23
Mar
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The Xperia ZL is the 'little' brother to Sony's recently-unveiled Xperia Z, and to get the most pressing question out of the way immediately: what's the difference between the two? Well, the ZL isn't waterproof  (and thus has a different chassis and design), has a hardware camera button, and uses a minutely larger (by 40mAh) battery. That's really it. The display, the chipset, the camera, and the software are all near as makes no difference identical to those on the Z.

Why make the ZL, then? Well, Sony has talked up things like different design direction and regional marketing strategies, but the reason this phone came to be is really quite simple: the ZL is slightly cheaper than the Z. Based on online retailer prices, you can get a ZL for about $100 less than you can an Xperia Z. So, for significantly less money, you can get substantially the same phone. If you're Sony, and focusing heavily on sales in emerging markets and regions where many people buy smartphones outright (rather than as part of a plan or contract), that makes a heck of a lot of sense. You can promise the same high-end specifications of your competitors -5" full HD, 13MP camera, quad-core processor, etc. - and potentially undercut them.

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It also makes sense as a pitch to mobile carriers, because the ZL is cheaper to subsidize than the Z, and Average Joe consumer probably doesn't know the difference. Sony did something similar with the Xperia T, its last flagship, releasing the slightly-cheaper Xperia TX for select markets and operators.

So, can you really tell the ZL is cheaper? Sure. The rear cover feels decidedly less than premium, and the awkward microSD / SIM port cover seems to have been, at best, an afterthought. The rest of the ZL, though, basically seems well put together, and the phone is far from being flimsy or creaky. Otherwise, it's the same experience you get with the Z - it just feels a bit different in your hand. You can pretty much consider this an Xperia Z review minus the hardware differences.

I'd like to thank Tekshop by Basatne for providing this Xperia ZL for review. You can buy the Xperia ZL (and many other unlocked, no-contract smartphones) at Tekshop for one of the lowest prices you'll find on the web, right here.

Sony Xperia ZL
  • Price: Varies by market (Buy at Tekshop here)
  • Processor: 1.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm APQ8064
  • GPU: Adreno 320
  • Network compatibility: Varies by region and model
  • Operating system: Android 4.1.2
  • Display: 5" LCD 1920x1080 (441 DPI)
  • Memory: 2GB RAM / 16GB storage (12GB usable)
  • Cameras: 13MP Exmor RS rear, 2MP front
  • Battery: 2370mAh, non-removable
  • NFC: Yes
  • Ports / expandable storage: microUSB / microSD
  • Thickness: 9.8mm
  • Weight: 151g

The Good
  • Software: Sony's best software experience to date. It's fast (mostly), fluid (mostly), and functional (mostly). Unlike previous Xperia phones, I don't get the feeling that I'm using an outdated, sub-standard skin (... most of the time), and that makes the ZL much easier to live with day to day.
  • Display: The display, despite its other flaws, does get very bright, has excellent colors, and is of course as sharp as anything you'll find out there right now.
  • Camera: The Exmor RS rear camera does take some great shots (especially in poor lighting) sometimes. It's a very capable camera, I'll certainly give Sony that.
  • Notification LED: Sony has cracked the notification light conundrum - the Xperia Z and ZL both have a big, bright LED along the bottom of the phone's face that is easy to see, and just looks cool.
  • Software buttons: Software navigation buttons! They're good, according to Google.
  • Call quality: Great call quality with Sony's speaker voice enhancement setting and call audio equalizer, which seems to artificially impart some dynamic range on the sound in voice calls. It sounds a bit weird at first, but it does make it easier to hear the other person. There's also an option to actually slow down the incoming audio on a call. I don't know how it works, but it does.

The Not So Good
  • Display: Everything you've read about the Z's display is true for the ZL - particularly that the viewing angles are not good. This may not bother some people. It definitely bothers me. Auto-brightness is also very wonky right now and just doesn't seem to work properly.
  • Battery life: Again, what you've probably already read about the Z's sub-par battery life is equally true on the ZL. I have struggled over the last week to make it through a day on a single charge.
  • Materials: The back of the ZL feels cheap. The phone is perfectly sturdy, but every time I pick it up, I'm reminded of budget phones because of that flexible, textured plastic.
  • Camera: I'll probably get nailed to the wall for saying it, but the camera experience on the ZL is just plain bad. I often had to take 3-4 shots in auto mode to get the exposure and focus the way I wanted (or to get it to focus at all).
  • Software: Parts of Sony's software just feel half-baked. The power control widget is slow and unwieldy, the weather widget won't update based on your location (and takes forever to open up), the homescreens exhibit occasional animation stutter.

Hardware

Design and build quality

The problem with the Xperia ZL from an aesthetic and materials standpoint is that its pricier sibling, the Xperia Z, clearly excels in these areas. It's not that the ZL is particularly ugly or cheap, but it isn't very striking too look at, or earth-shatteringly solid, either. It doesn't seem to have that attention to design detail - a real sense of character - that I would expect of a high-end Sony device.

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That said, Sony design and build quality on a bad day are better than Samsung's best, and that holds true with the ZL. The phone feels exceptionally sturdy in most regards, and I've certainly used phones that looks a lot worse. The clean, rectangular front devoid of any contrasting elements but a shining SONY logo is becoming something of a trademark for the Xperia line, and I like it.

All of the ZL's hardware buttons are on the right-hand side of the phone, with the volume rocker at the top, power button in the middle, and the camera button near the bottom. I actually prefer this arrangement, as the power button is very easy to find without actually looking at the phone. The circular aluminum button itself feels very strong, and has a nice clicky feel with an easy action. It may be my favorite smartphone power button to date.

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There are little parts about this phone that I don't particularly like, though. The shiny trim along all four sides is just another place for fingerprints to show up, and on my review device, some spider-cracking has occurred around the camera button. Is this glass around the edges? I'm really not sure.

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It's difficult to see, but the cracking is on the left, above, and to the right of the camera button.

The SIM / microSD port cover on the back of the phone feels sloppy. I'm not sure why Sony did it this way, but it was the wrong way. The giant chunk of plastic that you pry off of the back of the ZL is hinged by a single piece of rubber, and it's a definite eyesore on the phone. The textured plastic rear cover isn't going to win any awards, either - it feels decidedly un-premium, and exhibits noticeable flex when pressure is exerted against it.

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Some people may enjoy the grippy feel of the ZL, though, and the lack of a 'premium' material may not concern such individuals. After all, Samsung sells a heck of a lot more phones that feel substantially cheaper than this does.

One part of the ZL I really do love is the notification light, which is positioned along the bottom of the face of the phone (where those pesky capacitive buttons would otherwise be). The blackened glass, as you can see below, has a long sliver etched out along each side of the bulb, making the illuminated area quite large. It's also very noticeable - at any angle, and in almost any lighting condition. It's simply fantastic. The blink speed is set relatively high, and the LED is multi-colored (hello Light Flow). I get so tired of phones with tiny little notification lights that are impossible to see in anything but a pitch black room. This one is perfect - good job, Sony.

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Display

Let me start by complimenting Sony on making a smartphone display that isn't oversaturated to the point of silliness, and that gets properly bright if you need it to. Good job! The ZL's 1080p panel is also very sharp (of course), and won't leave anyone wanting for a lack of detail.

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The ZL actually has a pretty great display - if you're looking at it straight-on. Tilt it even at a slight angle, and a blinding white wash begins to swallow up those brilliant colors and obscure most text. I'd read about the Xperia Z's poor viewing angles, but I did not think that they were this poor. When I'm at my desk, my phone often sits next to my keyboard, and I'll glance at my notifications and clear them without actually picking it up. Doing this on the Xperia ZL is very difficult, because I often can't read the notification I'm trying to clear. This problem is compounded if you're using your phone while it's lying on a flat surface outdoors.

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I've read a great many internet commenters say the viewing angles "don't really matter." And you know what, if they don't bother you, that's fine. But they really bother me. They bother me enough that it'd a reason for me personally to not consider buying this phone. Your level of annoyance may vary.

The auto-brightness situation on the Xperia ZL has also done nothing to win my affection - even at the maximum slider setting, when I set the phone to auto, it is almost never bright enough. This can likely be fixed with a firmware tweak, but I get the feeling it behaves so aggressively not because it's legitimately misconfigured, but to save battery life. Which brings me to the next section.

Battery Life

It isn't great. I've used smartphones with comparable battery life to the ZL, but they aren't the kind of phones that tend to get my recommendation, or at least haven't in a while. I'd put it somewhere between "1st generation Verizon LTE phone" and "Optimus G on original software." Under heavy use conditions, the ZL very predictably fell below 15% in the early afternoon, at which point I'd start switching on all its various battery-saving tweaks.

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I've not had such range anxiety with a flagship smartphone in a while. Even under moderate use conditions, I need a charge-up around 3 or 4 PM if I'm going to make it through an evening out with the ZL. Battery life is one thing every smartphone owner is clamoring for more of, and it seems like Sony has done almost nothing to improve it on this phone. I've read similar complaints about the Z's battery life.

I ran the ZL, generally, on auto-brightness, and with 3G HSPA mobile data. I streamed some music. I read Twitter and checked my Gmail. Really, nothing out of the ordinary. On my One X+, I'd expect this kind of usage pattern to get me to 7-8PM reliably. On the Note II, I'd expect it to get me to the next morning.

The counterpoint here is that Sony does include various battery-saving modes, and that you should utilize them in order to maximize your longevity. My counter-counterpoint is that no, I shouldn't. Not until that battery has dropped dangerously low, at least. That's what power-saving modes are really for - eeking out that last bit of battery between charges at the end of the night. I should not have to live with brightness set to minimum, mobile data off when the display is off, GPS off, and all sorts of other nuisances. Below 15%, Sony's tools are useful, sure. But I shouldn't have been using them so much in the first place.

The battery itself, by the way, is not removable.

Storage, wireless, and call quality

The Xperia ZL comes with roughly 12GB of usable internal storage, but it's also equipped with a microSD card slot to help quench your thirst for additional gee-bees.

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The model I received is a 3G HSPA+ version, though the ZL will be sold LTE-enabled in many markets. Data speeds on AT&T were very good, some of the fastest I've achieved with an unlocked GSM phone in my area, often topping 10Mbps down. Data connectivity itself was also consistently reliable, with strong signal.

Call quality on the ZL is among the best I've heard on a smartphone, especially after utilizing some of Sony's call audio tweaks. You can enhance the audio of incoming calls for a 'richer' experience, which seems to artificially inject some dynamic range to call audio, making it a bit more full-sounding. I personally found it more distracting than helpful. You can also adjust call audio equalization (bright, smooth, or normal), which I was far more impressed by - switching to 'bright' made calls a lot crisper. You can even slow down the audio of calls using 'Slow talk.' I'm not sure how it works, but it definitely does function as advertised - everything sounds slower. Neat.

Audio

The Xperia Z uses an integrated Qualcomm DAC for headphone audio, though there is no mention of a proprietary headphone amplifier in either the Xperia Z or ZL, which is a bit upsetting, as Sony is sort of known for its headphones. Still, the Qualcomm hardware is very, very good by smartphone standards, and I think bests the Wolfson DAC found in the international Galaxy S III / Note II. The included set of Sony headphones are also miles ahead of what you'll get with almost any other Android smartphone, which is to say they're decent - new iPhone earbuds decent - but not great.

The rear speaker isn't all that loud, and given that it's pushing audio out of an opening the size of a Tic Tac, that's not exactly surprising. The quality of the sound is pretty good, and Sony's xLOUD and Clear Phase do seem to improve the volume and dynamic quality of the noises that it emits. It's not anything to write home about, though - it's a decidedly average speaker.

Camera

I expected great things from the Xperia ZL's brand-new 13MP Exmor RS camera. Unfortunately, Sony has made itself yet another perfect example of the problem with many smartphone cameras: bad software. The Exmor RS may very well be a great camera. In fact, based on some of the shots I got using the Xperia ZL, it can be a great camera. I really think some of the sample photos you see below are fantastic for a smartphone, but realize this: those are the cream of the crop of the photos I took. For every good photo, 2-4 crappy, out of focus, under/over-exposed ones were snapped to get that good shot. And that just isn't acceptable, even if it means eventually you get a great picture.

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I'm working on an upcoming camera comparison piece, and the issues with the ZL's software were all too apparent when I would switch to the One X+ or Galaxy Note II (which share sensors with the One X and Galaxy S III, respectively). The X+ and Note II got basically every single shot right the first time. The ZL really never did. It was flat-out obnoxious to use in anything but the most forgiving of circumstances (well-lit, medium-range shots with even exposure).

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What's more, Sony's Superior Auto mode is crazy picky about its choice of scene modes. For example, if it detects a "Backlight" scene, it will automatically turn on HDR, which in a sense is nice, because your average smartphone users has no idea what HDR is or why they should enable it. Unfortunately, they also have no idea that HDR shots take significantly longer to capture because two photos are being taking in rapid sequence, and that photos become much more susceptible to ghosting and shake distortion because of it.

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Same shot, same time, same mode settings - but HDR came on for one and not the other.

This wouldn't be a big problem, except that there's no real indicator that the camera is going to take an HDR photo other than the scene type (even then, you're guessing), and I'm not going to look at the scene type before every single photo I snap - that's absurd. You can take basically the exact same photo 4 times, and half of them will be taken as HDR, and half won't. It doesn't make sense.

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In 'normal' auto mode, HDR is not automatically activated for any scene, which is a plus. Unfortunately, every time the camera app is pushed out of memory, it goes back to Superior Auto mode. So, I ended up shooting basically all of my photos in S-Auto.

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As you can see, the ZL doesn't do wonders at night, though it's probably still better than anything this side of a PureView or HTC One. And if you go full crop, you can see the heavy amount of noise-reduction and smoothing going on with the software image processing - it doesn't look nice. Maybe Sony can fix a lot of this stuff in a future software update, because right now, the ZL's camera is a bit of a mess.

Software

Performance and stability

The Xperia ZL (and by relation, the Z) is easily Sony's fastest smartphone yet. This makes it substantially more usable than Sony's previous efforts, as it's an area where I think Sony's older smartphones were seriously lacking. However, it still doesn't feel Nexus 4 / Optimus G / Note II smooth. The Xperia ZL is more like the DROID DNA - it's definitely quick, but occasional stutters and hesitation are still evident.

Sony has only itself to blame on that front, and certain aspects of its custom software experience do exacerbate the occasional feelings of less-than-total smoothness. For example, the power control widget is the same as it has been on Sony phones for ages, and the way it works still doesn't make sense. It takes up a 2x1 grid, and tapping it doesn't actually toggle anything, but triggers a card animation which then causes a blown-up view of the widget to appear in the foreground, at which point you can then toggle to your heart's content. It wouldn't be so bad if there wasn't a very-noticeable delay between the tap, the animation, and finally being able to use the widget. It's unnecessary complication, and if you can't get it to work smoothly, what's the point? Same goes for the weather widget, which takes a couple seconds to complete its unfolding act, and can't even be set to auto-update your location.

As far as stability, the Xperia ZL only had one random reboot the entire time I've used it, and the only app that I would deem particularly 'crashy' is the camera, which takes forever to launch, forever to switch out of, force closes pretty regularly, and generally annoys me. Otherwise, smooth sailing - apps install very quickly, and the ZL generally brushes through most tasks easily. Is its Snapdragon S4 Pro going to stand up benchmark-for-benchmark with the HTC One's 600 or the Galaxy S4's Exynos Octa (or also Snapdragon 600)? Probably not.

Overall, while the ZL is a good performer, having used the HTC One, it's clear that the smoothness and speed bar has been set higher once again. The ZL doesn't meet that bar (frankly, it doesn't meet the Note II's bar), but is still quick in its own right.

User interface and custom software

Sony's custom UI has often been lauded as the least intrusive OEM Android skin, though I don't really think that's true - Motorola's recent phones definitely feel and look closer to stock Android than the ZL. Still, Sony's modifications at the OS level, aesthetically, are definitely not as offensive or obvious as Samsung or HTC's. I do think Sony needs to update the look of it, though, and some aspects of the experience seem to have been left behind (widgets, for example).

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To start with what I do like - Sony's lockscreen gesture is great. Just swipe up or down. The phone goes to the homescreen almost instantly. It's the quickest unlock animation I've ever used, and the whole 3D blinds effect is actually kind of cool. The app drawer is pretty standard, and loads up very quickly, too. Same goes for the notification bar. It's clear Sony's been hard at work improving the snappiness of its custom UI (though a quad-core processor probably helps) in various respects, and kudos to them for the effort. While swiping between homescreens can exhibit occasional stuttering, overall, the things I normally do on a smartphone feel very fast and fluid.

Sony's floating 'Small Apps' are still present in its latest UI iteration, and while I don't personally care for them, I think many people can appreciate a manufacturer taking the floating app thing seriously. There's a recorder, a timer, a notepad, a calculator, and a floating remote control for the built-in IR blaster installed by default. More small apps can be downloaded from the Play Store.

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The lockscreen also allows you to swipe right along the clock to go to your most recently-played track (Amazon MP3, Play Music, and the Walkman app are all supported) with playback controls, and appears by default if a track is playing. Swiping left along the clock opens the camera app, as does holding down the hardware camera button. It looks like Sony plans on adding more to the lockscreen experience, as there is a lockscreen settings area, though it only allows you to change the wallpaper at this point.

The notification bar houses some basic power controls - Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, mobile data, and audio mode, along with a settings menu shortcut. The app drawer for whatever reason eschews the very logical, very easy Google shortcut creation / uninstall app paradigm, and requires you to drag an app shortcut to the top of the screen if you wish to place it on a homescreen. Uninstalling, like Samsung devices, means opening up the overflow menu and selecting the 'Uninstall' option. It really is silly when Google has very obviously found a better way to do these things.

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One cool software tweak I noticed is an interface to customize the white balance of your display, something I would love on every Android smartphone. Sony's power management options are extensive, and allows you to customize the behavior of STAMINA mode (yes, all caps), which turns off mobile data when the display is off, and Low battery mode, which generally minimizes power consumption by turning things off. As I said in the battery life section, these are great features to have, though I feel like Sony uses them as a bit of an excuse for the ZL's hungry power consumption. Sony's standard theme engine is also in tow, allowing you to alter the color scheme of your phone.

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Apps like Album (aka Gallery), Alarm & clock, and the stock SMS app really did impress me. They all run beautifully smoothly, and are generally just nice to look at. I think Sony has the best stock SMS app available right now - it even lets you insert little doodles as MMS attachments directly from the app. The gallery re-flow animation is gorgeous, and the app is nice and simple - like a photo viewer should be. The Alarm & clock app is also very aesthetically pleasing, and runs as smoothly as anything.

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The calendar app is fairly unremarkable (Google Calendar is miles better), and the dialer / contacts app is quite standard, as well. Sony's Walkman music player is absolutely stunning visually, and for local playback, is definitely worth a look. You can utilize Sony's ClearAudio+ mode (basically, a DSP noise-reduction utility as far as I can tell), a robust equalizer, and even a visualizer mode. It's definitely a very good music playback app by any standard, and is hands-down my favorite of any made by an Android OEM.

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The ZL's stock keyboard is definitely not my favorite. Auto-correct has effectively two settings: on or off, and when it's on, it's so aggressive as to be frustrating. When it's off, you miss the corrections on common software keyboard typos. Downloading SwiftKey (or some other alternative) is definitely worth your while here.

Oh, and software buttons: the ZL has them. I'm kind of undecided on them still, but being able to just swipe up from the bottom of the screen to get to Google Now is kind of nice.

Basically, the software experience on the ZL is quite good, generally speaking. I just wish it was a little quicker, smoother, and visually updated. The power control and weather widgets' obvious neglect really bugs me, and some things I would genuinely like to have are missing. Customizable notification bar power controls, and more lockscreen configurations. On the feature end, though, I feel like Sony is definitely catching up to LG and Samsung.

Conclusion

As much potential as I see in the Xperia ZL, it's difficult to recommend it outright. The screen isn't very good. The camera is very difficult to use effectively. Battery life is far from great. Even the construction materials make me question this phone a little (that said, the Z would almost definitely not have that concern). And as far as Sony's come on the software front, it's still very apparent they're behind the likes of HTC, Samsung, and even LG in creating a consistently smooth, cohesive experience.

The ZL is not a bad phone, but it's not the phone Sony needs to stand up to the Galaxy S4, or the HTC One. Even LG's Optimus G Pro seems like a more attractive option at this point. This is unfortunate for Sony, because try as they might, the competition is moving forward so rapidly that they can't seem to catch up.

I suppose the takeaway here is that the ZL is not a phone you'd be particularly unhappy with. It's actually quite good in a lot of ways. But in others, it can be decidedly mediocre, and in a select few, below average. That's not the sort of experience a flagship smartphone should deliver in 2013. Still, if you're set on a Sony product, and need only my assurance that there is nothing very seriously wrong with the ZL, you have it - this is a solid phone, from an OEM I think we'd all like to see succeed. The problem is, Sony is still chasing after the competition, when it needs to be attempting to surpass it.

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Thanks again to Tekshop, who made this article possible by sending me a Xperia ZL (which you can buy here) to try out for a few weeks. Because they're awesome like that.

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.

  • Ashish

    The title of this article is very misleading from the actual review. Just read the first four sentences of the conclusion and is blatantly obvious that the phone is far from "greatness". "Mediocre" sounds like an appropriate choice of words.

    • Jason Brown

      "Sony Xperia ZL Review: Dangerously Close To Smartphone Greatness" mostly.

      i guess his point was to draw readers in and it worked.

      • EMullins

        I don't think David meant to be disingenuous. He just wanted to highlight that Sony finally did something competently but he overshot with the highlight.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Zerounodos Manoleta Bocchia de Coussillan

      Yeah, I felt confused about it as well. The only positive use of "great" was on the display...which has awful viewing angles?

      • http://trapchan.blogspot.com trapchan

        so basically it has nothing great at all ???

        • michael arazan

          It would have been great for $450

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

      The point is that Sony did a lot of the things it needed to in order to make a great smartphone - but fell flat on execution in a few key areas. This is definitely Sony's best software yet (and the Z is its best phone yet), but it's not in the league of the S4 / One. It is, however, much closer to the high-end competition than Sony's ever been. That's the idea behind the title, as I'd argue not one of Sony's previous smartphones has been worth a second glance. This one is.

      I guess the title is confusing regardless, and I've changed it to be a little more clear.

      • EMullins

        In that case, David, I don't know why you didn't go with: "The (Second) closest Sony has ever been to producing a great smartphone"

      • http://twitter.com/e11world Eddie11

        "it's not in the league of the S4 / One"
        You should do your research. The S4 might be better than ANY phone out there but it's not far from this and the HTC One is NOT better than the ZL. It may win in some things but overall, ZL wins.

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

          Because "better" is in no way subjective and you have provided so many facts to back up your statement.

          • http://twitter.com/e11world Eddie11

            lol, ok how about a dedicated camera button? or just by looking at the phone you can see clearly which is a nicer design (S4 goes no where near ZL and many will agree, FACT). S4 specs are great but that's not why apple sold many of their iPhones, it's because they were better designs.

            HTC one is a great phone but your review does not seem just. I have yet to try all these phones (this weekend) but will post back with my feedback. In the meantime, check http://www.phonearena.com/phones/compare/Sony-Xperia-ZL,Samsung-Galaxy-S4,HTC-One/phones/7538,7597,7678 and tell me they don't seem close in specs (if that's what you base your opinions on)

  • aint

    Ain't no body got time for wall of text!

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

      A wall of text is defined as a bunch of text and no media. This post is not it.

      But you're probably looking for http://www.imgur.com or http://www.reddit.com/r/pics anyway.

    • EMullins

      Go back to reddit, votewhoring scum.

  • InvaderDJ

    What type of screen on time did you get? Could you post a screenshot?

    I'm not sure why most reviewers don't do this but for an Android phone at least not only is screen on time the most important measure of battery life, it's also easy to get. In the battery just click on the entry for screen and then take a screenshot.

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

      1.5-2.75 hours depending heavily on usage pattern. I don't post screen on time generally because brightness settings and what you're doing when the screen is on can still dramatically alter overall battery life, and thus the amount of screen on time you can get.

      • Mandeep Singh

        Well 2-3 hours of on screen time is preety low I guess

  • Andrew

    Those viewing angles really bothers me as well. I've used an Xperia S and Xperia ion before and both of them have this same annoying issue with their screens. You literally have to look at the screen on center just so you can work with it.

  • Mandeep Singh

    Good review david

  • Karri

    Good review. I've liked AndPo's reviews mostly.

    I recognize your comments on the screen as similar to my own (excellent sharpness and great color reproduction), but I'm curious about your impression of the contrast. I've toyed with an XPERIA Z (not ZL) and its screen, although well colored and potentially bright, had every bit as poor contrast as I was told. Does this apply to the ZL too?
    Did you also use Mobile BRAVIA Engine when judging the screen? I understand it is just a software tweak that only works in the Gallery/Videos apps (essentially faking an 'improvement').
    Secondly I'm curious about further impressions on that speaker. The Z's speaker is absolutely useless, but from this review, it seems the ZL's is at least on par with other phones such as a Galaxy?

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

      Maybe you got a Z with the JDC display? From XDA and other forums I've seen the ZL uses the Sharp display panels only and it is said to be better than the JDC unit.

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

      The contrast at high brightness isn't fantastic. At moderate brightness, it seems fine to my eyes. The ZL / Z gets significantly brighter than other 1080p displays, and I think when you take it full crank, the contrast suffers more because of it.

  • Angel Penabad

    Good and extense review David. But seriously, a galaxy s3 smoother than the Nexus? When I showed my Nexus to a friend that owns a gs3, first thing he said was "damn it's much faster and smooth than mine". Can talk about note 2 but I doubt it is 'much' faster.

    By the way? What version of android was running? I may have missed that.

    • Ashish

      I have a note 2 and my best friend has a N4. I comment regularly on the speed of his phone. You can't ever tell that the note 2 is slow, but the N4 is definitely faster.

      • Ivan Myring

        Yeah, me and a couple of friends have rooted N4s, faster than other friend's Note 2s or S3s

        • http://profiles.google.com/olavamjelde Olav Alexander Mjelde

          The z is smoother than my sgs3...

    • Bakaouji

      Came here to say this too. After using them side by side, the Nexus 4 is definitely faster & smoother. Dunno where the OP is coming from here.

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

      I didn't say it was slower, but they're both obviously very quick.

      • Bakaouji

        "However, it still doesn't feel Galaxy S III / Note II smooth. The closest I've come to that is the Nexus 4 / Optimus G."

        You might want to rephrase that then. It clearly comes off as saying the S3/Note II are the fastest android phones you've used, and the Nexus 4 is the closest to their speed you've seen.

        • EMullins

          Yeah I have to back you up on this. That definitely says the Nexus 4 is less smooth. I noticed it too while reading.

          Now that I think about it though, the Note 2 does feel smoother than the Nexus 4, but it could be due to the deliberate decisions on Touchwiz animations.

          • http://profiles.google.com/olavamjelde Olav Alexander Mjelde

            Note 2 is higher clocked than sgs3

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

            The Note II feels a little smoother than the Nexus 4 to me, as well. It's been a while since I used a GS3, so maybe I'm not remembering correctly.

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

      I have the Note II and the Nexus 4, and both feel equally as smooth to me. I love both phones but my choice is definitely the Note II. Anything HTC, at least before the One, is total crap compared to those two.

      • EMullins

        I'm dying for a Note 3. I just wish Samsung would make it less creaky.

  • http://www.facebook.com/krystal.moore.16 Krystal Moore

    Can someone please tell me why they put the front facing camera at the bottom of the phone? And how does that translate to how the picture looks? I don't think I've seen that in any review. And if I missed it, please quote it? Thanks! :)

    • TheLoyalist

      Use it in landscape mode...works great.

      • http://www.facebook.com/krystal.moore.16 Krystal Moore

        That doesn't tell me anything about how well it works...I want to see actual pictures; something no other review has done. Show me how well it works in landscape mode.

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

          From my experience the bottom location works better than on the top,makes video chats look more natural [I don't know how to describe this properly but you can flip your phone upside down and see.]

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

      I'm guessing it was because they couldn't cram it in the top for whatever reason (rear camera, sensor cluster). It could have also been stylistic. I've never seen anything about a functional explanation, though. I don't think it makes using it any more difficult.

      • Rahul

        This is used for landscape video chat.

  • TheLoyalist

    You shuld do some burst mode shooting and see the difference in pic quality. It's extremely annoying that there's a huge difference.

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

      I might do some burst mode testing this week. I have seen the burst mode samples, and they do have a lot less noise reduction / softening.

  • http://www.youtube.com/kimirPORTALS kimir

    What was the screen on time (and what brightness)?

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

      Eh, anywhere from 2-3 hours. And auto-brightness (set to max, but even that is too dim in most indoor lighting).

      • http://www.youtube.com/kimirPORTALS kimir

        That's pretty terrible. I was expecting this phone to be much better.

  • Faiz Abideen

    Where do you access the hue and white balance settings? I can't find it.

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

      Under display settings on my unit. This feature may not be in all devices, though. OEM's can be weird like that in regional models.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Benjamin-Rodriguez/1289705569 Benjamin Rodriguez

      Under display settings

  • http://twitter.com/Gitaroo236 Gitarooman

    camera problem can be solve by using burst mode. Quality gets a big boost compare to auto mode. Screen is debatable, it looks better to me when watching video and looking at pictures with bravia engine 2 on, which is what really matters. Better than HTC one to me
    http://i.imgur.com/EJFI2aH.jpg

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

      I've read about the burst mode thing, but you shouldn't have to use burst mode to get good photos. That makes no sense. Sony screwed up the software on this phone's camera big time.

  • hale

    Good review. Pity to hear the superior auto mode doesn't work as well as it should and disappointed to hear about the poor viewing angles of the display - won't impress potential buyers in store. When is Sony going to get that right?!

    One thing I wanted to point out though is that both the Xperia Z and ZL support microSD card expansion so there's even less of a difference between the two models.

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

      I don't know why I called it Intelligent Auto - I even have a screenshot showing Superior Auto. Fixed. And so the Z does have a SD slot, I could have swore it didn't.

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

        Sworn*

        #grammarnazi

      • hale

        The SD slot on the Z surprised me as well... it might be the only unibody phone that has one. Sony got that right. It seems they are listening. Now they just need to put in a better display, fix their camera software and bump the battery size up some more.

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

    Overall nice review,but aren't you being too generous towards the S3 and Note 2? I've played with them extensively and I don't think they are that smooth even with Jelly Bean.

    • http://trapchan.blogspot.com trapchan

      strangely, I tried 2 different Note II in 2 different stores. One really nowhere near smooth, and the other one is really smooth. Both on Jelly Bean I checked it. The laggy one also have laggy stylus response, while the smooth one have better stylus response. Not sure what happened, since both were demo unit in store, I don't think they installed bloatwares on it ...

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

      My Note II is as smooth as butter. I've used a Nexus 4, and the Note II is at least as smooth / responsive. Can't say I would know why speed would vary so greatly between units. On the S3, I admit I haven't used one in a while. I could be mis-remembering.

  • Geeks_Fucker

    Fucking geeks get a life

  • http://twitter.com/owl_order owl

    A very honest and informative review.

  • imran

    too much.

  • Richard Yarrell

    As usual Sony is just useless which matches it's overall market share on android. They are an industry JOKE to say the least.

  • payaxy

    As a guy currently owning Xperia T, I have to say that I'm disappointed to see all the points that are bothering me with XT being the same problem on the next generation of Sony devices. Well, I gave them a shot. Next stop: Nexus 5 :)

  • Yosef

    So, what's their bloatware situation like this time around?

  • Guest

    I have an Xperia Z ... here you can see my how much is left of my battery since this morning...
    I'll admit that the first days it was different... but somehow... in the last few days... I've had no problem at all to get through one day with one battery load.

    Am I the only one?

  • mobgamer

    Not to undermine ur views- i respect a good review and this sure is one. But wud like add my 2 bits.
    1) Have been using my zl for the last 2 weeks now and definitely can say that the battery life is good. With slightly more usage that u have pointed out---- add games (asphalt7, samurai vs zombies) for 30/35 mins and about 4-5 videos of 3-5 mins each + 30-40 mins of browsing and reading news I still have 40% battery left at 11pm (start my day at 6am with 100%)
    2) I guess u have faulty software/camera on u device. The photos on my phone look decidedly same or even better when compared to my friends note II, he bought mine at the same time as me... Maybe software updates for his phone and our phone may improve the camera..

  • http://twitter.com/SNeurgaonkar Sunil Neurgaonkar

    When it will be available in India?

  • Ashis Kumar

    I will agree with David on the fact that, Xperia ZL's viewing angle is pathetic! My colleague makes fun of me @ office for it. She has a Galaxy S2. Its pixel density may be not as much as ZL's, but an average user don't notices it as much as the bad display, when its lying on the table.

    • Ashis Kumar

      I mean, bad viewing angle is a real turn off. Buying it would have been a good decision.

      • Ashis Kumar

        I mean, not buying it would have been a good decision.

  • Abdullah B

    I took pictures with my mums xperia Z at night and it's shots are great. I don't know why your samples look shocking. Anyway I wouldn't buy the Z or the ZL. The Z is nice; but the displa is putting me off. Id take the padfone infinity as a the standalone phone over both

  • rafi

    which will be better ? xperia zl or xperia zx ?

  • jfack

    plz tell me which mobile should i buy sony z or zl thanx