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Why the Sony Xperia Z broke my heart

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.

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.

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