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