Monday, 30 December 2013

Sony Xperia ZR Review

The Xperia ZR is a new waterproof smartphone from Sony. Based on the similar chipset and almost identical hardware specs from the older siblings, the Xperia Z and Xperia ZL, the Xperia ZR is a smartphone ideal for the Indian climate conditions. With an IP58 certification under its belt, the phone is dustproof and waterproof, submersible up to 2 metres underwater for almost 30 minutes. Read ahead to find out what the ZR has under the hood and how the phone fares in our tests.
4.5-inch TFT HD display, 13 MP rear camera, IP58 certified water and dust proof chassis
4.5-inch TFT HD display, 13MP rear camera, IP58 certified water and dust proof chassis

Design and build
On the design front, the Xperia ZR looks similar to the Z and the ZL variants when referring to the front panel, while the rear panel looks similar to the ZL. The front is an entire glass panel with just the opening for the ear piece on the top. Alongside are the front camera and a translucent window for the sensors beneath it. The control buttons for menu, back and home are incorporated within the user interface itself. The power button is similar to the Z series with a round chrome button placed in the centre on the right side. The volume rocker is provided just below the power button, which is pretty slim, but highly tactile and responsive. A physical button for the camera shutter is also available on the same side below the volume rocker. The earphone jack and the micro USB connectors are placed on the top and left sides respectively and sport a water tight port flap each. This port flap ensures that the inners are safe from water, moisture and dust, provided they are shut when not in use. Lastly, the bottom sports two openings, one for the mic and the other for a lanyard. The rear sports the main shooter with an LED flash just below it. On the lower side of the rear panel is a small speaker grille with a water and dust-proof mesh installed.
10.5 mm thick, water-tight port flaps for headphone and micro USB sockets
10.5 mm thick, water-tight port flaps for headphone and micro USB sockets

The entire chassis is build with a strong weatherproof polycarbonate plastic. The rear panel can be opened to access the battery, microSIM card and the microSD card. The three (battery, SIM and storage card) are placed well within a small chamber that gets sealed with a rubber gasket placed on the rear panel. The rear panel and the rest of the chassis have a matte-finish surface and the handset feels very firm and comfortable to grip. The handset weighs 138 grams and measures 67.3 x 131.3 x 10.5 mm.
The 2300 mAh battery, micro SD memory slot and Micro SIM GSM card slots are well protected
The 2300 mAh battery, microSD memory slot and microSIM GSM card slots are well protected

As mentioned earlier, the Xperia ZR is a mini version of the big brothers, the Xperia Z and ZL. However, unlike its rivals, HTC and Samsung, who made their “Mini” handsets a strip down version of their flagship models, Sony has squeezed its entire flagship model (the Z) in a mini package by only sacrificing on the display. This is a huge step from Sony which offers its new users the same performance of the flagship phones for a cheaper price along with an IP certification. The Xperia ZR has almost 90 percent similar hardware as that of the Z and ZL. Features that are identical are the chipset, which is the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro APQ8064; the processor, which is a quad-core 1.5 GHz Krait; the GPU, which is the Adreno 302; 2 GB of RAM and the main camera, which has a 13MP sensor. Other identical features again are the connectivity options, which include Wi-Fi dual-band a/b/g/n, 3G and LTE, Bluetooth v4.0, NFC, A-GPS and GLONASS, FM radio and TV out. What we only found missing was an infrared transmitter. Few differences spotted are the smaller display size, which is a 4.55-inch TFT with a reduced resolution at 720 x 1280 pixel (323 ppi), 8GB internal storage, the front VGA camera and lastly, the removable Lithium Ion 2300 mAh battery. With almost identical hardware and a slightly better battery running on the smaller, lower resolution display, you are definitely in for a longer battery life.
Power button, Volume rocker and camera shutter button on the right side
Power button, volume rocker and camera shutter button on the right side

Some features that we could also highlight are the IP certification and the display type. Unlike the Xperia Z, which has an IP57 certification, the ZR sports the IP58 certification, which is a tad higher than the former model. It can be submerged under 1.50 metre of fresh water for up to 30 minutes. As far as the disply type is concerned, here too the display is similar to the type of OGS technology used. It is called the OptiContrast and Direct Touch technology where the layer between the LCD display and the touchscreen is eliminated and the surface is coated with a shatterproof layer for additional durability. The display also runs on the Mobile Bravia Enigne 2 technology for better contrast, sharpness and colour with less noise and distortion.  The Xperia ZR runs the Android Jelly Bean operating system with the version being v4.1.
Android Jelly Bean v4.1 with Timescape UI
Android Jelly Bean v4.1 with Timescape UI

As per our routine, we stress out the phone to get some scores so that we can find out the actual performance of the internal core hardware. In our tests, AnTuTu Benchmark scored 21501, Quadrant scored 7695 and Linpack resulted in 163.4 MFLOPS and 423.3 MFLOPS in the single-thread and multi-thread tests respectively. NenaMark2 was almost useless as the maximum recordable frame-rate by the utility is 60 fps and the ZR was trying to exceed these limits. We did run a new benchmark, 3DMark - The Gamer’s Benchmark, and the scores are only for your disposal. 
3DMark Benchmark test results
Display and media
We did test the display quality of the ZR by playing a few movies ranging from HD to full HD. The media playback is excellent and all thanks to the powerful GPU, there was no stutter or framing witnessed even in full HD 1080p content. The display quality is good too—crisp, bright and sharp, the videos are enjoyable. Although the quality of the display is good, we did notice that the brightness levels, when pushed to max, affect the black levels and make them look greyish. Put the brightness levels to auto or reduce it to around 50–60 percent and the display gets a bit darker. Though this level is best suited for watching videos in low light conditions or at night, watching in broad daylight gives you a washed out display. Also, we did notice a tad display angle issue where the colours change levels a bit from different angle—but it is not as noticeable.
Apps pre-installed on the Xperia ZR
Apps pre-installed on the Xperia ZR

The media playback, file format support and audio quality of the ZR are similar to the Z series. The onboard speaker is pretty loud and clear, but can be shrill in certain types of audio. You may have to reduce the volume a bit to get a comfortable listening. Overall, the media performance and experience of the ZR is pretty good and we have no major complaints.
System hardware information as per AnTuTu
System hardware information as per AnTuTu

The rear camera being a 13MP is similar to the ones on the Z and ZL. Functions such as Geo-tagging, touch focus, face detection, image stabilisation, HDR and sweep panorama are available. The camera can record videos at full HD 1080p resolution and at 30 fps. Full HD 1080p recording in HDR mode is also available. Outdoor still images are good, but seem a little dark. The image in broad sunlight still seemed low on light. Nevertheless, using a simple photo editing software like Picasa or Irfanview can correct the images and make them better. We found similar results in the indoor shots. Overall, the camera performance is not bad and could be a bit better.
Outdoor shots are good but images are a bit dark
Outdoor shots are good, but images are a bit dark

Battery life
The 2300 mAh battery powering the Xperia ZR lasts pretty long even with extreme usage. We tested the device using our standard benchmarking procedure, which includes two hours of talk, two hours of videos and two hours of internet browsing. The battery lasted these six hours with 30 percent charge still left on the battery. We also tried two hours of video, two hours of Internet browsing and two hours of gaming where the battery died just short of six hours. Compared to the Xperia Z, the display on the ZR is smaller and so is the resolution. With similar battery capacity on the two handsets, the lower resolution and smaller display size on the ZR compensates for more battery life. To sum up the whole, you can expect the ZR to last you through an entire bright day and even more depending on the type of usage on the handset. Additionally, Sony has included the Stamina Mode in the handset. When switched to Stamina Mode, the Wi-Fi and data traffic are automatically disabled during standby, and you can still receive incoming calls, texts, and keep alarms active. This saves on additional power to keep your handset running for a few hours more.
Indoor shots are pretty decent
Indoor shots are pretty decent

Verdict and price in India
To sum up the whole, if you want a decent quad-core based Android smartphone with a dust-proof and water-proof body, the Xperia ZR is a great choice. The closest rival handsets we can list out in the price and performance category are the Samsung Galaxy S3, Samsung Galaxy Note 2, Nexus 4, LG Optimus G and the HTC Desire 600. However, the Xperia ZR additionally has an IP58 certification under its belt, which makes this handset a perfect smartphone for the Indian user. Priced at an MRP of Rs 30,990, the Sony Xperia ZR seems a worthy contender in the market full of smartphones equipped with quad-core processors. The ZR is presently available for a street price as low as Rs 27,800, which could give the rivals a run for their money.

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