Sony Xperia Z1 Review

Sony wowed us last year with the introduction of its Xperia Z phone. Instead of the plasticky, chunky bodies of its previous phones, the Z had a stunning all-glass design and was among the first top-end smart phones to provide full protection from errant liquid-splashes.

Sony Xperia Z1 front

With a four and a half star score and our much-coveted Editor’s Choice award to its name, the Z didn’t make it easy for its successor to impress. With a few key tweaks, including a ridiculously powerful quad-core processor, a new aluminium band around the edge and a 20.7-megapixel camera, the Xperia Z1 is ready to show its older brother who’s boss.

At £600, it’s certainly not competitive when it comes to affordability, but Sony is hoping its impressive spec sheet will make the Z1 a worthy purchase.

It’s available now on a range of plans. You can get it free from £29 a month on a two-year contract, or SIM-free from £550. Should I buy the Sony Xperia Z1?

With its sleek glass front and back and new aluminium frame, the Xperia Z1 is an undeniably beautiful piece of kit. The waterproof design helps keep it safe from all manner of liquids that would put an end to most other phones and its screen is better than ever. Its searingly mighty processor also makes it the most powerful phone I’ve ever tested.

Sony Xperia Z1 front

With its sleek glass front and back, the Xperia Z1 is a beautiful piece of kit.

It’s not perfect though. Although it has the same screen size as theSamsung Galaxy S4, it has a bigger body, making it a little cumbersome. Some of Sony’s software tweaks aren’t particularly welcome either, and will almost certainly slow down the time it takes to receive updates.

Finally, although the camera has seen an impressive bump to 20 megapixels, the images it produces aren’t anything special. If you’re after a phone with enough juice to tackle any task you’re likely to throw at it, you’d be wise to opt for the Z1, but there are various other options to consider.

The Galaxy S4 should certainly be at the top of your list — it’s extremely powerful, has a brilliant screen and a camera capable of producing beautiful results. The S4 Active has similar specs but, like the Z1, has a waterproof body, protecting it from the elements. Alternatively, the all-metal HTC One not only looks superb, but it too has a Full HD screen and powerful quad-core processor.

Design

With only a glance, you might not immediately be able to tell much difference between the Z1 and its predecessor. It’s roughly the same physical size, the sticking-out power button is in the same spot and the Sony and Xperia logos sit in the same place. The noticeable difference is the addition of a dedicated camera shutter button and an aluminium band around the edge.

The use of metal gives the phone a noticeable, luxurious feel as well as apparently strengthening it. The previous Z had slightly harsh edges, but the rounded aluminium feels much more comfortable. The downside is that the similar aesthetic makes it difficult to really show off that you have the latest technology in your hand. You’ll likely have to actually point it out if you want someone to notice, and in my experience, “look at the metal parts on my phone” is a pretty awful conversation starter.

It maintains the same glass front and back which looks every bit as beautifully stark as it did on the previous model. Although they’re toughened, any glass will scratch and break if you treat it brutally enough. You’ll want to keep it in a case if you’re clumsy, not to mention always carry a cleaning cloth to polish the fingerprints off.

Sony Xperia Z1 back

It maintains the same glass front and back as the previous model.

Like the Xperia Z, the Z1 is completely waterproof, surviving at a depth of 1.5 metres for up to 30 minutes. Even if you’re not a diver who likes to Tweet among the corals, waterproofing for a phone is undeniably handy. Ever dropped your phone in the bath, splashed something on it in the kitchen or taken a call in the rain? The Z1 will cope fine with all of that.

It achieves total waterproofing by covering its main ports with rubberised flaps. It improves over the Z, however, by waterproofing the internal chamber of the headphone jack, meaning that it doesn’t need to have its own cover. You’ll no longer have to unclip a flap each and every time you pop in your headphones and, crucially, you don’t have to worry about re-sealing afterwards — something I found rather annoying on the Z.

With a 5-inch screen, it was bound to be a big blower, but the Z1 doesn’t do itself any favours. It has a very wide bezel around the display, meaning that the body is very large. It’s noticeably bigger than the Galaxy S4, even though they have the same size screen. The wide bezel also doesn’t look particularly good — it’s worlds apart from the razor-thin bezel on LG’s new G2 smart phone.

Sony Xperia Z1 comparison

If you’re looking for a phone to easily slide into your pocket, this isn’t it.

If you’re looking for a phone to easily slide into your pocket, this isn’t it. Make no mistake — it’s a big chap. I suggest going hands on in a shop before you buy if you’re concerned about its size.

Display

The Z1 maintains the 5-inch screen size as well as the Full HD resolution of its predecessor. Sure, that’s not an improvement for a new generation phone, but when you’ve already packed in a ludicrous amount of pixels into your phones, there’s not really much room for improvement. Plus, anything more than 1080p in a device of this size would be completely redundant as your eyes can’t physically make out the pixels at such a high level.

Sony reckons there have been improvements though. It now boasts the ‘Triluminous’ display technology that Sony plonks into its high-end TVs, which apparently improves colour and brightness. While that’s mostly marketing nonsense, there’s no denying that it’s a great screen.

Side by side with the Galaxy S4, it doesn’t have the same eye-popping colour saturation, but I actually preferred the Z1’s more natural tones — the S4 can be over the top at times. It’s incredibly sharp, with even the smallest text looking crystal clear and the snow flurries and mountain ridges on my favourite test video SaveFrom.net were displayed with breathtaking clarity.

It’s bright enough to scorch out your retinas too, once you ramp it up, but still manages to maintain colour tones. Viewing angles aren’t brilliant though. Although the image itself doesn’t distort when viewed from the side, colours become washed out and blacks turn into more of a grey shade.

Sony Xperia Z1 front

Sony Xperia Z1 back

Sony Xperia Z1 side

Sony Xperia Z1 microSD

Sony Xperia Z1 camera angle

Sony Xperia Z1 comparison

Sony Xperia Z1 camera back

Sony Xperia Z1 button

Sony Xperia Z1 top

Specification table

Also known as Sony Xperia Z1 Honami, Sony Xperia Z1 C6902/L39h, Sony Xperia Z1 C6903, Sony Xperia Z1 C6906, Sony Xperia Z1 C6943

GENERAL 2G Network GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 – all versions
3G Network HSDPA 850 / 900 / 1700 / 1900 / 2100 – all versions
4G Network LTE 800 / 850 / 900 / 1700 / 1800 / 1900 / 2100 / 2600 – C6903
LTE 700 / 850 / 900/ 1700 / 1900 / 2100 / 2600 – C6906
LTE 800 / 850 / 900/ 1700 / 1800 / 1900 / 2100 / 2600 – C6943
SIM Micro-SIM
Announced 2013, September
Status Available. Released 2013, September
BODY Dimensions 144 x 74 x 8.5 mm (5.67 x 2.91 x 0.33 in)
Weight 170 g (6.00 oz)
– IP58 certified – dust proof and water resistant over 1 meter and 30 minutes
DISPLAY Type TFT capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors
Size 1080 x 1920 pixels, 5.0 inches (~441 ppi pixel density)
Multitouch Yes, up to 10 fingers
Protection Shatter proof and scratch-resistant glass
– Triluminos display
– X-Reality Engine
SOUND Alert types Vibration; MP3 ringtones
Loudspeaker Yes
3.5mm jack Yes
MEMORY Card slot microSD, up to 64 GB
Internal 16 GB, 2 GB RAM
DATA GPRS Up to 107 kbps
EDGE Up to 296 kbps
Speed HSDPA, 42 Mbps; HSUPA, 5.8 Mbps; LTE, Cat4, 50 Mbps UL, 150 Mbps DL
WLAN Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA, Wi-Fi hotspot
Bluetooth Yes, v4.0 with A2DP
NFC Yes
USB Yes, microUSB v2.0 (MHL), USB On-the-go
CAMERA Primary 20.7 MP, autofocus, LED flash, check quality
Features 1/2.3” sensor size, geo-tagging, touch focus, face detection, image stabilization, HDR, panorama
Video Yes, 1080p@30fps, video stabilization, HDR, check quality
Secondary Yes, 2 MP, 1080p@30fps
FEATURES OS Android OS, v4.2 (Jelly Bean)
Chipset Qualcomm MSM8974 Snapdragon 800
CPU Quad-core 2.2 GHz Krait 400
GPU Adreno 330
Sensors Accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass
Messaging SMS (threaded view), MMS, Email, IM, Push Email
Browser HTML5
Radio Stereo FM radio with RDS
GPS Yes, with A-GPS support and GLONASS
Java Yes, via Java MIDP emulator
Colors Black, White, Purple
– ANT+ support
– SNS integration
– TV-out (via MHL A/V link)
– Active noise cancellation with dedicated mic
– MP4/H.263/H.264 player
– MP3/eAAC+/WAV/Flac player
– Document viewer
– Photo viewer/editor
– Voice memo/dial
– Predictive text input
BATTERY Non-removable Li-Ion 3000 mAh battery
Stand-by Up to 880 h (2G) / Up to 850 h (3G)
Talk time Up to 13 h 50 min (2G) / Up to 15 h (3G)
Music play Up to 110 h
MISC SAR US 0.75 W/kg (head)     1.15 W/kg (body)
SAR EU 0.77 W/kg (head)
Price group
TESTS Display Contrast ratio: 1513 (nominal), 2.950 (sunlight)
Loudspeaker Voice 65dB / Noise 62dB / Ring 65dB
Audio quality Noise -91.8dB / Crosstalk -89.9dB
Camera Photo / Video
Battery life Endurance rating 53h
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