Sony Xperia Z £529
17th May 2013 | 15:14
Has Sony finally got a smartphone right?
Introduction and design
With a cutting-edge camera, a super-slim design and the ability to withstand life's knocks and bumps (and Android Jelly Bean to boot) the Xperia Z is a phone that's got us fired up about Sony Mobile again.
Earlier handsets such as the Sony Xperia S and Sony Xperia T were extremely promising from a brand striking out on its own - but it's with the Xperia Z that Sony is really banking on making a cataclysmic dent in the makeup of the smartphone market.
If you don't believe us, just look at its marketing hype - Valentine's Day saw ads on several, consecutive pages of major newspapers in the UK and you can't pass a billboard without seeing it in glorious Technicolor, accompanied by a strong statement that Sony has "reinvented the phone."
The Android Jelly Bean-toting (albeit only 4.1) Sony Xperia Z comes with some of the best specs on the market - and it's one of the most eagerly awaited handsets of recent months. Launching before the HTC One orSamsung Galaxy S4, Sony is clearly hoping to steal an early march on its competitors.
And the early signs it will do so are promising: a quad-core 1.5GHz Snaprdragon Krait processor, 13MP camera, 16GB storage (expandable, woohoo!), 2GB RAM, water and dust-resistant, 1080p HD screen with Bravia Engine, LTE, to name a few. You couldn't make this stuff up - this is the company that had a part in the Satio, after all.
As soon as we took our review unit out of the box, we were mesmerised. This feels and looks like a premium, high quality product. Sony is one of the few manufacturers that can take what is, effectively, a plain black square and make it into something beautiful. Manufactured from piano black, high gloss glass both front and black, it could have come from the same stable as the Google Nexus 4.
Though maybe we are overestimating it, viewing the Sony Xperia Z through geek-tinted goggles - because while we were blown away, others came out with the line that Sony will be hoping doesn't cross too many punters' lips: "looks like every other smartphone out there though, doesn't it?"
One thing the Sony Xperia Z certainly does have in common with every other smartphone out there is the fact that it is a pure magnet for fingerprints. You'll struggle to keep it clean all day long without either surgical gloves or a can of Mr Sheen in your bag.
As is fast becoming the norm, you can expect to pick the Sony Xperia Z up in white too. On top of that, O2 in the UK is exclusively offering a purple variant.
If you're coming from something like a Samsung Galaxy S3, it'll feel similar, if a little larger, in terms of size: the Sony Xperia Z rocks in at 139 x 71 x 7.9mm/5.47 x 2.79 x 0.31 inches, so there's little room for anything else in your hands.
Coming from something smaller like, say, an iPhone 5, you'll certainly notice the difference. But it's amazing how quickly you'll adapt.
At 146g/5.15oz, it's by no means the lightest handset out there - but the Sony Xperia Z exudes a heftiness that belies a quality device. It's on a par with Apple's offering when it comes to the thickness.
The ports are spread out with the headphone jack up top, the SIM slot and volume rocker on the right - either side of a silver standby button - while both the microSD and charging ports are on the left, alongside contacts for accessories. A watertight port covers each.
The front of the Sony Xperia Z is minimalist - showing off only a Sony logo and front-facing camera. The rear is a little busier, with various tech info printed on it, plus the Sony Xperia logo, an NFC badge, camera light and the all-important lens. That back is stuck fast - as is becoming the custom, you'll have no luck if you want to remove the battery.
Turn it on, and you're not disappointed. Coming from the blackness, the 5-inch screen springs into life. Whether or not you'll like it is down to personal choice.
Some who've used the Sony Xperia Z describe the screen as a disappointment because Sony has gone for TFT - albeit with 1080 x 1920 pixels, giving a pixel density of 441ppi, which would explain why it looks a bit washed out. If you've come from a Super AMOLED screen you'll definitely feel the difference.
We're still fans - this is a razor sharp display from one of the world's premier screen manufacturers, although it doesn't have the wow factor of the HTC One's Super LCD 3 screen.
The only thing that lets it down is viewing angles - if you look at the Sony Xperia Z's screen, dead on, it's sharp enough. If you look at it from the side, it has a strange ability to look incredibly washed out. It's no huge problem - but it does mean the impressiveness of the screen is diminished compared to the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S4 or the HTC One.
One of the selling points of the Sony Xperia Z is that it is also water resistant. There's something slightly unnerving about taking a £529 phone and dropping it in the sink - but that's exactly what we did. And it worked absolutely fine.
Clearly, you'll need to make sure the ports are covered using those watertight protectors, that much goes without saying.
And here's some more good news: the price of the Sony Xperia Z is dropping quite quickly, already making it cheaper than the likes of the HTC One and could soon sneak under the £30 contract mark for a half-decent whack of minutes.
While it's actually the same price as the comparable SIM-free 16GB iPhone 5, the cost is now closing in on the iPhone 4S on PAYG, so we can't help but feel the Xperia Z is finding its natural pricing level.
Sony may have broken free of Ericsson but it's clearly decided that the Sony Xperia brand is one worth keeping. And in line with that, some similarities remain other than the name.
It means that when you turn on the Sony Xperia Z, if you've used one before, you'll feel at home. Quite a clever move from Sony, which clearly doesn't want to alienate potential upgraders.
Thankfully, elements such as the shocking Timescape widget have been retired. Smaller, more obvious things like the clock widget stay.
The Sony Xperia Z ships with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Yes, it's not the most up-to-date handset as enthusiasts devour Android 4.2 on Nexus devices, but it's the next best thing, and Sony has promised an update shortly after launch.
For all the money and resources that Sony is pouring into getting this phone into the mainstream, the Sony Xperia Z won't be left sitting on the fringes here, allowing the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S4 superior bragging rights.
Sony's take on Android is customised - but not too much compared to some phones we've seen before.
You get five home screens with no ability to add any more, though such is the Android way, you can always install your own launcher if you want and change that.
By default, you get shortcuts to apps Sony feels you'll treasure most - but again, you can move/delete/add to these as you see fit. One of Android's great strengths is its infinite customisability.
On top of that, Sony gives you its own widgets, such as Music Unlimited or links to its online stores. Most manufacturers do this - clearly, they want to draw you into their own ecosystems. But these can be moved or deleted too if they get in the way.
If you're wondering how you navigate, the answer is on-screen. Everything is done via the screen. Sony has bowed down to Google in this respect.
Where some OEMs will still include their own soft keys, the Sony Xperia Z eschews them for the standard Mountain View options of back, home and multitasking - on-screen buttons that appear and disappear as they are needed.
One thing you'll notice is that this is one speedy son-of-a-Sony. Naturally, with a quad-core 1.5GHz processor - and Android's Project Butter enhancement - we'd have expected it to be quick on all but the most extreme of tasks, so we found little here to induce complaint.
Zipping between home screens is a breeze, and we encountered absolutely no lag.
We're fans of Sony's 'Small Apps' integration. It's a simple idea - tap the multi-app button at the bottom-right of the screen and the Sony Xperia Z brings up not only your open apps but a selection of mini apps that you can launch on the screen in conjunction with what you're doing.
They're basically widgets that stay on-screen, rather than being tied to the home screen.
Sony gives you access to things such as a small note app or a countdown timer with a few options and the ability to download more from Google Play.
If developers buy into the idea, it could work out well, but we sadly don't think they will.
Due to the sheer number of Android variations, there's no financial incentive for developers to build things like this that will only work for one section of the market.
Android's excellent notification bar is here, enabling you to pull it down and view your latest messages and notifications.
Thanks to Jelly Bean, you can now pinch to expand notifications or swipe to clear individual ones. It's all very intuitive and nice to work with.
Sony's also furnished the Xperia Z with shortcuts to toggle settings such as those for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth - the kind of thing you take for granted when you have but rue when you lose.
You can also change themes from within the settings, which is a nice touch. It adjusts more than just the wallpaper and alters menu colours too.
That's one of those things you wouldn't notice if you weren't looking for it, but it's nice to play with. HTC does something similar with Sense, and we think it's great.
Apps are accessed via the app drawer, which you get into from the dock at the bottom of the home screen.
There's not much we can tell you about this if you've used an Android phone before - the apps sit there and can be reordered by alphabetical means or otherwise. Unfortunately, if you have OCD like us, this is the bit you may find yourself wincing at.
See, with the iPhone, you'll find your app icons presented uniformly. They're the same size and shape and it all looks very neat and tidy.
Yet with Android there are no restrictions, so you end up with app icons in all shapes, sizes and colours, and it can look like the inside of a child's toy chest. It's a shame because the Sony icons look beautiful, but as soon as you start adding your own shortcuts, your home screen may start to resemble a scrapbook instead.
If you're an Android fan, you'll pick it up easily. And if you're not, it's pretty intuitive, enabling you to delve in as much or as little as you like to change things or leave them as is.
We also have to give a quick heads up here to Google Now - first introduced in Jelly Bean 4.1 and all present.
It's supposed to help manage your life by telling you how long the journey home from work will take or what the weather's like. You can track parcels or view photos of local beauty spots.
It's a great idea in principle but it still all feels a little bit Beta.
Google Now is not a Siri-rip-off. Rather, it's Google's interpretation of a mobile assistant. We just can't help wondering how that interpretation was reached, at least until it starts to really offer you information that is tailored for your life, rather than sometimes accidentally waking you up to tell you that it's time to leave for a meeting on the other side of the world (a problem if you have a shared international calendar).
Contacts and calling
We have to hand it to Sony here for not making changes for change's sake - Android has a great contacts system and thankfully, Sony has recognised this by keeping it and giving it a mere cosmetic lick of paint.
Contacts download automatically when you first log in to the Sony Xperia Z. They come from your mandatory Gmail account, which is free to set up.
And for those who wince at the thought of being forced to have a Gmail account, you don't have to use it. But it is it an ideal way of backing up those numbers and addresses, should disaster strike.
Accessing said contacts is simple: you just tap the phone icon on the screen - which is also how you get into the dialler - or you can start to type the name of your contacts into the Google search widget on the home screen.
That's if you don't have a contact widget or shortcut installed on your home screen.
This is where you see one of Android's benefits over iOS, which still doesn't allow these sort of shenanigans without going around the houses.
Contacts are displayed beautifully with photos brought in from Facebook, Google or other sources, which is a real cosmetic plus.
Alas, Android doesn't bring them across in high res, so when you get a call, your contact can look rather pixelated, which ruins an otherwise beautiful appearance.
Putting new contact names into the Sony Xperia Z couldn't be easier. Just bring the keypad up, type in the number and hit 'Save.'
You can also add details ranging from their birthday to whom their spouse is.
Social networking isn't supported by default. This highlights the differences with an HTC handset, which tends to want you to sign into a million accounts on setup.
We can't complain too much about this, since we are glad to not to have to endure Timescape anymore.
And anyway, if you use Twitter, Facebook and others it's much nicer to be able to just sign into and use the networks that you - the user - wants to use.
It takes mere seconds to download official or third-party apps, and then you'll find you can hook everything up.
Calling a contact is as easy as tapping the person's name.
We found the performance on calls to be excellent. We sometimes lose track of the fact that a smartphone is a phone, and call quality can range from the brilliant to the unacceptable.
We had absolutely no issues with the Sony Xperia Z's call quality and found that not only did calls connect easily, but they stayed connected even in places where we'd expect them to drop.
One other thing we should mention here is something often not touched upon, but present here, and that's HD Voice. Many handsets support it these days, but it is network-dependent.
We can confirm, however, that it is a brilliant addition to the Sony Xperia Z.
It just makes it a far more pleasant experience when chatting to people - both for them and you.
Audio volume was loud enough for us when talking to buddies, and they reported no issues hearing us.
Again, this will be assisted by the HD Voice element, which helps with noise cancelling.
There is one, admittedly pathetic, point we'd like to raise: the edges of this phone are actually a little sharp and holding the phone close to your ear isn't a comfortable experience. Good that the sound boosting is actually pretty good, then, eh?
Messaging is - and always has been - one of Android's strong points. So open is the system that you can download third-party apps such as WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Twitter and so on and they will integrate deeply into the OS - from Calendars to Contacts and Messages.
The beauty is that you can control, in many cases, what access is granted and where.
Apps don't tend to be closed off from each other as they do with Apple devices, and it makes for a much more different (some may say 'fluid') experience.
Android's standard messaging app - which handles SMS and MMS - is very competent, if not a little dull. Most Android manufacturers tend to take it and plonk it into their handsets - sometimes tweaking the odd colour here, or the odd setting there.
Sony has pretty much done that with the Sony Xperia Z, though it has added a few nice functions too.
When composing a new SMS, you can now doodle a little note or picture and then it'll send it as an MMS. Or you can send your location with a Google Maps attachment.
You can do this anyway by going into the Maps app and sending your location from most Android handsets, but it's just a little extra option on the Sony Xperia Z to be able to do it direct from the message app.
Other than that, it's pretty bog standard but does the job well.
Email is handled in two ways - Gmail and Email.
The beauty of using the dedicated Gmail app means that users who are really deeply integrated into the system can use some of its key features on the go as well as on their desktop.
We're talking features such as labels, archiving and advanced search facilities.
The search function really is fantastic compared to others we've seen, but we have to berate Google here for the fact that it still hasn't sorted out the displaying of HTML emails.
They just don't format for the phone's screen, which is pretty ridiculous considering this is Google's own app. Apple's iPhone Mail app has been able to do this since 2007, to put it into context.
You also are not given the ability to automatically download images in emails, which slows down the whole HTML email experience a little. Again, you can do this on iPhones. But Google just won't give here.
To be fair, this is of Google's doing, not Sony's. But this is a Sony Xperia Z running Android, and as such, it will be judged by people as a complete package. The two come hand in hand. Sorry, Sony. That's just how it is. Have a word with Mountain View if you don't like it.
Of course, lots of people don't use Gmail - and if that's you, you do get your own email app here.
It's the standard Android email programme - same as you get in stock Android handsets - but the Sony Xperia Z gives it a little lick of Sony's paint.
You'll find it supports the majority of IMAP/POP3/Exchange accounts and is actually very similar to the Gmail app in many ways.
Helpfully, you can set the account to push emails or poll periodically. This is great if you get a lot of work emails and don't want the Sony Xperia Z beeping constantly.
The Sony Xperia Z's keyboard is a contentious issue. We've heard some say it's a nightmare.
But we would go completely in the opposite direction and say that to some users it will be one of the best keyboards they've used. It is the same keyboard that Google gave us on the Nexus 4, again with a lick of Sony Xperia Z paint.
The first time we used it, it started up and asked us to configure some options. After that, we were off and away.
You can have the keyboard as a standard QWERTY, or add a few extra shortcut buttons too. Or go the other way and have it like a good old phone keyboard with T9 input.
The big thing here is swiping. You can slide between letters without taking your finger off the keyboard, which leads to words appearing in lightning speed.
It's highly intuitive and learns incredibly quickly. Predicted words appear with a choice for you to pick between those you want before committing.
Indeed, the only issue here is that the cursor can end up covering the word you try to select if it's not the one the Sony Xperia Z thinks you want, which can be annoying. It can also randomly flick the cursor around and cut words you're typing in half, or just get annoyed when you try to correct a predicted word.
- Best Android keyboards - 8 tried and tested to give you options
Of course, for those people it's not a problem, as Android has loads of options to let you customise your own keyboard - just head out to the Play Store and look at the likes of Swiftkey and more.
The only other gripe we had is the size of the screen. When it comes to typing messages, it just feels too big.
For people with big hands, it can feel a bit obstructive. For those of the daintier variety, it may seem enormous.
One-handed use is possible, but you just don't get a solid grip and we nearly dropped the Sony Xperia Z several times.
Yes, we have shatterproof glass (apparently), but we don't necessarily want to test that theory.
Google's voice dictation has also received a boost and now recognises more dialects than before. We love the way that words appear as you speak, rather than you having to wait until the end of your sentence and stop and wait.
Unfortunately, Siri still has the edge on actually matching words accurately, which is odd because Google has been offering voice recognition on its handsets since the Nexus One (even if you did have to feign an American accent to get anything done, and even then, it was on a wing and a prayer.)
Google Chrome is the default browser on the Sony Xperia Z - this follows a choice made by Google to ditch its stock Android browser and bring everything in line, which makes sense.
Prior to Jelly Bean, you had to download it as a separate app from Google Play.
The internet is where the Sony Xperia Z really shines. Not too big, not too small, pages look absolutely mind blowing on that ultra-sharp, bright and vivid display.
Chrome is a fast browser, the Sony Xperia Z is a fast phone and when you throw LTE into the mix, you realise just how powerful this baby is.
If you thought HSDPA+ on the Nexus 4 was fast, you'll be equally (and a bit more) blown away by what you see on the Sony Xperia Z. We loaded the Daily Mail site because it's a data-heavy, busy page rather than the fact that we love reading about Kim Kardashian (it's all lies).
Wi-Fi took four seconds to load it fully (though we could start seeing things after two seconds.) This was on a par with the Nexus 4.
But when we took it down to LTE, it got even faster. Almost instantly, it was all there and ready to go. It's an amazing feat and we couldn't see how it could be better.
Those who aren't keen on Chrome can always replace it as their default browser with something else - Firefox, Dolphin, Maxthon and Opera, to name a few, all provide credible alternatives - but we can't see a strong reason to switch unless you are massively anti-Google.
Or unless text reflow is a big deal, because by default, it didn't seem to work straight out of the box on the Sony Xperia Z.
Thankfully, tap to zoom does - but why only half a job, Google?
When it comes to bookmarks, we're massive fans of the Chrome way.
All of your desktop bookmarks are synchronised with your Google account (so long as you use Chrome on your desktop, of course) and appear on your handset.
Here is where we would also normally lament the lack of Flash. We've been doing this for years. Adobe has ceased Android support and Chrome never played with it on mobile devices.
We won't make a big deal of it, since Flash has clearly gone the way of Betamax and lost out to HTML5.
We'll just say we're sad to not have the option to view many of the sites that still use Flash and haven't/won't be updated for any reason. But que sera sera. It's becoming a less relevant gripe with each new Android handset.
Sony is one of the beasts when it comes to cameras, and some of its previous phones in conjunction with Ericsson were real belters. But it claims to have moved up a notch with the Sony Xperia Z and catapulted itself right to a premier spot. We're not convinced.
We must have a retro throwback here to the days of the Sharp GX30. A Megapixel camera! What sorcery was this, we wondered? Now, we get 2.2MP on the front snapper alone - which tends to be used for vanity purposes on Instagram, or for Skype action. Previously, this wouldn't have mattered, but with LTE support, sending higher quality video is much easier and much more of a reality. 2.2MP is therefore pretty appropriate.
And that's pretty much the poor relation here when you consider what's on the back - a whopping 13.1MP camera, shooting at 4128 x 3096 pixels and capable of some amazing images. Or you'd think so. Sadly, we would describe our results as average at best.
We'll get the primary niggle out of the way first - there's no camera shutter button. It's such a waste. We have that great standby button on the side, which you could easily mistake for a camera shoot button. But if you want one of those, you're out of luck.
You'll need to get the Sony Xperia ZL for that - and while Android phones don't generally have a shutter button, the fact it's on the Xperia Z's sibling (and Sony has got previous form here) means we're sad it's missing.
The quickest way of getting to the camera is to fire up the phone and swipe from the lock screen. That's one press and one swipe - it's not that much. But it's just a bit annoying not having the immediacy we'd hope for on such an otherwise brilliant device, and it's not the fastest camera to load either.
And to add to that, we found a few times that it didn't work due to some unexplained software glitch. It was solved with a reboot - but doing that means your window for taking the picture may have then passed.
Sony does negate this slightly by offering some quick launch options so that when the camera loads, you can choose to have it automatically launch and capture a photo or video, or just launch. Again, this had an annoying habit of not working until we'd rebooted the Sony Xperia Z.
When the camera does fire up, the screen is phenomenal. You really notice the richness of those colours and the refresh rate as you move the phone around is nothing short of astonishing. What's more, you don't have to manually change scene mode (unless you want to), with a pretty intelligent Superior Auto mode able to tell what you're trying to do. It worked spot on for us every time.
We like some of the other enhancements too, such as the smile options. Smile detection is so last year - so the Sony Xperia Z goes even further and enables you to choose between big smiles, average smiles or small smiles. Who knows how it'll cope with a big smile from a tiny mouth.
You're also able to change the capture mode to touching the screen (at the expense of tap to focus - though in fairness, the tap to focus is pretty hot) and have the camera upload photos to Sony's service automatically. Who needs Photo Stream? Android's just as capable.
And there are lots of scene modes to pick from. Nothing particularly new - from Panorama to Burst Mode - but all things we like to play with from time to time.
As for the actual camera, results unfortunately just didn't wow us. Photos tended to look better on the screen before they were actually shot, but then when transferred to a computer screen, they just looked cheap. Colours are presented well, but there seemed to be a lack of sharpness, and even mildly zoomed in, they came out more like something from a budget or mid-range handset.
Shutter speed is good, but not mind-blowing. Sony touts it as fast-capture and goes on about its Exmor RS sensor, which boasts high dynamic range (HDR) capabilities and is designed to reduce noise in low-light images. For your average Joe Bloggs, we'll just say this - photos are OK for a phone camera but you won't end up using them for anything more than casual use.
Indoor shots are passable - ambient light helps but they still look a little blurry when enlarged - although the low light capabilities of the new Exmor sensor really are impressive compared to the competition.
There are loads of different effects to play with. Most of them, you'll use once and forget about.
The LED flash struggles to light up a small room in pitch black. It's best for directly shooting an object.
A little side light helps, but even then, it's not ideal.
We'd love to make excuses for the lens, but even in daylight, pictures are hardly sharp.
Panorama mode comes as standard
The shutter performs adequately, but this is no DSLR
Bright sunlight can also prove a problem.
And even the most perfect conditions leave a lot to be desired when you snap.
The Sony Xperia Z's video capabilities are impressive (on paper), with that 13.1MP camera able to give Full HD 1080p recording at 30 frames per second.
For one thing, you're able to select scene modes from landscape, to beach, to party to sports and much more. There's even one for shooting videos of your food, called Gourmet. This is something we're used to seeing in still camera modes, but on videos, it's pretty rare and a great addition.
On top of that, Sony's HDR mode kicks in here to make your movies look better, and given the sheer level of processing going on we're really impressed with the results.
We tried the video stabilisation function and it coped admirably. You're also able to change things such as the focus mode and white balance, which just gives that extra level of usability.
There's not as much of a sharpness issue on video as there is with the still images, and you can see clearly that if something is out of focus, the camera is constantly trying to fix it as you move about.
You do have to be aware, too, that videos shot at Full HD will be absolutely massive. You'll struggle to send them via many email providers, and we ended up having to upload them to Dropbox and then forward people links to view stuff we'd shot. It all felt a little crude.
This is especially annoying when you consider that some phones will automatically resize videos for you or enable you to trim them once shot as par for the course.
Also, remember that if you're on a 4G plan, you'll eat through data like Pacman through those little dots just sending that photo of your Gran pulling a Christmas cracker then falling off her seat.
However, overall the Sony Xperia Z is definitely one of the top phones on the market for those that like to savour life's memories in more than just the odd snap. Once you get the footage off the phone, it's immense.
"When it comes to media, the Sony Xperia Z really excels."
That's what we wanted to say when starting this section, and after fixing some foibles with Mac compatibility, we can really say that it does (see our 'Connectivity' section for info on Mac connection).
Getting music onto the phone with a PC, however, is a real cinch thanks to just being able to drag and drop your files onto the phone's internal memory (or memory card, if you're feeling all expandable).
The process is quick and the USB connection secure, although it's only version 2.0 - but you can connect that up to a big TV using an MHL lead if you so wish.
Google Music is the other option - especially if 16GB isn't enough for you and you don't want to bother with memory cards. But frankly, Sony, it's not great.
Long before the iPhone, the iPod, the iPad, in fact, before the letter 'i' was even invented, many of us were walking around with the market-leading Walkman. If you had auto-reverse, or an FM Radio on yours, you were posh.
It's been one of Sony's strongest - and latterly, neglected - brands, which became a bit of a victim of its own arrogance as it sat at the top of its game. In swooped Apple and ruined it all - although we're not suggesting that's the reason Mac support isn't forthcoming.
Now, Walkman is back in force on the Sony Xperia Z, which, once you do get music onto it, imparts upon you a beautiful experience. We will give that to Sony.
Tunes are presented fantastically with amazing album art, which looks so vibrant on that screen. What's more, you can also engage a visualiser, should you wish.
Music can be viewed by Artist or Album. You can even sign into Facebook and see what your friends are listening to and share musical choices here.
When you look at how Sony has made great use of that screen, it does make your realise just how much Apple really needs to pull its finger out to give a long-overdue makeover to the offering on its iOS devices, which looks very plain by comparison.
If you plan on listening to music through the loudspeaker (we use the word "loud" loosely), then you'll be in for a huge letdown. Not in a long time have we heard such pathetic audio quality from a phone speaker.
We honestly could say that listening to music through the speaker on our old Sony Ericsson K800i six years ago sounded better.
On the Sony Xperia Z, its single speaker, located at the bottom right, just sounded so unbearably tinny, we couldn't wait to turn Girls Aloud off. Maybe it's Sony's way of encouraging you to use the headphones instead. Or to stop you listening to Girls Aloud.
And when you do use headphones, you're in for a treat. The headphones provided are nothing special (though nearly all UK dealers and networks are offering a pair worth £299 free for early customers) but that's by the by.
The quality the Walkman app pushes through even the most pedestrian of headphone is great. In fact, we'd go so far as to pit it as one of the best sound experiences we've had on a mobile device.
The ClearAudio+ option makes for a fantastic audio experience, and you can even dig into the settings and change the ambience from, say, a studio to that of a nightclub, and guess what - it actually does it well.
Of course, there is a third way of listening to your music, and that is to stream it. Not to stream to your phone (though that is possible through Google's Play Music service, which is included) but to stream from your phone using a service called Throw, which is built into the Sony Xperia Z.
This is a form of DLNA, but we tested it from the Sony Xperia Z to a Samsung smart TV fully expecting it to not work on a non-Sony branded device. We were shocked at how quickly and painlessly it connected, and subsequently worked. Take some house points here, Sony.
Incidentally, Sony gives you a shortcut on the lock screen to control the music player. They're just basic controls such as play and pause, next and previous. But similar to the camera issue, it didn't work much of the time and required a reboot.
Playing video is a breeze, and with that screen, you really have little room to complain. Watching movies was painless and we had no issues with the major formats, with the exception of a .MOV file that kept on throwing up errors, despite working elsewhere.
For those who do a lot of commuting, this is an ideal handset, because the Sony Xperia Z is both the perfect size and weight to comfortably hold in the hand.
Again, if you're not using a PC, you may struggle to get movies on unless you can be bothered with a card reader. Or you can buy them direct from Google or Sony. Perhaps that's part of the whole grand plan.
Option three is YouTube - the fantastic native Google app is included and shows here, once again, why it's head and shoulders above the competition, and the sheer clarity of HD video on this screen (when it's something worth watching, like a movie trailer) had our friends agog at the power of the handset.
The addition of the Bravia Engine 2 here is is amazing though - the upscaling it can do to standard definition videos is jaw-dropping - providing you're watching sweeping panoramas or underwater scenes. Boring episodes of How I Met Your Mother will still look pretty much the same.
Anyway, videos are very carefully organised by Sony with the Movies app it has included, and the same goes for your photos. You can view them by source (Facebook, for example) or even where in the world they were shot, using geotag info.
What's more, Sony includes an inbuilt photo editing facility to give budding Instagrammers an extra little something to play with.
It's nice to see an Android manufacturer not be lazy and use the stock Google app, but go all out with its own. Again, hats off to Sony here.
As it has done for years, Sony treats us to an FM radio - and it's brilliant. We were expecting it to be a bit rubbish really, since over the years, with the advent of internet radio, FM options have seemed a little old fashioned and neglected.
Sony has given us something here that managed to cling on well to an FM signal, give us really loud audio (we often struggled to hear radio stations on our Samsung Galaxy S3) and even comes with cool visualisers. It's just cosmetic, but it's really nice to have here. Thanks Sony.
Battery life and connectivity
It's difficult to get an accurate battery life reading, because the Sony Xperia Z is not just a phone.
Gone are the days when we'd simply quote talk times, since you're more than likely to spend more time on the web or using apps than actually speaking to friends.
Sony itself claims you'll get up to 11 hours of talk time and 550 hours of standby time. Of course, that is in optimum conditions (and on 2G - which is two levels down from the norm these days, but there's nothing quite like massaging figures).
And while the battery is large at 2330mAh, we'd say those estimates are pretty optimistic.
Firstly, there is normal use - and then there is advanced normal use.
What we mean by the latter is that the Sony Xperia Z comes with advanced power saving capabilities, including Stamina mode.
This enables you to turn off data when the screen is disabled (with the exception of stuff such as WhatsApp or email, which can be exempted individually through an additional setting).
Anybody who has ever used the incredibly popular Juice Defender app on Android to wring as much potential life out of their device will be familiar with this.
We enabled Stamina Mode and got to work on the Sony Xperia Z. The results weren't bad at all. Sony's Stamina Mode is definitely a real step forward in battery life management.
After taking the Sony Xperia Z off charge at 8am on Sunday morning, we checked our emails and tweets (we'd exempted a few key apps in Stamina mode).
We listened to the FM radio for about 15 mins before switching to music for the next 40 mins played via the headphones. Then, we browsed the web intermittently for about 20 mins over Wi-Fi.
Over the course of the next few hours, a handful of Gmails were sent and received, six text messages, one 20 minute phone call, a four minute Skype call over 3G and some photo shooting were thrown into the mix.
By 4pm, we were down to 26%. We then left the Sony Xperia Z untouched and the power went down slowly, but we had only gone down to 14% by 7pm, although this would have been extended if we'd not exempted any apps.
Listening to music for an hour while on the way home killed it eventually.
We noticed that playing music uses up power like any other memory process - certainly a lot more than an iPhone does.
We thought that was good, bearing in mind many smartphones would struggle to make it through the day on that kind of usage.
You'll still need a USB cable or portable battery handy if you're really going to be hammering the Sony Xperia Z, but it's not a bad result. We've certainly seen far, far worse.
Should you take it out of Stamina mode, it goes without saying that you'll struggle to get results like those, but overall we were really impressed with the upgrade in battery life Stamina Mode offers. If you're thinking of taking a few days away without a charger and just need a phone with calling and text ability, you'll definitely get days' of use out of the Sony Xperia Z.
The Sony Xperia Z comes with pretty much every form of connectivity you could possibly want or need these days - and then some.
Wi-Fi is obviously all there - though we found it doesn't support 5GHz, only 2.4GHz. Nonetheless, speeds were fast and we were able to surf at lightning levels, if not as stable as on other phones with dual-channel bonding.
Bluetooth is naturally supported (Sony's former partner, Ericsson, was synonymous with the technology in the early days) as is HSDPA+/LTE (4G) and NFC. It's low-power Bluetooth as well, (version 4.0) which means that you'll be able to use this phone with all manner of sensors that come on the market. Basically it means the phone is future-proofed - consider this a good thing.
NFC is still at that stage where manufacturers are introducing it, but are unsure how to harness its potential or figure out how it can help them. Still, with the use of smart tags, it comes into its own.
The idea is that as soon as your phone goes near a particular smart tag, it'll complete a function you've determined. You have to have some contact - it's not like a Wi-Fi range where you have to be within x feet - but it's a quick swipe against the rear of the phone to the tag that takes all of a second.
It may be that doing this turns Wi-Fi on or off, it may send a goodnight text to your partner, pair with a Bluetooth speaker or set an alarm. It's super-lazy - but also super-clever.
Sony also includes an app called Xperia Link - the idea being that you install an app on your computer (Windows only, remember. Have we mentioned the lack of Mac support?!) and then you can use your phone's connection to surf the web on your computer. Yep, welcome back to 2001.
This would be great if it wasn't for the fact that you can simply turn the phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot far more easily, by going into the settings.
We've already mentioned DLNA and the Throw technology included in the Sony Xperia Z. There's also the ability to mirror your screen to the television, but despite having success with Throw, we couldn't get the mirroring to work on our Samsung TV.
It could be that this is only compatible with Sony televisions. After all, the Media Remote control app included is only for use with Sony devices. Hardly a massive surprise, but a shame that there isn't a universal solution included.
PC and Mac support
For connecting to your PC, you just use the micro USB cable and it instantly installs the necessary software. However, with Mac support, you'll need to use Sony Bridge, which can be a bit tricky to install.
When you plug the Xperia Z into a computer via USB, a message pops up on the screen of the phone, telling you it will install the relevant sync software on your machine. On a PC, it does it seamlessly, but on a Mac, it just then follows with an error message telling you it can't go any further.
We looked at the Xperia Z section of the Sony website and the support area and, at the time of writing, there was absolutely no mention of Sony Bridge for Mac. Indeed, had we not just searched using Google just now, we'd still be none the wiser.
Anyway, once Sony Bridge was installed, we could tell Sony had put some work into it. It looks different to how it fared under Sony Ericsson and has been given a nice lick of paint. But it's not without fault.
Things got off to a good start when it immediately recognised the Xperia Z was plugged in and was able to tell us how much memory was left. But it went downhill quickly. After looking like it was all about to sync iTunes playlists, it then told us we had 0KB of data being used and 0KB available. Only three reboots managed to fix this.
We then synchronised a short iTunes playlist and two albums from iPhoto. Even the following day, those songs were nowhere to be seen on the Walkman app (though they do appear on Google Music) and the photos did sync, but rather than syncing albums, they were all just thrown into one big visual pit and jumbled up.
We can see Sony has tried here – but it clearly needs more effort, from not just showing that Sony Bridge is available to actually making it do what it's supposed to properly. Considering Sony really hopes to entice iPhone users away, this should be top priority.
Maps and apps
To Sony's credit, it hasn't been lazy here. So often in the past, we've reviewed other Android handsets and the manufacturers have actually been quite tight in what they've included. Not the case on the Sony Xperia Z.
Of course, you get Google's standard suite of apps that come with all Android devices. That includes (though isn't limited to) the excellent Gmail app and the jewel in Android's crown: Google Maps.
The app so good, that it showed how bad Apple Maps was in comparison and then shot to the top of the download chart in the App Store on its release.
Thankfully, it's never been removed from Google (obviously), and has, for the last few years, given one of the best turn-by-turn navigation experiences on the market. Let's not forget this app is free - and it gives you so much more functionality and live information than you would ever get from many other paid for apps.
If you really don't like Google Maps though, you can take advantage of the free Wisepilot for Sony Xperia app. But we can't see why you EVER would.
Aside from this, Sony gives us some other bits and bobs such as a basic note-taking/doodle app and a trial for McAfee mobile security. Obviously, it's keen to get you spending your money there rather than with Google, so although you can buy through Google Play, there are various hints to get you towards its Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited services.
We tried them both and, unfortunately, neither worked. The former took us to a web page where Sony admitted it knew there was a problem but was working on it; the latter just hung up immediately and didn't do a thing. A bit shoddy in our eyes, considering this is hardly a new service.
Perhaps Sony could spend more time on sorting things like this out and less time working on its Play Now service, which it's still flogging like a dead horse on handsets. That too is included on the Sony Xperia Z and is so old, we could swear we had it on the K700i many moons ago.
Office Suite is provided on the Sony Xperia Z free of charge - it's the free viewer version but it does the job admirably, and you can always download more expensive variants if you intend to use the Sony Xperia Z as your main document editing device.
We were also pleased to see a Sony Car app, which paid more than lip service to drivers. We tried it out and found it to be a great addition - offering large buttons and help for everything from navigation to music selections. You do feel, in some ways at least, that Sony has gone the extra mile here (see what we did there?).
And let's not forget that - this being an Android handset - there are hundreds of thousands of apps waiting for you to dive in and start downloading from Google Play.
This is one of our favourite things about getting a new smartphone to play with - it's like delving into a treasure trove. And with a screen like this, many of those treasures will positively glisten in front of your eyes.
Hands on gallery
Sony's come out here with a very strong message: we are back and we mean business. There's no hint of this being a niche Android phone, or by any means a cheap one. Sony wants the Xperia Z to be viewed as the handset of choice, the one that will knock Apple off its pedestal and be classed as the Android device.
It's done this through a design which is, frankly, beautiful. And specs which are, in some ways, unmatched.
But it's also making a powerful statement by charging so much. And while we can see why, we don't know if it's a strategy that will necessarily work.
What is NFC and why is it in your phone?
The Sony Xperia Z has incredible specs - from that beautiful screen, to its breathtaking design and powerful innards, there is so much that Sony has got right here.
It has built on the strong heritage of the Walkman and given power users one of the things they often desperately crave - a good battery performance and top speeds.
The design is robust and fits very well in the hand - and despite the fact the 5-inch screen is whopping, the way its integrated into the chassis mitigates that issue well. And when you turn on the Full HD screen, well, the clarity is almost mind-melting.
But there's always got to be a minus, and there are a few with the Sony Xperia Z. For example, the dust resistance is pretty much nothing more than words in our experience, and it does feel like a large slab in the hand.
And while the camera is OK, it's hardly mind-blowing. The price will still be a little high for some - although we think it's probably about par for a phone of this power - and we're annoyed about the trickiness of Mac support. Will it affect a large group of users? No - but that doesn't mean it should be neglected at all, given the increasing number of people using MacBooks for media purposes.
There is so much to love about the Sony Xperia Z - and while there are some annoyances, they pale in comparison. Yes, we think it's a bit shoddy that we encountered software bugs, but we suppose they can be fixed easily enough, and they weren't bad enough that we had crashes or lost data.
The Sony Xperia Z has a beautiful design and finally represents an Android smartphone that can be used to show iPhone owners that they're not necessarily at the top of the heap anymore.
The price is just a little too high in our opinion - but rush out a software update to improve the camera and you have a strong contender for smartphone of the year.
The only problem is, by the time that's happened, the competition from fellow Android manufacturers will have grown even fiercer. For now, for those who can afford it, we recommend it heartily.