Sony’s new Xperia Z is a “yes, but” smartphone.
Already a huge hit in Japan, the Xperia Z arrives in the U.S. on July 17 through an exclusive deal with T-Mobile. It’s intended to be Sony’s flagship and has a lot of nice touches.
In my 10 days of using it, though, I found many of its positives at least partially offset by negatives. Yes, it’s an attractive phone at a reasonable price -- but there’s not quite enough to make it stand out in the crowded field of devices using Google’s Android operating system.
The Xperia shares styling cues with Sony’s recently introduced, well-received Xperia Z tablet, including its sleek, flat design. Curiously, the phone is more than 25 percent thicker than the otherwise much larger tablet -- but since we’re talking about a difference of .07 of an inch, no one will complain much.
The Xperia’s five-inch screen positions it directly against Samsung’s Galaxy S4 among high-end Android smartphones. So too does the resolution of its display, which offers the same 1920 by 1080 pixels as the Galaxy.
Sony boasts that the Xperia is powered by technology borrowed from its Bravia TVs, but I’m a longtime sucker for Samsung’s screens, and the Sony’s, nice as it is, didn’t make me change my mind.
Even the Xperia’s most noteworthy feature -- the fact that it’s water-resistant to a depth of a meter for 30 minutes -- turns out to be something of a mixed blessing.
The pros are obvious: Splashing it with a Coke or accidentally dropping it in the sink won’t faze it. (It’s dust-proof, too.) But securing it against such man-made disasters requires a few annoying design concessions.
Specifically, the power and headphone ports and the SD memory and SIM-card slots are all covered by tiny hatches along the phone’s skinny edges. While they seem sturdy enough, they’re hard to locate and even harder to open.
The camera has a 13-megapixel sensor and is capable of shooting high-dynamic-range, or HDR, video. HDR, which until recently was only available on smartphones for still photos, is designed to adjust for situations in which there’s a wide variation in lighting of the scene.
I was generally happy with the photos and videos I shot on the Xperia, though I wasn’t as impressed as I was with the HTC One, whose sensor is only rated at four megapixels but is larger and features sophisticated image processing.
In normal use, the Xperia’s battery should be able to get you through a day without a recharge -- particularly if you make use of what Sony calls “Stamina” mode. This feature, also found on the Xperia tablet, shuts down Wi-Fi and other data traffic when the screen dims.
You’ll still receive phone calls, texts and calendar notifications, but the phone won’t, for example, check for e-mail, or perform other tasks in the background unless you dive into the settings to make exceptions. While it works, it also reduces the benefit of having an always-connected device in your pocket.
The Xperia is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and is capable of running over LTE, currently the fastest data-network technology. But there’s a catch: T-Mobile only launched U.S. LTE service a few months ago, and it’s far behind Verizon and AT&T in terms of people and places covered.
With T-Mobile’s “uncarrier” business model, you don’t have to commit to the usual two-year contract for service. On the other hand, and unlike carriers that subsidize the cost of the phone, T-Mobile makes you responsible for the full freight.
For the Xperia, which has 16 gigabytes of storage, that’s $580, which works out to $100 down and $20 a month for 24 months. It’s the same price T-Mobile is charging for the Galaxy S4 and HTC One, and $70 less than Apple’s iPhone 5.
None of those phones, though, is likely to survive falling into the swimming pool. If that’s a risk in your life, the Xperia Z can put your mind at ease.
(Rich Jaroslovsky is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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