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Sony's Xperia Z is the Aquaman of phones

Susie Ochs | July 11, 2013
Waterproof, dust-proof, and beach-ready: Neither sand nor surf nor bright sunlight can stop Sony's new Android phone.

Well, except for downloads over the cell network. Exclusive U.S. carrier T-Mobile's 4G felt sluggish a lot of the time, and its LTE is available in only a handful of markets today: Baltimore, Houston, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Jose, and Washington D.C. And Wi-Fi was a little finicky, too, sometimes having trouble connecting to my 802.11n home network even while multiple other devices (iPhone 5, iPad, and Nexus 4) were connecting just fine.

Point and shoot—and shoot and shoot

The 13-megapixel camera features an Exmor RS image sensor, which allows HDR (high-dynamic range) video as well as photos. And just as in HDR photography, the camera takes dimly and brightly exposed video and combines them. Its huge range of shooting modes (including 36 scene modes such as sports, fireworks, food, portrait, backlit, and low-light scenes) make it feel as if you're using a point-and-shoot, even if the image quality says otherwise.

Photos I took outdoors in bright sunlight or overcast conditions looked excellent, but the HDR mode was a little disappointing in shots containing detail in both light and shadow. They seemed to lose some sharpness compared to HDR images shot with the Galaxy S4. A physical shutter button would make it easier to hold the phone still, but the Xperia Z uses only the volume buttons to zoom in and out. Photos taken in low light (without the flash) were noisy and blurred, but Burst mode did a great job of getting nonblurry pictures of my toddler. As with most smartphones, the flash is awful, producing harsh light and lots of red-eye, even in Fill Flash or Red-Eye Reduction mode. Don't use it unless you absolutely have to.

The sweep panorama feature lets you take a panorama that pans left, right, and even up and down, but its quirks made it annoying to use. Half the time I'd get an error that I was moving it too fast or too slowly, or a less-helpful error like "image has a gray area" or "can't take photo." I gave up on quite a few panoramas after multiple fails.

Bottom line
The Xperia Z is a great phone—the waterproof feature is incredibly fun to play with, the camera is solid as long as you have enough light, and the screen is both beautiful and responsive. Sony couldn't help but slap its logo on the front of the phone and its mediocre software all over the home screens, but since the hardware is so high quality, it's hard to mind much. The HTC One's superior speaker and low-light photography give it an edge, but the Xperia Z is right up there with the top-tier Android phones, especially for fans of Sony's other products—or butterfingers who want a stylish phone they can drop in the toilet once in a while.


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