Review: Sony Xperia ZL
Phone Scoop takes an in-depth look at the Xperia ZL, which is the latest Android smartphone being sold by Sony in the U.S. See which features stand out and which fall flat in this full review.
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Cincinnati Bell is the only carrier selling the Sony Xperia ZL, but it is also available unlocked directly from Sony. This top-level Android smartphone offers a ton of features, but you're going to have to pay to get them.Body
The Xperia ZL is a variant of the Xperia Z. It is slightly smaller and loses the Z's cutting-edge design, but still includes the same advanced features. The ZL is a sizable black slab that is a small step up from last year's TL in terms of overall appearance, quality, and feel.
The front face on our unit is pitch black. Only the Sony logo is visible on the front of the ZL when the screen is off; you can't even see the outline of the display itself. (An available white version has a white bezel.) Each of the four side edges has a smooth, reflective black strip, and the back surface is both patterned and matte black (it also comes in white and red, which have different colored strips along the side). I find the ZL to be a bit plain looking, but it certainly isn't unattractive. At worst, it is another unremarkable black smartphone that might struggle to stand out in the crowded smartphone market. The red version stands out for obvious reasons.
Measuring 2.7 inches across, the phone is fairly wide. Also, at 9.99 mm thick, it comes across as rather chunky when you consider that the Samsung Galaxy S 4 measures 7.9 mm thick and the HTC One measures 9.3 mm thick. It would help if the ZL had a back surface that tapered gradually toward the edges, but it doesn't; the full 9.9mm thickness runs almost side-to-side and top-to-bottom. There's also a sharp rim that runs along the outer edge of the display. The rim serves to protect the screen from scratches, but it's so sharp as to be uncomfortable against your skin. The width, thickness, and sharp rim together work against the ZL. Last, Sony could have used a slightly better piece of plastic for the ZL's back surface. It's not the worst, but it's not the best, either. The phone will fit into pockets, but the sharp corners, large footprint, and matte back surface all make it difficult to retrieve from tight jeans.
The ZL doesn't use any hardware controls on the front. Instead, the Back, Home, and Multitasking buttons appear on the screen and come and go as needed. The micro-USB port is found on the left side, positioned very close to the top. The stereo headphone jack is on the top surface.
All of the rest of the controls are on the right edge. With the TL, Sony placed the volume toggle, screen lock button, and camera button perilously close to one another. Sony resolved that issue with the ZL. The volume toggle is perched closest to the top. It is quite easy to find and offers decent travel and feedback. There's no way you'll miss the screen lock button. It is a reflective silver color, round, and protrudes significantly from the side surface of the ZL. It is positioned smack in the middle of the side edge and the button offers acceptable travel and feedback. However, I found myself accidentally turning the ZL's screen on or off when gripping the phone in my hand due to the odd placement. The dual-stage camera button is about where you'd expect to find it, closest to the bottom edge of the ZL. Both stages have great definition.
The ZL's back cover is not removable, so you won't be able to swap or replace the battery. There's a small, rectangular hatch positioned close to the bottom. The slots for the micro SIM card and microSD card are found under the hatch. The hatch is flimsy, loose, and doesn't fit as snugly as I'd like it to. The thin plastic tether that keeps the hatch attached to the ZL also gives me worry. It feels like it may be easily snapped.
Despite my complaints here, the ZL is an improvement over other handsets Sony has made available to American buyers in recent years.
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