Soon after Sony unveiled the Xperia S, a beautiful high-end smartphone, in January 2012, it started work on a whole new series of top of the range smartphones that would respond to the flood of iPhones and Samsung Galaxy S II smartphones leaving shops every day.
Fast forward to January 2013 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and Sony was ready to show the world what it had been cooking. There was a brand new display technology which Sony named Triluminous which we would see on its smartphones and televisions henceforth. At that time, Samsung was busy showing the world what it could do with flexible “Youm” displays. What stole the show, however, was the brand new waterproof Sony smartphone that had a glass back, the Xperia Z.
The past week saw the end of that momentum started in January 2013. The Xperia Z smartphone lineup breathed its last in the most uncelebrated ways ever. A simple statement sent to a Sony Xperia devices fan site was all there was to tell the millions of Sony Xperia Z series fans out there that it was no more. Probably, the company thought, there was no much need for alarm or to be upset since the new smartphone series it is placing a big bet on, the Xperia X lineup, is more than capable of taking it back to the top and bringing back the huge sales its marketing team dreams of.
Since we tend to have a lot of attachment to devices and have a hard time moving on (we have not yet gotten over the old Nokia yet so you can see where we are coming from), we are going back in time to have a look at some of the most iconic smartphones in the Sony Xperia Z lineup. Sure there were some several Sony Xperia Z tablets along the way but those will hardly be missed.
1. Sony Xperia Z
The Xperia Z was the pioneer of the Xperia Z family. It can be rightfully looked at as the father of them all. The Don Corleone if we are to make a reference to the timeless Italian mafia movie trilogy, The Godfather. It is where what would become an iconic generation of smartphones from Japan’s most respected electronics brand started from.
For most people, the Xperia Z happened to be their first encounter with a full high definition smartphone display since HTC’s Butterfly J/Droid DNA which had the honour of being the first 1080p smartphone, was not available in as many markets as Sony’s device was.
The Xperia Z was also the first of today’s premium smartphones to make mainstream a feature the Japanese love having on their devices: waterproofing. It also featured Sony’s new OmniBalance design and glass on both the front and the back, something not seen since Apple’s release of the iPhone 4S two years earlier. Throw in one of the most least altered Android builds and you had the perfect smartphone, at least in Sony’s eyes. Only that there were several problems.
The Xperia Z’s main undoing was two things. First, it came out too early. Sony probably thought that by going ahead of everyone it would have one foot inside the customer’s door by the time options from rivals like Samsung, HTC and LG arrived. It was wrong. Its device was drowned in the hype for the yet unreleased Samsung and HTC devices that followed. The second mistake was, well, coming out in a year when the Samsung and HTC machinery was simply unstoppable.
The HTC One which was announced a month later was the best smartphone the Taiwanese had ever made yet. Like Sony, HTC had also just rebranded its top smartphone lineup from the One X series to just the One. They were stopping at nothing to impress customers, critics, reviewers and the entire market while at it. Samsung, fresh from success with its pebble-inspired-by-nature Galaxy S III smartphone, was looking to cash in on the many iPhone users transitioning to Android as they looked for bigger smartphones they couldn’t get from Cupertino yet.
As a result, that onslaught by Samsung and HTC and Sony’s not so impressive marketing efforts, the Xperia Z got off on a bad start. Sony was forced to respond quickly and the Xperia Z1 hastily arrived on the scene. The least said about the Xperia Z1 the better.
The Xperia Z will be remembered by many industry insiders in Kenya as the only flagship Sony smartphone to ever be officially launched locally. Subsequent Xperia Z models have just been sneaking in, like thieves at night, and showing up in the market without notice.
By the end of 2015, stores still selling the Xperia Z had priced it at below Kshs 22,000.
2. Sony Xperia Z Ultra
In between the release of the Xperia Z and the Xperia Z1, Sony briefly entertained some wild thoughts. The result of that process was the gigantic, aptly-named Xperia Z Ultra. It was neither a smartphone nor a tablet at that time. That it would later become very normal to walk around with a 6-inch smartphone like I am with the Huawei Mate 8 is all thanks to the Xperia Z Ultra.
Make no mistake, the Sony Xperia Z Ultra was not the first oversized smartphone encroaching on tablet territory. Samsung’s towering Galaxy Mega 6.3 had already hit those highs at least two months earlier and it was totally insane. Huawei’s first Mate series smartphone, at 6.1-inches, was the first to blur the boundary between smartphones and tablets in January 2013 when Sony was announcing the Xperia Z. However, Sony’s device was the first in the upper echelons of smartphone world power and it basked in that glory scoring glowing reviews and drawing widespread admiration. It even became the first Sony device to join Google’s then ambitious Play Edition program.
All the critical acclaim it received from fans and critics alike was not enough for it to warrant a successor. Some thought that Sony would keep it as its own secondary flagship device just like Samsung had the larger Galaxy Note to fall back on in the second half of the year. Sony had other plans.
In its deathbed, the Xperia Z Ultra rests with the honour of not just being the only one of its name but also having been the first smartphone to ship with Qualcomm’s then beastly Snapdragon 800 processor. The Xperia Z Ultra was the device that arrived and blew benchmark charts that had previously been dominated by the Snapdragon 600 chip in the Galaxy S4 and the HTC One (M7) away. It was the perfect upgrade to the Xperia Z’s yesteryear Snapdragon S4 Pro chipset.
3. Sony Xperia Z2
Most people regard it as the best smartphone Sony has ever produced. Even though every member of the Z family that came after it was better than it, at least on paper, it is not hard to see why one is sure to be greeted with excitement by Sony fans every time the Xperia Z2 is mentioned.
The announcement of the Xperia Z2 in April 2014 was perfectly timed. Samsung and its gigantic hype machine could not drown it out and generally speaking, the phone itself was worth getting excited about. It made us forget for a moment, Sony’s botched Xperia Z marketing campaigns and the ill-timed release of the Xperia Z1. It even made us appreciate, albeit momentarily, the decision by Sony to do quick fire releases of its flagship devices. If it was able to iterate that faster and bring out a device as good as the Z2 then that decision had paid off.
What looked to be a promising 2014 for Sony with its Xperia Z2 thanks to delays upon delays of HTC’s new One M8 smartphone which to most analysts and prospective customers was a “meh” device that failed to live by HTC’s own set high expectations and had a mediocre camera, turned out be another year that Sony’s mobile division would just mix things up. Textbook Sony Mobile. It failed to capitalize, with its swanky new Xperia Z2, the opportunity that presented itself as Samsung received a lot of flak for releasing another smartphone with its tired plastic design, the Galaxy S5.
The decision to introduce the Xperia Z3 just 5 months later was the last nail on the Xperia Z2’s coffin.
With the widespread love the device has on XDA Developers whether Sony will be releasing Android Marshmallow or not for this device does not matter since it is likely to be supported by third party developers for a few more years to come thanks to its popularity (read: it is safe to still buy it).
4. Sony Xperia Z3 Compact
Two years ago, there was an established trend by device makers to release smaller versions of their large flagship smartphones.
In a world where there were still some customers who thought large smartphones had been declared as abominations by their respective religious books, there was need to tone down things a bit. If you had a 5.0-inch device why not release a smaller one for those afraid of big devices? Long story short, only Sony got that memo and the Xperia Z3 Compact, building on the legacy of the Xperia Z1 Compact, showed everyone the way.
Samsung and HTC had hitherto released very underwhelming “mini” versions of their flagships that were nothing more than shady fronts for mediocre devices looking to ride on the popular names of their bigger and better siblings.
To this day, the Xperia Z3 Compact remains a worthy device and as the last of Sony’s Compact efforts in the Z series, it was great while it lasted.
5. Sony Xperia Z5 Premium
While device manufacturers in the 2013-2014 era were obsessed with making “mini” versions of their flagship devices, in 2015-2016 they are obsessed with making “premium” versions of their flagship devices. The world has now fully embraced the big-display smartphone hence eliminating the need to bend and cater for those who still prefer devices they can fold their palms around. As such, advanced versions of already advanced (sigh) devices are all the rage.
Huawei released a “premium” version of its Mate S at IFA 2015. At the same event, Sony stunned the world by releasing the first smartphone with an ultra-high definition (4K) display. It was the Xperia Z5 Premium, an advanced version of Sony’s 2015 flagship smartphone, the Xperia Z5.
Issues like the software it runs on not being 4K-ready and being introduced in very few markets have meant that going into 2016 little was expected in the way of excitement towards the Xperia Z5 Premium. Sony Xperia smartphone fans will likely swear by the Z5 Premium and tech geeks will salivate over it but the reality is that it was doomed from the start. It was way ahead of its time.
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