While Sony had a phone in each hand to greet us in Vegas, the Xperia Z is where it's focusing most of the attention -- as we've already said, it's certainly the best-looking we've seen from the growing Android phone-maker, although those square lines and glossy sides are slightly familiar. Sony "expects to succeed" and we'd like to see that happen -- there are a lot of faithful fans looking for a real competitor from a phone maker often one step behind the competition. This time, there's a quad-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro processor and up to 16GB of built-in memory alongside microSD expansion; something that's faded away from many high-end Android phones.
There's also a thorough waterproof treatment; it's IP55 and IP57 certified like last year's Xperia acro and Xperia go, meaning the Xperia Z should rebuff direct water and immersion for up to 30 minutes at a depth of one meter. The waterproofing has had some effects on the physical design, with all ports (including the headphone socket) now covered with protective flaps. As we fiddled with them, they seemed more solid than the awkward covers seen on last year's Xperia S although we reckon the headphone socket flap could prove to be a frustrating extra step when plugging into our music. It's also a shame that making the Xperia Z waterproof has also meant bidding farewell to the physical camera button. However, the Xperia ZL (not water resistant) does come with those physical controls if needed.
There's also some notable new imaging tech, Sony's 13-megapixel Exmor RS sensor. We've followed the development of this new sensor for the last year and it's now ready to make its debut. Alongside improved signal processing, the main boon here is HDR video recording. Naturally, HDR stills are also possible -- and it's not the first phone that has HDR video -- but the feature should offer up improved video capture, namely less washed-out skies and improved low-light video. In short, we're itching to test those skills IRL against the current video-recording king, Nokia's Lumia 920. Sony has also reassessed its camera UI, which now closely resembles its own camera family, at least when it comes to menu options and icons.
The screen isn't cluttered by options, although a few see-through icons expand into the typically broad settings selections we've seen on Sony's other smartphones. A new "auto i+" setting promises improved performance without tweaking settings, while the camera itself can handle burst-mode photography up to 10 fps and gains the ability to grab full-resolution stills while recording video. The secondary, front-facing camera, meanwhile, has a 2-megapixel iteration of Sony's Exmor R sensor. We grabbed a few samples with the primary shooter, and they're looking pretty good -- there's low noise in the dim briefing room, although the shots (taken with the new auto mode) often lost a little bit of detail.