Sony unveils flagship Xperia Z smartphone

The phone combines several of Sony's key technologies from its battery, display and camera divisons

Watch movies in the shower, capture HDR video, or just use it to make phone calls. Sony says it has something for everyone in its new Xperia Z smartphone, the company's flagship handset for 2013.

The phone, which was unveiled on Monday at International CES in Las Vegas, combines several of Sony's key technologies, which the company hopes will make for a distinctive phone in the competitive Android smartphone market.

The phone is based on a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 quad-core processor. The chip gives the phone a fast, zippy feel, but it's also a component that's available to competitors. What could differentiate the Xperia Z from the competition is input and expertise from Sony's in-house display, battery and camera teams.

"Xperia delivers a super-phone experience to our consumers by combining the best of Sony's technology," said Phil Molyneux, president of Sony Electronics, during a news conference at CES.

The 5-inch, full high-definition display is what's first noticed on the phone. It occupies most of the front face of the phone on the Xperia Z and even more of the front of the Xperia ZL, a second version that's a little smaller but thicker and will be offered in selected markets.

Behind the display is Sony's Mobile Bravia Engine 2, a chip that attempts to tweak video so it looks better. In a demonstration, the Bravia mode provided a noticeably better image with deeper colors, better contrast and apparently higher definition.

Keeping everything running is a Sony-made battery, which is combined with a new version of Sony's battery-life extender software.

The "Battery Stamina" software, which debuted on the Xperia T, switches off applications when the phone's screen is powered down, so battery life is extended when the phone isn't being used. The battery life indicator on a sample phone jumped from around two days to seven days when the feature was enabled.

Battery life of the phone is quoted as up to 14 hours of 3G talk time and three weeks standby in 3G or LTE mode.

A new addition is the ability to whitelist applications so, for example, email and instant messaging software will continue to run while other apps are shut down.

On the camera side, the phone features a 13 megapixel Exmor RS Mobile sensor from Sony's imaging division. A second 2-megapixel camera is on the front of the phone.

Features of the camera include an intelligent auto mode that automatically switches the camera mode based on what's being photographed. HDR photography, which involves capture and combination of several images to provide a picture with a better between highlights and shadows, has been extended to video. There's also burst photography at 10 frames per second and 9-megapixel quality that can be continued until the phone's memory is full.

And an interesting new feature is the ability to tap the phone on the remote control of one of several new televisions that Sony is also announcing at CES. Once the phone and remote control meet, video can be sent from the phone through NFC to the remote and then over WiFi to the television for viewing on a big screen.

"We believe the viewing experience on this phone is as good as a TV," Molyneux said.

Or, you could just watch movies in the shower. The phone is dust and water resistance to the IP55 and IP57 ratings and can be submerged in up to a meter or water for 30 minutes. A demonstration phone was briefly dunked in a jar of water to prove that everything keeps running even if it gets wet.

The phone is based on Android 4.1, also known as "Jelly Bean," and will be available in the first quarter of this year in three colors: black, purple and white. Sony said an upgrade to Android version 4.2 will be offered shortly after launch.

Pricing was not announced.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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