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Sony Xperia ZL is about as exciting as getting socks for Christmas

Nate Ralph | May 9, 2013
The Sony Xperia ZL ($759, unlocked) is your average high-end smartphone. It ticks all of the appropriate boxes: large, full-HD display, a camera that's chock full of megapixels, speedy LTE-connectivity (I tested it on AT&T's network), and a beefy quad-core Snapdragon processor. But in a world of iPhones, HTC Ones, and Samsung Galaxy S4s, ticking off all the boxes is far from enough.

As for that camera: 13-megapixels sounds like a lot, doesn't it? Well it is, and it can take rather lovely photos when fed lots of lighting and enough time to compose a great shot. But there's quite a bit more to capturing a great photo than throwing lots of pixels about and while the ZL does an amicable job, it suffers from a few minor oversights. While there is a dedicated camera shutter button, it doesn't actually launch the camera app--you can launch the app by way of the lock screen, but that can take a second or two and that's lamentable.

There's also the matter of the autofocus: Tapping on the phone's screen while composing an image will let the phone know the general area you'd like to focus in on (and adjust the camera's automatic capture settings accordingly), but it won't actually focus until you've hit the shutter button on screen. You can get around this by pressing the dedicated shutter button halfway, and then taking the shot, but a number of my photos came out rather blurry because I was a bit too quick on the draw. The ZL offers 1080p video recording, but that too is not without faults. Audio recording was great, but the camera's image stabilization occasionally made my videos rather jittery whenever I panned about.

A fair bit of staying power

The Xperia ZL is driven by a 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro processor and 2GB of RAM. As expected from such a powerful mobile processor, the phone had no trouble tackling any of the apps and games I threw at it. Call quality on AT&T's network was excellent: I had no trouble keeping up with conversations, and had no complaints from folks I spoke to on either coast. I also saw great LTE coverage wherever I went here in San Francisco, though your mileage will of course vary.

The ZL's 16GB capacity is par for the course with most modern smartphones, as is support for 32GB microSD cards, and the NFC, WiFi, and Bluetooth radios. If you own select Sony television sets you can also use the phone as a faux remote control, sharing content to your TV over your wireless connection. The ZL's 2370 mAh battery isn't removable, but I generally didn't need to reach for a charger until the end of a day's worth of web browsing and email syncing. Heavier usage can take its toll, and the battery buckled a bit faster when I cranked the brightness up and spent a few hours watching videos, playing games, and streaming music.

The Xperia ZL has another trick up its sleeve: Stamina Mode. Turn this feature on, and the phone will automatically disable mobile data and Wi-Fi every time the screen turns off. You'll still receive calls and text messages, downloads and uploads will complete, and certain apps (like music-streaming over Spotify) will continue to work in the background. You can also set up a whitelist of apps that will ignore Stamina mode and function normally. Sony claims that this setting will quadruple the phone's standby time, and while I haven't fully verified its claims, I definitely saw quite a bit of extra staying power. Stamina mode will be of most use to folks who tend to leave their phone idle for long periods of time, but it's a nice touch that certainly doesn't hurt to activate.

 

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