LAS VEGAS—It's still early in the show, but I'd like to nominate Sony's new Xperia Z for prettiest phone at CES. Covered all in glass and available in either black or white, it brings to mind a certain phone from Apple, but it still stands out among the rest of the current Android competition.
Looks aside, the forthcoming Xperia Z, as well as the Xperia ZL, are shaping up to be two very strong new phones from Sony. I got to spend some time with them at CES and liked what I saw.
Let's start with the Xperia Z. Although Sony claims that both of these new phones are more or less equally "premium" products, special emphasis was placed on the larger, waterproof Xperia Z. That's right, waterproof. When I think waterproof, I tend to think of something bulky, rubberized, and rugged, like the Samsung Galaxy Rugby Pro . But the Xperia Z meets military specifications IP55 and IP57, which means that it's dust resistant and submersible in up to three feet of water for up to 30 minutes.
Of course, you need to make sure all of its ports are closed first, but they're very discrete. The phone is made from tempered glass, which is protected by an anti-shatter film on the front and back of the phone. It's a welcome change from all the smartphones that seem to be growing more and more delicate.
But a durable design is just one of the great features Sony has built into the Xperia Z. When you see it for the first time, you're far more likely to focus on the phone's gorgeous, 5-inch 1080p display. Next to the HTC Droid DNA and the Huawei Ascend D, this is only the third phone we've seen with such an eye-poppingly high resolution. And while the largish screen size means this phone technically falls under our definition of a phablet, the Xperia Z, like the Droid DNA, feels decidedly more like a phone, albeit a big one.
Under the hood is a 1.5GHz, quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor, along with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage, expandable via microSD slot. The phone also features a 13-megapixel camera with HDR video capture. I didn't get to see any photos taken with the camera, but I did get a chance to use it, and it works very well. It had no trouble getting up super close for macro shots and automatically adjusting to lower light conditions. It can also capture as many successive shots as you want in burst mode.
Sony has added a battery Stamina mode to the phone's settings, which it claims can improve standby by four times or more by automatically shutting down battery-draining apps when the screen is off and starting them up again when it comes back on. There are default modes, but you can also configure it to your liking. You also get Sony's Walkman app, while one-touch functions let you share music, photos, and video via NFC between compatible Sony devices, including televisions.
Not to be shown up, the Xperia ZL is running the same exact hardware and software as the Xperia Z. The main difference here is that the Xperia ZL trades the all-glass construction for a matte plastic material and is actually 25 percent smaller than the Xperia Z, though it manages to pack on the same 5-inch, 1080p screen. And while the Xperia ZL isn't waterproof, it does include infrared capabilities for remote control of compatible Sony devices, which the Xperia Z lacks.
After a somewhat average string of smartphones last year, including the James Bond-themed Xperia TL $449.99 at Sony, the Xperia Z and Xperia ZL phones definitely look like the strong contenders Sony needs to break through in the smartphone market. Sony hasn't announced pricing or carriers yet, but we should probably learn more in the near future.