Sony Xperia Z1 expert review
Sony has recently released the Xperia Z1, a waterproof Android handset packed with power and boasting a 20MP Camera. Agent Naish gets hands on and finds out if Sony has made a top Android contender.
Xperia Z1 - Summary
RRP: £549 Sim Free
The Xperia Z1 doesn't come cheap, but it certainly earns its keep.
This is a fast and eye-catching handset built for the Android power users out there.
Here's a quick look at the Z1's pros and cons:
- Fully waterproof
- 1080 HD resolution
- Long-lasting battery life
- Impressive build quality.
- PC software is a bit lacklustre
- Comes with 16GB storage only
- Slightly underwhelming camera performance
Design and First Impressions
The Sony Xperia Z1 is very visually striking, and certainly makes an immediate impression. It does seem to have the Marmite factor, however, with Agents around Geek Squad HQ either loving or hating the design. But the vote was weighted towards a positive response. In order to accommodate the waterproof design, almost every port on the phone is protected by a cover with only the headphone jack being exposed. This gives the phone a nice sleek feel, and the buttons along the right-hand side are only slightly raised, which further adds to its simple design.
This gives the phone a very rectangular look and feel, which is what divided opinions here so strongly, so if you're looking at picking up an Xperia Z1 it may be worth getting your hands on one first to make sure it matches your taste.
A hidden design feature that you hopefully won't ever have to test is that the phone is shatter-proof. Sony has spent a lot of time and money making the phone a very solid device, and its advertised to be able to withstand a drop from at least table height. If dropped on concrete expect some minor damage to the outside of the phone chassis, but some accidental testing on our side proved fruitful, with the phone coming away from a drop on carpeted floors without a mark.
The handset is heavier then most on the market, which is due to its large battery, water-resistant materials and scratch-resistant glass rather than cheap plastic components. Taken into account, this means if you can put up with the extra weight, the Z1 is a premium handset and certainly doesn't feel cheap in your hands.
As for colours, you can pick the Z1 up in Black, White or a Carphone Warehouse exclusive Purple which is certainly an eye catcher!
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Wi-Fi: Yes a/b/g/n/ac
Processor and Memory
Now we're going to start talking about the things that really make this phone stand out. Internally, this is a beast. The processing power and memory in this handset is normally reserved for phablet devices and this is one of the most powerful handsets out on the market, so don't expect the Z1 to slow down on you or buckle under the weight of multiple applications any time soon.
Storage is a small letdown as you don't have a choice of anything but 16GB internally. However, there is a microSD slot which supports up to 64GB cards. 16GB is certainly enough to begin with, but to make the most out of the fantastic processor and HD screen you will inevitably want more room for games and HD media.
Resolution: 1080x1920 Dimensions: 5 Inches Display Type: Triluminos display
More points are scored for the Xperia Z1 by looking at its screen. The 5-inch display may be a touch on the large side for the average smartphone user, but it is certainly justified by the full HD quality you're treated with. The screen also uses the same Triluminos technology found in Sony's BRAVIA TV range, which helps provide sharper, richer colours; the years of expertise in the TV market firmly translate into a stunning smartphone screen.
Playing ames, watching videos and web browsing are all fantastic experiences on the Z1 thanks to the quality and clarity of the screen. The larger size also makes typing using the on-screen keyboard easier as you are given slightly larger keys to use. The larger battery on the phone is designed to accommodate this; however, if you leave the brightness too high for too long you may notice this becomes a bit of a drain.
Adding to the impressive list of defences built into the phone is the scratch-resistant material of the screen, with minor defects, marks and faults being completely covered under the warranty offered by Sony - showing it's confident that it's built a truly robust device.
A big talking point of the Xperia Z1 is its 20MP camera with an LED flash. If you were an early adopter of the Z1 you may have been treated to a lens kit; however, if you are thinking of picking up now, you will only have the hardware of the phone itself which can be a bit inconsistent.
The camera is capable of taking some stunning photos, but only in ideal conditions. Even with the flash, in a low-light situation pictures tended to come out grainy and slightly disappointing considering the advertised camera quality. For a smartphone these are certainly fantastic photos, but as an advertised feature it seemed to offer a lot of bark with not so much bite.
The camera is also capable of recording 1080p video, but this again falls victim to the same setbacks in lighting conditions. In an ideal lighting situation these videos are stunning masterpieces, but otherwise it's an obvious 'smartphone video'. However, there is a 2MP front-facing camera which is more than enough for some HD video calling and the obligatory smartphone selfie, with on-par performance.
Battery life on the Xperia Z1 shouldn't be a major issue. Using the screen on full brightness will cause a significant drain, but only in rare circumstances will you find the battery won't last the day. The phone also has several STAMINA settings, and can dramatically increase the battery life of your device in a pinch by automatically disabling most functions. The phone will also treat you with STAMINA notifications, telling you if you haven't used an app in a while, or if anything in particular is currently draining the battery.
As mentioned before, the Xperia Z1 is waterproof - and when we say this we don't mean that its slightly splash-proof. No: the Xperia Z1 can be fully immersed in water up to 1.5 metres deep for up to 30 minutes. Provided the covers are closed on the ports, this is a fantastic feature that sets the Z1 apart from the competition. Fancy taking your phone swimming to take some underwater photos? Now you can! This is mostly a gimmick that will be ignored, but for those horrible accidents of spilling water on the device, or dropping it in the sink, it's an absolute life saver.
The Z1 comes packaged with Android 4.2 Jelly Bean and will be upgradeable to 4.4 KitKat once it is released. For now, there is no way of upgrading to 4.3 but this is only a small complaint about an otherwise solid device. Sony has kept its own software on the device quite minimal, which is very nice to see, and you will mostly see the Android OS shine through. For media and camera functions you are given a choice from Sony, and while its software is OK, it doesn't add anything that the Android OS doesn't already offer. The lack of Sony presence however does mean a fairly standardised Android experience with no nasty surprises.
After downloading a few apps from the Google Play Store, you will be able to customise your Z1 however you like and there is no reason with the great hardware backing it up that you shouldn't love using this device!
As with most handsets, there are a whole host of accessories you can pick up. You won't need a case right off the bat due to the shatterproof, waterproof, scratch-resistant nature of the device, but extra safety is never a bad thing.
One advised purchase is the Sony Magnetic Dock. Thanks to the USB port being plugged up by a waterproof cover, it starts to become a minor irritation having to open this up every time you want to charge. The official magnetic dock is small, sturdy and also works as a stand making the phone even more pleasant to use than it already is. Thanks to a Sony 'Smart Connect' app, the phone knows when it's connected to a dock and you can set the phone to do specific things when it is plugged in such as play music, launch an app or play a slide show of your pictures, which makes the magnetic dock a fantastic companion.
Sony Xperia Z1 - The Verdict
Playing with the Xperia Z1 for the first time I was instantly blown away by the overall quality of the phone. This is a premium handset that feels expensive and performs to a very high standard. It's also nice to see a phone that's built to last with several design features in place to try and minimise the chances of damaging it.
It's equally very refreshing to see an Android handset made to such a high quality and avoiding the plastic cases that some manufacturers choose. Other than the waterproof design there is nothing else 'new' here. This is however a completely refined Android experience that has yet to be capitalised on offering a polished, mostly standard Android experience in place of branded software at every turn.
I was still left slightly sour about the camera as I had hoped for more of a 'point & shoot' experience for the advertised quality; however, for this one dissapointment I was treated with a whole host of features that exceeded my expectations, making it for me one of the best Android phones on the market.
Though the Z1 is priced away from the casual market, for any heavy smart phone user this should be a big contender and shouldn't be overlooked as a potential upgrade. The camera is certainly a bit of a disappointment considering the hype surrounding it, but this is a small blip on an otherwise fantastic all-round handset.
ALTERNATIVES TO THE sony xperia z1
Looking for an alternative high-end Android smartphone? Then consider these...
Sony Xperia Z: Ideal for gamers and movie lovers looking for a smartphone that can go on the move with them, the Z1's beautifully designed older sibling is packed with power and some serious specs, including a 5-inch screen, 13.1 MP camera and Mobile BRAVIA Engine 2 for perfect clarity.
Samsung Galaxy S4: Thinner and lighter than previous Samsung models, the Galaxy S4 also has a larger battery and improved 5-inch Super AMOLED screen, making it perfect for web browsing, watching videos and taking photos.
HTC One: This nifty handset packs a real punch, with its 4 pixel camera, Beats Audio, ultra-loud stereo speakers and super-fast 4G connectivity; the ideal option for anyone into their music and streaming.