The Xperia ZL is the non-amphibious cousin of the Xperia Z and is currently sitting comfortably without much worry from the competition. We say that because the only other phones close to it are the Lumia 920 and the Galaxy Note II. The Lumia 920 is not much of a competition, unless all you’re looking for is a good low-light capable camera, and the Note II’s size isn’t for everyone. This leaves the ZL sitting pretty at around Rs 36,000. One may argue that it’s best to put a little more and get the Z, which is more feature rich and comes with the tempting IP55/57 certification. But is it really worth it? How much has Sony really compromised with the ZL in order to make it more affordable? Let’s find out.
Design and build
Upfront, the ZL looks quite a bit like the Z, except for the wider ear piece grille and a front camera that finds a new home at the bottom of the handset – a first we’ve come across. The handset also features the same scratch-resistant and shatterproof glass along with the screen guard that comes pre-installed. The phone is heavier than the Z, at 151 g, and that’s because it’s a bit thicker as well, with a depth of 9.8 mm as compared to 7.9 mm of the Z.
Looks good and is built well too
The sides have mirror-finish plastic strips along with a similar button placement. The overall size of the ZL is much smaller than the Z, but Sony has kept the screen size the same. This gives the illusion of a larger screen since the bezel is shaved down quite a bit from all sides. The ZL also enjoys the addition of a cool-looking notification light at the bottom, which pulsates in different colours based on the type of notification.
The rubberised texture at the back offers very good grip
The rear panel has a very nice, grippy finish, which feels and looks a lot better than the Z. The textured back leaves your phone free from scratches and requires less upkeep. The camera, LED flash and speaker grille are placed in a similar fashion as the Z. The microSIM and microSD card slots are now placed at the bottom of the phone under a flap. Overall, we were impressed with the design and finish of the ZL and feel it’s a lot better than the Xperia Z in terms of ease of use and ergonomics.
The display is exactly the same as the one on the Xperia Z, only a little brighter and with more vivid colours. The viewing angles are still pretty average and sunlight legibility is not the best. Sony still gives you the full HD resolution on the 5-inch panel, bringing the overall pixel count to 441 ppi.
The same slick user interface as before
The handset also uses the same Qualcomm APQ8064 quad-core SoC along with a generous 2GB of RAM. The chipset consists of four Krait CPUs running at 1.5GHz each along with Adreno 320 for graphics. Sony gives you 16GB of onboard storage, out of which 11.7GB is usable. You also have the option to expand it via the hot-swap card slot. As far as sensors go, the Xperia ZL packs in a gyroscope, compass and barometer along with the other usual suspects.
Extremely powerful hardware under the hood
The interface is slick and fluid just like the Z. Along with the usual selection of Xperia apps, you even get Sony Music, which lets you stream or download thousands of songs across genres, both international and national. The biggest problem with this app is the lack of search function; you have to manually sort through albums or artistes, which is a real pain. The other app is Sony LIV, which streams local TV serials. The ZL also features an IR port that lets you use it as a remote through the bundled app.
Audio quality is good thanks to the MH-EX300AP stock in-ear headphones. The headphones have a snug fit and produce deep bass while providing good noise isolation. Sound enhancements are present in the form of ClearAudio+, which automatically amplifies the sound, or you could fine tune the settings through a 5-band graphic equaliser along with features such as Clear Stereo, Clear phase, xLOUD and Dynamic normaliser – all of which are designed to boost frequencies and make your audio experience more pleasurable.
Media playback is good
The video player won’t read WMV, FLV and some AVI files, but everything else, including MKV files, work just fine. Video playback does not cause the phone to heat up as much as the Z did; it gets a little warm, but that’s about it. The speaker is quite a bit louder, although we noticed a bit of tearing even for alerts at high volumes.
The Xperia ZL is a quad-band GSM and 3G handset but with no LTE support for India. Along with this, you also get dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth v4.0, NFC, GLONASS - the works. We didn’t face any overheating issues with the Xperia ZL when using GPS or even gaming. This shows that the ZL handles the heat from the chipset a lot better than the Z did. The stock browser has been ditched for Chrome, which is lightning quick in rendering webpages. We also really liked Sony’s new keyboard, which now comes with its own version of Swype. New words are automatically saved once manually chosen in the preview list.
Good level of social integration
Unlike the ear piece issue we had with the Xperia Z, we didn’t face that with the ZL. We could easily hear the caller at the other end without having to shuffle the phone around to find a "sweet-spot".
The keyboard and some of the other apps
Other custom apps from Sony include Sony Select, which is essentially a mini app store with the recommended apps. The new Socialife app is neatly done and lets you view all your social feeds in one place. This is also accompanied by an equally useful widget. Smart Connect lets you automate tasks at certain time intervals, so you can make your Z switch to silent mode, turn off Wi-Fi or data from 12 AM to 8 AM while you sleep and so on. Other noteworthy apps include Update Center, McAfee security, Xperia Link, Sony Car, Backup and Restore, NeoReader, Wisepilot, OfficeSuite and TrackID.
The IR Remote app has built-in profiles for almost all TV brands. We tried configuring the app to work with an AOC TV, but the preset profile didn't seem to work. We then manually set it up to learn the functions from the remote. Even though the app said it had learnt the functions, it still refused to work.
The IR app didn't seem to work with our AOC TV, unfortunately
The ZL borrows the same camera units from the Z – a 13MP shooter at the back and a 2MP front camera, both capable of 1080p video. The quality of the front camera is pretty good for self-portraits as well as video calling. The main camera is not overly impressive, especially for low-light photography. The f/2.4 aperture is also pretty standard these days. Daytime pictures look good on the phone’s display, but when zoomed in on the PC, you’ll notice a loss of detail and over-sharpening of edges of objects.
Indoors with flash
The new interface is a refreshing change from the old Xperia UI. The different camera modes can be selected with the tap of the first icon, and there’s a new Superior Auto, which automatically picks the right scene mode depending on where you point the camera. The flash provides good illumination if the subject is less than 2 feet away, but anything more than that and the picture gets quite grainy.
The ZL packs in a slightly larger battery as compared to the Z. The 2370 mAh battery managed to last through 2 hours of calls, 2 hours of video, 2 hours of audio playback and 2 hours of YouTube streaming over Wi-Fi, giving us a grand total of 8 hours with 7 percent battery to spare.
Verdict and Price in India
The Sony Xperia ZL is priced at Rs 36,990, but you can find it online for Rs 35,990, which makes it a good deal for a high-end smartphone. It's feature rich and has the performance to back it up. Moreover, it isn’t plagued by the little niggling issues we found with the Xperia Z (earpiece problem, poor loud speaker, overheating, non-ergonomic design). It’s also a lot more comfortable to hold due to its relatively smaller size. We recommend the Xperia ZL over the Z despite the lack of the water and dust-proofing capabilities.