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Sony is 'here to play' with gamer-focused smartphone

The company is redoubling its focus on the PlayStation crowd with the Xperia Z4v, exclusive with Verizon Wireless.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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  • SABEW Best in Business 2011 Award for Breaking News Coverage, Eddie Award in 2020 for 5G coverage, runner-up National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Award for culture analysis.
Roger Cheng
4 min read

The Sony Xperia Z4v is a Verizon Wireless exclusive smartphone. Sony

If at first you don't succeed with the gamer crowd, try, try again.

That's the attitude Sony's mobile division is taking with the Xperia Z4v, a variant of its latest flagship smartphone tweaked exclusively for Verizon Wireless. Sony will once again tout the ability to stream and remotely play PlayStation 4 games as a key selling point as it looks to break into the US smartphone market.

The announcement of the Z4v comes just a day after Sony made a splash with its presentation at the E3 video game confab on Monday. Sony hopes some of the excitement generated by the PlayStation will trickle down to its mobile sibling -- its Xperia Z3v smartphone will be highlighted at the Sony booth.

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Sony could use all the help it can get. While the latest Z4v offers up the usual bells and whistles of a flagship smartphone, from a super sharp display to an enhanced 20.7-megapixel shooter, the company continues to lag well behind its competitors in awareness. It doesn't matter how good a smartphone you produce if no one knows about it.

"Most US consumers either don't know or don't care that Sony makes phones," said Avi Greengart, who covers consumer electronics for Current Analysis.

Sony's mobile prospects were so dim that some speculated that the Japanese conglomerate would shed the business altogether. Sony CEO Kaz Hirai had to reaffirm his company's commitment to the business at Mobile World Congress in March.

"Sony Mobile is here to play and here to stay," said Ravi Nookala, president of Sony's US mobile unit.

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Despite the affirmation, the company's mobile division continues to struggle. In the fiscal year ended March 31, the unit lost $1.84 billion despite an 11 percent increase in revenue.

Dovetailing behind PlayStation

Sony attempted to generate some buzz last year by tying its Xperia Z3v (also a Verizon exclusive) with some PlayStation news. This year, it's trying to accomplish the same by announcing the new phone in the middle of E3.

The Xperia Z4v will be "hyper targeted" toward gamers and specifically the PlayStation faithful, according to Don Mesa, senior director for marketing for Sony Mobile who previously worked on the PlayStation marketing team dealing with game titles such as God of War.

Sony will be working hard to have a dialogue with PlayStation users about the direct benefits of the Xperia Z4v, he said, which also includes its trademark waterproof body.

Beyond the consumer, another goal is to cement Sony's relationship with Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest wireless carrier. For Verizon, Sony opted to add wireless charging, a larger battery and a WQHD display with 570 pixels per inch to the original Z4, the result being a slightly thicker device.

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Sony's decision to sell the Xperia Z4v as an exclusive to Verizon flies in the face of other handset manufacturers that sell their flagship devices across all carriers, but Nookala said he is focusing on building up the relationships one carrier at a time. He added he was in talks with the other carriers to get more Sony smartphones to the US market.

Verizon wasn't available to comment on the Xperia Z4v.

Tailored for the US

For the first time, Sony created a campaign that specifically targets US customers rather than rely on a more global message, Nookala said. The central theme is the "freedom to play," tying back to its remote gaming capabilities.

Sony Pictures' James Bond will play a role in future Xperia marketing. MGM

The campaign won't be a short run, Nookala added, noting that it would run throughout the year and take advantage of different Sony-owned media like the Foo Fighters concert and the next James Bond film to drum up attention for Sony's mobile presence.

Sony also appears to be more proactive in educating the retail staff on the virtues of the product. Mesa, for instance, was brought in to change the conversation to the consumer benefits of the phone rather than listing out a collection of features.

"In the US, getting the carrier retail guys to buy into what you are selling is a very important ingredients to driving sales," said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Kantar Worldpanel.

It's unclear how much marketing and retail support Verizon will provide to the Xperia Z4v. Beyond better known flagships such as the iPhone 6 and Galaxy S6, there's Verizon's exclusive Droid franchise of smartphones from Motorola. As such, the responsibility to drive awareness will be on Sony's shoulders.

For Sony, that's a daunting task, even if you have a secret agent and rock band at your beck and call.

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