of data and $200 “worth” of calls.
Those after an outright phone could pick one up from Dick Smith for $698, or look to the direct importers; Mobicity is currently offering it outright for $653 while Kogan has it for $539.

Alex’s verdict

There’s a whole lot to like about the Xperia Z; it’s easily the best phone that Sony’s offered… probably ever. The battery life bugs me personally no end, but those who want high power but don’t have message urgency may be able to overlook that, and the extra robustness of being able to take it out during a rainstorm is highly enticing.

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