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The golden years: Sony's waterproof Xperia Z flagship turns 10
10 years ago was, arguably, the beginning of the smartphone golden era. 2013 played host to the Samsung Galaxy S4, one of the best-selling Android phones of all time, the HTC One M7, the LG G2, and others. But kickstarting that tremendous year was the Sony Xperia Z, which launched on February 9, 2013 in Japan.
The Xperia Z’s claim to fame was as the first flagship smartphone with an IP55 and IP57 dust and water resistance rating. That said, the Xperia Z wasn’t the first waterproof Android phone. The Motorola Defy had already offered an IP68 rating back in 2010, and other non-Android devices had previously dabbled in weather resistance. But if you wanted a powerhouse, waterproof, flagship smartphone, you weren’t going to find one from Apple or Samsung back then. The prospect of being able to take photos underwater certainly turned some heads.
While we perhaps can’t entirely credit Sony for kickstarting the IP rating trend that’s led to ubiquitously waterproof flagship phones, it was certainly ahead of the curve. Samsung didn’t get around to sealing its Galaxy S series until 2015, while Apple took until 2016.
Today's iconic Sony Xperia design and features trace their routes back to the Xperia Z.
The Xperia Z also birthed the monolithic design language than continues to iconify the Xperia 1 IV today. With points in the bank, the Z kickstarted a moderately successful series that culminated in the 2015’s Xperia Z5 range. Throughout this period, Sony pioneered many other features that we’ve come to identify with the brand, including its still unique 4K display, side-mounted fingerprint scanner, and advanced imaging hardware. Not forgetting the IP rating too. Sony, it seems, has always known how to make great hardware.
The same can’t be said about selling phones. Unfortunately, the Xperias of old were plagued by regional availability issues (still an issue today) and an awkward lagging launch cycle. As such, the Xperia Z range ended up struggling to match the value of its competitors. The final Xperia Z5 and Z5 Compact models lacked wireless charging and offered so-so battery life, while the top-end Z5 Premium model was more expensive than Samsung’s Galaxy Note 5 while packing some hardware that was not up to scratch.
After a strong start, a bizarre release strategy saw the Xperia Z and X ranges struggle to match the competition.
Sony’s biannual release cycle had descended into a bit of a farce by that point — more handsets certainly weren’t yielding vastly more innovation. Sony ditched the Xperia Z lineup for 2016’s Xperia X. That said, the new phones retained a very familiar design language. To be honest, not much else changed with the rename either; phones like the $700 Xperia X Performance continued to be overpriced for the hardware on offer.
Thankfully, though, Sony (mostly) kept fan favorites around all these years, including the headphone jack and 4K display. Today, these features separate the Xperia line-up from the increasingly homogenous competition. 2022’s Xperia 1 IV and Xperia 5 IV are still kept out of most consumer’s hands due to Sony’s propensity for overpricing, but the series seems to have settled into a niche that serves both the brand-faithful and rambunctious content creators.
The modern Xperia can trace its roots to the Z, but it's a whole different multimedia beast these days.
A decade later, Sony’s Xperia has obviously changed a lot. Although the design’s roots are clearly showing, Xperia is done chasing the mainstream market with breakthrough features like an IP rating; those “easy” wins simply don’t exist anymore. Instead, today’s Xperia continues to meld Sony’s expansive multimedia legacy into a slimline smartphone. We think there’s a little way to go left to perfect that formula, but it’s a formula that’s now undeniably Sony’s.