Design & Hardware

Sony pushed into double-digit resolutions before most of the industry, but with Samsung’s Galaxy S4 now packing a 13MP sensor as well, it’s no longer the distinction it was (though HTC’s flagship One has gone the other direction, with a 4MP sensor). Though you’d be forgiven for wondering if such high resolutions serve a purpose on tiny sensors that are largely used to produce web-resolution images, if done right, these higher resolution sensors can capture more detail and make tighter cropping feasible.

The camera’s F2.4 lens is a half-stop slower than the fastest F2.0 offerings, a difference that hovers on the edge of noticeable when working in low light.

Sony doesn’t quote the lens’ 35mm equivalent focal length, but the Exif-data tells us the actual focal length is 4.1mm which would equate to 33mm in 35mm terms. This follows the general market trend towards wide-angle phone lenses, which you’ll appreciate if you’re always trying to fit more into the frame but will like less if you frequently take close portraits.

The camera is mounted near the top edge of the phone and about a third of the body’s width from the corner. This means your fingers are less likely to intrude on a shot when compared to phones that tuck the camera right up into the corner, but you still have to be more careful than with a center-mounted camera. The camera lens is slightly recessed into the body, protecting it from scratches. 

All of the Xperia Z's connectors and card slots are hidden behind waterproof flaps.
The unusually shaped power button and volume rocker are located on the right side of the phone. Unfortunately the latter cannot be programmed to work as a shutter button.

The Z’s face is dominated by its 5-inch full HD display. With a mind-bending pixel density of 443 ppi, this screen is likely to be the sharpest you’ve ever seen - unless you’ve already encountered Samsung’s similarly-spec’d S4 or the HTC One’s slightly smaller and even denser full HD screen. With the arrival of these displays, we’re approaching the end of pixel density as a differentiator: further increases aren’t likely to yield perceptible differences in sharpness, leaving other factors (contrast range, brightness, viewing angles) to separate the best from the good. The Z’s otherwise beautiful screen washes out more than we’d hope for in bright sun, for example.

The Z’s sharp screen is a good thing, but we’re less convinced by the sharp edges of the phone’s design. The front and back are glass slabs, with more glass insets on the edges. The corners are rounded off to avoid poking holes in your pockets, but this is a very angular, thin handset. It looks great and the build quality is solid, but pinched between the fingers to take a picture, the slick glass and hard edges translate into mediocre handling. The rounded, soft-touch surfaces we’ve seen on phones like HTC’s 8X and BlackBerry’s Z10 make for a much surer grip.  

 The Xperia Z looks pretty but its angular shapes mean it is not the most comfortable smartphone to hold.

The Z’s photographic ergonomics are further handicapped by Sony’s decision to jettison the dedicated shutter button featured in its predecessor Xperia T’s design. Twisting the knife, the native camera app doesn’t even get a volume button shutter release (those are assigned to the digital zoom). It’s screen tapping all the way.

Although the Z’s slick angularity looks more appropriate for a boardroom table than a monsoon rain, Sony has impressively waterproofed the phone with sealed seams and ports. You can shoot fearlessly in foul weather and, less photographically relevant but just as useful, fish your phone out of a toilet and rinse it off without ever having to admit your mistake.