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Hands-on with the T-Mobile Sony Xperia Z (Gallery)

T-Mobile just released the water-resistant Xperia Z on Friday and I've been spending a few days with it. It's a high quality smartphone, but water resistance alone is not enough for me to leave my One or Lumia 925.
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Xperia Z retail box

It's a great time to be a T-Mobile customer with their unique offerings and compelling smartphone collection. I bought the HTC One and Nokia Lumia 925 and for the last several days have been using the Sony Xperia Z. T-Mobile also has the Samsung Galaxy S4 available. They are all excellent choices and you really can't go wrong with any of them, but I personally don't find enough compelling in the Xperia Z to choose it.

Box contents and opening experience

The Sony Xperia Z is available now from T-Mobile for $99.99 down and $20/month for 24 months or $579.99 full price. Inside the Sony package you will find the Xperia Z, USB cable, and A/C charger with USB port. We are seeing most phones today launch with very few accessories, wired headsets and cases are no longer being included in most cases.

The Sony Xperia Z has a 5 inch display and when I first opened the package the size of the black slab was the first thing I noticed. The corners are pretty squared off and the device reminds me a large iPhone with very basic design elements, especially when compared to the HTC One and Nokia Lumia 925.

After picking up the Xperia Z I immediately felt the quality of the glass front and back with the rubber edges making it easy to hold in the hand. I like the thinness of the phone as well and felt I was holding a premium smartphone. It has been a few years since I owned a Xperia smartphone and I am pleased to see such quality in their latest generation smartphones. I did immediately notice lots of fingerprints though and that will have you rubbing it on your shirt a lot.

Check out the CNET review for another opinion of the Xperia Z.

Specifications

The Sony Xperia Z is a modern Android smartphone that unfortunately launches with Android 4.1. The internal specifications are top notch and with a reasonable price I doubt there is anything one will miss on the device. Specifications include:

  • 5 inch 1920x1080 resolution display with 443 PPI
  • 1.5 GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 processor
  • Adreno 320 GPU
  • IP55 and IP57 rated water and dust resistance (with ports closed)
  • 2GB of RAM
  • 16GB of ROM and microSD expansion card slot
  • 13 megapixel camera with Exmor RS image sensor
  • 2 megapixel front facing camera
  • 2330 mAh integrated battery
  • HD voice and WiFi Calling support
  • Bluetooth 4.0, 802.11 a/b/g/n, and DLNA
  • Dimensions of 136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9 mm (5.5 x 2.8 x 0.3 inches) and 5.15 ounces

If you check out all the details of the Sony Xperia Z on the Sony websiteyou will see that they use their Mobile BRAVIA Engine to manage contrast, color, noise reduction, and sharpness. They removed an air layer in construction and the display really is quite beautiful.

Even though the front and back of the Xperia Z is made of glass, Sony states that it is a durable tempered glass with an integrated anti-shatter film on both sides. You can see just a slight edge of this on the front near the top, but I did not notice any impact at all on view ability and it is nice to know there is a layer of protection in case of accidental drops.

There is no IR port, seen on the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4, and that is something I actually have come to find quite useful while traveling.

Walk around the hardware

When you first pick up the Xperia Z you may have to look twice to see if you are holding it with the front or back facing you. In low lighting conditions it also took me several minutes to find the microUSB port cover so I could charge up the device and I doubt I could ever live with a phone that has so many port covers. I understand this is needed to maintain the water resistance so that is the trade-off you must be willing to make.

I was very impressed with the display, but then again I am very satisfied with the HTC One display. There are no dedicated capacitive buttons, they appear at the bottom of the display and rotate when you change orientation which is similar to what I have seen on Android tablets.

A prominent start button is found on the right side, just over halfway up the side. The volume button is below this, which was a bit odd for me at first but fits my thumb well while holding the device in my right hand. The microSIM slot is on the right side above the power button. A mono speaker is down near the bottom of the right side. I have been spoiled by HTC's front facing BoomSound speakers and this one seems pretty inadequate.

There are two docking contacts on the left side with two hidden doors above the contacts for the microSD and microUSB ports. The 3.5mm headset jack is under a cover on the top right and a lanyard opening is found on the bottom right.

The camera and flash are located in the far upper left corner of the back. I found my fingers on my left hand covering the camera opening from time-to-time and prefer a camera moved a bit further from the edge of the phone.

Overall, I like the hardware, but don't love it. It looks a bit retro, but has a premium feel with the glass back and front. Nothing beats the HTC One in the hand though.

Sony Xperia Z software

The Xperia Z launches with Android 4.1.2 and I understand Sony will release an update with 4.2 in the future. This is the first modern Sony Android device I have tried and I found the Sony skin to be rather minimal, reminiscent of what we see on LG's devices. In addition to the Android bits you will find Sony Music Unlimited (subscription service), PlayMemories Online, Smart Connect, Video Unlimited, and Walkman music player.

Like Samsung's Galaxy software, I am personally not a fan of duplicating many Android services and when they have subscriptions I am even less of a fan. I would like to have seen the Sony Walkman music player include support for cloud services like Google Play Music, but it is a separate experience.

T-Mobile has a few utilities loaded on the device, most of which are actually useful. You will find MobileLife, T-Mobile My Account, Visual Voicemail, Mobile Hotspot, T-Mobile TV, and TrackID.

In addition to Sony and T-Mobile apps and utilities, you will find some special Sony settings on the Xperia Z. These include screen mirroring, MirrorLink, Throw, special themes, and small apps. The small apps utility lets you have select utilities work over the top of other apps. LG has similar functionality while Samsung has a multi-window functionality for this type of multi usage scenario. Included small apps are browser, calculator, and timer. They are accessed by pressing the task switcher button located to the right of the Home button.

The camera software is pretty slick and I found the Superior Auto mode worked just fine at giving me good photo results. There does not appear to be advanced capture for special editing (short video capture for action shots, best shots, etc.) like we see on the HTC One, Lumia 925, and Galaxy S4. There are many different scene modes to help you take your desired photo though.

The photo editor is pretty basic and it seems that the focus on this device is to share photos with different Sony devices and services.

Usage experiences

I loved the display of the Xperia Z and was satisfied with the design. The water resistance is unique, but there isn't enough in the device for me to personally make the jump from either my HTC One or Lumia 925.

The Xperia Z looks to be a good phone for those working in the field where it is likely you may drop it in water. Then again, if that is how you roll you should probably check out something like the Galaxy S4 Active or other ruggedized smartphone. As lovely as the Xperia Z is, I wouldn't personally choose it over the Galaxy S4, HTC One, or even Nokia Lumia 925.

Other functions to consider

Sony advertises their STAMINA mode for the battery that is designed to shut down battery draining apps when the display is off. I am very curious to see how this performs in daily usage as most all of my phones are only able to go for a day, or less, before needing more juice.

Initial testing of the camera has produced some rather good results in daylight conditions, but the Xperia Z doesn't match the lowlight performance of the HTC One or Nokia Lumia 925 and I am a fan of the additional experiences that both offer.

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Back of the Xperia Z box

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Basic included accessories

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Back of the Xperia Z. Yes, it's glass too.

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Front of the Xperia Z with attached screen protector

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Left side accessory dock connectors and access doors

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Top of the Xperia Z

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Camera mounted near the top left on the back

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Right side power and volume buttons

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Access port door with O-ring

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Another view of a sealing cover

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Power button

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Lanyard opening on the bottom

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Above the display and front facing camera

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Xperia Z in hand

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T-Mobile flagships: HTC One, Xperia Z, Lumia 925

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Back view of T-Mobile flagships: HTC One, Xperia Z, Lumia 925

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Xperia Z sample shot: Flower

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Comparison Lumia 925 sample shot: Flower

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Xperia Z sample shot: Shed

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Lumia 925 sample shot: Shed

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Xperia Z sample shot: Blueberries

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Lumia 925 sample shot: Shed

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T-Mobile utilties

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Home screen with Sony apps

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Xperia Z settings

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Wireless network settings

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Sound settings

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Display settings

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Power management

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Xperia utilities

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Xperia experience wizard

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Xperia experience wizard

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Xperia experience wizard

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Adding accounts

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About screen

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App launcher

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Filter for app launcher

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More apps

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3rd screen of apps

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Album view

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Auto mode

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Music Unlimited service

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PlayMemories Online service

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Smart Connect setup

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Sony Select offerings

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Sony movie store

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Sony social networking application

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Sony social stream

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Sony Walkman player

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Another view of Sony Walkman player

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Camera application

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Camera quick launch options

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Camera modes

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More camera modes

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Photo options

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Editing photo effects

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More photo editing options

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Editing tools

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Video recording options

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Task switcher and small apps launcher

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Calculator small app

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Choosing small apps

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Small apps browser over the Home screen

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