Nexus 4 vs Sony Xperia Z (video)

April 16, 2013
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While the Nexus 4 and the Sony Xperia Z are two very different smartphones, they both represent a turning point for their manufacturers. At the time when these devices were launched, both LG and Sony were in a delicate position, struggling to make a good impression in order to show that they were still top-tier phone makers. Fortunately, the Nexus 4 and the Xperia Z proved to be hits, with consumers and critics alike.

But which one is better, the affordable Nexus 4 or the sleek, yet tough Sony Xperia Z? To answer this question, we’ll look at several important aspects that make up the smartphone experience. One thing is clear – it looks like it’s going to be a close call.

For a video comparison between the Nexus 4 and the Sony Xperia Z, you can jump to the bottom of the post and see us take the two devices for a quick spin. Or, you can join us for the full treatment as we take a closer look at the Google Nexus 4 vs the Xperia Z.

Display

With the Xperia Z, Sony made its triumphant entry into the select full HD phone club. At five inches across the diagonal, the TFT capacitive touchscreen on the Xperia Z runs at a resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels, with a density of 441 ppi. The high density panel of the Xperia Z is bested only by the slightly smaller HTC One, which offers 469 ppi.

The Nexus 4 is fitted with a 4.7-inch IPS display running at a resolution of 1280 by 768 pixels, which translates to 318 pixels per inch. While the LG Display panel on the Nexus 4 is not as amazingly crisp as the one Sony put on the Xperia Z, we can’t give this round to the Xperia just yet.

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Once you take a closer look at what these displays have to offer, you’ll find that the Nexus 4 is visibly superior to the Xperia Z in terms of contrast and color reproduction. In addition, the Xperia Z’s display exhibits some of the worst viewing angles we’ve seen on any 2013 Android flagship.

Verdict: Although the Sony Xperia Z has the crisper display, the Nexus 4 makes up the difference thanks to better color accuracy, contrast levels, and viewing angles.

Design and Build Quality

In addition to the tempered, scratch resistant glass that protect their displays, both the Xperia Z and the Nexus 4  feature glass backs. But this is where the similarities between our two contenders end when it comes to design.

While the Nexus 4 is a compact smartphone with rounded corners that can be easily used with just one hand, the squarish form of the Xperia Z may take some time to get used to. In addition to the more angular corners and the slab-like appearance, the display on the Xperia Z is a bit larger, though the screen-to-body ratio is not as good as on the Nexus.

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Translating all this into numbers, the Nexus 4 measures 133.9 x 68.7 x 9.1 mm (5.27 x 2.70 x 0.36 in) and weighs in at 139 g (4.90 oz), while the Sony Xperia Z measures 139 x 71 x 7.9 mm (5.47 x 2.80 x 0.31 in).

Unfortunately, while the Xperia Z can be appreciated for its elegant allure, its footprint does not help with the smartphone’s overall maneuverability.

Where the Sony Xperia Z loses in form factor, it gains by featuring IP57 dust and water resistance. If this is something that matters to you, it’s worth mentioning that the Sony Xperia Z is the only high-end Android smartphone to come with this feature.

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Verdict: While the Sony Xperia Z is unique in its resistance to elements, the Nexus 4 is the more compact smartphone and easier to handle of the two. This is one is a close draw.

Internal Hardware

CPU, GPU and RAM

As far as performance is concerned, you’ll find that both the Nexus 4 and the Xperia Z feature top of the line hardware specs. The Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro system on a chip (SoC) is a tried solution in the high-end segment of the market, and still represents one of the best choices currently available on the market.

The 1.5 GHz quad-core Krait processor is paired with 2GB of RAM memory, and an Adreno 320 GPU. Even if you’re a power user, you’ll find no performance issues with either of the two phones.

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Internal and Expandable Storage

The Nexus 4 comes with either 8GB or 16GB of internal storage, with no option to expand the storage via a microSD card. In the other corner, the Sony Xperia Z comes in a single variant, a 16GB model. However, it can accept microSD cards of up to 64GB in size.

If 16GB is not enough space for you (although for many people it is), the Sony Xperia Z is definitely the choice to make here.

Cameras

The Sony Xperia Z is equipped with a 13.1MP Sony Exmor sensor for its primary camera and a 2.2MP front camera for video conferencing, while the Nexus 4 uses an 8MP primary camera and a 1.3MP front camera.

During our tests of the two smartphones, we found that the Sony Xperia Z takes higher quality pictures than the Nexus 4, although even the latter should suffice for your casual point-and-shoot needs.

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3G and LTE

If you’re looking forward to use your next smartphone on any network across the globe, you should know that the Nexus 4 only supports HSDPA networks, while Sony’s device supports 4G LTE.

Battery

Our two devices use similarly sized batteries to power all the high-end components we’ve mentioned above. The Xperia Z holds a slightly larger 2330 mAh battery than the 2100 mAh unit on the Nexus 4, although during our tests we found that both devices come with decent battery life.

Power users will have to look elsewhere though, as neither the Nexus 4 nor the Xperia Z can make it through a day of power-intensive usage, such as media playback or web browsing. Moreover, replacing the battery once it’s out of juice is not an option, meaning that constant trips to the power plug will be necessary.

Verdict: The Xperia Z takes this round thanks to its LTE compatibility, a slightly better camera, and the inclusion of a microSD card slot.

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Android implementation

The Nexus 4 runs on Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, and a stock variant at that. As with all Nexus smartphones, the Nexus 4 represents Google’s vision on how the Android OS should be implemented in a smartphone: no bloatware, a clean UI, as well as timely OS updates.

The Sony Xperia Z currently runs on the older 4.1 version of Jelly Bean, with Sony’s Xperia UI overlaid on top. Design wise, the Xperia UI is more similar to Ice Cream Sandwich, although all the functionality of Android 4.1 is still there.

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Sony’s media ecosystem (along with the companion apps) is placed front and center in this implementation of Android.

Verdict: While the UI design is subject to personal preference, instant updates are a soft spot for many Android smartphone users, this one included.

Hands-on video

Conclusion

Deciding between the Nexus 4 and the Sony Xperia Z is not easy, as both smartphones have their advantages and disadvantages.

The Sony Xperia Z comes out in front when it comes to its LTE connectivity, the fact that it is water and dustproof, as well as thanks to a slightly better camera.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a compact smartphone that features what’s still one of the best displays around, and that will be updated timely to new versions of Android, the Nexus 4 is the choice to make.

Another factor to consider is that, in the small number of countries where Google ships devices through its Play Store, the Nexus 4 is priced at $299 for the 8 GB model and $349 for the 16 GB model. That’s roughly half the amount you’ll have to shell out to purchase an unlocked Sony Xperia Z.

What do you guys think? Is the Google Nexus 4 preferable to the Sony Xperia Z thanks to its more compact form factor and attractive pricing? Are you impressed by the Xperia Z’s dust and water resistance? Let us know which way you swing in the comment section below!

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Mike Andrici contributed to this review.

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