Review: Sony Xperia ZL
The Sony Xperia ZL ships with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and Sony's user interface customizations. (One advantage of buying an unlocked phone direct from the manufacturer is relief from carrier customizations and software.)
Let's start with the lock screen. There are two shortcuts: one for the camera, and one for the music player. The camera one is a wasted, if you ask me, since a long press of the physical camera button launches the camera when the phone is locked. You can't customize the lock screen at all. Oh well. You can also access the notification tray from the lock screen, but not if you've enabled a security code.
There are five home screen panels for customization. The ZL includes plenty of widgets, apps, and shortcuts with which to fill the various screens. I like that the main app menu lets you view apps alphabetically, by most recently used, by the order in which they were downloaded, as well as user-arranged order. It’s also fairly easy to uninstall apps from the main app menu, as well as share them via social networks. The settings tools function just as on other Android devices, as does the notification tray.
Sony carried over its Xperia Small Apps feature to the ZL. When you press the multitasking button, the recent apps you've used appear as normal in a vertical column. However, a little strip of apps also appears along the bottom of the screen. The Xperia Small Apps, as they are called, include a calculator, note app, clock app, and voice memo app. These aren't shortcuts to full-fledged apps. They are miniature apps that pop up as a window on the multitasking screen. They are only accessible from the multitasking screen.
The ZL has a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor. It provided more than enough motivation for the ZL's software, apps, and user interface. The ZL has no problem operating smoothly.
Calls and Contacts
The phone and contact applications have been spruced up with a new look from Sony, but are functionally identical to the stock tools offered by Android 4.1. The phone app includes the expected features such as mute, hold, speakerphone, and add a line; and the contacts app syncs flawlessly with your Google, Google+, Exchange, and Facebook contact databases. There are only a couple of widgets and/or shortcuts for adding contacts to the home screen.
The ZL has the expected set of Android communications tools, including Gmail, email, Google+, Google+ Messenger, Hangouts (formerly Google Talk), and SMS. These apps function fine, just as they do on other devices. The new Hangouts app is fairly robust and ties into Google+ for video chats.
One thing of note: Sony's TimeScape app is gone. In its place is SocialLife.
SocialLife is more like HTC's BlinkFeed than anything else. It’s a socialized reader app that pulls in your Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube content, and runs it in a stream that's also interspersed with news items. You can customize the news that appears, and use SocialLife to interact with your social networks, as well as share the content that appears in the feed. It performs much better than TimeScape did, but it loses some of the visual flair. It you're the type who likes to manage your feeds in a social way from a single user interface, SocialLife does a pretty good job of it (it also has some decent widgets that accompany the app, too). SocialLife stops short of offering all the messaging features found in the dedicated Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube apps, however.