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The Sony Xperia ZL has been available for purchase since March 2013, but we have yet to see the AT&T version which made its way through the FCC earlier that same month. Unfortunately for those who have been looking to pick up a subsidized version of the Xperia ZL, the only way to get your hands on the device is by paying its full retail price of $759.99 at Sony’s online store, although it recently went through a price cut and is now available for $569.99.

Regardless of the Xperia ZL’s inability to make its way to the U.S. on a major wireless carrier, the Android device is supposed to be “the best of Sony in a smartphone,” which when you consider what the company is capable of creating, is quite the claim. The Xperia ZL certainly does have an impressive set of specs as it has a 5-inch 1080p display, 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 processor and a 13MP camera, but is this really a device that encompasses the best Sony has to offer in a smartphone? Hopefully we’ll be able to answer this question in our review of the Xperia ZL, so without further ado, let’s get into this.

Sony Xperia ZL Specs

  • Display: 1920 x 1080
  • Display Size: 5”
  • Display Type: TFT LCD
  • Processor: 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4
  • RAM: 2GB
  • Storage: Up to 16GB
  • MicroSD: Yes > Up to 32GB
  • Battery Capacity: 2370mAh
  • Rear-Facing Camera: 13MP
  • Front-Facing Camera: 2MP
  • Weight: 151.10g
  • Dimensions: 131.57 x 68.58 x 9.90

Official specs can be found on Sony.com

Context

Cell phone usage varies greatly from person to person, so we feel it’s important to describe how we tend to use our cell phones on a regular basis. I rarely go anywhere without my cell phone as no matter where I am, it’ll always be in my pocket ready to be used. When I use my cell phone, it’s to check up and respond to emails, chat with friends and family through instant messaging, communicate through various social networks and listen to music and podcasts.

I also use my cell phone for miscellaneous activities, such as playing a game of Candy Crush Saga every so often or taking a picture of something that I find interesting or need to capture an important moment in my life. While these activities are done on a not-so-frequent basis, they’re still important to me.

I currently carry around an iPhone 5 and a HTC One as I always like to have an iOS and Android device on me since they’re currently the top mobile operating systems. My iPhone 5 is my own personal device, while the HTC One is a loaner unit. I also have a Windows Phone 8 device, but I only use it when there’s something new available that I need to cover for work.

Industrial Design

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When you first lay your eyes on the Sony Xperia ZL, the first thing you’ll take notice of is its large and high-detailed screen. The screen measures in at 5 inches and has a 1920 x 1080 resolution, which even though a number of smartphones are starting to offer Full HD screens, it’s still impressive to witness firsthand. Surrounding the Xperia ZL’s display is a thin bezel, what is a bit thicker at the top and bottom of the device in order to house its front-facing camera and speaker. Most modern smartphones tend to house their front-facing camera above the device’s display, but the Xperia ZL has its camera located at the bottom. This move will definitely take some getting used to, especially if you’ve used a device whose front-facing camera is located above the screen, but it’s a minor inconvenience we’re sure you’ll become accustomed to after a few minutes.

The back of the Xperia ZL is where you’ll find its 13MP rear-facing camera with Exmor RS for mobile image sensor. Below the camera is where its LED flash is located and directly to its right is where Sony decided to stick the device’s speaker. The entire back of the Xperia ZL is covered in a rubberized mesh material which helps keep your grip on the device when it’s being held. As a result, the phone doesn’t feel as premium as some competing devices, but it doesn’t feel as cheap as phones that use all plastic. In the middle of the Xperia ZL’s back is where you’ll find the “XPERIA” logo, and at the bottom is where you’ll find its microSD card slot and SIM card slot.

The right side of the Xperia ZL is where all of its physical buttons are located, which we saw Nokia do with its Lumia 920 and 928, but Sony definitely doesn’t make them protrude as much as you’ll be able to hold the device without noticing its physical buttons that much. Just like the Lumia 920, the Xperia ZL has its power button located in the middle of right side, making it difficult for right-handed users to access as you’ll need to slide the phone up in order to have your thumb hit the button. We’re still not fans of this layout and wish handset manufacturers would stop placing their power buttons in weird locations. To finish out the right side of the device, the Xperia ZL’s volume rocker is located at the top while its dedicated camera button can be found at the bottom.

The bottom of the Xperia ZL has a small microphone port located on the left side and nothing else. The left side is where you’ll find the device’s microUSB port and the top houses its 3.5mm headphone jack.

Display (excellent)

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We briefly touched on the Sony Xperia ZL’s display in our Industrial Design section of this review, and now we get to give it our undivided attention here. The Xperia ZL has a 5-inch 1080p display and is able to produce some amazing visuals when watching high-definition video or viewing images which is made possible due to Sony’s Mobile BRAVIA Engine 2.

As we said earlier in our review, Sony wanted to put the best of technology from its entire company into the Xperia ZL. We could certainly see that in its display as not only can it produce stunning images at 1080p, but they have also equipped it with a durable tempered glass which is scratch resistant and has an anti-shatter film as well.

Sony Xperia ZL Custom Apps

Android phones tend to have a number of included applications that can either help set it apart from other devices or just be considered bloatware that should be removed as soon as you power on your device. The Sony Xperia ZL, just like most Android phones, features a number of custom applications

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Remote Control

The Xperia ZL comes with a remote control application which allows you to use the device’s included IR blaster in order to be used as a universal remote control. The Remote Control application lets you choose from a number of popular consumer electronics such as your TV, set-top box, DVD, Blu-ray and even more products that can be found in most people’s living room. You’ll first choose your device, then manufacturer, and then customize what kind of remote you want to use with the device. During my testing, I wasn’t able to successfully use the Remote Control app with my Samsung HDTV or Yamaha Home Theater Receiver.

Sony Car

Using your smartphone in your vehicle can have its benefits, although accessing it while your car is on the highway probably breaking the speed limit isn’t the best idea. The Sony Car application serves as a hub so drivers can access important applications while they drive. Four categories are available by default: Location, Media, Phone and Settings, although additional shortcuts to any application installed on your phone can be added to Sony Car.

Wisepilot for XPERIA

If you need a more dedicated navigation application, Sony includes its subscription-based Wisepilot for XPERIA on its Xperia ZL which charges as low as $1.49 for a single day of service all the way up to $19.95 for an entire year. Wisepilot for XPERIA can help you find a number of places, people, businesses as well as letting you look up a specific address, intersection or even a position on a map. You can even customize it to warn you when you’re traveling about the posted speed limit by activating speed alerts. When you first activate Wisepilot for XPERIA, you’ll be given a 30-day trial of the service of the entire world, but after those 30 days are up, you’ll need to purchase a subscription of your region’s map in order to continue using it.

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Smart Connect

If you’re the kind of person who has a set schedule every day, then Smart Connect will be the application you’re going to get the most use of as you can create and edit events based on what you do with your device or the time of day. For example, you can have Smart Connect silence your phone when it senses it’s plugged into its charger between the times of 10 P.M. and 7 A.M. or start to play a specific playlist when it senses headphones have been plugged into the Xperia ZL.

Killer Apps

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Virtual Keyboard (excellent)

The virtual keyboard included on the Xperia ZL is customized as it features light and dark silver keys, which also allows you to choose three different keyboard layouts. By default, you’ll use the Full keyboard, but its Full keyboard extra brings all of the most used symbols onto the first page of the keyboard. You can also customize whether or not the keyboard automatically autocorrects words for you as well as supporting bilingual word suggestions. There’s a ton more you can customize the keyboard with, making this a keyboard nearly anyone can find their comfort zone with.

Facebook (very good)

With its 5-inch 1080p display, Facebook has never looked so good as it does on the Xperia ZL. You’ll be able check your news feed, view photos and pretty much do anything else you would normally do on Facebook with little to no lag when browsing. Unfortunately, the Android version of Facebook has yet to implement its Chat Heads feature as its iOS version does, but that shouldn’t take away from your experience since everything else you can expect from Facebook is here.

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Google Maps (excellent)

There’s no denying Google Maps has been a long-time favorite for those of us who have no idea where in the world they’re driving to on a regular basis. The application acts exactly how you would expect it to on the Xperia ZL as map information, driving directions and local business information can all be accessed from within the app. Google Maps runs smoothly and I didn’t

experience any issues at all using it on the Xperia ZL.

Entertainment (excellent)

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Video Playback (excellent): Having a 5-inch 1080p screen means the Xperia ZL was made to watch video on. The screen size and resolution work hand-in-hand to deliver a killer video-watching experience. The included Movies application not only allows you to watch whatever video is located locally on your SD card, but can also provide metadata regarding the film or TV show you have in your library.

Gaming (excellent): For our gaming test, we tried two games that would would offer a wide range of the Xperia ZL’s performance: Pet Rescue Saga and Eternity Warriors 2. Both games performed extremely well and we didn’t notice any sort of lag or slow down for either game, although we really didn’t expect Pet Rescue Saga to push the Xperia ZL to its limits.

Speaker Quality (very good): The speaker on the Xperia ZL is located in a strange place, which is on its back next to its camera. Because of this, laying the Xperia ZL down to watch a video can diminish the sound quality since its speaker is being covered by whatever it is you’re laying the phone down on. When the speaker is free to do its thing, it actually performs quite well as it has a nice range of lows, mids and highs and the sound doesn’t sound tinny at all. The Xperia ZL’s speaker even does a good job at delivering a nice amount of bass, which certainly helps in making its performance earning a very good rating.

Digital Imaging (very good)

Sony included what it’s calling a “superior 13MP shooter” on the Xperia ZL which was developed with the same experts and components the company has built its digital cameras with. The 13MP rear-facing camera feature Sony’s Exmor RS for mobile technology and includes a sensor to deliver HDR video capabilities as well as “stunning stills.” With all of that marketing speak, we expect our experience with the camera to great.

Camera Application (excellent)

The camera application included with the Xperia ZL has a nice overlay of the on-screen buttons being placed over the image you’re trying to take, which gives the app a nice touch as the image takes up the entire 5-inch display. There are several camera modes you can play around with that include burst shot, built-in camera effects, panorama and multiple scenes that would help give your shots the best look possible based on what you’re shooting.

The camera application also includes options to change your image’s resolution, a self-timer, smile shutter, quick launch and geotagging to name a few. Sony certainly put a lot of thought behind its Xperia ZL’s camera application and we’re sure you’ll find a way to make your perfect shot even more perfect because of it.

Photo and Video Quality (very good)

The sample image we took with the Xperia ZL was taken on a sunny day indoors. As you’ll see above in a comparison between the Xperia ZL’s camera and the iPhone 5’s, the Xperia ZL performed well as the lighting, colors and contrast all looked great. When compared to the iPhone 5’s 8MP camera, the colors in the Xperia ZL looked slightly washed out as the iPhone 5’s colors looked a bit more vibrant. On the other hand, the Xperia ZL is able to take a widescreen shots through a number of the device’s resolutions, which means you’ll be able to capture more with it over the iPhone 5.

The Xperia ZL’s video camera performed very well, although it looks to mimic the photo camera’s slightly washed out colors when you compare the video produced versus the image produced. While you’re shooting video, the Xperia ZL’s camera application allows you to take photos of the video you’re shooting, which makes it nearly impossible to miss the perfect moment while using the video camera.

Performance (excellent)

The Sony Xperia ZL is a pretty powerful smartphone as it has a 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 processor powering it along with 2GB of RAM. As a result, we expected it to perform well in our benchmark tests, and judging by the results, we weren’t left disappointed.

One of the first tests we run on our Android devices is Antutu 3.x. The benchmark does a great job of judging a device by its overall system performance as it takes into account everything it has to offer, including its CPU, GPU and storage capabilities.

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In our Antutu 3.x benchmark, the Xperia ZL scored an impressive 20139 which is slightly better than the Xperia Z and Optimus G Pro, but it’s nowhere near as powerful as either the Snapdragon 600-powered Samsung Galaxy S4 or its overseas version which runs on an Exynos Octa 5 CPU. Regardless of that, the Xperia ZL is still an overall powerful Android smartphone and will easily be able to keep up with everything you throw at it.

GLBenchmark 2.5, offscreen 1080p: The GLBenchmark test we run on our Android devices is designed to stress the graphics processor, or GPU, by running a game-like demo that features a number of different environments that also use different lighting and and graphical tricks.

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The Xperia ZL does very well in our GLBenchmark test as it scores a total of 33 frames per second. Its performance is slightly better than what the HTC One and LG Optimus G Pro are capable of, which are two Android devices that already offer some impressive visuals.

“Perceived Performance”: Benchmarks do a good job of telling us what we can expect out of a device, but we think it’s also important to take note of a device’s perceived performance as we’ve seen devices that seem underpowered on paper do a very good job of delivering a quick and responsive experience. In terms of perceived performance, the Xperia ZL didn’t lag at all as I was able to jump from Chrome, to YouTube, to Facebook and play Candy Crush Saga with little to no lag.

Battery (good)

Moderate Usage (good): For our moderate usage battery test, I kept an eye on the battery while I used it every so often during my review. Within an hour, I shot some photos, a short video, uploaded documents to Dropbox, responded to instant messages and browsed Facebook. During that time, I noticed the Xperia ZL’s battery dropped by 10%, which means you should expect around 10 hours of battery life if you use the Android device on and off throughout your day.

Intense Usage (poor): The intense usage battery test pushed the Xperia ZL’s battery as we streamed a 1080p YouTube video on the device for an hour. After that time was up, we noticed the Xperia ZL’s battery dropped 18%, which means you can expect a little over 5 hours of streaming video. This will certainly get your through a typical film if you need to pass the time, but don’t watch too many as you could end up with an extremely low battery when all is said and done.

Charging Time (good): The Xperia ZL has a 2370mAh battery, which is right around the average we tend to see in smartphones these days. For our charging time test, we had the Xperia ZL charging for an hour without using the device, which we noted a 49% increase in its battery. This means if you have a completely dead battery, you should expect it to take a little over 2 hours in order for the Xperia ZL to reach its full charge. This certainly isn’t the fastest we’ve seen an Android device take to charge, but it isn’t the slowest either.

Conclusion (very good)

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The Sony Xperia ZL all around is a great Android smartphone that certainly does feature “the best of Sony in a smartphone.” It has a stunningly beautiful 5-inch display, features some powerful internal specs and offers a great camera experience.

With that said, there certainly are some things holding back the Xperia ZL from receiving our excellent rating. The location of the ZL’s front-facing camera isn’t ideal and will confuse its users every time they fire it up, the phone’s vibration is way too strong and its battery could have been better. Regardless of those minor annoyances, the Xperia ZL is a great Android smartphone that really does bring all of Sony’s experience into a mobile device.

Overall product rating: 8/10
Filed in Cellphones >Featured >Reviews . Tags: Android, Phone Reviews, Sony and XPERIA ZL.
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