Sony Xperia ZR review

August 16, 2013
25 4 49

sony xperia zr aa outdoors (9)

We just got through looking at the Sony Xperia Z Ultra, one of the biggest phones available today. If you were looking for something a little more manageable, another entry in the Xperia Z line is available as well.

If you want to get to the video review, you can jump to it via the menu on the left.

sony xperia zr aa outdoors (2)

This can be somewhat considered the ‘mini’ edition of the Sony Xperia Z and Z Ultra, but, in a lot of ways, this is a phone that can certainly stand on its own.

Specs

  • Colors: Black, white, pink, blue
  • Processor: Snapdragon S4 Pro 1.5GHz quad-core
  • Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon APQ8064
  • CPU: Quad-core 1.5 GHz Krait
  • GPU: Adreno 320
  • RAM: 2 GB
  • Dimensions: 5.15 x 2.63 x 0.40 inches
  • Weight: 138 grams
  • OS: Android 4.1.2 (upgrade to 4.2 available), Xperia UI
  • Cameras: VGA front facing, 13.1 megapixel rear facing
  • Display: 4.55 inch TFT capacitive screen, 16 million colours, 1280 x 720 pixels, 323ppi
  • Storage: 8 GB onboard, expandable with microSD (up to 64 GB)
  • Connectivity: aGPS, Bluetooth 4.0 wireless technology, NFC, Wi-Fi and WiFi Hotspot functionality
  • Networks: UMTS HSPA+ 900 (Band VIII), 2100 (Band I) Mhz (not available in all markets), UMTS HSPA+ 850 (Band V), 1700 (Band IV), 1900 (Band II), 2100 (Band I) (not available in all markets), GSM GPRS/EDGE 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz
  • Battery: 2300mAh removable unit
  • Waterproofing and dust resistance: IP58 certification for water and dust resistance

Design

sony xperia zr aa design

The ZR comes with a 4.55 inch screen and is all around an easier phone to handle than its bigger brethren. White plastic wraps around the screen, which simply has the Sony logo, phone speaker, and front facing camera up top. Below the screen is a notification light in the shape of a nice futuristic-looking line that was first seen in the Xperia ZL.

sony xperia zr aa design notification light

Around the sides, we have an accented gray color that also holds the button layout that has come to help define the Xperia line – the silver power button and volume rocker above an addition of a dedicated camera button. All of the buttons are small but manageable, though they are somewhat squishy and lack a tactile feel.

sony xperia zr aa design button layout

IP58 certification means that the headphone jack up top and the microUSB port on the side get small plastic covers. The back cover is removable and underneath it lie the SIM and SD card slots along with a removable battery. I do have to admit that it is a little odd to see these two important features available consistently in the midrange and not the top tier. Nonetheless, the cover is made of a simple plastic with no texture or design – just the Xperia name and the camera optics above with the flash diode.

sony xperia zr aa outdoors (1)

Obviously the 4 and a half inch form factor makes the Xperia ZR feel easy in the hands. Everything is easily reachable from a neutral grip, though the button layout does seem a little low considering the size of this phone. You may have to hike up the device in order to reach the buttons. This is really a minor gripe, however.

sony xperia zr aa design in hand

There is a lack of heft that is accompanied by a somewhat hollow feeling. All of this leads to, simultaneously, a phone that is very light but also toes the quality line. I wouldn’t go as far to say that it is a low quality build, but the smooth simple plastic and hollow feeling within somewhat detract from it.

See below for a gallery containing hi-res shots of the Xperia ZR.

Display

sony xperia zr aa display

The TFT capacitive display is 4.55 inches large and packs a decent amount of power, which puts the Xperia ZR above its ‘mini’ counterparts. Capable of 720p and packing 323 pixels per inch, the display’s BRAVIA Engine also helps the color reproduction. Overall, this is much like a smaller version of the screen found on the Xperia Z, with some improvements.

sony xperia zr aa display specs

720p resolution has its benefits aside from pure display experience – it does actually help with the battery life and performance. Nonetheless, media is easy to view on the Xperia ZR’s  Brightness is adequate, though you’ll need to crank it up in broad daylight. Colors do have a good level of contrast and thankfully Sony has gotten at least somewhat better at viewing angles since the original Xperia Z. The ZR brings the same Xperia display quality in a smaller size, which is a nice feat.

Performance

sony xperia zr aa performance

While we thought the Xperia Z kind of missed the mark by packing a then somewhat aging Snapdragon S4 Pro, the processor makes perfect sense for this later midrange offering. The quad-core processor clocks in at 1.5GHz and is backed by the Adreno 320 and 2GB of RAM.

sony xperia zr aa performance antutu

As expected, users get good and reliable performance from a chipset that has had over the past year to prove itself. The somewhat simpler Xperia UI does help in this regard, so moving around the OS in the ZR is a smooth experience. General users will remain quite happy with their experience on the Xperia ZR, which is outfitted with enough power to handle just about anything today’s demands throw at it.

So, the Sony Xperia ZR is part of a growing number of devices that continue to prove that last year’s specs can hold up. After all, we are on the eve of the Moto X release and its usage of the Snapdragon S4 Pro has been pretty well received. Rest assured that the Xperia ZR certainly keeps up.

Hardware

sony xperia zr aa hardware

IP58 certification helps keep all of the hardware on the Xperia ZR dust free and protected in up to 1 meter of water. And you’d want to protect the all-important features of removable battery and microSD card slot, all found underneath that removable back cover.

sony xperia zr aa hardware cover off

The rest of the story is pretty familiar, with Bluetooth, GPS, and NFC – but there is no IR blaster included. The speaker is relegated to one grill on the lower back, and, while it does get pretty loud, it has about the same quality as the Xperia Z before it – very tinny and lacking richness.

sony xperia zr aa hardware speakers

As is the case with all Xperia phones these days, a couple different versions are available for HSDPA and LTE connectivity, so be sure of what you’re getting for your network.

Battery

sony xperia zr aa battery

Being able to have a spare battery handy is often an important feature to users, but with the smaller specifications, the 2300mAh unit included with the Xperia ZR is able to go the distance. Straight video playback is able to crack the 7 hour mark and moderate to slightly heavy usage will take you from waking up to sleeping without tapping out. At the end of one long day, I still had 20% battery life left and was pretty pleasantly surprised that this 4.5 inch device wasn’t really breaking a sweat. In reality, this should have been expected considering there is less screen to display, less pixel density to process, and a less demanding processing package to power.

Camera

sony xperia zr aa camera

Even in the camera, Sony didn’t want to compromise high quality and power. For a smaller phone by today’s standards, having a 13MP camera is a little unheard of. Nonetheless, the Xperia ZR comes with a camera that can keep up with some of the top optics in the market. In the app, you get the usual Xperia additions like Superior Auto which finds the right scene mode for your shot. It is probably my favorite auto mode on a smartphone camera because it is not too intrusive – it just tells you what it will use for the scene so you can change it if needed.

sony xperia z aa camera app 3

Otherwise, you get HDR, sweeping panorama, and a myriad of filters. Picture quality is quite decent and is very reminiscent of the good performing Xperia Z. Details are captured quite well and dullness in color reproduction is kept to a minimum. Without a full comparison it’s hard to see if the ZR really rivals or surpasses current top smartphone cameras, but from this cursory glance, it’s easy to like what comes out of these optics.

sony xperia zr aa camera 2

Low light shots obviously get more noise but the flash diode helps that. The ZR is also capable of 1080p video capture, effectively translating picture quality to movies. HDR can be turned on in video mode, too. Ultimately, you get a pretty great camera in a phone that is supposed to take a step back from the cutting edge.

sony xperia zr aa camera 3

See the gallery below for pictures of the camera UI and for full resolution photos taken with the Xperia ZR.

Software

sony xperia zr aa software

The Xperia UI is back in this Android 4.1 version that includes Google Now atop its own additions. The Xperia app staples of the Walkman, Movies, and Album bring Sony style to media consumption. And, since the Sony software can play a multitude of different file types, enjoying media is pretty easy.

sony xperia zr aa software walkman

The only other real additions are the Small Apps, little overlays that go atop what you’re already doing. These are just simple tools like calculators and timers and notes but they do help with quick multitasking. I’ve always liked the Xperia UI, with its darker overall tones, because it’s like Sony’s own take on a mostly stock-looking Android. It’s simple, elegant, and doesn’t try too hard.

sony xperia zr aa software small apps

See below for a gallery containing screenshots of the Xperia UI.

Video review

Price

sony xperia zr aa price

The Sony Xperia ZR isn’t currently available for any carriers in the States but you can find it unlocked for just under $500. Release info has been pretty light but we certainly hope that it does get on a carrier in the States soon.

Conclusion

And so, there you have it. I have to admit, I wasn’t quite expecting much when I first got the ZR, but that could be due to the multitudes of mid to low range offerings Samsung and LG consistently put out. For Sony to get into that game, I thought it would be more of the same. But this wasn’t the case.

sony xperia zr aa outdoors (6)

Even if the build and feel might leave a little to be desired, everything underneath is purely viable and deserves ample attention. The tried and true Snapdragon S4 Pro continues to flaunt its abilities, and features like expandable memory and 720p resolution for a smaller display help make the Xperia ZR an easily recommended device.

With the Moto X providing a similar experience along with the Xperia ZR, you now have choices for smaller and more easily accessible devices that provide as close to a top tier experience as they can. If you want a powerful experience without getting too crazy, the Xperia ZR is your bang for buck phone. It might not be on the cutting edge but it gets close enough that you might not even be able to tell the difference.

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What do you think? How do you feel about Sony’s foray – somewhat – into the ‘mini’ game? While the Xperia ZR certainly doesn’t fit the usual description of many smaller versions of flagship phones out there, it certainly is the teenier Xperia Z. Let us know what you think of it in the comments!

Comments

  • http://www.asus.co.uk/studyinstyle Adam Smith

    Sony are definitely getting my attention these days, they’re doing a good job with their Z line. Great review guys. :)

    • leon

      this is the best compact phone so far :)

  • Luka Mlinar

    This is an awesome phone. If the Nexus 5 fails this might just be the next one on the list.

    • APai

      same thoughts here. unfortunately for me, even though I love my xperia T, I have a few issues with it – speakers failing mainly, and no help coming from sony regarding that. that, and the fact that the nexus line gets the updates fastest, without needing to root, nexus 5 has my money lined up! I’ve tried a few sony phones, I am looking to try something else now

      • Luka Mlinar

        I feel ya bro. I got a Sony myself and i am half way to hating the brand. They are the most stingiest manufacturer when it comes to Android updates. Also their UI sucks hobbit feet and don’t get me started on trying to root a Sony. Since i last posted this i have shifted to OPPO. Kind of in love with that company at the moment :D

        • APai

          I actually like the sony UI, except for its sluggishness, its all round polished and stuff. but, after a couple of years now, the delay in updates is getting to me. to be fair, even samsung is in the same boat for phones other than s2/3/4. sony’s problem is that they simply have moved on to their next flagship, and ignore the previous one. it’s happened with S & T. the Z series, at least they have been paying attention to. this actually affects people who don’t root their device, and want the latest updates. everyone else dont really care!

          which one from OPPO do you have ? I am kind of confused, but Nexus 5 definitely seems like a good phone on paper. I am waiting to see how it turns out.

          • Luka Mlinar

            I don’t but plan to get Find 5

          • paul neal

            Sluggishness?

  • Edwin

    Why do Sony’s screens always look so washed out?

    • Anzilleo Kristello Mozihim

      In pictures or videos, it appears to be washed out. But seeing it head on in real life, the screen excels. But viewing angles are not the best. However, Sony has improved their screen thanks to the Triluminous display which has been used on the Z Ultra and expected to be on the Honami.

    • Jordan

      Many pay high prices for phones with Amoled displays which promises wide viewing angles and then spend some more money attaching privacy screens on them. Funny right? Wide viewing angles are only important for TVs and maybe computer monitors.

      As for smartphones, do we usually view them at an angle other than at right angles? Wide viewing angles aren’t good on smartphones lest you want strangers beside you reading your mails or messages. So save your money. There’s no need for screens made of Organic leds (Amoled or Super Amoled)

    • Leonardo Rojas

      My ZL’s screen is the sharpest ever *-* Viewing angles are great! Have no complaints about it.

  • http://yellowrex.com YellowRex

    Amazing how 4.5″ is “mini” now, when that was flagship size not too long ago.

  • xperia i1 honami

    Sony realised jb 4.2 for the xperia zr

  • Wafflefactory

    Is the cover matte type?

    • zr fan

      Yes matte it is.. Love the simplicity n design of it although sticky hands will render it dirty sooner than the plane plastic case phones

  • Jacob

    Great phone!

    It has 3 times higher Antutu rank, twice RAM, Expandable memory, Waterproof, 3 times longer lasting battery, much better camera, higher quality earphones and $150 cheaper than my Samsung Galaxy Nexus! Damn Samsung, you fooled me last year!

  • hahalol

    This is how a mini should be done. One up, Sony!

  • varun

    I wish if it had 16GB of internal memory then it would be bang for buck and a perfect smartphone.

  • Darth

    Been waiting a month for this review. Thanks AA!
    This seems to be the perfect phone for my needs currently! ;)

  • Jacob

    Wash your phone while you are washing your hands.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgej4YpwS1w

  • nishantsirohi123

    This has all the good things going for it

    best of all removable battery

    but there is one thing that baffles me about sony devices, they have an overwhelmingly dark theme in their UI
    while their displays are LCD, and LCD do not have the inky Blacks like the AMOLEDS

    which is something that can be seen in the LG UI and Huawei Emotion UI that have white as the base theme.

  • Jonfensu

    I just dont know what phone get ZL or ZR. Help Me!

    • Abhash

      I thnk xperia zr is best.. and value for money..

    • paul neal

      Depends on mini andd extra waterproofing

  • Ainhoa

    it’s so beautifull ^^

  • Dave the phone maniac :)

    Z1 IS OUT YO!

  • Bismillah

    this phone suckssssssss
    changed my phone twice in 7 days!!!!!!

    • crete’

      serve you well

  • chris

    Hi guyz dose sony xperia zr support 64gb please reply thank you.

  • deep143in

    I have just been informed by Sony India that GLONASS feature is not available for the Indian market. What difference does it make to the cost if this feature is supplied everywhere around the world?

  • xperia user

    ive been using xperia zr for 25 yrs now, nvr had any complain..i thnk xperia zr is the best phone of all time, far better than all the Samsung and iphone put together…

    • Reality

      25 yrs xperia zr?? bullshit

    • Cliff Harald

      Wow, where did you get the ZR in 1988? :p

    • paul neal

      He must be a time traveller

    • william

      doctor who??? damn, i knew he was real.

  • sammyl

    I was waiting for the Z1 mini, but after discovering the ZR and its current selling price (AUD 399 unlocked). I have ordered one instead! Can’t wait for its arrival!

    • paul neal

      If you could afford it, zi mini was the way to go, wouldn’t get outdated for way longer

  • paul neal

    Sony is getting it right, their goal is to become the second largest mobile device distributor after Apple. Amazingly large goal, but achievable the way they are going

    Btw siny xperia tablet z is the best…so pleased!!

  • Ankit Golatkar

    DO NOT BUY THIS PHONE AT ANY COST!!

    I had bought my xperia ZR in september 2013. Within two months i’ve had
    to replace my mobile twice!! Sony has really made a mess out of this
    cell.

    1. You think that the ZR is waterproof? WRONG!! The charging flap (which
    is opened and closed daily) becomes loose within the 1st 15 cycles.

    2. My ZR earpeice malfunctioned within a weeks time. The Sony executives
    agreed that it is a manufacturing defect. Sony official store (from
    where i bought the mobile) had assured me that they will give me a BRAND
    NEW boxed piece if anything happened. But then they said they will give
    only the handset and they cannot prove whether the replacement mobile has been previously
    used or not.

    3. A bigger problem! i got my handset replaced (with a refurbished one of course)
    after waiting for a week. But the “new” handset had a malfunctioning
    bluetooth, wifi and radio!!

    DO NOT BUY THE XPERIA Z SERIES AT ANY COST!! Read the sony official
    site. See the amount of complaints the customers are facing regarding
    the Z series from ALL THE COUNTRIES. Check the link below for customer complaints

    http://talk.sonymobile.com/t5/…R/bd-p/22064

    I hate to say this, but Sony has lost its charm. The Service centers are
    beyond horrible. I had to wait for 3 hours just to login my complaint
    (that too a manufacturing defect). Stay away from all the XPERIA
    mobiles. The warranty policy is just to trick the customers. Do not
    believe when the Sony store executives tell you that you will get your
    handset replaced by a brand new one.

    I am going to sell my ZR and opt for a nexus 5 as soon as it is launched
    in India.

    Some other issues

    1. Terrible battery life

    2. Phone heats up a lot if u talk for more than 10 mins.

    3. Horrible focusing in macro mode

    4. If you are a Skype user then avoid this phone at all costs. It has a pathetic front camera (my older phone Neo V had a far better front camera)

    Again, I havent even started describing how horrible the Xperia service team is. More posts to come!

    You all can also read my posts on the Sony talk page (above link) and Sony Mobile facebook page

    Here to help (out of frustration! :P)

    Ankit Golatkar

    • Leonardo Rojas

      Troll. -.-

      • Ankit Golatkar

        Leonardo,
        Below is the pic of the 3 ZR boxes which i have. Just in case you think its a troll.

        • Ankit Golatkar

          The above two boxes are the replacement boxes. They weren’t sealed.

  • Leonardo Rojas

    Good review n.n A recommended smartphone by far.

  • Kaede

    Android authority thank you so much for this unbiased review! this helps my decision on buying the Xperia ZR. Double thumbs up to josh! =)

  • LegoPenguin

    The only thing that is stopping me from getting this phone, is that it may not even get the 4.4 kitkat update as Sony sees this phone as a failure… even if it gets 4.4 will it get anymore in the future…

    • Manas Sadhwani

      it will get kitkat

    • 0Gi

      It’s getting KitKat this month. Along with Z and ZL.

  • Kailash Nayak

    Awesome device…! Powerpacked with a decent configuration. Good money for value