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Why the Sony Xperia Z broke my heart

evan kypreos by

Xperia Z
Xperia Z

I have to admit that when I first clapped my eyes on the Sony Xperia Z at its launch in all the glitz and chintzy glamour of Las Vegas's Consumer Electronics Show, I fell a little in love. They'd cracked it, I thought.

At last Sony had made a phone that would not only compete with Apple, Samsung and the other big boys, but actually beat them. I'd found what I had been looking for. I'd found my next phone.

Love at first sight

The first major plus was the fact that the Xperia Z wasn't over-styled. Here was a clean and handsome slab of phone without the unnecessary curves, bulges or buttons found on the Xperia Neo or Xperia Arc.

Secondly the specs were top notch. That full HD 5-inch screen looked great under the bright lights of Sony's CES stand. As we'd expect the quad-core Snapdragon CPU made short work of Android Jelly Bean and seemed to have no problems with multitasking. The camera, something Sony phones have always been strong on, was a 13-megapixel affair, class-leading again when compared to the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S3.

Finally the pièce de résistance, the Sony Xperia Z was water and dust proof. This wasn't just about handling a little London drizzle. Sony's demo consisted of an Xperia Z being dunked into water at the press of a button, like some high-tech throwback to a medieval witch's torture.

Do I hear you cry gimmick? Well my partner has managed to get mould to grow on an HTC Sensation by leaving it in a damp tent overnight, I've destroyed a Galaxy S3 by dropping it into a bath full of water and have had an iPhone 4 utterly submerged by an overenthusiastic wave. To some, waterproofing a phone might seem like a gimmick. To me it is insurance.

This was why I was pleased when the first reviews of the phone I read were extremely positive. Sony were doing a good job of keeping journalists on side by handing out free Xperia Zs like sweeties and all initial reviews seemed to offer four and a half or five star scores.

When my colleague Luke reviewed the phone and gave it 4 stars and told me that without the waterproofing it would have been less I was indignant. So were many TrustedReviews readers. How could so many others have got it so wrong? I had to find out for myself to provide a second TrustedReviews opinion.

The rose-tinted specs shatter

It has been three weeks since I started using the Xperia Z and I no longer think Luke was too harsh, I actually think he was generous.

My first experience was great. I took the Sony Xperia Z into the shower and started pressing buttons and it all worked brilliantly underwater, not a leak in sight. The issues started soon after, though, with a 10 minute call to my sister. About 5 minutes into the call I found myself holding the phone a few inches from my ear. This sometimes happens when I'm speaking to my siblings but it's usually because I'm on the end of an earful about sorting my life out.

On this occasion, however, it was because my ear had become uncomfortably hot. This doesn't occur on every call but does about 10 per cent of the time - enough for it to be more than an irritation.

But, hey, according to Ofcom it turns out no-one uses phones to call people with anymore; it's all about the texting and browsing. And this is where I found the Xperia Z also lacking.

The 5-inch display and angular bod of the Xperia Z make it slightly too big to hold comfortably.

Sony has made some neat touches to make it as easy as possible. For example, the main buttons are near the middle of the phone rather than at the top. This puts them in a perfectly ergonomic position for most people. I found it particularly uncomfortable trying to reach the left hand of the screen with my thumb. If you have small-to-normal sized hands and you're not an expert flamenco guitarist you'll struggle to reach some area of the screen using the Xperia Z one-handed without some juggling.

5-inch screens are becoming the norm but it seems that the Xperia Z's bezel is a couple of millimetres wider than it should be. The raised plastic ridges around the side of the screen also don't help, other than offering some decent purchase on what is otherwise a slippery phone.

And it gets worse

The full HD screen is good looking but viewing angles are not great. I don't personally care about viewing angles on a phone much. A phone is a personal device, normally used by one person at a time. In addition the poor viewing angles might be due to the antireflective layer on the Xperia Z. I believe having a screen that works well in sunlight is much more important than being able to watch a move at a 130 degree angle on it. So if the screen looks good and works well what's my problem?

The Xperia Z's screen attracts smears like Apple's latest announcement attracts hipsters. The reason for this is a shatter proof plastic screen protector sheet that Sony has applied over the toughened glass. This attracts oil and grease more than the glass on other phones, but a quick wipe every few minutes sorts that out. What's more of an issue is that the sheet scratches very easily, and this is a major problem.

I take care of my phones (barring water accidents) and have kept the Xperia Z in my pocket with my work iPhone 4S. No keys or coins, just one other phone. Even this has led to a latticework of scratches all over the Xperia Z's screen.

Poor performer

Then there are the performance issues. In our review of the Xperia Z we mention the fact that it overheats while playing games. Not only does it get much hotter than it should, I also found it lagged while playing Real Racing 3, something my iPhone 4S seems to have no problem with at all, and I could almost see the battery being drained as I was playing. Even with battery saving features enabled I found battery life poorer than I expected and I struggle having any charge left when I get home at night.

There are a few things not covered in the review that I've discovered over the last few weeks use. Unfortunately I found that the Sony Xperia Z had occasionally taken to disconnecting from the network (and therefore the ability to take or receive calls or texts). Either a restart or going in and out of airplane mode was required to get it to connect again. Finally Wi-Fi signal is weaker and less reliable than its closest competitors, the S3 and iPhone 5. I found the Xperia Z has a shorted range of approximately 15-20 per cent, in my admittedly not very scientific tests.

Heartbreaker

The Sony Xperia Z is a good phone and it sure looks and feels good at first, but the problems with the device quickly start to become apparent. It doesn't do the fundamentals quite as well as it should and I find that unforgivable. You can fool yourself that it'll change its ways or it just needs a little getting used but the truth is all the potential for the greatest smartphone ever was there and that's what hurts my heart a little. Now I'm back on the lookout and my eyes have been turned towards Apple, Samsung and HTC.

Go to comments

hippycat

April 4, 2013, 5:12 pm

why on earth do you think that another mobile would do less damage than a key for example? As for the rest of 'it's getting worse' - sorry, these are all such minor things that I find it hard to take anything you wrote seriously....and oh, the hassle of going in and out of airplane mode! that's two clicks, takes about 1 second....your poor little heart. sorry.

Dorian Knightley

April 4, 2013, 5:26 pm

Surely you can see that a flagship phone costing hundreds of pounds (either upfront or through the length of a contract) should be able to sit in standby without constantly loosing connection to the network. Having to regularly check the thing just to make sure it is able to receive phone calls and texts is a nightmare. It's neither here nor there what the process of re-connecting it is, it's bad enough that you might be missing calls and texts.

Evan

April 4, 2013, 5:27 pm

The issue isn't having to go in and out of airplane mode the issue is you can't make or receive calls. I'm in the process of buying a house and missed a number of important call because of this. I think making and receiving calls are quite fundamental for a mobile phone. Also there is a massive difference between having keys and coins vs another phone in your pocket. Keys are sharp and cause obvious damage to a phone. I've had two phones regularly in my pocket for the last few years. These have ranged from S3, iPhones, HTCs, Nokia Lumias and others and none have suffered the screen damage the Xperia Z has.

meerkat82

April 4, 2013, 5:31 pm

Good article, I suspected this phone (and Sony) are trying to be premium but actually aren't and this article confirms it. In fact, I wish there were more re-reviews, revisiting the products and services once the shine has worn off and letting us know how it *really* is. Thanks for sparing me the heartbreak, back to the reviews

Hiten babla

April 4, 2013, 7:53 pm

I've had my Z since launch and tbh haven't experienced the phone over heating during a call. It can get a bit toasty playing games but never to an uncomfortable state. Nor did it lag on RR3, in fact i was quite blow away by the quality. Battery life is disappointing but i generally plug my phone into a pc throughout the day so its not much of a problem. Maybe you have a faulty phone with the signal disconnecting frequently?

Quiet a few people on XDA forum have removed the anti shatter layer which solves that problem. Maybe apply Zagg screen protector after?

My screen however has surprising cracked/fractured internally after being left on charge (no physical damage) hopefully this gets sorted ASAP as I was enjoying it from my iPhone 4 hugely!

Andy

April 4, 2013, 10:41 pm

I have never read so much tripe from a professional reviewer. I have had the phone since launch day and have to disagree with every negative point you have made in the article as I have not experienced a single one. My previous phones were the Samsung S2 and then the Note. This is my first Sony phone I am delighted with it in terms of performance, reliability and durability. The design and feel is superior to all other handsets currently available.

Jimmy

April 5, 2013, 12:23 am

I agree, I have also had the phone since launch [in Aust] and have not had any of the above issues. It does get warm when playing games, downloading, etc, but all high-powered phones get a bit of heat. I have also not experienced any network drops or laggy performance. In contrast, the performance is amazing, MC4 plays smoothly with no lags.

I think this is a great phone, look forward to Sony's next effort.

Karan Thakur

April 5, 2013, 2:00 am

You sound like Joey Barton

barom

April 5, 2013, 3:14 am

Wow there are so much wrong with this opinion piece. For one, you can't expect to do everything with one (small-average sized) hand when you're buying a 5" phone. The phone can't really be that much smaller than it is or to be more specific, the width can't be much smaller than it is. Also, the screen smudges and scratching? Although I question the validity (I've seen youtube videos of this phone dropped without creating scratches), it is a problem that can be solved by simply putting on a screen protector (one of the water based ones will easily remedy both problems).

As far as battery goes, all high end phones today have bad battery life. Even the iPhone 5 ain't great and that uses only 4" screen. And in case you don't know, screens take up most of the power (unless you play a lot of games). Just open up your phone and check the battery information in the settings menu.

That said, I do think these points should be reasonable for the average user who doesn't know much about electronics but it should be stated that these concerns applies to pretty much every big screen phone.

barom

April 5, 2013, 3:22 am

Evan, I had a similar (or same?) connection issue with my Xperia P. I'm using Xperia P with T-Mobile but T-Mobile's 3G coverage is weak in my area and so I only get it in select spots. To use 3G, the phone has to switch to WCDMA mode (from GSM). The default settings on the phone was set to "GSM/WCDMA preferred" and so it kept switching mode every time I entered or left a 3G area. I manually set the settings to GSM only and now my phone never loses connection. Try it and see if it helps.

akshayballal25@gmail.com

April 5, 2013, 5:10 am

Sounding like he wanted to get his heart broken fron day 1.

jamie

April 5, 2013, 8:20 am

You do realize that not everyone has the same experience with a particular product, right? The Samsung GS3 is wildly popular and has rave reviews, but it's not hard to find people dissatisfied with it. Same with the iPhone. I have the Nexus 7 tablet, and I find the battery life abysmal for its promise even though I don't do much with it. I know others who have the same problem in spite of people showering it with praise. Sometimes a gadget can live up to its hype for one person but not for another.

chaosdefinesorder

April 5, 2013, 9:25 am

You're fundamentally wrong about the screen there, I'm afraid. Keys - even "sharp" ones - cannot physically scratch a glass screen due to the very nature of the hardness scale. Sharp keys - and even knives - will be blunted by glass, the glass will not be scratched by the softer metal. The glass front AND back of the iPhone 4S, however, WILL (and, evidentally, has) scratch(ed) the glass screen of the Xperia Z.

Keys will of course scratch the back and sides to hell, and will scratch glass *if they drag a fragment of glass/sand across the screen* but cannot themselves natively cut glass

martyn rose

April 5, 2013, 10:12 am

I agree with Andreas I have had the Sony Z phone since launch and had no problems except and until I switched on the battery saving options and now I get two days life!!! The screen is outstanding and I do not want other people to see what I am reading so the front on image is perfect for my work. I do not run games on the phone and have never suffered from overheating. The camera produced outstanding images when I was in Venice recently and I had no problem whatsoever with Wifi (except in Venice and that was due to Italy woes and Vodafones poor network there. Overall I would recommend the Sony return to form and that the glass monolith is to be hugely preferred to the plastic Samsung 3 or 4 or the not available HTC One, its imperfect camera and a company in deep trouble.

Charlie Downey

April 5, 2013, 10:28 am

I have been looking at this phone with some envy and was even thinking of trading up
but I find very similar issues with my current handset Xperia S. It lags, the
software is buggy, the screen gets smudges, it drops connections for no reason
and the overall ergonomics are poor and it gets very hot when for example I have
the phone in Car Mode. That said it has strong points like great screen and the
camera is also good (when it works)

It looks to me that Sony have once again released a flagship phone that’s not as
polished as rivals like Samsung and HTC. Also its really annoying how slow Sony
are to update software.

I think I will be stepping away from Sony until they sort out the basics and make
a phone with the obvious classy styles and looks of the Z but actually have a
phone that ticks most of the boxes of what is needed in a high end phone.

They could take a leaf out of HTC or Samsungs books by incorporating things like
Gorilla Glass and getting rid of the awful screen protector (which scratches
really easily). They should look at the bezel and make it smaller, the consumer
also needs to see that they are quick to update buggy software as it really
gets peoples backs up if something as simple as the phone dialer only works
half the time or the screen shuts off when on a call and you need to unlock the
phone to terminate the call.

It looks to me that they have yet to learn the lessons of their first
forays in to a high end phone market. I will be avoiding this phone and will
wait for further reviews to see if these simple issues are rectified in Sonys
next iteration of a flagship phone

Chris Beach

April 5, 2013, 11:22 am

That's why it was clearly stated this was an opinion piece, not a review...

Evan

April 5, 2013, 11:59 am

I'm glad it's working out for you but this is not a review this is an opinion piece on my experience with the Xperia Z (two of them actually).

Someone who has bought a product will always view it in a slightly more forgiving manor. We have the benefit of review samples. We've not psyched ourselves up and paid a wedge of cash for it and that makes it easier to be more detached from the device than an actual owner would be.

As stated this is my personal opinion, as a 5-inch phone i find it a struggle to use one-handed, much more so than the S3 and HTC One (yes I know they're not 5-inch) and I really disliked the plastic ridges round the side. For people who don't use a phone one-handed it's not an issue. I did not mention durability being bad other than the plastic coating glued to the screen scratching relatively easily. Check youtube for the many videos showing people removing it because of this very issue.

This is not a bad phone by any means, it's just not the phone that was promised and sold to me at CES. There are many good things about the phone too, you can read those in the review proper.

Evan

April 5, 2013, 12:24 pm

Yes this was aimed at the people who may have seen 5 star reviews for this phone elsewhere and thought this is the phone for them. I think it's worth showing that not all is rosy and there might be some issues they should be aware of.

Perhaps 5-inch screen is too big for some people then. They may not be aware of this until they've bought the phone - I am pointing that out. I'll wait and see how the S4 fares but I did not have to charge my S3 as often. Interestingly I previewed the Alcatel One Touch Idol X which has a 5-inch screen but they've managed to make it almost a full 1mm slimmer and 3.5mm less wide and it was much easier to use one-handed than the Z.

Sony have already put a screen protector on the phone, that's what gets scratched, not the actual glass. Again most people will think they have a scratched screen as opposed to a scratched screen protector which can be removed. Unfortunately I can't recommend that as it might void warranty or cause other issues with the phone but people I know who have removed it are much happier with the screen.

toboev

April 5, 2013, 12:56 pm

could we see some more like this, maybe minus the emotional overlay? It would be good if, after the initial full review of whichever phone, we could get an understanding of the issues which only surface after a fortnight or so of real daily use.
I say 'minus the emotional overlay' because what works for one person might not for another, for example here the issue of size/single handed use. So I'd like to see the issues commented on, but leave it for the reader to decide whether this breaks their heart, or not.

sohiab rehman

April 5, 2013, 3:18 pm

The problems listed here aren't confined to the Xperia Z, I have a HTC one and it does indeed get warm and the power button is oddly located. However, the need to re-review this is a little silly as the Xperia Z is indeed and outstanding peice of kit and my brother pruchased this and has no complaints.

Ftrobs L

April 5, 2013, 4:24 pm

I absolutely agree with you

Ftrobs L

April 5, 2013, 4:26 pm

I don't know what you are on about but the phone is amazing my dad has it and I was thinking of getting Samsung galaxy s4. my family isn't in to apple stuff.its all sony or Samsung because they are really good at technology stuff. and finally sony has done it.the new xperia z and I am very sorry to hear all of those promblems above the camera is good,no overheating game thing (ps:you shouldn't even be playing games in your phone buy yeah).. this is a pretty good phone.i would put it in my top 3. Samsung beats sony anyday...JOKIN; I like'em both....

Ftrobs L

April 5, 2013, 4:28 pm

If you want to buy a phone buy either sony or Samsung I would recommend the upcoming Samsung galaxy s4. I am not that into Iphone oh did I mention the s4 is the fastest smartphone ever and is going to be less cheaper than iphone 5 which currently sit at 5th.

Andy

April 5, 2013, 4:54 pm

Evan, with the greatest of respect if I was not happy with this phone I can assure you that regardless of how much it had initially cost me it would have been returned or sold on (even for a loss). This is not in any way clouding my judgement. I simply dispute the majority of your experiences as misleading and factually incorrect!

Gary Sinclair

April 5, 2013, 7:39 pm

I got one 4 days ago and i love it.it has never got that hot to cause me any issues.warm yes hot no.battery life is in the same boat as any quadcore.lag on games bullshit.i run racing 3 with no lag maybe its your wireless connection.never had lag in game on any game.and the persons who are doing the bagging of this awesome phone are the ones who cant afford one.Grow up any of the new super phones are awesome its up to personal choice.stop bitcing you sound like a fool

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