Our first impressions of the Sony Xperia Z, including what's hot and what's not.
The first thing you immediately notice about the Xperia Z is its design, something Sony calls "omnibalance". That's a fancy and quite frankly ridiculous marketing term that is about "creating balance and symmetry in all directions with rounded edges, and smooth reflective surfaces on all sides." Putting aside the fluff, the Xperia Z is certainly a well designed smartphone. It's comfortable to hold, has excellent ergonomics and the completely flat surface on the back gives it a distinctive look and feel.
The large power button on the right side of the Xperia Z is perfectly positioned for one-handed use and offers excellent tactility. The low position of the volume rocker is also ideal and makes it easy to adjust volume using one hand.
The Xperia Z doesn't feel too big despite possessing a 5in screen. It's certainly a large smartphone but the jump in size from a handset like the Samsung Galaxy S III, for example, is not really evident. The thickness of 7.9in certainly helps in this regard and Sony's designers do deserve plenty of credit for cramming all those internals into such a slim body.
We haven't dropped the Xperia Z yet and don't plan to, but can tell you that the glass on the back seems fairly durable. There are no visible scratches on our review unit yet, and while it's only been used for a day that's still a positive. Google's Nexus 4 smartphone showed scratches after a few hours of use, so Sony appears to have used a very good finish on both the front and back glass panels.
We've only used the Xperia Z briefly but we are very impressed with Sony's software so far. This is one of the least intrusive Android UI skins we've come across. There's plenty of evidence of Google's stock holo theme present and all the changes made tie into this theme, so the user interface is generally consistent in most applications. We also like the ability to sort the app draw by multiple parameters, the handy toggles in the notifications pane as well as the coloured themes available to select.
The Xperia Z is also a fast smartphone. We've experienced very minimal lag so far, with most basic tasks like scrolling and switching between running apps all exhibiting excellent performance.
The Xperia Z's loudspeaker is poor. It's a single speaker design that's located on the right side, towards the bottom of the phone. We found it lacking in both volume and quality for voice calls and media playback, which is disappointing. Thankfully, the earpiece speaker during phone calls fares better though you really need to position the phone precisely when you hold it up to your ear to avoid a lack of volume.
The camera application on the Xperia Z is slow to open. Once you're inside the camera app there's no evident lag or slowdown, but it takes about two seconds to open the camera on the lock screen and about three seconds to open it from the app drawer or home screen. This may not seem like a huge issue but up against other smartphones on the market, the Xperia Z falls short. Given other apps don't have the same issues, we can only hope it can be addressed with a future software update.
The Xperia Z's on-screen keyboard is poor. So far, we've found that the autocorrect system is prone to errors, the gesture input system isn't as efficient or effective as Swype and the default mode lacks full stop and comma keys on the main layout. You can add the full stop and comma keys to the main page by checking an option in settings menu. However, this makes the space bar smaller but keeps the enter and extra symbol keys at a large size which is very odd. Given the stock keyboard on Android Jelly Bean is superb, we have to ask the question: why on earth did Sony replace a great keyboard with one that is clearly worse?
The Xperia Z's screen is exceptionally bright and clear and displays very crisp text but viewing angles are lacklustre compared to many rival models. We don't consider this a critical issue as most people who use their smartphone will be looking at the display directly front on, but other potential users might disagree.