Monday, May 13, 2013

Review: Sony Xperia Z

Note: I was recently invited to test the Sony Xperia™ Z and write a review, which is up on the Sony Mobile SG Facebook page. I don't usually do product reviews for this blog, but because I find that this is a device suitable for people who spend a lot of time outdoors, I thought it's appropriate that I share it here as well.

A smartphone can be an essential tool while hiking in the forest, whether as a backup camera, GPS, getting the latest updates on the weather, or simply sharing your adventures with friends via social media. As someone who loves the outdoors, spends a lot of time close to water, and relies heavily on my smartphone to stay connected, one of the biggest headaches I often face involves keeping my phone safe and dry, regardless of the terrain and weather. Sure, there are waterproof cases for many smartphone models out there, but these can be expensive and cumbersome. And one can never know when ziploc bags might spring a leak.

When I first heard about the Xperia™ Z, the main feature that caught my attention was its supposed water-resistance. Given that I have a tendency to get caught in the rain, or have my gear immersed in a stream or lake, I knew I had to put it to the test.

First impressions

As a longtime iPhone user, I was a little apprehensive about the transition to Android, and whether I would be able to quickly adapt to the Xperia™ Z. Transferring my contacts and setting up my email accounts was quite straightforward. And with my usual messaging and social media apps installed, I was good to go.

With its dimensions (139 x 71 x 7.9 mm), it took me a while to get used to handling the Xperia™ Z, but it did not take me long before I was able to perform my usual tasks with one hand, a handy skill when you're in the crowded MRT and need to hold on to something while catching up on news updates, chatting with friends on WhatsApp, or just scrolling through Twitter.

There was no perceptible lag while opening and closing apps, or swiping between home screens. Chrome, the default browser, performed well without any major hiccups, and I was able to synchronise my bookmarks with my desktop version of Chrome.

One of the main drawbacks I realised is the battery life; the iPhone draws a lot of flak in this regard, but I was quite alarmed at how quickly the battery of the Xperia™ Z drained, even with Stamina Mode on. Perhaps it's because I spent a lot of my time listening to music while online, but even so, be prepared to have a charger with you at all times.

The rest of this review will focus on 3 aspects: my experience with the Xperia™ Z as a portable entertainment device, as a camera, and a test of its water-resistant capabilities.

Entertainment on the go

Transferring files was simple and intuitive - the first time I connected the Xperia™ Z to my PC using the micro USB cable, the PC Companion software was immediately installed. After that, it was a simple matter of dragging and dropping music and video files.

With Mobile BRAVIA® Engine 2, the Xperia™ Z really excels when it comes to viewing high-definition media. Your daily commute will never be the same again, once you've had the experience of viewing your favourite television shows on the Xperia™ Z (Provided the image quality is already decent to begin with). And the difference is visible even with standard-definition media; sweeping scenery shots and panoramas somehow still manage to end up looking even more breathtaking. Seriously, these (admittedly somewhat imperfect) screenshots don't even do justice.

Similarly, YouTube videos take on a new level of clarity and sharpness, which unfortunately isn't adequately represented by the screenshots.

The Xperia™ Z's Walkman (ah, nostalgia) app serves as a music player, allowing you to organise your files according to artist and album. Even the album art looks spectacular on the screen.

Audio quality was great, but the earphones that came bundled in with the Xperia™ Z were mediocre at best. I had a better listening experience with other earphones.

Finally, while I haven't fallen victim to the insanity that is Candy Crush, the display brings renewed joy and visual pleasure to a slew of other games.

All in all, if you're going to be spending a long time on the MRT or bus, the graphics display alone really plays a major role in enhancing the whole mobile entertainment experience.

Camera functions

How does the Xperia™ Z's 13 MP camera fare? Not too bad, I have to say. Most of my photos were taken using Superior Auto, which apparently detects the type of scene you are trying to capture, then automatically configures and optimises the camera settings for the best possible results. I'll let the photos speak for themselves.

Using the camera is relatively easy; tap to focus (or capture the image, depending on your choice of settings), pinch to zoom in, and so on.

One thing I discovered was that zooming in severely compromised image quality, resulting in lots of noise. Not surprising, since this is digital zoom after all, but what I saw on the phone's screen did not quite reflect what I saw after I'd transferred the photographs to my computer.

In other words, the Xperia™ Z is decent with scenery shots, but if you're keen on documenting wildlife, you're better off bringing along an actual camera.

There are some photo effects that you can play with.

On the other hand, video recordings made on the Xperia™ Z are impressive - once again, you can choose from a variety of scene modes, and HDR mode spectacularly improves the quality of the footage.


I'm sure the following scenarios are among a smartphone owner's worst nightmares:

a) Getting caught in the rain and having your phone soaked

b) Spilling something on your phone

c) Dropping your phone in a puddle/the swimming pool/bowl of soup/toilet bowl

d) Accidentally soaking your phone because you forgot that your phone was still in your jeans pocket when you dumped them in the laundry basket.

With the Xperia™ Z, your days of worrying about your phone dying as a result of such scenarios are more or less over. As long as your earphones aren't plugged in and all the ports are covered by the watertight protectors, just wipe the Xperia™ Z dry and carry on.

I spend a lot of time outdoors, and I know all too well how unpredictable Singapore's weather can be. I'm usually fine with getting drenched, but to protect my phone, I rely on ziploc bags, trusting that the seal manages to prevent any water from seeping in, and that there aren't any holes. But now that I have the Xperia™ Z, I can just keep my phone in my pocket while I scramble for shelter or put on a raincoat. I've even managed to carry on using it while walking in the rain.

For the purpose of this review, I decided to test how well the Xperia™ Z worked underwater. I dunked it in my aquarium.

My fishes don't seem very amused by this strange object.

I tried to see if I could use the Xperia™ Z as an underwater camera, but unfortunately, I couldn't get it to work that way. The screen seemed to respond to the water flowing across the screen, and would stay locked on a particular screen despite my tapping. Only after I removed the phone from the water and wiped the screen dry did it respond normally to my fingers.

Based on all the times I've scrambled about in a panic to keep my iPhone in a ziploc bag when it begins to rain heavily, or all the times I've worried about the damage should my backpack (with iPhone inside) get soaked or fall into the water, perhaps getting the Xperia™ Z for my outdoor adventures would be a worthwhile investment.


Overall, I had a positive experience with the Xperia™ Z. Despite some shortcomings, especially with the battery life, I would recommend this phone, especially if you treat your smartphone as an entertainment device for watching videos, and are likely to get your phone wet, whether because of clumsiness or weather.