LAS VEGAS: IT'S NO SECRET that we were left slightly cold by Sony's 2012 Xperia smartphone lineup.
This is largely because while handsets like the Xperia S and T were interesting, showcasing what Sony's custom Bravia and camera technology could do, they ultimately fell short, packing outdated versions of Android and slower processors than the competition.
Luckily though it appears this problem wasn't lost on Sony, which has come out swinging, unveiling what we think could potentially be its best smartphone to date, the Xperia Z.
Design and build
The Xperia Z is an unashamedly large handset. Packing a 5in HD screen, the Z measures in at a hefty 139x71x7.9mm and weighs 146g.
However thanks to Sony's "Omnibalance" design, the handset doesn't look overly large and you don't realise quite how big it is until you actually pick it up.
Omnibalance is a design approach that aims to make the Z look the same from all angles.
Visually this means that the phone has a fairly minimalist look with its front and back being entirely void of buttons, only housing fairly well camouflaged cameras and Sony logos.
The Z's ports are also fairly well hidden, each being covered with a plug, that as well as hiding the device's inputs also serve to make the smartphone water resistant.
The only noticeable design feature on the Z is its aluminium power button, which sits on the Z's right side.
Sony's packed the Z with a sizable 5in Full HD 1080p Reality Display, loaded with its own Mobile Bravia Engine 2 technology.
Boasting 1080p 443ppi resolution, Sony claims the Z's screen is the best it has ever created and will offer equivalent performance to most HD Televisions.
During our hands on, we only got the chance to test the screen in a fairly well-lit Las Vegas Convention Centre, but have to concede there may be some truth to Sony's claims. Comparing the Z to the Lumia 920, a phone we've consistently listed as having one of the best screens seen on any smartphone, we couldn't pick a clear winner.
The Xperia Z is powered by a 1.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor and boasts 2GB RAM.
Unfortunately we didn't get a chance to see how well the Z performed as the demo unit we got to try wasn't connected to the internet. This meant that we didn't get the chance to see how well it performs loading web pages, streaming video or running demanding applications.
The Xperia Z is 4G-enabled, although there's currently no word on whether it will be released on the UK's EE network, with carriers Three and Vodafone being the only companies yet to confirm carrying Sony's new Flagship.
This means those looking to take advantage of the 4G option will have to wait for Vodafone and Three to launch the service.
One of the nicest touches we saw on the Z is the inclusion of Sony's OneTouch near field communication (NFC) service.
The feature aims to increase integration levels between Sony devices. During the demo we saw Sony show how the technology lets you sync your phone with speakers, headphones and even TVs simply by tapping them with the Z.
Looking to wrestle the best smartphone camera title from Nokia and its Lumia 920, Sony's loaded the Z with a 13MP camera, complete with its own custom Exmor RS for mobile sensor.
The Exmor RS for mobile is the first ever image sensor with HDR (High Dynamic Range) video designed for smartphones. It promises to radically improve the camera's usability and versatility.
Testing the camera we were only able to take a few photos of the showroom floor, but have to concede we were very impressed. Even in the brilliantly bright lighting conditions the test shots we took looked great, not looking oversaturated, and boasting great brightness and colour balance levels.
Battery and storage
Sony's loaded the Z with a fairly large 2400mAh battery and 16GB of storage, which is upgradable thanks to the inclusion of a microSD card slot.
The Xperia Z runs using Android 4.1 Jelly Bean combined with Sony's own custom user interface. This means that while boasting all Jelly Bean's features, like Google Now, the Z's interface still looks largely identical to the one seen on Sony's 2012 Xperia lineup.
The Xperia Z is set to arrive in the UK "in the coming weeks" in white, black and purple options. While there's currently no word on the Z's final cost, considering Sony's track record for charging a premium for its devices, we're thinking it could be fairly expensive.
That said, having had a chance to test the Z we've been left wanting more and can't wait to put the device through some more thorough tests. µ
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