Sony Xperia Z

Sony finally has the smartphone it needs to become a major player in the U.S. mobile market.

Since its sweep at CES 2013, The Sony Xperia Z has become known in some circles as the best phone Americans can’t buy — thankfully, that changes next week when T-Mobile will add Sony’s flagship to its portfolio. Our own Alex Dobie put the Xperia Z through its paces back in March with a thorough review, and seeing as though the domestic version of the device is almost identical to the international one, we won’t waste your time with yet another teardown. We will, however, discuss how the Xperia Z fits into T-Mobile’s summer lineup — one of the more robust of all the major carriers — and examine what its addition means for Sony’s mobile footprint in the U.S. Hit the break for our thoughts and impressions.

As Alex said back in March, Sony has finally hit it big with the Xperia Z, a flagship worthy of sitting next to the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S 4 on T-Mobile’s shelves. This is the smartphone we always hoped Sony was capable of making — the Xperia brand has finally grown into itself as a truly desirable Android vehicle.  With the right marketing campaign, the Xperia Z can (and should) land on just about every smartphone buyer’s shortlist.

I can say without question that the Xperia Z is one of the most striking smartphones on the market today, thanks to its sleek boxy profile, its sharp corners, and its glossy glass backside. This is a device that will grab eyeballs and spark conversation — it’s rooted in Sony’s design history, yet it’s more beautiful than anything they’ve ever done. There’s an air of excitement about the Xperia Z — it feels fresh, new, and unlike anything it will share the shelves with this summer. This is the first American Sony smartphone with an aesthetic upper hand.

Sony knows just how damn gorgeous the Xperia Z is, and the manufacturer has given it the durability to allow for caseless, unobstructed use. It’s got a shatterproof sheet of glass covering both sides, which Sony says will help prevent the shattering that many a smartphone user have come to fear. Not only can it withstand a healthy drop, it’s also water resistant, rated for 30 minutes of submergence in up to 3 feet of water.  That’s great for the klutz in all of us, but it’s also useful for those who spend a lot of time around water, as the Xperia Z is fully functional in liquid conditions. To be fair, Samsung’s Galaxy S 4 Active is equally waterproof, but the Xperia Z comes across as less of an afterthought - this is a flagship designed with durability in mind, rather than one with an optional add-on.

Sony Xperia Z

Beauty only tells half the story, and thankfully the Xperia Z has the guts to tell the rest – its Snapdragon S4 Pro processor, 2 GB of RAM, and lightly-skinned Android 4.1.2 are just as powerful as they were back in March, and its 2,330 mAh battery is still mighty impressive thanks to Sony’s remarkable Stamina mode.  The Xperia Z's camera utilizes Sony's Exmor RS mobile engine to produce remarkable shots that can stand their own against the (stiff) competition, and those looking for a reliable camera now have yet another legitimate option.  Here in the States, the Xperia Z operates on T-Mobile’s zippy (yet patchy) LTE network, and utilizes the carrier’s HD voice capabilities. In short, don’t think settling for a Sony smartphone doesn't mean you’re sacrificing power or stamina.

No phone is perfect, and the Xperia Z certainly isn't without its flaws. It’s a large phone, perhaps too bulky for some (as it was for Alex), and its 5-inch 1080p display with 443 ppi is stunning head-on, but washes out dramatically at less-than-ideal viewing angles. And perhaps we’ve become brainwashed, but the Xperia Z’s lack of a laundry list of S-type features can’t help but sting.

The most exciting point about the Xperia Z’s release stateside isn’t rooted in the device’s spec sheet. Rather, this release marks the addition of a fourth flagship that’s worth legitimate consideration. Its arrival on T-Mobile signals Sony’s dramatic re-entrance into the U.S. mobile market after a shaky couple of years.

Samsung, HTC, and more recently LG have cornered the Android market with stellar high-end devices that have, to some degree, stifled consumers’ curiosity as to what a smartphone could be. What’s left to the imagination when you have three top-shelf devices at your disposal? Sony might finally be able to change that dynamic with the Xperia Z, which is fresh, exciting, and different enough for it to become a legitimate fourth contender. This could be a breakthrough moment for Sony Mobile here in America, and if the company plays its cards right. (Though let's remember that this is just one phone on one carrier.)

Does this mean that every T-Mobile customer should rush out and buy an Xperia Z? Not quite. Those looking for something more portable will find the HTC One more to their liking, and those looking looking to buy into an ecosystem rather than buy just a device will find a home in Samsung’s world with the Galaxy S 4. This isn’t about the Xperia Z being the best phone on the market — it’s about it being good enough for Sony to finally be able to make a name for itself in the U.S. smartphone market.

Who knows whether or not Sony will be able to capitalize on the strength of its latest flagship. Samsung has done a stellar job convincing consumers that it’s the go-to Android choice, and HTC has in turn done well playing the “cool alternative” card. And with the impending introduction of the Optimus G2, LG is betting big on its ability to shake up the status quo. Sony’s got its work cut out for it, no doubt, but at least it’s no longer packing a noodle to a knife fight.

For those looking for a truly unique device that stands out from the pack, one that demands attention and doesn’t necessarily conform to the standards we’ve come to expect, the Xperia Z is a spectacular choice. Sony is here to stay, and we couldn’t be more excited to have another foot in the ring.

Sony Xperia Z


Reader comments

The Xperia Z on T-Mobile: a watershed moment for Sony smartphones in the U.S.


i think overall its a good device, but its just TOO boxy for me, plus sonys ui sucks (sure u can root and change pretty much everything) but why? lol

I don't understand your comment about Sony UI. Sony is one of the closest to stock android around. Which is why I like it.

That, and Sony now contributes development time to release working AOSP for their devices. SD card, waterproof, up-to-date OS, they sell unlocked models, and company support for the community? It's really tempting.

My only problem is that it still has that stinker, the S4 Pro. One of my top features in a phone is clean music playback through headphones, and the Xperia Z doesn't cut it.

I'm really excited for their next phone, though...

The audio quality might suck. Listen to music on this or an optimus g and see for your self. HTC seems to have fixed that though.

It is close to stock. I am coming back to the USA next month and I have my xperia z since release and it has been a great device. Specially since update 4.2.2. It made it so much better. They fixed the camera and adjusted the screen now it is really nice. Looks like bravia is running all the time. Well actually they changed that like 4 updates before already. U guys in the us make sure it runs 4.2.2. otherwise upgrading otherwise u won't get all the beauty of it.

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Sony UI is great not sure why one wouldn't like it. I have the purple Z and it has 4.2.2 now so t mobile needs to get the update to there version fast

There was a rumor of one. But haven't heard anything since then (supposed to be out at the end of July).

The branding is certainly a shame for such a nice device as the Xperia Z. And I don't see any reason to buy this version when Sony offers a perfectly good unbranded, unlocked Xperia Z direct from Sony Store. The device deserves to be experienced the way Sony intended.

So I don't think this is a good move - it is necessary to implement unlocked and unbranded devices in this country. There's no need for a special T-Mobile edition at all - the standard versions is perfectly fine and is what should be provided.

Another important thing is that the bootloader unlock isn't working for carrier branded Sony's. In Europe where the brand is common, this is the standard case: if you buy your Xperia unlocked unbranded - the unlock service works. With carrier branding (for example 3) - the unlock service isn't working.

I would be surprised if this T-Mobile Z can be unlocked that way.

It is also ironic that they start to sell a device that has been in the market for a long time (I bought my Z from At GSM back in March, now we are writing July!) and the Honami i1 is on its way.

What Sony should do is rather to carry the full Xperia line in their Sony Stores and offer financing options for those that don't want to pay full price.

Despite this latest move from T-Mobile, the best option is still an unlocked, unbranded device with a prepaid carrier.

I think the only issues with the unbranded phone are lack of LTE and Visual Voice Mail. The upside of the unlocked phone, as you mention, is that it is more friendly to flashing custom ROMs and will likely get software updates faster.

I use Google Voice for all my voice mail needs (and international calling too) and see absolutely no reason to downgrade to a branded device for it.

The LTE issue is about to be solved - check the radio of the new Xperia Z Ultra and see where Sony is heading (taken from GSMArena):

2G Network GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 - all versions
3G Network HSDPA 850 / 900 / 1700 / 1900 / 2100 - all versions
4G Network LTE 700 / 850 / 900/ 1700 / 1900 / 2100 / 2600 - C6806
LTE 800 / 850 / 900 / 1700 / 1800 / 1900 / 2100 / 2600 - C6833

To me, carrier branding is such a complete letdown that LTE just can't compensate it. I had two branded devices in my life and never again. It annoys the hell out of me to have a carrier logotype on the device together with bloatware. Even if it can be removed through root etc, I just don't accept any carrier infiltration since it results in an inferior product.

Buying the Xperia Z now when the i1 Honami is about to land is a bad idea. I think I got my Z at the proper time back in March but July is always a bad month for device purchases since the manufacturers are going to release their latest products in August/September. Then the fact that T-Mobile fiddled with the device is a reason to avoid - go to the Sony Store and buy the standard version instead.

It is also amusing to read "the device US customers couldn't buy". Hm, the carriers should be put out of the loop - it is sick that customers don't use their power but instead accept to have a carrier that decides what device they should get. I have a global perspective and buy the device I CHOOSE - there should be no middle man that tells me that "this is the devices we offer so you have to choose from our selection".;)

I bought my Xperia Z at the AtGSM in Bowery Street, New York and I couldn't be happier. It has served me very well during this time. So it has been available in the US for a long time already.

I don't get people that sit on their backs and is happily fed with what the carriers offer when it is easy to be a demanding consumer and give them the middle finger and get what YOU want rather than what the carrier want.

Do u have the C6603? I am planning on being in the USA next month. Do u get lte on that xperia z in the USA? I Do here in Germany but does it work in the states?

Sony Xperia Z

I have the C6602. Didn't see any reason to get the 6603 since the 6602 offers full compatibility with AT&T and T-Mobile HSPA+. The C6603 is a bit limited in that regard. The C6603 can't get LTE in the US since it requires different frequencies.

The problem with LTE until now has been that it requires a carrier branded device but with the latest radios like the one in the Xperia Z Ultra, that problem is solved - i.e. an unlocked, unbranded device offers the proper bands.

Understand so most likely my C6603 won't get lte in the USA then? I checked on t mobile I have 3 of the 5 bands in lte t mobile uses. Non with att so most likely it will do work on t mobile lte then to an limited regard?

Sony Xperia Z

The UK version did not have LTE. Is this an additional radio or a newer version of the SOC that includes the LTE radio(s).

The European certainly has lte there are 2 different versions in Germany only the lte version is being sold the C6603 the non lte version is the c6602.

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look this device is taking to long to release in the market. all this is just hype hype hype, they just need to shut up about it and just release it to the dam public already. something is terribly wrong with who ever is in charge of releasing this device to the public. by the time this phone release somehing else will be available and better. smh since all last year and still no release hahaha fail for whoever is in charge.

Well I have mine since March lol. Might consider getting it from Europe u get them already online for as low as 300 euros what is roughly 360 dollars. U could have urs already for a long long time.

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While I applaud Sony's reemergence in the US carrier market, the Z is too late to the party. They might as well have went with the Honami that's going to drop soon. Good thing for them that most people don't know much about specs and will be taken by the design. It is a very sleek phone. I think 2014 is when Sony is really going to go for broke in the US. This is a nice first step, though.

I prefer the ZL. I'm getting to the point where phones are just too big now. When my Galaxy SIII goes kaput, I will be replacing it with a smaller phone.

I went with the ZL for the form factor. It's all screen and minimal bezel. Plus the notification light is really slick.

I have been a long support of sony, since sony ericsson. Glad that sony has finally emerged in the market when competitor samsung, htc and nokia are all on the rage in their marketing. Hope sony phone can have more outstanding features.

" In short, don’t think settling for a Sony smartphone doesn't mean you’re sacrificing power or stamina."

You might want to read that again. :)