Having switched over to a Windows Phone for a month, the ownership experience is like a love-hate relationship. Beneath the grouses of the phone’s shortcomings (and there happens to be a lot of them), lies the beauty of simplification and strong fundamentals. Just as I thought I’d adapted to the life of imperfection, Sony Mobile decides to lure me back to the dark side with their new flagship product Sony Xperia Z. I was given a test drive opportunity, and at the end of the two weeks trial, it was a tough decision if I should ditch
my Lumia for the new found love in Xperia Z.
Having owned some of the top selling phones like the HTC One X, Samsung Galaxy S3, and Sony’s previous Xperia models like the Xperia S, I thought Sony Mobile had the best form factor in Xperia Z. The 5″ phone does not look excessively huge unlike the Samsung Galaxy Note, thanks to its edge-to-edge display in a typical 4.3″ phone form factor. With just 7.9mm thickness, while not exactly the thinnest phone in the world, the phone feels elegantly light, and comfortable to hold with one hand. The back of the phone has a glass finishing, surrounded by a set of refined but sturdy buttons and ports fitted firmly with watertight port covers, collectively giving the phone a premium quality feel. Samsung’s plasticky SIII and HTC’s bricky One X (and Lumia 920 too!) all looked out of place in comparison.
The setup procedure was simple and straight forward, with some touch up from Sony Mobile to polish up the user experience. With Android Jellybean (4.1.2) pre-installed, Sony Mobile creates a layer of mobile entertainment experience over the default Google
user interface. The end product is a very sleek and nifty mobile digital photo album, music walkman and high definition video entertainment player. The speaker position is far from ideal though, as my hand would inadvertently cover it when holding to watch a
video playback. Paired with my Beats by Dr Dre headphone, the audio reproduction was impressive, although I admit I am not exactly the audiophile you would expect for audio system feedback. I love the “Throw” function, as I can stream any photo, music playback
to my UPnP-enabled Samsung TV wirelessly. I had problem streaming video (both Xperia recorded video and mp4 video) to my TV though, and hopefully it is an issue that can be easily fixed by Sony Mobile.
The 1080p razor sharp display, packed in the 5″ screen using its mobile Bravia engine, creates a vibrant screen with punchy colour and stellar contrast reproduction. The display passed the outdoor test with flying colours, as the content in the screen remained visibly clear under bright sun lighting with its glare and reflection reduction capability. The Lumia 920 had a slight edge over Xperia Z though with its deep colour and black depth, but Xperia Z is no slouch. That said, when I placed it side by side with my Lumia 920, the display did look slightly washed out, especially when viewing at an angle. It could be the choice of TFT display, but after seeing the contrast difference between the two screens, I think Sony can further improve on its display feature, given its rich visual entertainment heritage.
Sony Mobile has a great track record of producing excellent cameras in its Xperia series, at least with the Xperia Arc and Xperia S that I had owned previously. Xperia Z didn’t disappoint me with its 13MP exmor r sensor with f/2.4 aperture. Technical specification alone does not guarantee quality shots, as evident in the Galaxy SIII. Thanksfully, Xperia Z camera lives up to its specifications. It is capable of taking photos under dim lighting conditions, or video record fast moving subjects with high quality. I have not tried its HDR video recording capability but from some of the sample videos posted on youtube, the results are mixed. If there is any imperfection, it is the lack of a physical shutter button and shortcut to quickly get into camera mode from the lockscreen. The former might be a constraint due to the Xperia Z’s water resistant feature but the latter is a huge inconvenience for me, as it means I have to hit my 8 digits pin code before I can take a candid snapshot.
NB: The lack of camera shortcut issue is probably not applicable if you are not subjected to Exchange Server policy which enforces pin lock security to the phone. Also, I was advised by Sony Mobile that there’s actually a workaround for this: you can select Screen Lock as Swipe and slide to the left to activate the camera. Please let me know if this workaround works especially if you are subjected to your office’s Exchange Server policy enforcement
I never had strong opinions about Office integration in Android until I experienced it in the Windows Phone and could see a contrasting experience between the two. In the Windows Phone, the office client is so complete that Powerpoint slides, Excel spreadsheets or Word documents can be reliably opened regardless of the sophistication in smart arts, formulas or text formatting. Outlook emails and appointments can be sent or edited as if I am doing it from a desktop. The same can’t be said for Xperia Z. But to be fair to Sony Mobile, this is a prevalent issue in Android, and I think it is something Google and Android phone makers need to seriously look into if the aim is to push Android phones into both the consumer and business market, and in the mobile world, there is really no clear distinction between the two. That said, there were some bugs or lacking PIM features in the Xperia Z which I think Sony Mobile can and should resolve. The calendar app stopped working when I tried to edit or cancel a meeting invitation while I could not look up email contacts in the Exchange address list when I tried to send an email to a colleague.
Not withstanding some of the issues highlighted, Xperia Z still ranks among the best, if not the best, in the list of smart phones that I have owned so far, which includes the likes of HTC One X, Galaxy S3 and Nexus. Not only is the phone highly spec-ed with top notch build quality, there are clear signs that Sony Mobile is listening to its customers’ feedback. I had previously provided feedback to the local team on Sony’s implementation of its exchange policy as well as the power off lock security feature, and they were all addressed satisfactorily. I was even asked to test my reported feedback after the product development team implemented the fixes. I could be naive, but at least Sony Mobile gave me the impression that they are acting on my feedback, and I think that’s what a consumer always likes to see or hear.
For all of the above, the Xperia Z had won over my heart. Unfortunately, it did not win over my head as work productivity remains a key selection criteria for me, especially after I’ve experienced what I can achieve work-wise while on the move. So while it has been a
fantastic 2 weeks of flirtatious rendezvous with the Xperia Z, I am reluctantly going back to my normal but boring relationship with the Nokia Lumia.
And my search for a fun and serious phone (no it’s not an oxymoron) continues …