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Sony aims to make a splash with waterproof Xperia Z

The Japanese company's latest flagship phone features a 5-inch HD display, 13MP camera, NFC, and a lot more bells and whistles that it touts as "the best of Sony."

The Xperia Z can withstand being dunked underwater.
Kent German/CNET

Sony hopes its Xperia Z smartphone goes under water. Literally.

The Xperia Z has all of the standard bells and whistles of a high-end smartphone: 5-inch high-definition display with 443 pixels per inch, a 13-megapixel camera, a high-end quad-core Snapdragon processor from Qualcomm, ability to pair with devices via near-field communication. Also, it's waterproof.

More to the point, Sony aims to brand its new phone -- and its smaller brother, the Xperia ZL -- as its first true attempt at marshaling the company's considerable resources in ways it's never managed to pull off before. To that end, the Xperia includes a unique Bravia video engine from Sony's TV group, lens technology from its camera group, and the ability to easily link to Sony televisions through NFC. (Sony also unveiled five NFC-enabled televisions today, and the phone can connect to the TV via NFC embedded in the remote control.)

"We're taking the genuine Sony experience and really bringing it alive on the smartphone," said Calum MacDougall, director of Xperia marketing.

The marquee feature, however, is the aforementioned imperviousness to H20. A Sony executive showed off the phone's ability to continue streaming music to a Bluetooth portable speaker while still dunked in a bowl of water.

Sony clearly hoped the feature would wow the crowd, but it was a bit late -- Huawei showed off its own waterproof Ascend Mate earlier in the day and had an executive pour a pitcher over the 6.1-inch phablet.

The Xperia also has a "battery stamina" mode that turns on when the screen shuts off. The mode shuts out all non-telephony applications, although users can add apps that can remain active while the phone is asleep. MacDougall said the mode can potentially quadruple the standby time.

The phone is encased in glass all around, and features an aluminum power button on the right-hand side. The phone will run Android 4.1, or Jelly Bean, and can be upgraded to Android 4.2. The operating system is pure Android aside from a few Sony apps running on the phone.

Sony plans to launch the phone globally in the first quarter, but an executive wouldn't specify when it will reach the U.S. or what carrier Sony will partner with. Sony has traditionally had problems getting carrier support, although AT&T has been more receptive recently, carrying the recent Xperia TL. Sony didn't say anything about the Xperia's price.

Sony will be more aggressive with the marketing on the Xperia Z, MacDougall said. While the big hook of the Xperia TL was its connection to James Bond (it was featured briefly in the recent film "Skyfall"), the Xperia Z will be more Sony-centric, he said.

Sony also unveiled the Xperia ZL, which looks identical to the Xperia Z, but is a bit smaller. The display and specs remains the same, but the phone is a little thicker and isn't waterproof. The executives wouldn't comment on the price, but said it would be the same as the Xperia Z.

The Xperia Z and the smaller Xperia ZL. Kent German/CNET