Look and feel
Sony’s smartphones are all distinctive and beautifully designed, and the Sony Xperia Z1 keeps the Xperia Z’s sleek rectangular finish. It’s a little chunkier than the original, but the dust trenches have thankfully been filled in and it’s fully water and dust-proof.
Ease of Use
You’ll probably want to use two hands when playing with the Xperia Z1, as the five-inch screen and angular build makes one-hand use tricky. However, the Xperia interface is as slick and intuitive as ever, as is connecting to your accessories and other devices.
The Xperia Z1’s true strength lies in its wealth of features, most of which prove useful or at the very least interesting. The camera is one of the best around, thanks to an excellent auto mode and image stability, while NFC connectivity is easy and well thought-out. And as expected you get full 4G LTE support too.
That quad-core 2.2GHz processor makes the Xperia Z1 one of the most powerful smartphones around.
The Sony Xperia Z1 has improved longevity compared to the Xperia Z, giving you up to two days of use if you’re careful or a day of heavy use. We got just under five and a half hours of video playback, over an hour longer than the Xperia Z.
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,9/10/2013 11:48:13 AM
Ease of use
Crisp HD screen;
Excellent connectivity and accessories;
Decent battery life
Screen could be brighter
Sony is back in its own inimitable style with the gorgeous Xperia Z1 smartphone, its latest uber-powerful flagship five-incher that improves impressively on the already-solid Xperia Z. From its vibrant HD screen to its feature-rammed 20-megapixel camera, and the excellent range of accessories, it’s hard to sum up exactly what makes the Xperia Z1 great in just one paragraph. So here’s several paragraphs explaining exactly why this is one of the most desirable and brilliant mobiles of 2013.
Sony fans will notice that the Xperia Z1 doesn't sport a radically different design to the Xperia Z, opting for a near-identical rectangular black finish and five-inch display. It's still a sleek slab of gorgeous tech, although that one-piece aluminium frame is actually a little chunkier than the original Xperia Z, thanks to a bigger battery and some other boosted internals. Truth be told, the difference is barely noticeable. At 169g, the Xperia Z1 is still light enough to comfortably clutch and we had no trouble fitting it into our (slightly tight) jeans. However, most people will prefer to use it with two hands (grip with one, prod with the other) as the angular build and spacious screen make it a little tricky to operate with a solo hand.
The original Xperia Z inexplicably featured a narrow trench surrounding the front edge, which proved an irritating haven for dust and fluffy bits – and once they were in there, it took some deft fingernail work to get the buggers out. Thankfully the Xperia Z1 has done away with this annoying little quirk, and the phone looks all the better for it. The glossy glass rear is still a fingerprint magnet of course, so you’ll need to keep your buffing cloth on standby, but there's no denying that the casing is absolutely gorgeous, making this one of the sexiest and most desirable smartphones around.
Don’t be deceived by the pretty-boy looks, however, as the Xperia Z1 is also tougher than a Jason Statham sandwich. For a start, clumsy types will be relieved to hear that phone is completely waterproof. The microSD and micro USB ports are covered with flaps, as is the SIM card slot on the right edge, and the headphone jack is specially crafted to not let in any liquids. That means you can dip it in water for half an hour or so, and when you pull it out, the Xperia Z1 wll still be fully-functioning. Perfect for checking your texts in the bath or shower.
The glass front and rear are solid, refusing to bend when pushed and poked, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that they’ll come a cropper if they ever meet your keys inside your pocket. The last thing you want after investing in a slick smartphone like this is having to sticky-tape bits of it together again. However, Sony insists that the tempered glass is durable enough to take some punishment, and after four days of constant use our review model hasn’t shown any signs of damage. We’d probably still slap on a screen protector, just in case, but at least it doesn’t appear to scuff up easily.
Booting the Xperia Z1 up, you can't help but be wowed by the Triluminos five-inch display. Sadly it's not the brightest we've seen, even on maximum levels, and a bit of strong sunlight pretty much scuppered our chances of reading emails. However, the screen is beautifully crisp thanks to its 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution, giving you a stunning 441 pixels-per-inch (ppi). That matches the Samsung Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note 3, and is all you need on a screen this size for fully enjoying HD movies and photos.
Images are cleanly reproduced, with little in the way of noise or distortion even when viewing fast-moving video. Check out a clip of a football match, for instance, and you won’t see the ball blur as it’s lumped upfield. Colours spring out at you, vibrant enough to bring every scene to life. And as you'd expect, viewing angles are perfect.
It's also a perfectly responsive touchscreen, whether you're zipping through Android's menus or browsing a website such as Mobile Choice.
Android 4.2.2 has been overlaid by Sony's Xperia interface, and it looks and feels as slick as usual, with the traditional electro-swirls lighting up the background. Sony's tinkering has mostly been behind-the-scenes, adding to the likes of One Touch to ensure that pairing with other Sony devices is as seamless as possible.
That NFC pairing is one of the Xperia Z1’s strongest suits, if you’re a Sony fanboy. You can simply tap the phone against your wireless headphones, television or other NFC accessories, and the two will sync up straight away. It really emphasises the idea of a connected home, and adds plenty of scope for expanding the Xperia Z1’s features. For instance, the new CyberShot Attachable Lens-style Camera is a powerful compact snapper with an optical zoom that you can clip onto the back of the Xperia, which then communicates wirelessly to take incredible photos via the phone’s touchscreen controls.
You can pair the Xperia Z1 with a wide range of Sony products, greatly expanding its potential...
You also get the usual range of Sony apps pre-installed, which some people will love and others will no doubt curse as they uninstall them for more storage space. We fall into the latter category sadly. The likes of Socialife and Xperia Privilege are for the most part unnecessary, while the Playstation Mobile app features little more than a strange selection of Japanese-esque apps and games.
Bear in mind that only 11.7GB of the 16GB internal storage is actually usable, so if you download a lot of apps, take lots of photos or want to carry around lots of media, you’ll need to stick in a microSD memory card.
Power and battery
With its 2.2GHz quad-core processor, the Xperia Z1 is one of the most powerful smartphones in existence. That’s not to say it’s completely glitch free – for instance, the phone decided to crash out of apps on a couple of occasions for no real reason. However, that was only under constant bombardment. Our apps, games and media loaded instantly when required, and we were never troubled by any irritating slowdown. The addition of 4G LTE support also makes for uber-fast web browsing.
One of our biggest bugbears with the Xperia Z was its sub-par battery life. It just about made it through a day if you weren’t too harsh on it, and video killed it dead in a below-average four hours. Thankfully a bigger 3000mAh battery has been slotted into the Xperia Z1, and the difference it makes is a real relief. Now you can stretch charges to once every couple of days with restrained use, and we still made it through the working day when hammering the internet relentlessly. We also got just under five and a half hours of video playback, over an hour longer than the Xperia Z.
Photography fans, or anyone who's obsessed with snapping shots of their dog eating various household appliances, will love the Xperia Z1's 20-megapixel camera. Sony's usual Superior Auto mode is present as usual, and as usual it’s one of the best automatic smartphone camera modes we’ve ever used. Outdoor shots almost always come out perfectly, with plenty of moody lighting prevalent in our evening shots. It does a decent job with up-close macro shots too, capturing plenty of detail so you can zoom right in for a closer look. Even our evening shots for the most part came out well, not like the dim, blurry messes we often see, thanks to Sony’s fantastic image stabilisation technology.
If you’d prefer a bit more control, you can swap to Manual mode, which gives you full command over quality levels, ISO, white balance and so on. There are also plenty of scenes you can choose from, including soft skin, night portrait and pet.
New camera modes
You get a few of the usual other modes included too, such as the excellent panorama effort, but Sony has also added a number of new modes to the mix. For instance, the AR Effect mode is a throwaway bit of fun which adds random cartoon images, such as dinosaurs and elves, to whatever scene you're shooting. It's the kind of cute thing your kid will love for five minutes, although can prove a little fiddly to get working. Kiddies are likely to enjoy the Picture Effect mode too, which adds a number of weird filters to turn the world into a cartoon or a sepia nightmare.
Much more impressive is Timeshot Burst mode, which takes 16 shots over two seconds and presents them all in a scrollable wheel, allowing you to select which one is the best. Impressively the camera actually captures these images a second either side of you hitting the shutter button, so it doesn’t matter if you’re a fraction of a second too late with your finger. The Timeshot Burst Mode is a great way to capture an action shot and make sure your final photos aren't a blurry mess. Best of all, the phone saves all of your photos rather than deleting the unselected ones, so you can go back and change your mind at any time.
You also get the nifty Info-eye mode, which attempts to give you detailed information on anything you snap. For instance, with most book covers that we snapped, the Xperia Z1 quickly presented us with a full description, GoodReads reviews and similar titles we might like to try. It also proves spookily good at recognising monuments – we took a photo of the Brandenburg Gate and Info-eye came back with a history and other info. Even snapping pictures of other monuments such as the Sydeny Opera House often yielded good results. However, it’s a far from perfect feature right now, as it still gets a lot of things wrong. Logos are often unrecognised, and DVD/CD covers are its Achilles Heel. Still, for an experimental bit of tech, it’s got real promise.
Also intriguing is the Social Live mode, which streams live video from your cameraphone to Facebook and allows friends to leave comments in real time. Videos hang around afterwards for anyone who missed the action. It’s a great idea for live-blogging events, and should prove particularly handy for commercial ventures.
Sony's Xperia Z1 is an all-round masterpiece of design and technology, and one of the most desirable smartphones we’ve ever clutched in our sweaty palms. It’s a chunky beast, no doubt, but that slick waterproof one-piece metallic frame hides a powerful 2.2GHz quad-core processor and a wealth of great features. From the seamless NFC connectivity with a great range of Sony accessories to the excellent 20-megapixel camera, there’s a ton here to recommend.