Sony Xperia Smartphones: Sleek Minimalism, NFC, and Cutting-Edge Imaging

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While it may not be as well known for its smartphones as mobile giants like Samsung, Motorola, or Apple, the Japanese giant Sony has an impressive number of handset offerings, covering a wide variety of sizes, features, and prices. Sony Xperia phones range in size from around 4.5 inches up to 6.4 inches and sport thoughtful features and gorgeous industrial design that may persuade you to choose them over their counterparts from Korea or Cupertino.

So, what sets the Xperia smartphones apart? The first feature, perhaps surprisingly, is ruggedness. Sony puts a high value on design, and its smartphones reflect a sleek minimalism that seems more at home in the boardroom than the bush. But, in a move that will delight anyone who’s heard the sickening “plunk” of their beloved handheld splashing into the depths of a public commode, the majority of the lineup is both water- and dust resistant. So, whether you’re out in the rain, filming underwater, or simply love to binge-watch Netflix in the tub, a waterproof phone just makes sense.

The second feature is NFC. An acronym for Near Field Communication, NFC lets enabled smartphones swap small amounts of information with other phones, passive NFC chips, and even payment terminals, as long as they are within close proximity (usually only an inch or two). This lets you swap contact information and links with friends, instantly pair with Bluetooth devices, and pay for a new pair of sunglasses, all by tapping your phone against the applicable NFC tag. Sony’s been on a mad dash to equip as many of their Bluetooth products as possible with NFC, so it’s only natural that they’d include the technology with their smartphones, as well. If you’re skeptical, think back to the last time you struggled to pair your phone with a wireless speaker or headset, and you’ll quickly realize that tapping is far easier than hoping that the passcode to your earpiece is still set to “0000.”

Another standout feature is imaging. Sony sensors are highly regarded by amateur and pro photographers alike, and each generation of the company’s RX-100 compact cameras is venerated as being among the most capable cameras in its class. This quality carries over to the flagship smartphone cameras, which use much of the same technology found in their larger, dedicated brethren. Expansive sensors like the 1/2.3" Exmor RS found in the Z2 and Z3 flagships combine with advanced lenses and image-processing software for some of the sharpest smartphone photography available.

Now, let’s talk some phones. The current flagship, the Xperia Z3, has a 5.2" 1080p IPS display, big enough for most smartphone media consumers while remaining easily pocketable and usable. That display uses Triluminos technology, which utilizes futuristic-sounding quantum dots to produce an especially large color gamut. Like its recent Z-series ancestors, the Z3 is watertight, and can spend up to 30 minutes under nearly five feet of water. It runs Android 4.4 KitKat and will soon be updated with Android 5.0 Lollipop.

Gamers with PlayStation consoles at home (or work, we won’t tell!) will certainly appreciate Remote Play, which lets you stream PS4 content over Wi-Fi to your phone and play on the phone itself using a DualShock 4 controller. This means that you can keep playing in the kitchen, in bed, and even the bathroom (remember, we said it’s waterproof). The Z3 plays powerful games without PlayStation assistance, too, thanks to its 2.5 GHz Snapdragon 801 processor and a whopping 3GB of RAM. And to hold all those games, as well as movies, pictures, and music, the Z3’s 16GB of storage is microSD expandable by up to an even more whopping 128GB.

The Z3 even has a little brother, the Z3 Compact, which loses a gig of RAM and a few pixels but gains big in portability. Its 4.6" 720p screen makes it small enough to fit into the front pocket of your skinniest skinny jeans, and it’s a full ounce lighter than the larger Z3. Beyond that, they’re essentially identical. The Compact even has the same 2.2 MP, full HD video-shooting front camera and 20.7 MP image-stabilized rear camera as its sibling.

For a little less scratch, consider the Xperia M2 Aqua. It’s closer in size to the Z3 Compact, at 4.8", but it can dive just as deep as the Z3 and stay down just as long. It shoots 8MP images with its Exmor RS sensor (above or below the surface of the waves) and features HDR processing for more true-to-life pictures. It also packs the Timeshift Burst app, which captures 31 frames in just two seconds, so you can ensure you get that important shot. A 1.2 GHz quad-core processor and 1GB of RAM provide the power, and it supports 4G LTE networks for high-speed web access.

And finally, we present the MoaX (Mother of all Xperias), the Z Ultra. While this 6.4" 4G monster struggles to squeeze into even the "phablet" category, it's perfect for anyone who either has fingers the size of mature bananas or doesn't want to have to choose between a smartphone and a tablet. Its nearly six-and-a-half inch Triluminos display has Full HD 1080p resolution, and while that may seem low for such a large surface area in today's age of QHD screens, its 342 ppi pixel density puts it well within Retina Display territory. That 1080p resolution also lets it go a bit easier on its 3050 mAh battery than it would with a higher-res display, allowing it to play video for up to seven and a half hours straight.

Under the hood, a Snapdragon 800 2.2 GHz processor and 2GB of RAM keep Android Jelly Bean humming along smoothly, and an 8.0MP rear camera lets you capture the world around you. All this is squeezed into a body that, while wide and tall, measures just a quarter of an inch thin. The Z Ultra’s real party piece, however, isn’t the screen itself. Rather, it’s how you can interact with it: like other large phones, it can be used with a stylus for writing notes and drawing, but the big phone doesn't respond only to fidgety, easy-to-lose, capacitive styli. Just use any pencil or metallic pen you've got handy as a stylus, instead.

So, which is right for you? Well, as much as I'd like to tell you how to spend your money, it's really up to you. Go ahead and check out all the Xperias at bhphotovideo.com, and you'll be sure to find something that fulfills your needs—and suits your fancy.

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These phones look great