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.
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.
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.
…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.