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printed April 24, 2014
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Review: Sony Xperia ZL

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Screen

One of the ZL's defining features is its display. The screen measures 5 inches across the diagonal and runs 1920 x 1080 pixels, making it a full HD display. It uses Sony's Mobile Bravia Engine to enhance clarity, (though this mostly pertains to photo and video playback.) The result is a rich display that offers incredible pixel density and razor-sharp details. Colors look vibrant and often pop off the screen. When set all the way up, brightness is impressive, but I found the viewing angles weren't all that great. There's a noticeable blue shift if you tilt the ZL to either side.

Signal

We reviewed an unlocked version of the ZL that's not optimized for any U.S. network in particular, though it supports the HSPA+ and LTE networks run by both AT&T and T-Mobile USA. We tested it on AT&T's network.

The ZL ran quite well on AT&T's network. I had no trouble connecting to either HSPA+ or LTE in areas where they are offered. The ZL handed off between HSPA+ and LTE seamlessly. The ZL connected all calls on the first dial, didn't drop any calls, and didn't miss any calls. Data sessions (in terms of speed and reliability) were on par with other LTE devices sold by AT&T.

Sound

I was not impressed with the ZL's call quality. I made several dozen calls with the device over the holiday weekend, and they all exhibited a nasty background hiss that I found very distracting. In addition to the hiss, the earpiece does not produce enough volume for calls to be heard in moderately noisy spaces, let alone loud ones. I had trouble hearing calls in a room with a TV and at a house party, even though I had the volume set all the way up. Walking around my town on a windy day also left me struggling to hear calls. The ZL includes an equalizer for the phone app, but it didn't have any noticeable impact on the sound that I could hear. Those with whom I spoke said I sounded OK, but a little scratchy.

The speakerphone offers the same poor call quality and volume problems. It's simply not loud enough for calls unless you're in a dead quiet space. Setting the ZL down on a hard surface helps a little bit, but not much. The ringer alerts were OK, but (again) not great. I missed several calls because I couldn't hear the ZL ringing from several rooms away. The vibrate alert, however, was quite strong.

Battery

In general, the ZL's battery did a good job. I was able to get a day's life out of it, on average. It lasted more than a day with light use, but a bit less than a day with heavy use (mostly lots of video capture). The ZL offers plenty of tools to help manage battery life, too. For example, it includes Sony's Stamina Mode, which turns off the data radio whenever the screen is off. There's also a Low Battery mode that automatically turns off a customizable set of features (brightness, vibrate, Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, sync, mobile data) when the power level drops below 30%. With these tools, I have no doubt most users will be able to get a full day of solid use out of the ZL.

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