Sony Xperia Z Outdoor Waterproof Smartphone Long Term Review

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The first thing that I look at when buying a mobile is how useful it’ll be on the hill. That makes being water resistant a given and that usually means that the actual phone spec being well below par. Well for once, it seems that not only can I have waterproof but also top specs to boot. The Sony Xperia Z is currently regarded as being one of the top smartphones out there and was the flagship until the Z1 is released in a few days time! One advantage of this is that you may well find a bargain on this more than capable but older model.

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As usual, we’ll leave the pure technical assessment of the phone to the tech sites, and concentrate here on how effective it is as a smartphone for the active outdoor user. See www.expertreviews.co.uk for a good overview.

So what’s good about this then? Have I mentioned that it’s water-resistant? Probably. This has meant that there’s no removable battery, in order to minimise seams and any weakness that might allow water ingress. Having a removable battery was always an essential point for me, but since buying a battery pack and drowning my last phone while swimming because I had replaced the battery with a non-water-resistant extended battery, makes that a plus. In reality, this means that it’ll survive in your coat jacket in a downpour, and won’t get damaged from the sweat that might build up if you’re working hard. Every port is covered with a flap in order to prevent ingress, and can be fiddly at first just finding the slots on the sleek body. But like all devices, you get used to it’s little foibles, and opening the little flap every night to charge it is hardly inconvenient and has lasted the three months so far with no sign’s of falling off just yet.

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Battery life was slated, and on the first day, invariably, I’d squeezed all the juice out of this by late afternoon. I wonder how many reviews are conducted in haste, and come to that conclusion? One review claims a paltry six hours, which I’ve found to be patently inaccurate and can only put down to a bug in the pre-release review phones. After a few month’s use, it easily survives all day for me now that the novelty of a new phone’s worn off. Of course, watching video will kill the battery in a matter of hours but is more than sufficient to watch a full 2 hour movie with some juice left over.

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While being water-resistant (I have mentioned that it’s water-resistant?) is a selling point for me, there are plenty more. The screen is no slouch displaying in full HD with vibrant colours thanks to the Sony Bravia technology. Watching the bundled videos in HD on this looks better than my TV, with vibrant colours and a resolution rarely found on such a small screen. For once I paid extra for the HD movies on Play in order to make the most of it.  So you need to shell out for a HD rental, at £4.49 in order to make the most of that feature. However, we bought a few films from Google Play and couldn’t see much difference between a standard and HD film, with both being crisp and clear.

It’s also slick in use, as it possess a speedy.Snapdragon S4 Pro processor and 2GB RAM. With a generous 16 GB internal storage, and a micro SD slot for inexpensive expansion, you’ll have plenty of storage from the go. If you’re upgrading, then you’re more than likely have a micro SD hanging about from your old phone, which meant that I started off with 32 GB and could cheaply upgrade with an extra 64GB Micro SD, If ever I fill all this storage! This is a feature that some of the other phone manufacturers ought to take note of (looking at you Apple / Google)

The phone looks good, though that’s a purely subjective matter as it’s been noted as being ugly and square by others. Whatever your opinion, it’s sleek, oozes quality and feels expensive. The only issue is that the reflexive and glassy rear is a magnet for fingerprints.

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The images on the camera are excellent with a few examples given below and in our Xperia Z Gallery on Google+ so you can judge for yourself. In fact, most of our recent G+ images will have been taken with this phone, so try and spot which ones were taken by the Xperia and which ones with an expensive compact camera. My opinion has usually been that if you’re out to take decent photographs, you’ll be carrying a dedicated camera for the job. While I’ve been carrying the camera as well, it barely gets a look in. I can use the Xperia when it’s wet as well, so I can get photos on walks and runs that I’d not normally bother or risk taking the camera out. The video quality’s not too shabby either. The only time my compact is essential is for zoom work, as there’s only digital zoom on the phone.

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There are some reports of the phone getting hot whilst in use, and after browsing for an hour or so, it does feel rather on the warm side. This could be useful in keeping your hands warm on a wild camp!

On the Hill. The impressive display has a powerful backlight that devours the battery but improves visibility in direct sunlight. Yet, I’m yet to see a phone that does function exceptionally well in direct sunlight. It’s managed to survive hill walks in torrential rain, trail runs and general misuse over the last three months and still looks like new. I’ve admittedly had a cheap bumper case on it, but that has only just survived and is ready for the bin. The GPS is also quick to locate and in conjunction with Backcountry Navigator, you’ve got a 1:25k OS map to hand with your location.

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It was initially released without the latest version of Android – 4.1 rather than 4.2, which might not mean much for your average user but you would expect Sony to have made the effort with their flagship product. It has now been updated, eventually. However, Sony should be congratulated for not flooding the phone with unnecessary chaff, other than the Walkman branded media players, which are a useful addition rather than something you want to delete.

The only real issue with the phone is that it’s a bit too big to take running unless you’ve got a large pocket. You can, of course, put it in an armband, but I don’t get along with those It does suffer from fingerprints quite badly as well, down to the shiny surface on the rear. I placed mine in a protective rear cover soon enough, which doesn’t look quite as good as the uncovered phone, but does offer some protection to the phone as it won’t be treated with kid gloves.

Overall, if you’re after a top of the range smartphone that has some chance of surviving your active lifestyle then there seems to be little competition to the Xperia Z, other than the newer Z1 model. While the Motorola Defy range is a suitable outdoor phone, they’re just not in the same league, with their only advantage being their small size (which might also be their disadvantage). There’s also the newer Samsung Galaxy S4 Active, which is a very capable phone but still a compromise choice compared to even the Samsung flagship models. Unfortunately, it’s not particularly rugged, so you’ll need to invest in a decent bumper case and not a rubbish one as we did!

We’d only swap it now if we were offered a Xperia Ultra – now that’s a big phone!

Dave Roberts

Dave Roberts founded Walk Eryri in 2004, with the aim of providing routes that are off the beaten track. Walk Eryri is now part of Mud and Routes which continues to provide more off beat routes and walks in Snowdonia and beyond. Dave has been exploring the hills of Eryri for over thirty years, and is a qualified Mountain Leader.
Dave also established Walk up Snowdon, Walk up Scafell Pike and Walk up Ben Nevis just to mention a few.

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