Sony's latest Android phones are probably the most exciting thing the Japanese company has done in the smartphone arena to date. I mean, Sony unveiled a flagship phone that is water and dustproof.* (to one meter for up to 30 minutes.)

That alone is something worthy of attention. The sister device, the ZL, is a slightly downmarket version of the phone, though even saying that much isn't exactly fair. There's nothing particularly worse about the ZL, other than the fact that it lacks the glass backing of the Z, or its tolerance for wet and sandy situations.

In fact, many people may prefer the ZL - its headphone and microUSB ports are exposed, whereas every access point on the Z is guarded by a watertight cover that has to be pried open to access the respective port. I, for one, greatly favor exposed ports. Obviously, the Z wouldn't be very waterproof if those access points were open to air, though, and that's part of the tradeoff, I suppose.

Both the Z and ZL have 5" 1080p LCD displays, and Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro quad-core processors. Both have LTE support, and Sony's brand-new Exmos RS 13MP camera sensor. Both run Android 4.1.2 with Sony's (admittedly dated) UI overlay.

So, what were my initial impressions? The hardware of the Z is beautiful - I love Sony's elegant, minimalist design aesthetic. The front of the phone isn't as pretty as the ZL, I'd argue, but that's nitpicking since both are fairly similar. The back of the Z is particularly gorgeous - one sleek slab of glass, while the ZL's is a bit more drab, and sports a rather conspicuous faux-chrome ring around the rear camera lens. However, both phones are far from ugly. I've said it before, I'll say it again: Sony knows how to make an elegant phone.

On the software side, both phones felt markedly faster than the last high-end Sony device I used, the Xperia TX (similar to the Xperia T). While the bump to a quad-core processor has sped things up a bit, Sony's Z and ZL simply felt sluggish when put up against the competition. Compared to HTC's most recent hardware, they're probably on about the same level. Compared to Samsung's, it's no contest: Sony's software is very obviously behind the curve, and it's a critical blow to the splendid hardware they've paired it with. HTC is supposedly remedying this in Sense 5 (expected this year, possibly at MWC), but for Sony, there appears to be no rescue in sight. Sony's been using the same tired-looking skin since Gingerbread, and it absolutely has to go, and so does its lackluster performance.

We didn't get a chance to test out the camera, though interestingly enough, the digital viewfinder relayed video from the rear camera at 60FPS on the screen - which was sort of cool. And on that subject, while the ZL has a hardware camera button, the Z does not. Which is kind of odd (may again have to do with that dust/waterproofing).

Both phones are coming out later this year, the ZL only in select markets, with the Z expected to launch worldwide - at the earliest - in late Q1, possibly Q2.

David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • Abhinav

    finally Sony brings a good hardware phone :) tempted to get this but want to see what S4 has to offer :D

    • RajivSK

      My contract is up for renewal in a couple of months, looks like there will be a lot of nice phones to choose from. These will definitely make the list.

  • Hans J

    I like them, quite a bit actually. The overlay is meh, but so are the other overlays.I want to see camera shot samples. :D

  • Bob G

    Smaller than the GS3 but with a larger screen and more everything = WIN.

  • http://www.facebook.com/evulhotdog Brian Davis


    • http://www.facebook.com/HenriqueMelissopoulos Henrique Melissopoulos

      WOW, I thought I was high!

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      I noticed it too and just reverted it (may take some time to re-process). It is terrible and should never be used except for extreme circumstances.

      • Alexander Procter

        It is usually fine if only the camera is shaking, but if the thing you are videoing is moving, then you get jelly :D

      • http://www.facebook.com/evulhotdog Brian Davis

        Thank you, I am sorry that I took that tone, but if its really that jerky in the video, then learn to hold it straight or get a better camera with better image stabilization..

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

          I believe it was shot with a T3i, and the video is perfectly fine. YT stabilization never worked well for me (I have a T2i).

          • http://www.facebook.com/evulhotdog Brian Davis

            Theres actual software that can fix that in a better way, I think even windows movie maker on windows at has a similar feature. I know canon has done a fine job on their cameras, however if youre going to do video, its still better to get an actual dedicated video cam. From my own personal experience they have better stabilization as they should compared to a camera. I have a 7D myself.

  • Elias

    Even the dated interface is not that much of a problem; since (in the smartphone field) Sony is remarbably nice with developers and always collaborate with them, you'll probably have some custom roms to choose from.
    That said... FFS, Sony, get rid of that ugly slow overlay. The Nexus 4 success brings a message: stock Android is the way to go.

    • laren31

      I wish you "Android purists"would give it a rest. OEMs use this to distinguish themselves. And as is displayed in touchwiz(which has become wildly successful), a lot of useful things are often added. If the overlay is implemented well it will work just fine.

      • Oğuzcan Ayverdi

        I have no problem with OEMs distinguishing themselves, but most of them are very bad at doing that.

      • Karthik Kumar

        Actually, us Android purists are simply banging home a clear message. If your "skin" or "overlay" isn't bringing anything worthwhile to Android that already doesn't exist, don't bother. Touchwiz has some nifty additions that stock Android doesn't, and the Multi-Window function on the Notes is simply awesome. But beyond that, we can do without glitzy animations and odd touches here and there.

      • selonmoi

        And distinguish themselves they do. I know when I'm looking at TouchWiz immediately. I can tell from the giant yellow and cyan rounded rectangles. Oh, and because my eyes are bleeding.

    • itznfb

      Have you owned a high end Sony Xperia? I had a Xperia S and I can honestly say I never had an issue with performance and the UI was awesome. It may be old but it isn't really dated. Some of the icons could use an update but the UI is very elegant, simple and functional.
      That being said.... I wish manufacturers would offer something like a home switcher to switch between stock and their UI overlay.

  • watever

    Stock android is ugly IMHO (for phones not tablets). there is nothing wrong with sony's Ui looks good and does the job well. prefer it over other android overlays

  • http://www.facebook.com/farisfitri2303 Faris Fitri

    Personally I think Sony's UI is the best UI outside of AOSP. It looks nice,not tacky like Sense or kiddish like Samsung's Nature UX.

    • itznfb

      Same. The phones are awesome, camera awesome, UI decent.... just give me a Verizon version!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Alexander-Drizzy-Rojas/100000186636833 Alexander Drizzy Rojas

      I think Sony's is 2nd best. I prefer Sense, much better looking. Samsung's is the worst though.

  • http://ploogy.com/ Adam Brenecki

    Sony's phone handsets for the last year or two seem to be consistently really aesthetically pleasing; those I've actually held in stores have felt well built and pleasing to hold, and it seems that this is no exception.

    Which begs the question: When are they replacing that horrid, flimsy, plasticky-feeling tablet?

  • nawa

    this year will be the first when the next galaxy s won't be the most powerful on the market, i guess. and it's great :)

    • Spencer

      Never gonna happen...but even if it does Samsung always covers all the bases so it's never about just raw power with their phones...I can't understand why HTC with their beautiful designs make such mistakes like weak batteries and low non-expandable memory...wish someone would break it down or do they just like losing to Samsung?

  • Alexander Procter

    Hey, does this have an infra-red blaster? Still a desirable feature for a lot of people here. I just read on a blog that it does, but it was difficult to tell from the video here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001482286220 Karan Ocs

    i was here to say this :
    "So, what were my initial impressions? The hardware of the Z is beautiful - I love Sony's elegant, minimalist design aesthetic. The front of the phone isn't as pretty as the ZL, I'd argue, but that's nitpicking since both are fairly similar. The back of the Z is particularly gorgeous - one sleek slab of glass, while the ZL's is a bit more drab, and sports a rather conspicuous faux-chrome ring around the rear camera lens. However, both phones are far from ugly. I've said it before, I'll say it again: Sony knows how to make an elegant phone."

    but u already said that

    so i am now set on buying one of those but i will still wait for HTC's Flagship Device AKA M7 and IF it has more beautiful and elegant design than this one i would really love to buy that!

    i love beautiful phone i chose ONE X over SIII just because of design and now SONY (MY Beloved Company) FINALLY maid Beautiful and yet Powerful device !

    just waiting for HTCs Conference !

    i hope it has a PEN!

  • Wam31

    5" with that usual horrid brick form factor !!! That's gonna be tough to hold !
    Also, good luck to your balls when you're gonna sit down with it in your jeans... ouch !

  • clipper

    is that hardware keys ?
    if yes then it would be huge screen waste...

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001482286220 Karan Ocs

      nope those are all on screen keys !

      u can see when they play a video on demo!

  • Cheeseball

    The question is... will Google and Sony also make this an AOSP device like the Xperia S?

  • Dileepan Mohanachandran

    Give me a Sony Nexus and I won't even wait for the reviews! I'll buy it right there, right then. IMO, Sony phones have the best hardware. Bring Google's amazing s/w to it and it's a win win situation.

  • Simon Belmont

    Off topic, but is it just me or is AP's website loading a lot faster? Did you guys do some back-end fixes or upgrade your server or something?

    The website just loads noticeably faster. Maybe it's just Firefox 18, that I updated to this morning.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      A third web server was added recently, actually.

      • Simon Belmont

        Ah. That would probably explain it.

        Thanks for the reply. It's nice seeing my favorite Android website load up faster.

  • paleh0rse

    Removable battery, or not?

  • Coollead

    The shitty writing on Android Police strikes again. Zero mention of Jelly Bean or the fact that Sony doesn't even skin most of the OS, and their "software" is mostly stock Android, save for the launcher and lock screen.