Sony Xperia ZL vs Samsung Galaxy S3

by: Simon HillJanuary 14, 2013

Sony_Xperia_ZL_vs_Galaxy S3

Last year was a tough one for Sony. The once mighty tech giant took a beating on several fronts and vowed to come back stronger with a new line up of irresistible consumer electronics. Naturally that includes high-end TVs and new cameras, but there is also a renewed focus on mobile. The Ericsson name is long dropped, the Xperia brand has been building, and at CES 2013 Sony made it clear that Android success is very important by revealing the flagship Sony Xperia ZL.

The current phone to beat is the best-selling Samsung Galaxy S3, which has proven to be a smash hit success for Samsung. If Sony wants to get into the game then the Xperia ZL has to eclipse the Galaxy S3, especially when everyone knows that the S4 might be just around the corner. So how does it measure up? Let’s take a look.


The Galaxy S3 helped spark the trend towards larger displays in smartphones. Some detractors thought it was too big on release, but consumer demand suggests otherwise. Sony has a taken a leaf out of Samsung’s book by adopting a large display, but the Xperia ZL is actually even bigger at 5 inches.

xperia zl vs galaxy s3 display

The S3 has a 4.8-inch Super AMOLED with a resolution of 720×1280 pixels which gives it a pixel density of 306ppi. The Xperia ZL has a 5-inch Reality Display with Mobile BRAVIA Engine 2 and a full HD resolution of 1920×1080 pixels which gives it a pixel density of 443 ppi.

Sony’s Xperia ZL has a gorgeous display and it definitely outshines the S3.

Design and feel

Sizing up these two smartphones we find that the Xperia ZL measures 131.6 x 69.3 x 9.8 mm which makes it slightly thicker than the S3 at 136.6 x 70.6 x 8.6 mm, not bad considering the extra screen size on the Xperia ZL. The weigh in reveals that the S3 is a much trimmer 133g, while the Xperia ZL is 151g.

In terms of build quality the Xperia ZL definitely wins out. The stylish glass back and standout aluminium power button may account for the extra weight, but they also make the Xperia ZL look and feel like a really premium product. It’s not Gorilla Glass either, but Dragontrail, which is allegedly six times stronger. By comparison the Galaxy S3 is nice and light, but it feels and looks plastic. It has a much more rounded design, while the Xperia ZL looks quite blocky. The S3 has that physical home button on the front, while the Xperia ZL has on-screen buttons only.

As a high-end, expensive Android flagship, the Xperia ZL design edges this one.


User interface and platform

With Android 4.1 Jelly Bean out of the box and a promised upgrade to 4.2 in the works the Xperia ZL compares favorably with the Galaxy S3 which has Android 4 ICS out of the box (although most S3 owners have had the 4.1 upgrade already). The real point of competition is the manufacturer overlays. Samsung’s Touchwiz skin actually has a lot of useful features, but not everything works brilliantly and there’s a good chunk of bloatware. Sony has thankfully learned that people prefer toned down overlays (if they have to have them at all) and so the Sony UI looks mercifully minimal, it also performs better than previous releases thanks to the updated processor. You’ll find similar levels of Sony bloatware, though; both companies are trying to push their own services.

Sony Xperia ZL UI

Tough to call this one, it’s down to personal preference really.

Processor and RAM

There was a dual-core version of the S3 with 2GB of RAM in the states, but most of them have a quad-core 1.4 GHz Cortex-A9 processor and 1GB RAM. With a quad-core 1.5 GHz Krait processor and 2GB of RAM the Xperia ZL should outperform them both, but we’ll need to wait for some benchmarks to see solid results on that.

Realistically the Xperia ZL takes this one.


We have 16GB of internal storage and a microSD card slot for both devices. There is also a 32GB version of the Galaxy S3 and it supports microSD cards up to 64GB in size, while the Xperia ZL only supports 32GB microSD cards.

This is a victory for the Galaxy S3.


Sony has been working on better cameras in its smartphone range and the Xperia ZL boasts a 13.1MP camera with LED flash and all the features you could hope to find. That includes 1080p video recording at 30fps and a 2.2MP front-facing camera. The S3 has an 8MP shooter with similar features and 1080p video recording capability along with a 1.9MP front-facing camera.

The Sony Xperia Z wins this one.


You’ll find a 2100mAh battery in the S3 compared to a 2330mAh battery in the Xperia ZL. Samsung claims longer battery life for talk time and standby. You also can’t remove the battery from the Xperia ZL so there’s no carrying a spare around.

We need to see some real world results in a head-to-head test, but it looks like the S3 wins this one.

Value for money

The Xperia ZL is more expensive than the S3, it’s more in line with the Galaxy Note 2 in terms of pricing and it should be available on a wide variety of carriers. Obviously the S3 has been around for a while so the price has come down and you can get deals on it. Tough to say what represents better value for money. You’re certainly getting some extras to justify the extra cost for the Xperia ZL, but bargain hunters will not be disappointed with the S3 and it’s still far from obsolete.

Video review

…and the winner is

The Galaxy S3 was the phone of 2012, but this is 2013. The overall winner has to be the Xperia ZL. The thing is – it won’t be long before the Xperia ZL has some real competition in the shape of the Galaxy S4 and that’s going to be a whole new battle. For now, let Sony enjoy its moment in the sun, the Xperia ZL is a stunning Android smartphone.

  • Gabriel Mendes

    Launcher vs Launcher??

    • satsmine2k4

      both suck… CM10.1 on both for me…

      • Aziz Farhi

        +1.. TW and Sony’s Launcher suck, more resources usage for a bunch of useless apps and ugly UIs.

        • chris pinkston

          I think Samsung is getting it right with tw in the latest versions. Few more tweaks in the right places and i wouldn’t mind it at all.

        • SONY UI is one of the best among all android devices. Beautiful yet simple.

      • z0phi3l

        Shows you haven’t actually USED TW on a newer device

        • satsmine2k4

          Agreed!!! i last used(and sold) an international SGN2…. and found TW sucks… except for a few note specific apps…

  • WasNotAtCES

    Emmm… so you guys went to CES 2013 and had full hands ons and took videos and discussed with Sony and got the first hand info and you couldn’t even get the name of it’s new flagship phone right? It’s the Xperia Z! Not ZL!

    • WasAlsoNotAtCES

      Was so disappointed that AA would call the ZL the flagship phone. This is a comparison between the “lite” version of the Z and the S3

      • trob6969

        Not to me. The only thing the Z has over the ZL is that its waterproof. The ZL is smaller even though they both have the same size display, the ZL has the better battery and the better camera.

        • Shubham

          dont worry both of them are from sony and will be best of 2013

      • no thanks

        Do your homework. Both the ZL and Z are essentially the same in specs. The featureset on each is different but neither is considered the “flagship vs medium level” they’re both launching as Sony’s top end.

    • lollicup04

      The one that they have in the picture is the ZL not the Z

    • ZL is Better than Z.

  • NicholasMicallef

    I’d still choose the S3, but this comparison doesn’t really make sense, Xperia Z/ZL vs Butterfly would make more sense until everyone releases their next flagship.

  • clockwire

    Both are top-notch smartphone. I don’t mind having both. Seriously.

  • Nizo

    Once again with the non-removable battery… are these companies paying attention to the desires of their customers? I personally haven’t encountered anyone who prefers the non-removable batteries, so why are companies so insistent on shoving them down our throats?

    • z0phi3l

      Look how many crappy devices Apple sells, those same people if switching won’t care too much about the battery being removable or not

  • chris pinkston

    If I was buying a phone right now, it would be the SONY over the GS3. I would for the same reasons I sold my GS3 and got a LG optimus G, for the snapdragon s4 pro. I think the xperia Z and ZL are sweet phones, the Z is best looking android phone to me at moment. Considering that it wont be out till feb or march, more powerful A15 phones will be out shortly after that probably…Probably puts it in a “ill pass” position with people like me. If the Z was available now, id probably sell optimus G and get it.

  • douh

    That guy’s hands are annoying!!! QUIT TOUCHING THE PHONES!

  • blowntoaster

    crap review…Did the reviewer actually take the time to use both phones, or is he a specsheet junky… the Samsung is still the better smartphone out there. The Software and overall experience on the Samsung is way better, and even if the overall performance is not on par with the new Snapdragon packing droids, it still beats them by a mile. Only the HTC One X/X+ is a real competitor for the S3…

    • no thanks

      lol. you sound like an iPhone fanboy

  • lollicup04

    The Sony Xperia ZL does not have a glass back. That is the Xperia Z. The Xperia ZL has a matte like plastic back.

  • kascollet

    “With a quad-core 1.5 GHz Krait processor and 2GB of RAM the Xperia ZL should outperform them both, but we’ll need to wait for some benchmarks to see solid results on that.”
    Benchmarks do exist already :

  • Bob

    Dell was the first to sell Dell Streak – a 5″ screen in 2009-10 and I recall most websites calling the phone unwieldy because of the massive screen size. But Samsung managed to pull the wool over many through slick ads and sold millions therefafter. So Samsung isn’t the first to manufacture large phones but the first to sell in big volumes.

  • truce

    I’ve had the Galaxy S3, and now Sony Xperia ZL, and though I love the S3… I gotta admit the pixel density on the screen is noticeable better with the Xperia. And everything runs smoother more like an iPhone 4 or 5, which I’m also very familiar with. Xperia ZL is for far the best overall experience. I would say it’s closer to S4 competition.