Sony recently announced the Xperia ZL, an Android-powered 5" Superphone to compete in the lucrative world of high end Android smartphones. The Xperia ZL's important specs of note are it's 5" 1080p display (441ppi), a 1.5 GHz Snapdragon quad core processor, Adreno 320 GPU, 2GB RAM, and a microSD slot expandable to 64GB. The 2370 mAh battery is non-replaceable. The camera sports a 13 megapixel sensor with 1080p HD video recording.
In the Box
The phone comes in an attractive box, arriving with everything you would expect, including a 110/240 Xperia 5V USB wall socket charger, a USB-to-microUSB cable which is actually long enough to be usable, and Sony headphones with a package of extra ear inserts.
Body and Controls
The Xperia ZL is the most compact 5" phone currently available. Sony was able to manage this by bringing the display almost to the edge of the bevel of the phone. With no hardware buttons on the front, this keeps the phone very compact. The back of the phone is curved, giving at an aesthetically pleasing form factor and making it very easy to hold. Another feature of note is the textured non-slip back, making it very easy to hold and adding to the comfort. This allows the phone to be comfortable for one-handed use. When placing the phone on an angled surface such as a table or your legs, it stays in place, a very welcomed feature as to prevent it from sliding all over the place.
All of the Sony Xperia ZL's buttons are on the right side: volume, dedicated camera button, and the stylish well-placed power button. Sony figures the average smartphone user presses the power button 75 times a day and has designed and created the button to be very durable. Completing the I/O ports are a headphone jack on the top and a microUSB port on the left side of the phone.
The only "sore point" on the design of the phone is the flap on the back of the phone for accessing the microSD and SIM card slots. I don't mind how it looks, but it is rather flimsy and I broke off the door retainer the first time I opened it. It still fits in place perfectly, and just something to keep in mind.
The Xperia ZL is powered by Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean and Sony has managed to keep the skinning to a minimum. The phone has a very vanilla Android feel when scrolling through the menus and settings. The keyboard is simple but most users will quickly install their favorite keyboard app. The keyboard lacks the ability to add Korean as an input language, and for some users that will require an immediate trip to Google Play.
The pull down quick settings is surprisingly not customizable, leaving the user with a minimum of options. Another quick trip to the Play Store will remedy this, but it really should have been thought through by Sony's UI engineers. Sony's dialer, contacts and messaging apps are clean, simple to use and, most importantly, allow the user a way to sort and display the contacts in the desired manner. It's probably one of the best combinations available on the current crop of Android phones. Another nice touch is the timer app and the manner in which it counts down. A unique and visually interesting blue bar rotates around the clock as it counts down.
The Sony Xperia ZL comes with a 13MP camera and boasts a 10fps advance under the right conditions. It takes 1080p video from both the front and rear cameras, including the ability to shoot HDR video from the main camera. The camera offers Intelligent Auto and Normal modes, great for the photographically challenged and budding amateur alike. In normal mode you have full control over WB, ISO (100-1600), exposure compensation, flash mode and AF mode. The camera offers 16:9 and 4:3 ratio options, but not 2:3, a bitter disappointment. It would have been so easy to add. Seriously, Sony? Add in 1:1 for the Instagram geeks and you've got it covered.
The camera produces vibrant, colourful images that are full of contrast and even images shot at 1600 ISO are usable for publication.
Sony has placed the front facing camera in an unusual position toward the bottom right corner. They cite better viewing angles when video calling or taking self shots. For video calling, the feature works great and calls over Skype were smooth and clear. The flaw in the positioning of the lens presents itself when trying to take self shots. It's impossible to take a self shot because your finger covers the corner lens when trying to depress the camera's shutter button. If you take a great deal of self shots, this may be a deal breaker; if you're like me and prefer to be behind the lens, it won't be a big deal.
The dedicated camera button automatically opens the camera app when you hold it down for 2 seconds, even in sleep mode. Half press the shutter button to auto-focus then fully press to take the picture. The camera functions and works like a Cybershot camera. It integrates perfectly with the phone.
The Sony Walkman Is Still Here
For many, their first introduction with Sony was with the Walkman. Unless waxing nostalgic about the past, it's been a long time since we've uttered the term "Walkman," but Sony has re-introduced the Walkman as the music player on the phone. Although not part of the Walkman app but rather part of the phone itself, what Walkman would be complete without an FM radio? The Walkman and Radio apps are a nice touch, well thought-out and are full featured enough for the majority of users. The included EQ is a very nice touch, with numerous presets and a custom setting.
The supplied headphones are amongst the best stock headphones available, with decent sound, good bass and a comfortable fit. The inline mic is clear, even in busy environments. The inline controller offers pause, jump, replay and click to answer/hang up settings. The phone's built-in speaker is located on the back of the device. The speaker is clear, but a little on the small side, and if your phone is facing down, the volume is noticeably muted and can make notifications hard to hear.
Phone and Connectivity
While smartphones are gaining in popularity at an exponential rate, phone use is in a constant decline but users still need a phone that delivers crisp, clear, audible calling. The Sony Xperia ZL does not disappoint. All calls were clear with no static, even in questionable areas of coverage. The dual mic system does an excellent job of suppressing outside noise.
The Canadian version of the phone offers LTE connectivity. This makes for blazing fast download speeds, often faster than what's available in your home over WiFi.
The 1080p Display with Bravia 2 Engine
Sony boasts a Bravia 2 processing engine for watching video or viewing pictures. It's like a mini Sony Bravia TV: movies and images are striking, with just the right amount of saturation and contrast. The viewing angles are less desirable if you're someone that is often viewing your device from the side. It's very hard to see when viewing from an angle. If the phone is always right in front of you, it's not an issue.
I initially thought the screen was washed out, but after a week with the phone, it's very pleasant and easy on the eyes, not over-saturated like some of the phones on the market. There is the ability to adjust the screens WB which is an added bonus. Including the Bravia engine is nice, but a full set of screen controls (like colour, saturation, brightness and contrast) would be a welcomed addition. If you're someone who watches a great deal of video on your phone, the Bravia 2 Engine delivers a quality picture.
The Xperia ZL has a non-replaceable 2370 mAh battery which provides enough juice for a full day's use. As with any smartphone, it's become the norm to charge them daily, but it's nice to know your phone's battery will get you though the day. Even on days with rather heavy usage, there was still battery left at the end of the evening. Another plus with the Xperia is the extremely rapid charging time: I got from 5% to full charge in just over an hour.
The MEGATech Verdict ZL
The Sony Xperia ZL is the latest in a growing crop of 5" Superphones and it does not disappoint. It's one of the few phones that offer expandable storage and, combined with its blazing speed and easy to use Android user interface, it's a must-consider for anyone in the market for a new device. Small nitpicks aside--such as the placement of the speaker and front facing camera, plus the weak viewing angles--the Sony Xperia ZL rises to the top.