Sony's latest range of top-end Android phones has been unveiled, making their debut at the CES 2013 conference. Sitting just below the “superphone” Sony Xperia Z is only-slightly-less-flashy Sony Xperia ZL. It doesn't have the weatherproofing of that phone, but it does have everything else – a 5-inch 1080p screen, quad-core processor and a powerful 13-megapixel camera.
The Sony Xperia ZL is also more in-line with its Xperia series predecessors in terms of the materials that go into making it. Where the Sony Xperia Z is decked out in layers of glass, the Sony Xperia ZL's rear is topped with plastic. This construction doesn't make it slimmer than its more expensive brother, but we expect the Xperia Z will cost a chunk more.
This phone uses a non-removable rear plastic battery cover, with a smooth soft-touch finish in its white incarnation or a patterned look in the black version of the Xperia ZL. It's also a tad thicker than the Xperia Z, giving the impression of a more ordinary-feeling phone – or to put it in a more flattering light, it's much less of a show-off. That said, the bezel is super-skinny.
There is an unusual hardware bit on the Sony Xperia ZL, though. There's a flip-out plastic hatch on the rear that hides the microSD memory card and SIM slot, and the user-facing camera is in a very unusual position. It's near the bottom-right of the screen, in the bezel. Sony couldn't tell us why it was there – we assume it's to allow the super-slim bezel of the phone. But it doesn't half show off your double chins while you're video chatting.
Double chin alert...
Where the similarly-specced Huawei Ascend D2 is largely vanilla in its hardware design, the Sony Xperia ZL is a little odd in places.
There are a few quirks to the design that may raise eyebrows, but the specs should only cause a similar reaction in a positive sense. The Sony Xperia ZL appears to level-peg with the highest-spec phones we've seen to date.
It has a 5-inch 1080p “Bravia 2” screen, a quad-core 1.5GHz Krait processor, 4G connectivity and a 13-megapixel camera. There are two points where it takes it – relatively – easy. There's just 16GB of internal memory, although with a microSD card slot on hand it's not a huge problem. The battery is also not the largest in its class. Its 2,370mAh unit is larger than any of the last wave of “superphones” like the Samsung Galaxy S3 (which uses a 2,100mAh battery), but it has to power that giant, pixel-packed 5-inch screen too. We'll see how it fares in our full review.
One of the most important features of the Sony Xperia Zlis its screen. At five inches across, the screen size is what will come to typify 2013's top phones, as they rock familiar-sounding quad-core processors.
The Sony Xperia ZL screen uses Sony's Bravia Engine 2 technology, relating to the kind of processing and panel technology underneath. Other than sheer size, the main innovation of this year's screens is pixel density. Fitting a 1080p display into a 5-inch screen results in pixel density of 443dpi.
That blows the iPhone 5's 326 dpi out of the water, but when you can't discern individual pixels easily in last year's lower pixel density phones, asking how much those extra pixels add is a valid enquiry. We'll see the clearest benefits in games, where such high pixel density should eliminate “jaggies” entirely.
From our hands-on time with the Sony Xperia ZL, we're not entirely sure that the phones matches the comparable Huawei Ascend D2's contrast. Although as it's perfectly possible that the phones use exactly the same panel, this may have been down to the lighting conditions we saw the phone in.