Sony Xperia ZL Review

45
Introduction and Design
Introduction:

Making a radical impact on today's smartphone market is no easy task, but Sony is hoping to succeed by taking a slightly different approach than its rivals. While most manufacturers have their time and resources focused on a single high-end device, the Japanese tech giant is delivering its one-two punch in the form of the slim and shiny Sony Xperia Z and its less fabulous and non-water-resistant, but (presumably) less expensive Sony Xperia ZL.

On paper, the Sony Xperia ZL is very similar to its fashionable cousin. It is equipped witha 5-inch, 1080pscreen, powerful quad-core processor, 13MP camera, and LTE connectivity – factors that land it right into the high-end category. The Sony Xperia ZL, however, is being advertised as more compact than its competitors while its battery has a slightly bigger capacity than the one inside the Xperia Z.

But the competition on the smartphone battlefield is nothing short of fierce. It usually takes far more than just specs to turn a flagship into a bestseller – outstanding features, well-executed software, and attractive design are pretty much mandatory traits. Does the Sony Xperia ZL have any of that? Well, it is time to take it for a spin and find out!

In the box:
  • Wall charger
  • microUSB cable
  • MH-EX300AP wired headset with extra ear gels
  • User guide and other papers

Sony Xperia ZL Unboxing:

Video Thumbnail


Design:

If we had to describe the Sony Xperia ZL using one single word, that would be “boring”. Sure, the smartphone has adopted some visual cues from its sleeker cousin – the Xperia Z, but it is thicker and far less appealing with all that matte plastic used in its construction. As a result, the Xperia ZL simply lacks that “wow” factor we've come to expect from top-of-the-line smartphones nowadays.

Something that the Sony Xperia ZL is supposed to stand out with is its small footprint. Looking at numbers alone, it should be one of the most compact 5-inch smartphones in existence, with over three quarters of its front side occupied by its large screen – an impressive technical achievement that must be noted. But in reality, the difference between holding the ZL and one of its 5-inch rivals is not as striking as Sony wants you to think. Actually, using the Sony Xperia ZL would have been much more enjoyable if its corners weren't so pointy. And yes, it is still uncomfortable to operate using one hand only, but that's a common trait for all phones of that size.


Sony Xperia ZL
Dimensions

5.18 x 2.75 x 0.39 inches

131.6 x 69.8 x 9.8 mm

Weight

5.33 oz (151 g)

Samsung Galaxy S4
Dimensions

5.38 x 2.75 x 0.31 inches

136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9 mm

Weight

4.59 oz (130 g)

LG Optimus G
Dimensions

5.19 x 2.71 x 0.33 inches

131.9 x 68.9 x 8.45 mm

Weight

5.11 oz (145 g)

Sony Xperia Z
Dimensions

5.47 x 2.8 x 0.31 inches

139 x 71 x 7.9 mm

Weight

5.15 oz (146 g)

Sony Xperia ZL
Dimensions

5.18 x 2.75 x 0.39 inches

131.6 x 69.8 x 9.8 mm

Weight

5.33 oz (151 g)

Samsung Galaxy S4
Dimensions

5.38 x 2.75 x 0.31 inches

136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9 mm

Weight

4.59 oz (130 g)

LG Optimus G
Dimensions

5.19 x 2.71 x 0.33 inches

131.9 x 68.9 x 8.45 mm

Weight

5.11 oz (145 g)

Sony Xperia Z
Dimensions

5.47 x 2.8 x 0.31 inches

139 x 71 x 7.9 mm

Weight

5.15 oz (146 g)

Compare these and other phones using our Size Comparison tool.


On the bright side of things, we're extremely pleased with how much grip the textured, soft touch back plate provides. What's more is that absolutely no fingerprints stick to the back so it looks clean and pristine pretty much all of the time. The physical buttons are another detail executed flawlessly – they are all exposed well and easy to access, while the camera shutter key isn't prone to accidental presses.


Display:

Just like many other high-end Androids, the Sony Xperia ZL comes with a 5-inch display offering an outstanding resolution of 1080 by 1920 pixels. The high pixel count is undoubtedly the most awesome thing about the smartphone's screen as the level of detail it provides is superb – even the finest lines of text are always sharp, while graphics are extremely smooth and pleasant to look at.

Using the Sony Xperia ZL on a bright, sunny day isn't much of a problem once the screen sets its brightness up to the maximum. The device's outdoor visibility is comparable to that of other high-end handsets available today.

Sadly, the display's viewing angles are far from impressive. Tilting the phone to the side results in a drastic color degradation and loss of contrast. Speaking of contrast, that's another thing that the screen could have had more of. Well, actually the Mobile BRAVIA 2 engine improves image quality a bit, but the feature is active only when viewing photos and videos in the gallery or the video player.



Interface and functionality:

Android 4.1.2 comes running out of the box on the Sony Xperia ZL. This may not be the most up-to-date version of the operating system, but it's fairly recent so we'll take the handset as it is. Eventually, the ZL will get updated to Android version 4.2, but a specific date has yet to be announced.

As the case is with Sony's other Android handsets, the platform's UI has been heavily modified both in terms of appearance and functionality. And to tell you the truth, we're happy with what Sony has done to it. Unlike most Android devices from other makers, the Xperia ZL comes with several themes pre-loaded, differing by accent color and set of wallpapers used for the lock and home screens. Speaking of wallpapers, it is nice to see that there's over a dozen of them thrown in to match your mood and taste.


Overall, the user interface is very pretty, but it's also quite practical. For example, the selection of so-called “small apps” is a handy addition – think of them as simple applications that run in a small window of their own, hovering above the UI. These include a timer, calculator, notes, voice recorder, and an app that lets you use the phone's built-in infrared blaster – not a whole lot, but more of them can be downloaded for free from the Play Store. 



When it comes to widgets, you get the usual set included with Android 4.1, but a few handy tools by Sony have also been thrown in. Among them is a widget for easy access to contacts you've recently called, a couple of social networking widgets, toggle buttons for a number of the phone's functions, and a notes widget.

The only thing we can't get over is the glitchy lock screen. If your swipe is too slow, then the screen won't even bother to unlock itself, which can be very frustrating.

We have no complaints whatsoever about the on-screen keyboard. In fact, we have to give Sony a thumbs up for adding a keyboard that is so smart and customizable. The user is free to tweak its layout and skin, while the list of additional languages for typing is very long indeed. And yes, with its large, easy to press buttons and built-in word prediction that “speaks” multiple languages, typing on the virtual keyboard is an effortless task.


Software:

Socialife is an app present on the Xperia ZL, provided courtesy of Sony. Think of it as a hub that aggregates your social networking feeds under one roof. Of course, Facebook and Twitter are supported, but you can also add YouTube and Google Reader subscriptions to the list. The app may come in handy for heavy social networking users, but its visual presentation leaves room for improvement.

With the Remote Control application you can use the built-in IR blaster to control a TV, set-top box, or home theater system. As you might expect, we gave it a try and we were pleased by how easy the app is to set up and use.

Sony Car is the app you'll need if you ever intend to use the Xperia ZL while driving (even though you probably shouldn't). Basically, it serves as an interface with large, easy-to-press buttons, providing shortcuts to apps you might need, such as the GPS navigation or the music player.

Performance and memory:

With a quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro SoC running at 1.5GHz, the Sony Xperia ZL sure has the raw processing power to be a flawlessly performing smartphone. And to no surprise, the benchmark scores we got with it were nothing short of impressive. 3D games – even the most demanding available on Android, run smoothly despite the screen's high resolution. Apps launch instantly and switching between them happens in the blink of an eye thanks to the 2GB of RAM that are on board. Choppiness is a very rare event on the Sony Xperia ZL, occurring only if there's something going on in the background or if there are a gazillion widgets loaded on all its home screens, so if perfomance is what you value the most, chances are that you won't be disappointed.


Quadrant StandardAnTuTuGLBenchmark 2.5 (Egypt HD)Vellamo
(HTML5 / Metal)
Sony Xperia ZL72422067136082174 / 635
Samsung Galaxy S 4120782470144371702 / 704
Sony Xperia Z82212083533822198 / 626
HTC One124812330835512395 / 781

There are 11.73GB available to the user out of the phone's 16GB of storage, which is not bad, but nothing out of the ordinary. If you intend to carry a lot of media on your Sony Xperia ZL – photos, videos, music and such, then sooner or later you'll have to expand the phone's storage capacity using a microSD card.

Internet browser and connectivity:

Surfing the web using the Sony Xperia ZL is a pleasure not only because the Chrome browser has no troubles rendering even the heaviest of web sites, but also because there's a large screen to view entire web pages on, and its high resolution means you'll be able to read even the smallest of fonts. Since this is Chrome we're working with, our desktop bookmarks and opened pages are accessible on the phone, and vice versa.



As far as connectivity goes, there seems to be nothing missing. Both LTE and HSPA+ networks are supported, in addition to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and NFC. There's even an FM Radio included – a feature sometimes overlooked on high-end smartphones nowadays.


Camera:

The Xperia ZL is outfitted with the best smartphone camera module Sony has to offer – the 13-megapixel Exmor RS with short start-up times and rapid burst mode. In fact, the camera needs less than 2 seconds to take a shot even from the lock screen – just hold down the dedicated shutter key and aim. Alternatively, this button can be set to only launch the camera interface instead of immediately taking a picture.

Speaking of the camera interface, we like it for the numerous shooting modes, image filters and settings it allows us to set. What we don't quite like, on the other hand, is that the so-called “Superior Auto Intelligent” mode can be unpredictable and downright twitchy at times, although it usually produces very good results. Novice users will most likely be better off sticking to it, while experienced photographers might want to switch to the Normal mode.



We took a bunch of daytime shots with our Sony Xperia ZL and they all looked great – not perfect, but well worthy of being printed out and hung on a wall. We do have a few complaints, one of them being the camera's tendency to smear fine details and the other being those weird purple shadows produced around edges, but unless photos are being viewed at 100% zoom, these imperfections aren't bothersome at all. Indoor photos look a bit less impressive as their colors are somewhat inaccurate, but at least the LED flash is capable of providing a decent amount of illumination.



Videos are captured in great detail – all the way up to 1080p resolution. They are very smooth, generally free of digital noise, and with clear stereo sound. To make videos look better in tricky lighting situations, the camera offers HDR video mode for capturing a broader fraction of the dynamics range.

Sony Xperia ZL Sample Video:

Video Thumbnail


Sony Xperia ZL Indoor Sample Video:

Video Thumbnail


As awkward as it may seem, the front-facing camera is located in the lower right corner of the smartphone's front. As a result, the user appears as if they are watched from below during video calls, not to mention that fingers can easily obstruct the camera's field of view by accident.

Multimedia:

Sony has ditched the stock Android gallery and replaced it with one of its own called Album. And it's a great one indeed – with thumbnails that can be resized and photo being grouped by date taken. Photos and videos can be shared with other devices over Wi-Fi straight from the Album app.



The Sony Xperia ZL comes with the Walkman application, which is probably one of the nicest stock music players we've tried recently. Its interface is organized in a simple yet practical manner and it is loaded with all necessities, such as the lock screen controls and home screen widget. What's more is that it can automatically download music information and album art, in case it is missing. And if that's not enough, there's a ton of audio enhancements, such as an equalizer, bass booster, virtual surround, stereo enhancer, normalizer, and the xLOUD option, which considerably boosts the volume of the built-in speaker.


The stock video player may be basic in terms of features, but it handles all kinds of videos without breaking a sweat. Every video file format we threw at it was playable at up to 1080p resolution.



Call quality:

Regular phone calls made using the Sony Xperia ZL are of average quality. Voices are sufficiently loud both through the earpiece and on the other side of the line, but for some reason, the sound is also a tad muffled on both ends. At least the secondary microphone does a good job at obliterating background noises. 


Battery:

With its 2370mAh battery, the Sony Xperia ZL can deliver 10 hours of continuous talk time or 500 hours of stand-by – figures that other handsets can top, but still a decent result nonetheless. The battery's longevity can be extended with the built-in Stamina mode, which disables the phone's power-hungry features whenever they aren't needed. Note that the smartphone's battery is sealed and cannot be swapped if required.

Conclusion:

If the Sony Xperia Z was Batman, then the Sony Xperia ZL would be Robin – a less exciting sidekick, yet a superhero nonetheless. At first we were a bit underwhelmed by the latter's lack of visual appeal, but the more we used it, the more we got used to its peculiarities, so we eventually grew quite fond of Sony's new device.

Note that the Sony Xperia ZL is not a smartphone for those who value fashion over functionality. Rather, it is a capable multimedia device meant to be used extensively, not admired behind a glass window. It delivers nearly flawless performance with its powerful, quad-core processor, while its 13MP will capture those precious moments in great clarity.

Of course, checking out some of the Sony Xperia ZL alternatives before actually getting one would be a wise move. The first one that comes to mind is the Xperia Z, which is just as capable, but it is better looking and resistant to water damage. An even better, but a tad pricier choice would be the Samsung Galaxy S4, which is currently one of the best smartphones money can buy. If you're a fan of premium materials, then HTC One is the handset to try, although you'll have to settle with a slightly smaller screen.

Sony Xperia ZL Video Review:

Video Thumbnail



Pros

  • Fast quad-core processor delivers great performance
  • Camera launches fast even from lock screen
  • IR blaster

Cons

  • Boring design
  • Awkward front-facing camera placement
  • Sharp corners make it feel less compact than it is

PhoneArena Rating:

8.0

User Rating:

9.4
10 Reviews

Recommended Stories

Loading Comments...
FCC OKs Cingular\'s purchase of AT&T Wireless