For a tech company of its size, experience and influence, Sony is definitely underperforming in the most lucrative tech markets out there: the Android smartphone market.
Sure, the Japanese smartphone manufacturer did make steps in the right direction in the past 18 months, starting with the moment it decided to buy out Ericsson’s share in the company back in late 2011. But despite the fact that Sony did great during 2012 in the mid-range and entry-level sectors, they had less fortune in outing a true contender in the high-end sector.
Fortunately for Sony fans worldwide (as well as for the health of the Android ecosystem as a whole), things are about to change, as the recently announced Sony Xperia ZL aims to take the international smartphone market by storm.
Although we have no official release timeframe for the Sony Xperia ZL, one rumor places the release date in February 2013.
Without a doubt, the Xperia ZL (along with its twin, the Xperia Z) is Sony’s best high-end Android smartphone we have ever seen. But does it stand a chance against what is considered the best Android smartphone at this date?
In the other corner, the LG-manufactured Google Nexus 4 is a smartphone that has raised plenty of controversy for a couple of contrasting reasons. First, there’s the fact that Google decided to price this amazing smartphone at just $350 it its best variant. Then, there’s the fact that only a small percentage of those interested in purchasing one have been lucky enough to be able to place an order (and even then, the inexplicably long shipping times have been another annoying problem customers had to deal with).
Availability aside, it is time to take a closer look at these two amazing smartphones. Join us as we analyze the performance of our contenders in a few major areas. The goal is to decide which is better: the Google Nexus 4 or the Sony Xperia ZL. Spoiler: it is going to be a close one!
As it's one of the major manufacturers of 5-inch 1080p panels, it is not surprising to see that Sony has decided to equip the Sony Xperia ZL with one such panel, one that offers amazing crispness (443 Pixel Per Inch ratio).
We have discussed into further detaik the advantages and the disadvantages of this type of panel in a previous article here, but in the context of this article, what you should know is that the Mobile BRAVIA Engine 2 powered display on the Sony Xperia ZL offers an immersive visual experience. If you can handle the size, that is!
The Google Nexus 4 uses an LG 4.7 inch True HD IPS Plus panel that runs a 768 by 1280 pixel resolution (commonly known as 720p). The Pixel Per Inch density rests at 320, but don’t let the number difference fool you. Although the Sony Xperia ZL display has a pixel density almost 40% greater than that of the Google Nexus 4, the latter still has a great, vivid display.
Verdict: If you can handle a 5 inch display on a smartphone, the Sony Xperia ZL has the better display of the two.
Although design is a very subjective aspect, it is safe to say that the Nexus 4 is one of the best designed Android smartphones out there. The glossy design is broken up by a rubber band surrounding the side of the smartphone, but what really steals the show is the glass covered back plate, one that produces a “holographic” effect under certain angles.
As pretty as the Nexus 4 is, the glass back makes it fragile, meaning you should expect it to crack easily, especially if you drop it.
The Google Nexus 4 measures 133.9 x 68.7 x 9.1 mm (5.27 x 2.70 x 0.36 in) and weighs 139 grams.
In the other corner, the Sony Xperia ZL measures 131.6 x 69.3 x 9.8 mm (5.18 x 2.73 x 0.39 in) and weighs in at 151 grams , meaning that Sony did a great job of increasing the display size without compromising the overall footprint of the device (although it is a bit on the thick side). The extra weight is noticeable, but it’s nothing most of you won’t be able to handle with ease.
The soft touch contoured back and gently curved edges of the Sony Xperia ZL give it a premium feel, and the overall design bears the mark of Sony’s excellent design language. We’ll let the pictures do more talking.
Verdict: Both these devices are excellently designed, although on a personal note, I prefer the design of the Sony Xperia ZL.
Both the Sony Xperia ZL and the Google Nexus 4 make use of the fastest SoC currently out there: the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro. That means you get a quad-core Krait processor clocked at a max of 1.5 GHz per core, an Adreno 320 GPU and 2 GB of RAM.
Although both our contenders use the same “engine”, it is likely that you’ll notice the Sony Xperia ZL not running as smooth as the Google Nexus 4, especially in graphically intensive workload. The reason is strictly tied to the 1080p resolution of the display on the Sony Xperia ZL. Since the Google Nexus 4 has to push a lot less pixels, it will be able to run even the fastest of games without any hiccups.
While the Google Nexus 4 is not compatible with LTE networks and works with 3G networks instead, the Sony Xperia ZL will arrive in multiple versions, and one of them will work with LTE networks.
Connectivity-wise, the Sony Xperia ZL and the Google Nexus 4 are similarly equipped: Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC and USB ports are all included in both our contenders.
Internal storage and expandable storage
As many of you already know, the Google Nexus 4 comes in two variants: one with 8 GB of internal storage, and one with 16 GB of internal storage. Neither of them feature an SD card slot for expanding the internal storage, which is a bit of a drawback considering that the top version comes with just 16 GB of internal storage.
The Sony Xperia ZL comes in just one variant (by internal storage) and features 16GB of internal space. However, unlike the Google Nexus 4, the Sony Xperia ZL can work with microSD cards of up to 64 GB in size.
The Nexus 4 uses an 8 MP camera on the back and a 1.3 MP sensor on the front. The main camera allows for some average photos to be taken, but nothing that will bring out the amateur photographer in you.
In the other corner, Sony made full use of its camera manufacturing experience and has equipped the Xperia ZL with a 13-megapixel camera with Exmor RS sensor. This allows for HDR in 1080 videos as well as in stills and offers photo taking capabilities that are better than almost all the other high-end smartphones out there. The 2 MP sensor on the front is oddly placed in the lower bezel of the smartphone, something that we have not seen before on an Android device.
So we came to learn that both the LG Nexus 4 and the Sony Xperia ZL are processing beasts, but what’s fueling them?
Well, the Nexus 4 uses a 2100 mAh battery, while the Xperia ZL uses a slightly larger one, one that holds 2370 mAh. Neither is removable (bummer), but it will be interesting to learn how much extra power goes to the larger and crisper display on the Sony Xperia ZL.
Verdict: Although the use roughly the same internals, the Sony Xperia ZL takes this round thanks to a better camera and expandable storage option.
On to the one section where Google Nexus smartphones are traditionally in front of the pack. You’ll find that the Google Nexus 4 is running the most recent version of the Android operating system: Android 4.2 Jelly Bean.
However, the best thing about the Google Nexus 4 is that it will continue to be almost instantly updated to the new Android releases for the next couple of years or so.
The Sony Xperia ZL currently runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean (with Sony’s custom UI – one that places Sony’s entertainment services at the center – layered on top) and we wouldn’t be surprised if the Japanese manufacturer would not hurry to release Android 4.2 anytime soon.
Verdict: Google’s Nexus line of Android smartphones is traditionally aimed at Android enthusiasts, and the LG Nexus 4 makes no exception to this rule.
As you can easily notice, the Sony Xperia ZL is a true contender for the Nexus 4, and choosing the best of the two ultimately boils down to personal preference.
It has a display of better overall quality, but on the downside it is harder to comfortably use by those of you with small hands thanks to its size. In addition, the Xperia ZL will work with LTE networks, has a better camera and a microSD slot, but its battery, although bigger, seems a bit undermatched for its power-hungry display.
On the other hand, the LG Nexus 4 runs vanilla Android and will receive new updates as soon as they roll out, plus it runs smoother since the GPU has less pixels to push.
On a personal note, it is very exciting to see Sony step up its Android smartphone game, even more so as the Sony Xperia ZL has a waterproof and similarly equipped brother named the Sony Xperia Z. 2013 is shaping up to be a great year for Android smartphone enthusiasts, as LG and Sony start claiming back their place at the top, while other smaller manufacturers want a bite out of the high-end pie as well.
What do you guys think? Which one is better and why: the LG manufactured Google Nexus 4 or the Sony Xperia ZL?