In addition to devices we'll be seeing in the West in coming months, CES gives us the opportunity to get some face time with devices that probably won't see the light of day in the U.S. or Europe. One of these is the Xperia ZL, which Sony says will be making an appearance in selected markets during the first quarter of 2013.
Best described as a budget version of the Xperia Z, the ZL is a device that'll be appearing in selected territories, meaning you probably won't see it sold in the same country as its big brother. The ZL trades off some of the more premium features of the Z, including the fancy glass back panel and 4G LTE connectivity, instead opting for a chunkier plastic design and 3G/HSPA radios. The back panel's finish can be likened to that of the Xperia T. It's matte plastic on the white version and textured soft-touch on the black model, and feels pretty good in the hand, though it's nowhere near as sumptuous as the Xperia Z's glass rear.
The waterproofing of the Z is also absent, meaning you've got traditional exposed microUSB and headphone ports, rather than the plastic covers present on the higher-end device. Physically, it's also a little smaller, exchanging some thickness up top for increased heft around the back.
We didn't notice any substantial differences in screen size, display quality or software in the Xperia ZL. You're still dealing with a 5-inch 1080p display running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and Sony's custom UI, with its entertainment services front and center. Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 Pro also powers the Xperia ZL, meaning it should be just as speedy as the current crop of high-end Android devices. Other physical specs mirror the Z pretty closely, too -- you've got 2GB of RAM and a 13MP Exmor RS camera. Only storage space has been decreased, from 32GB on the Z down to 16 on the ZL.
In some alternate universe, the Xperia ZL might have been Sony's early 2013 flagship, and if that were the case, we wouldn't be terribly disappointed. It's a perfectly nice phone, though on the international stage it's destined to live in the shadow of its big brother.
The Xperia ZL is set to make its debut in Q1 2013. Like the Xperia TX before it, it's likely this model's release will be limited to a handful of Asian countries.