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Xperia ZL Review: A compact 5 incher

 

The Sony Xperia ZL
The Sony Xperia ZL

Sony took a rather strange path  for the flagship race this year: it introduced two flagships. Xperia Z served as the big brother with its ostensibly crafted body of glass whereas the ZL took a rather plain plastic body. In addition, the ZL has a dedicated camera shutter which the Z lacks.

However, the design difference may hit the right spots sony’s looking for.Leaving the body aside, the specs of both are similar.

So, why would someone fore-go the premium feel of Z and choose ZL. Read on to find out.

HARDWARE

Omnibalance design. This is the word Sony used to describe the the design of Xperia Z with its flat glass design and pointy edges. The Xperia ZL doesn’t feature the omnibalance exterior but a grip friendly curved-plastic back. Although it is a less premium feel than the glass but will provide greater protection against drops and scratches.

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However, the main attraction of the Xperia ZL is on the front of the phone. With dimensions of 131.7 x 69.8 x 9.8mm, it is the most compact 5 inch smartphone currently in the market. The xperia z looks substantially larger than zl. With its reduced height it is possible to use the phone one-handed!! But, the curved back also increases the thickness of the phone to 9.8mm from Z’s 7.9mm. Another point to take note is the thin bezel which the phone has. The front is almost fully occupied by the screen with no physical buttons present.

The All New Power Button...
The All New Power Button…

From the design of the phone it is clear that the designers were opting for ergonomics over style. It seems to have worked. The ZL is even shorter in height than the 4.8 inch Samsung Galaxy S3 and 4.6 inch Nexus 4.

Sadly, to achieve the above desired dimensions, the ZL had to shed the waterproofing features of the Z. But it is a acceptable trade-off to a huge phone being pocket friendly.

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The Odd Plastic Flap

The Xperia ZL has a 2370mAh non-removable battery. Its comes with 16GB of internal storage, with the possibility of expansion using micro-sd cards. The whole aesthetics of the phone is ruined by the ugly flap at the bottom of the device which serves as a cover for micro-sd and micro-sim.

Dimensions 131.7 x 69.8 x 9.8mm (5.18 x 2.75 x 0.39 inches)
Weight 5.33 oz. (151g)
Screen size 5.0 inches
Screen resolution 1,920 x 1,080 (443 ppi)
Screen type OptiContrast LCD
Battery 2,370mAh Li-Polymer (non-removable)
Internal storage 16GB
External storage MicroSDHC
Rear camera 13MP, BSI, f/2.4, 1/3” sensor size, 1.12µm pixel size
Front-facing cam 2.0MP
Video capture 1080p, 30 fps (front and back)
NFC Yes
Radios GSM / GPRS / EDGE (850 / 900 / 1,800 / 1,900), WCDMA (850 / 900 / 1,700 / 1,900 / 2,100), LTE (700 / 850 / 1,700 / 1,900 / 2,100)
Bluetooth v4.0
SoC Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro (APQ8064)
CPU 1.5GHz quad-core
GPU Adreno 320
RAM 2GB
Entertainment MHL, DLNA
WiFi Dual-band, 802.11a/b/g/n, WiFi Direct
Wireless Charging No
Operating system Android 4.1.2, Sony UI

The phone is a beast underneath. Powering the phone is a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro chipset running at 1.5GHz (Quad Core). It is supported by a 2 gigs of Ram. The graphical tasks is handled by Adreno 320 GPU. Theoretically, the phone packs a punch. But purists may argue why Sony didnt include the Snapdragon 600 chipset but opted for the last years’ S4 pro chipset. But a common user will find no difference in real world usage.

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On the camera front, the ZL houses a 13MP shooter flanked by a led flash. The camera uses a Exmor RS sensor, same as in the Xperia Z. The front has a 2MP camera but oddly is located at the bottom. The reason behind this is that according to a survey conducted by Sony, most users tend ti focus at  the bottom of the phone during video chatting. So, with this kind of placement, the video chatting will look more natural.

DISPLAY

2013 seems to the year of 1080p displays on smartphones. The Xperia ZL has a 1080p 5inch screen. It may look wow on paper, but how does it fare in real world usage??

The Display
The Display

The Z and ZL are the first phones to boast 1080p displays ( if we take in truly broad basis, HTC butterfly didnt release in many countries). The ZL has a gorgeous display with 443ppi density. You just cant ignore the humongous amount of pixels. The ZL has a opticontrast panel which sony calls a Reality Display.

Coming to the bad parts, the viewing angle of the display is horrifying. Head-on the screen is fantastic, but tilt it a little bit and the colors wash out. This is simply unacceptable for device so high-end. Still, 80% of the time we use the smartphones head on, so not much harm is done. Since, the device uses LCD, the screen suffers in sunlight becoming barely visible. The auto-brightness also need some fine tuning.

Overall the display is acceptable with its rich and crisp details but suffers with bad viewing angles.

CAMERA

As I said above, the device comes equipped with a 13mp camera and Exmor RS sensor. Mostly its a good thing. It performs very good in bright locations delivering crisp and natural looking photos but needs improvement in low light settings. In low light, the camera software works aggressively to increase detail but ends up with a noisy photo. I think its a fault with the software not the sensor. I hope Sony fixes the issue in future updates.

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The Mighty 13mp Shooter

On video front, the device supports 1080p recording on both front and back cameras. The main selling point here is that, the phone is capable of recording HDR video. It mainly increases the dynamic contrast of the pictures. Video recording is good but has same issues as still pics in low light locations.

The Camera Shutter Key
The Camera Shutter Key

On the camera UI front, Sony has offered a lot of customizations to take pics. A number of modes are provided to tinker with. This is a joy for amateur photographers.

For general snappers, a mode called “Superior Auto” is provided. It automatically selects the most appropriate setting for a scene. Mostly its works excellent and will fulfill the need of most people.

SOFTWARE

The Sony Xperia ZL comes preloaded with Android 4.1.2 Jellybean, with a promise of 4.2 jellybean update in following months. Except if you are craving lockscreen widgets, there’s nothing much to miss.

Sony has decided to abandon the Timescape UI for the new Sony UI. Sony’s blending of its UI with Jellybean is excellent. It offers most stock android experience with exception of nexus devices. This time around On screen buttons are preferred instead of hardware keys which brings it even closer to nexus devices.

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The Homescreen

On custom modifications, Sony has included mini-apps to help with multitasking. On power management front, a feature called Stamina Mode is included. Its increases battery life by cutting off internet access to apps when screen is switched off. Thankfully, we can shortlist apps which won’t be affected by the Stamina mode.

On media front, Sony has included the legendary Walkman music application. It features a very neat UI and provides excellent listening experience. Videos are sorted and placed in Movies. The gracenote app scans the media and downloads appropriate info to enhance user experience.

PERFORMANCE AND BATTERY LIFE

Sony Xperia ZL Sony Xperia Z HTC One
Quadrant (v2) 8,175 8,019 12,495
Vellamo (v2.0 HTML5) 2,214 2,198 2,429
AnTuTu 20,975 20,526 25,140
SunSpider 0.9.1 (ms) 1,154 1,900 991
GLBenchmark 2.5 Egypt 1080p Offscreen (fps) 32 29 34
CF-Bench 18,053 16,079 25,267
SunSpider: lower scores are better

From the above table it is clear that the phone is a very capable device and on par with current gen smartphones. But it should be noted that though both Xperia Z and ZL use similar hardware, the ZL performs better in browsing. Other than that for a normal user who enjoys occasional gaming, the phone will provide exceptional performance.

I’m more concerned with the battery life of the device. The 1080p 5 inch screen is a huge battery drainer. On a video playback test, I play a mp4 file with 50% brightness with WiFi on but not connected, the battery lasted for a meager 5 hrs and 30 mins. This is unacceptable since the battery provided is 2370mAh. I blame the un-optimized and power inefficient screen. In similar test the galaxy s3 with 2100mAh battery and amoled display lasted around 7hrs. Though for a light user the phone will breeze through the day and even half of the next day.

I’m a bit disappointed with the battery life as it is just impossible to not use the device to watch movies, play games on a regular basis.

WRAP UP

Front View
Front View
Back View
Back View

To answer the question posed above: Why would one prefer ZL over Z? The Xperia ZL boasts smart ergonomics and a gorgeous display in a pocket friendly size. If one can ignore the waterproof capability and sleek design, ZL is the phone. It all boils down to personal requirement. Whether one needs a compact phone or a weather friendly phone.

The price of Sony Xperia ZL in Flipkart and Infibeam  is Rs 35,990. The local retailers may offer it for less.

Do let me know your views on the phone and feel free to ask any queries in the comments section below.