Sony Xperia Z1 Review

Sony released the Xperia Z towards the earlier part of this year and with that, fired the first shot as far as Android super phones were concerned. I had taken a look at it a few months back and although I liked the phone, there were a few things that I thought Sony could have improved upon- especially with the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4, two other super phones, that were around the corner. Fast-forward to today and we already have a new high-end phone from Sony. This tells you the speed at which the mobile industry is moving- whether that is a good thing or a bad thing is a discussion for another time but right now, lets take a look at the Sony Xperia Z1.

I received the Xperia Z1 from Sony at the IFA conference and the small square box had the phone along with a USB plug and charger. I am assuming that the retail packaging for the Middle East will be similar but will probably have a headset thrown in as most phones in the region do. While I got the Xperia Z1 in black, it’s also available in white and purple and all three colours look beautiful.

Design & Construction

Looks wise, the Xperia Z1 is a more refined version of the Xperia Z- you can easily tell that both the devices belong to the same family. Like its predecessor, the Xperia Z1 is made of two glass slabs held together by a metal frame. It is slightly bigger in size and heavier than the Xperia Z but the enhancements are well worth it. Sony has paid a lot of attention to detail with the Xperia Z1. The metallic frame that surrounds the device is made from a single sheet of metal and is double anodised to create a beautiful finish.On the back, the camera is surrounded by a stainless steel ring adding to the look. Sadly, the glass is still very smudge friendly and finger prints show up on the front and back of the Xperia Z1 as easily as they did with the original.

The phone continues to be water proof and one of the promos I saw showed the Xperia Z1 taking a picture under water which is something I need to conform with Sony. Water-proofing means that you have flap covers for most of the connectors which can get a bit annoying. Luckily the 3.5mm jack is no longer covered which was one of my complains about the original Xperia Z and thus, the USB port is only other connector that you need to continuously flip open to charge the device- but then again, you can buy the dock.

 

On the left, you have the microSD slot as well as the USB port covered by doors while the right has the SIM slot also covered by a door. The big round power button is back with the same intricate details and below that you have the volume buttons as well as a new two step dedicated camera button that was missing on the original. The camera button works well even when the phone is locked- just keep it pressed for a couple of seconds and you are taken straight to the camera app. I do wish that Sony had used the larger button for the camera instead of power though.

The front side is mostly made up of the large 5.0” screen although there is quite a bit of a bezel area above and below the screen. While I understand that the top of the screen needs to be fitted with the ear piece and the front-facing camera, I am surprised that Sony hasn’t used the bottom bit for Android buttons. Instead you have on-screen buttons like the Nexus 4 but the large chin just feels wasted space.

Specs & Performance

Coming to the specs, the Xperia Z1 is powered by the Qualcomm Snap Dragon 800 processor running at 2.2GHz. There are a couple of other phones announced with the same processor but they have to yet to land in our office giving Sony an advantage- much like it did with the original Xperia Z. The Xperia Z1 felt incredibly zippy in every-day operation- definitely faster and with lesser lag than the octacore Samsung Galaxy S4 as well as the HTC One. Under 3DMark’s Ice Storm test, the Z1 produced a score of 16824 which is the fastest we’ve seen for any phone so far.

 

Display & Sound

The screen on the original Xperia Z was one that I loved and hated at the same time. It was the fist full-HD phone that I had reviewed and I absolutely loved the crisp text and graphics it produced. But the viewing angles as well as outdoor readability wasn’t great. For the Xperia Z1, Sony is now using TRILUMINOS Display for mobile which is the same technology used on the 2013 line-up of their TVs. The TRILUMINOUS Display uses the light from LEDs of the three primary colours- red, blue and green for the liquid crystal backlight. This expands the range of colours that the screen can reproduce and improves colour purity meaning you get to see a closer shade of the object’s colour on screen. In short, think of it as having a bigger colour pallets to reproduce the images on the screen.

The result is a superb display when you’re watching movies or looking at photos. Viewing angles have definitely improved over the previous Xperia Z, however they are still not as good as some of the other phones I’ve tested. Luckily, readability in the bright sun has also been improved so there’s a lot more to like about the display on the Xperia Z1.

As far as the sound is concerned, the speakers on the Xperia Z1 are loud but the sound quality is not that great. With a large bezel area around the top and bottom of the screen, Sony could have possibly added stereo speakers like the HTC One that stands out among other phones when it comes to producing stereo output due to the distance between speakers. Update: I’ve uploaded a sample sound at SoundCloud if you are interested in hearing what it sounds like. Lets hope Sony focuses on that with the next version of the Xperia Z.

Camera

One area where Sony has indeed focused a lot on is the camera with the Xperia Z1. Sony has combined their Exmor RS with a 1/2.3-inch 20.7 megapixel image sensor with the BIONZ image processing engine to bring their best camera in a mobile to date. Let’s take a look at some of the sample images. UPDATE: We’ve added a 20MP image- the last one in the gallery.

As you can see, the image quality ranges between stunning and good. On the better side, the Xperia Z1 produced images as good as, or even better than a dedicated camera. Compared to the Nokia Lumia 1020, the Xperia Z can produce equally good pictures, however, it loses out to the Nokia 1020 in terms of detail because of the double number of pixels on the Nokia. Sony has done some good things with the camera app on the Xperia Z1. As I had mentioned, you can go straight into the camera app from standby mode by keeping the shutter button pressed.

Sony has also added quite a few effects and features to the camera such as a burst mode that takes 60 shots, a panorama mode, picture filters and AR effects that add virtual effects and objects to your picture. What is impressive is that all of these are accessible within the camera app and you don’t need to exit and load another app. One more feature worth talking about with the camera is Social Live that lets you broadcast live directly from the phone to Facebook and see comments from your friends appear live on the screen. This could work really well where, for instance, you are taking someone’s interview on Facebook and can have live participation.

Conclusion

Wrapping things up, Sony didn’t forget that building a phone with a large screen and a really fast processor would require plenty of juice to keep up. The Xperia Z1 comes equipped with a 3000mAh battery that, needless to say, provides plenty of juice to keep the phone working even with heavy usage. I haven’t had a lot of time with the device but during my limited testing, I was able to get by a full day completely on 3G (no WiFi) with plenty of camera usage and with push email, WhatsApp and VoIP along with some audio. In fact, I still had over 20% battery left by the end of the day. I would assume that under normal circumstances and with WiFi enabled, I would consume a lot less. Add to that Sony’s power saving STAMINA mode and you should be able to get 2-3 full days of average usage- something quite extra ordinary for a smartphone of today.

We’ll find out the pricing for the Xperia Z1 in the Middle East by the end of September but if I was to make a guess, I would say that Sony will price it similarly to the Xperia Z1 when launched which was AED 2749. That is a bit on the higher side but what you are getting is an incredibly fast Android phone with a brilliant camera and superb construction quality.