Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Review: Sony Xperia Z

The Sony Xperia Z is the latest in a long line of increasingly enormous Android phones. At a latitudinous 139x71mm, it is slightly larger than the already whopping Samsung Galaxy S3, and absolutely dwarfs an iPhone 5 that now looks more atrophied than svelte.

All joking aside, Sony's latest flagship handset really is colossal, with a meaty £500 price-tag to match.
Alas, phones are not judged on girth alone. Luckily, for that money, you get a truly state-of-the-art device that packs in a lot of really great stuff. The technological calibre of its internal gubbins is unimpeachable. The quad-core 1.5GHz processor makes it more powerful than the desktop PC this review is being written on, while it also has 2GB of RAM, (expandable) 16GB of storage, and a 1080p HD screen. It also has 13 megapixels' worth of camera. In short, it's a pocket powerhouse.
The Android operating system is similarly impressive; after a shaky start, Android has finally ironed out its flaws, and can stand shoulder to shoulder with Apple. It still lacks a smidgen of the iPhone's operative polish, but what it lacks in slickness, it gains in flexibility. Android, with its more gently policed app store and less psychotic attitude to tinkering, allows you a much greater degree of opportunity to install weird stuff on your phone. The battery life is not perfect – it'll last you not quite a day with really intensive usage – but everyone knows that if you're going to use your phone to watch a lot of video, you need to carry a spare charger with you.
And that's it. This is a splendid phone, if you've a strong forearm. It takes sharp pictures, plays sharper video and, befitting its Walkman lineage, plays the sharpest audio. It even makes calls and sends text messages, and no one is going to force you to use iTunes with it.
The thing is, the smartphone market has pretty much matured. Apple has lost its early advantage now the competition has worked out how to copy them,  and with one phone manufacturer pretty much as good as all the others (Samsung, Sony, HTC are all on a par), they're increasingly making  strange design decisions to make themselves stand out. So, let's discuss idiosyncrasies.
Gigantism notwithstanding, it's the screen that gives the Xperia its USP. For people without eagle vision, each top-tier smartphone is going to have visuals roughly as good as everyone else's, so Sony is trying to make its pitch with acreage. That screen takes up very nearly the entire face of the phone. It's highly impressive, but it doesn't have much by way of edge protection. It claims to be shatterproof, of course, but speaking as someone who has managed to crack every smartphone screen he's had since 2008, it seems like tall talk. And shatterproof it may be, but fingerprintproof it most certainly is not.
Furthermore, the decision to give the phone all sleek, uninterrupted lines means it is a beautiful chunk of the future right out of the box, but it'll come at a cost. Each of the ports is hidden by a little plastic tag that looks as though it'll snap off with more than five minutes of ordinary human usage – and then you'll end up with a chic, wide phone with little holes all round the edges.
That's a hypothetical nitpick of course. The Xperia Z is great: exactly the sum of its impressive parts. It's not perfect, but it's as good a phone as you'll buy in the current generation.

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