Sony Xperia ZL review: Off the bench
The Sony Xperia ZL comes with the new Sony gallery, called Album.
Images are organized into stacks of thumbnails and sorted by date. You can opt to show all of your albums in one place, and there are three tabs above the stacks - Pictures, Map and Online.
Pictures is the main tab and one of its features managed to impress us: you can use pinch gestures to make the image thumbnails bigger or smaller. The whole thing is super responsive and hundreds of thumbs fall in and out of differently sized grids with cool animation.
Map reminds us of the iOS gallery, where all geotagged pictures are shown on a world map.
The Online tab displays pictures from Google Picasa and Facebook. You have options to tag, like and comment on Facebook photos much like you did in the previous Xperia Gallery.
Images can be cropped or rotated directly in the gallery. Quick sharing via Picasa, Email apps, Facebook, Bluetooth or MMS is also enabled.
The BRAVIA engine enhances contrast and colors by sharpening the image and reducing noise. These steps normally lead to visual artifacts, but you'll have to look at them very close up to notice. You can switch BRAVIA off, but we recommend keeping it on - it really improves the viewing experience.
Finally, the hidden LED below the display lights up with different color (similar with the image on the screen) every time you scroll through the pictures.
Eye-candy video player, plays everything but lacks AC3 support
The video player is dubbed Movies and it too has a new interface. It's connected to Gracenote, which helps you find additional information about the movies you have preloaded.
The Xperia ZL did a very good job with almost any file type and video codec we threw at it, including DivX and XviD, even MKV. The only exception was AC3 audio support.
A video editing app called Movie Studio is bundled too. It lets you edit video, images, and audio together (both imported from files as well as recorded/taken by the device itself), using a variety of cool transitions. You can then export the resulting project into a video file that you can share using the Z's generous connectivity features (more on this below).
Walkman music player
The Walkman music player we saw in Sony Xperia smartphones from the second half of 2012 is also on board. It offers the same cool interface as before, but this time it has more options for sound enhancement.
The Walkman is divided into Playing and My music panels. In the My music section, you can update your album art and music information like album, year released, and more. SensMe is included, meaning you can filter your songs by mood - upbeat, energetic, mellow, dance, etc. Creating playlists is enabled and you can also view your Facebook friends' activity if they too use the Walkman player.
The Now Playing screen offers the standard music controls, shortcuts to the library, "Infinity" key and the song cover art. The Infinity key lets you quickly look up a song on YouTube or browse for the lyrics, among others.
Sony has improved on the Walkman player's settings. There's a new ClearAudio+ option, which determines the best audio quality settings depending on the song you're listening to. We liked how it changed the music when listening on the pre-bundled Sony headset.
There's Surround sound mode, which imitates the Studio, Club or Concert Hall experience. The Clear stereo mode enhances the perceivable stereo channel separation.
Speaker settings include Clear Phase, which adjusts the quality, while xLOUD enhances the loudness of the internal speaker.
And audio fans will be pleased as there is a configurable 5-band equalizer with bass adjustment. However die-hard audiophiles might prefer additional players, which sport a 10-band or even 20-band equalizer.
There are music controls on the lockscreen. Swiping them to either side brings back the clock. The notification area also offers the now playing screen with music controls and the option to jump into the Walkman player.
The Sony Xperia ZL also features an FM Radio aboard complete with RDS support. The app automatically seeks and adds bookmarks to stations in range, although you'll need to have a set of headphones attached to use as an antenna.
Solid audio quality
The Sony Xperia ZL performed excellently in the first part of our traditional audio quality test. The smartphone got great scores all over and garnished them with average volume levels, making up for one of the good performances we have seen.
There's some degradation when you plug in a pair of headphones, but things certainly aren't too bad. The stereo crosstalk rises very subtly and some distortion creeps in. Volume levels remain about average. A solid overall performance.
And here go the results so you can see for yourselves.
|Test||Frequency response||Noise level||Dynamic range||THD||IMD + Noise||Stereo crosstalk|
|Samsung Galaxy S4||+0.03, -0.08||-95.9||93.2||0.0030||0.0092||-96.4|
|Samsung Galaxy S4 (headphones attached)||+0.03, -0.08||-96.0||93.3||0.0031||0.089||-95.5|
|HTC One||+0.11, -0.20||-82.7||82.7||0.0023||0.026||-80.9|
|HTC One (headphones attached)||+0.02, -0.32||-82.4||82.3||0.0045||0.057||-68.3|
|HTC Butterfly||+0.13, -0.29||-82.5||82.3||0.0090||0.022||-80.8|
|HTC Butterfly (headphones attached)||+0.16, -0.24||-82.3||82.1||0.0094||0.042||-59.7|
|Samsung I9300 Galaxy S III||+0.03, -0.05||-90.3||90.3||0.012||0.018||-92.6|
|Samsung I9300 Galaxy S III (headphones attached)||+0.11, -0.04||-90.2||90.2||0.0092||0.090||-53.1|
Sony Xperia ZL frequency response
You can learn more about the whole testing process here.