Sony Xperia ZL official, ditches Xperia Z waterproofing and design, we go hands-on

Besides launching the new Sony Xperia Z, Sony Mobile has announced the Sony Xperia ZL - a phone that comes with the same underlying technology but in a slightly different casing.

If you're wondering why, it's because the Xperia ZL isn't for all countries, and Sony has confirmed that it won't be heading to the UK. Instead we will be getting the Sony Xperia Z - the slightly bigger, and waterproof phone.

READ: Hands-on with the Sony Xperia Z

The new phone, a 5-inch beast, has previously gone under the guise of the Sony Odin and enjoyed the usual bevy of leaks ahead of its CES unveil with which Sony has finally made the phone official.

Called the Xperia ZL, the phone will have identical innards to the Xperia Z. That means a Full HD 1080p Reality Display with Mobile Bravia Engine 2 that builds on the technology found in the company's 2012 range of phones, a Qualcomm 1.5GHz Snapdragon processor and a 13-megapixel camera with HDR video recording.

In the flesh, and that screen - which is as stunning as it looks in our hands-on pictures - is the main focus of the design, with the company ditching the "OmniBalance" approach for a more traditional textured backing.

It's a very different statement from the Xperia Z, and one with which the many who feel unready to take any big risks will be more comfortable.

Losing the waterproofing reduces the size dramatically while still using the same 5-inch 443ppi screen. The smaller form factor means it's only fractionally bigger than the Samsung Galaxy S III, while being a lot smaller than the Samsung Galaxy Note II. Of course, it's huge compared to the iPhone 5.

In the hand and its actually very manageable, with the rubberised textured backing giving plenty of grip on which to hold.

But it's not just a big screen. There is power behind the Xperia Z too in the guise of the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon processor - the 1.5GHz asynchronous quad-core Snapdragon S4 processor with 2GBRAM, a 13-megapixel fast-capture camera, 4G LTE, NFC, and a 2400mAh battery which, with additional help from a new software feature from Sony, should give you more than nine days of battery life.

In our play with the new phone it is certainly zippy, happily coping with anything asked of it. Video plays beautifully with the big, bright screen really shining - we watched a little bit of Timescapes and it looked fantastic.

Where Sony is hoping to succeed - and for the most part appears to, from what we garnered in our play - is in finally utilising all the experience from the other divisions in the company.

The screen comes courtesy of the TV division, with every trick learnt with the latest Bravia range employed here. The air gap to reduce reflection when you are out and about has been borrowed from the company's TV range, as has the processing engine behind the graphics and colour reproduction. There is even technology in the phone that tries to enhance your footage to make it better, in the same way televisions do. And it shows. The picture quality of the Xperia ZL is very, very good.

It's the same when you get to the camera. Again Sony Mobile has turned to the Cyber-shot team at Sony to help create what looks to be a great camera. We weren't able to take away any shots for further analysis, but from our play with the camera on the phone there is plenty to like. As before, the interface is clean and easy to use with the option to customise shortcuts on the camera screen for your favourite features.

Sony has opted for an Exmor RS for mobile, the world's first image sensor with HDR (High Dynamic Range) video for smartphones, alongside the usual array of burst modes (10 pictures at 9 megapixels) and scene modes to help you get more out of the camera. There are 30 scenes to choose from, although for the most part you'll probably just want to opt for the Superior Auto mode that automatically picks the right scene for the job. Whizzing it around quickly in our demo, the camera did well keeping up between portrait, macro and landscape.

The Xperia Z (left) vs the Xperia ZL (right)

Even the Walkman and PlayStation get a look in, with dedicated music player and PlayStation-certified stores and games waiting to be played. 

"The Walkman application provides access to all your downloaded music, a library of 18 million songs to explore from Music Unlimited and Facebook social integration," Sony tells us. "The Movies application gives consumers access to over 100,000 movies and TV series from Video Unlimited while the Album application enables easy access to Facebook friends’ photos as well as browsing photos by location."

Add in NFC that plays nice with the newly announced NFC-ready televisions at CES (users will simply touch Xperia ZL to the remote control of the TV to instantly enjoy photos and videos on the big screen), LTE for all networks including the yet to be released Vodafone and O2 4G, and it's looking good, if not a little large.

All that tech requires a big battery, in this case a 2400mAh offering and the addition of a Sony unique feature called Stamina Mode.

Battery Stamina Mode works automatically to shut down battery-draining apps whenever the screen is off and start them up again when the screen is back on.

If it works as Sony say it does, and there is no reason not to believe it, it's going to be a must-have feature and one all phone users will want. Where the Sony offering is special is that you can customise individual apps to be affected by the battery-saving feature, rather than everything, or via the individual apps themselves which is rather boring and time consuming.

It means that if email is important to you, but Twitter isn't you can have one work as normal, while the other doesn't drain the battery in the background. Clever.

The Xperia ZL we played with came with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean installed with a Sony skin on top, but Sony has confirmed that the Xperia ZL will be upgraded to 4.2 shortly after launch and that the Sony skin isn't as cluttered as in previous versions. 

Sadly for British readers, the ZL isn't coming to the UK. It will however be launching in the US. We suspect users will be able to import the phone through places like Clove or Expansys.