With the recently-released software update to Android 4.2.2 for the Sony Xperia Z and Xperia ZL, Sony’s 5-inch devices join the (still very limited) ranks of non-Nexus Android smartphones with the very latest version of Android on board. While stock Android 4.2 might be described as a relatively minor update to Android 4.1, Sony has taken the opportunity to bring several new features and user interface improvements to the table. If you’re currently waiting for the update to become available on your device, here’s what you can expect.
Android 4.2 Features: Lockscreen Widgets, Daydream Mode, User Interface Tweaks, Screen Mirroring
Let’s first address the elephant in the room: no, the Android 4.2 update for the Xperia Z/ZL does not include Photo Sphere. Photo Sphere is a proprietary Google feature that is only available with the stock camera app; since every Android handset maker (including Sony) replaces the app with their own (typically much better) camera app, you won’t be capturing and sharing Photo Spheres with your Xperia Z/ZL.
Still, Android 4.2 brings widgets to your Xperia Z/ZL’s lockscreen. Does this mean you can completely replace Sony’s default lockscreen clock with Dashclock? Not really – each time you listen to music, the default lockscreen clock reappears on your lockscreen since it also handles playback controls on the lockscreen. That aside, Sony’s implementation of lockscreen widgets is pretty much identical to stock Android. One small change is that the hint inviting you to swipe up or down on the lockscreen to unlock the phone no longer disappears after 3 unlocks unlike on Sony’s build of Android 4.1.
Another new Android feature introduced with 4.2 Jelly Bean is Daydream mode, which is essentially a fancy screensaver that can be set to show up when your phone is docked, charging or both. I found that Daydream mode does not activate correctly when my Xperia Z is placed in its charging dock if it is set to only activate when the phone is docked, which is strange. Of course, 4.2 also brings screen mirroring via Miracast; even though I’m unable to test it the feature is indeed present on the Xperia Z/ZL now.
Android 4.2 brings several user interface improvements to the Xperia Z/ZL. For example, you can now do an upwards swipe anywhere in the notification drawer to close it instead of having to drag the handle upwards. In addition, the touch target for the Up(Back) button (present in certain Android apps) has been enlarged, as shown above.
MyXperia: Find your phone, make it ring, lock it and erase it
Unlike iOS and Find My iPhone, Android has always lacked a built-in phone locator feature that would actually be really handy in the event that one loses his/her phone. Sony has stepped up to fill the gap with its MyXperia service, and setup could not be easier; it integrates with your Google account and can be activated with one tap on your phone. From the MyXperia portal, you can locate your phone on a map, send a sound alert, lock and erase your phone.
User Interface Enhancements: Customizable notification area power toggles, Improved app switcher layout, Status bar and virtual buttons
Sony’s build of Android 4.1 brought power toggles to the notification drawer, but they were somewhat half-baked; not only were there just 4 toggles and a button for Settings, it was completely non-customizable. In Android 4.2, Sony have put in 15 toggles that can be added, removed and rearranged in the notification drawer at will, which makes this feature much more useful.
The layout of the app switcher has also been improved in Android 4.2 for the Xperia Z/ZL; the thumbnails for the currently-running apps are no longer shrunken down and aligned to the right of the screen. Instead, it looks just like the stock Android app switcher apart from the Small Apps toolbar at the bottom of the screen. In addition, Sony has finally coloured the status bar and virtual buttons black instead of the shade of grey that they were before; if you use the built-in launcher you’ll also see the status bar and virtual buttons become translucent each time you go back to the homescreen or app grid, which would be a cool effect if not for the fact that Sony’s own launcher is noticeably more laggy on 4.2 compared to 4.1.
Miscellaneous Changes: Widgets as Small Apps, Capture photos while listening to music
With the Android 4.2.2 update, Sony has brought the ability to turn Android widgets into Small Apps that we first saw on the Xperia Tablet Z to the Xperia Z/ZL, as well as the ability to adjust the display’s white balance that was present in the Japanese Xperia Z variants. In addition, Android 4.2 resolves a long-standing bug with Sony’s Camera app where any audio output would stop the moment the camera is launched; at long last, you can listen to music and take photos at the same time.
I think it’s fair to say that the release of Android 4.2 gives Sony’s Xperia Z-series devices a nice shot in the arm, resolving what was annoying about the Xperia Z/ZL’s previous software build while bringing the two flagships up to speed with the latest available build of Android. Now that the Xperia Z/ZL are one of the few devices that run Android 4.2 officially, it is my hope that Sony builds on this momentum so as to push out future Android updates in a semi-timely manner.