Review: Sony Xperia Z for T-Mobile USA
Sony delivers an excellent Android smartphone to the country's "upstart" carrier with the Xperia Z.
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Is It Your Type
T-Mobile has made no bones about becoming a threat to market leaders AT&T and Verizon Wireless, and it is phones such as the Sony Xperia Z that are going to help it make good on that threat. The Z is Sony's top-of-the-line smartphone for the year, and matches many competing devices feature-for-feature. If you're a fan of Sony's hardware and services, the Z is well worth a look.
The Xperia Z is probably the best hardware to come from Sony in a long time. It definitely has a few shortcomings, but its makes up for them with several uncommon features.
The Z is a black slab made from a carbon fiber frame sandwiched between two glass panels. Both the front and back surfaces are made from glass, not unlike the iPhone 4/4S. It is thin, light, and attractive. Flashy design elements are kept to a minimum. The majority of the surfaces are glossy and reflective, but there are sections of the carbon fiber frame that have a matte finish to break things up a bit. Perhaps the thing one that stands out the most is the large, chrome-colored, screen lock and power button. Sony designed the button to stand out on purpose, something it intends to do across its devices as an identifying feature. Other than that, the Z is black (it's also available in purple).
People who have small hands may have issues with the Z, thanks to its width. Like many of today's super phones, the Z has a sizable footprint to accommodate the large display. In addition to the size, the carbon fiber frame creates a sharp edge along both the front and back faces where it meets the glass. The frame protects the glass when the device is set down, but it cuts into your palm when the phone is held tightly. I didn't care that much for the way it felt in the hand, but it isn't the end of the world. The Z and its frame does get a little sticky when shoved into a pocket, though.
The front of the Z has no physical controls. The screen takes up the majority of the front surface. The standard three Android buttons appear along the bottom edge of the screen as software icons, as needed.
If there is one thing about the Z that I really dislike, it’s the hatches. In order to make the Z water resistant (one of its core selling points), Sony covered all the ports with gasket-lined hatches to prevent water from seeping in. There are four hatches. There might be fewer if the Z had a removable back cover, but it doesn't. The headphone jack is on top, the microUSB and microSD card ports are on the left, and the SIM card is on the right. The seams in the hatches meant for your thumbnail are narrow slits that are impossible to find without peering closely at the side edge. They are a serious pain to use. The microSD and SIM card slots may not be used all that often, but the USB port and headphone jack may see daily action. I understand why Sony designed the Z this way, but the hatches impact usability.
The only hardware buttons are on the right edge. As noted, the largest and most obvious is the screen lock button. It is awesome. You can see it from across the room, and it has a great profile and excellent travel and feedback. The volume toggle is below it. The toggle is a large button and easy to find, but action and feedback are pretty miserable.
But the Z is water resistant. It can sit in a meter of water for up to 30 minutes. I tested this out, and it definitely works. I let the Z sit in the sand in about 2 feet of water in Lake Placid for a half hour and it still works just fine. Unlike the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active, it has wet-screen tracking, which lets you use the screen when it is wet. The Z is not rugged, though. In fact, as with the iPhone 4/4S, I worry about the double-sided glass design.
The Z's battery is sealed in, so there's no swapping it out.