Friday, September 20, 2013

Sony Xperia Z1 - Review

The Sony Xperia Z1 is arguably Sony's most impressively specified smartphone to date, featuring a 5in full HD 1080p touchscreen, a quad-core 2.2GHz processor and Google's Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean mobile operating system.

Like its predecessor the Xperia Z – which was launched not too long ago at CES in January – Sony's latest smartphone is also water resistant, meaning it can be dunked in up to 1.5m of water for up to 30 minutes.
Sony Xperia Z1 review front
The Xperia Z1's standout feature is perhaps its 20.7MP rear-facing camera, although unlike the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and despite rumours saying otherwise, it is not capable of shooting Ultra HD 4K video. However, Sony has got one up on its rivals with the unveiling of two snap-on lenses, the QX10 and the QX100, transforming the handset – and other smartphones – into a full-on camera device.

DesignThe Xperia Z1 looks similar to its predecessor, the Xperia Z, echoing the design of Sony's high-end TV sets. Like the Xperia Z, we'd have to say that the Xperia Z1 is one of the most stylish-looking smartphones on the market today. Its glossy glass-coated casing, although prone to picking up fingerprint smudges and especially scratches, looks and feels to be of premium quality, thanks to its casing that's constructed from a single piece of aluminium with a gunmetal finish. The resulting design looks smooth, elegant and robust.

Sony Xperia Z1 review top view
Working our way around the Xperia Z1 clockwise from the top-right corner, there's a micro SIM slot, a power button, a camera shutter button, a speaker, a MicroSD card slot, a microUSB charge port and a headphone jack.

Although it will be available in black, white and purple when it launches, our Xperia Z1 review model, although it was standard black, still revealed a unique design. This was especially noticeable when compared with the iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S4, which probably would fail to turn heads in the street – unlike the Xperia Z1. Have a look at our hands-on video to see the Xperia Z1 close up.

Sony Xperia Z1 review side view
Although it looks good, the Sony Xperia Z1 isn't particularly comfortable to hold. Boasting measurements of 144x74x8.5mm, it's not a huge device, but we found that its angular casing made it hard to grip and also made it hard to reach certain icons on the screen when selecting options from the bottom to the top. This is due to the Xperia Z1's width, which means your thumb has to extend further to select on-screen prompts at the top or bottom of the display.

The Xperia Z1 is also IP58 certified. Unlike many of its rivals in the market, the Xperia Z1 is resistant against dust and water. Sony claims that this certification also means that the Xperia Z1 is scratch-proof. However, we can't say that this is the case. From just being in our pockets for a short while, and taking it in and out, the device had acquired a few surface scratches. For those who buy the Xperia Z1, we'd suggest applying the protective screen covers, which are included, as soon as possible.

Despite its susceptibility to scratches, the Xperia Z1 feels very solid, and when we dropped the Xperia Z1 from a short height, the phone survived with no damage.

As for the power button, which, as on the Xperia Z, is placed on the right-hand side of the handset, Sony has made it a little more flush to the Xperia Z1's casing so that it doesn't protrude, which makes it less noticeable when using the phone. This was an annoyance when using the Xperia Z, because we found that it would get pressed when placing the handset in pockets or using the camera, for example. Therefore, we were pleased to see that Sony made this design choice.

DisplaySony claims that the Xperia Z1's 5in 1080x1920 display is one of the handset's big selling points, and we'd have to agree.

Thanks to Sony's Triluminos display technology seen on the firm's television sets, the display is vibrant, easily matching the display on the iPhone 5. It's even better than the display on the Xperia Z. This is attributable to the display's pixel density of 441ppi, which is an impressive feature for a screen of this size as it means that pixels are almost invisible when inspecting the display close-up. This means watching movies on the Xperia Z1 is a delight, as they appear brilliantly crisp.

Sony Xperia Z1 review video payback
The screen's touch response is also accurate and a pleasure to use when zooming in and out of webpages, for example, and navigating around the user interface (UI).

That's not to say that the Xperia Z1's capacitive touchscreen doesn't have its faults. The 5in display doesn't have the widest viewing angles and becomes very washed out at wide angles. However, its not often that you'll find yourself wanting to look at your smartphone from such an oblique viewing angle, so we didn't deduct any points from the Xperia Z1's review score for this reason. That said, the Xperia Z1's screen is almost unusable in bright sunlight, despite seeming very bright indoors.
Sony Xperia Z1 review front viewing angles
Another slight gripe is that – like the shiny back panel on the phone that is made of the same glass material – the display is prone to picking up glare, which can make it hard to use under harsh lighting.

On paper, the Sony Xperia Z1 is quite the powerhouse, with a quad-core 2.2GHz Qualcomm processor and 2GB of RAM.

This power translates to using the Xperia Z1 too, as it effortlessly handled all tasks that we threw at it without any lag. We tried to push the Xperia Z1 to its limits, opening multiple tabs in the Google Chrome web browser and firing up content-heavy apps in quick succession, and it proved responsive in every situation.

Sony Xperia Z1 review Antutu benchmark result
The Sony Xperia Z1 proved just as impressive when it came to benchmarks, scoring 34,340 when we put it through its paces using Antutu. In comparison, the Google Nexus 4 scored 11,884, while the powerful Samsung Galaxy S4 also scored much lower than the Xperia Z1 at 21,224.

Operating systemSony has preloaded the Xperia Z1 with the Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean mobile operating system, with a promised update to Google's newer Android 4.3 Jelly Bean.

While we're glad to see that the Sony Xperia Z1 arrives with Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, furnished with Google Now and Project Butter, we're not so keen on how far Sony has gone in customising Android.

Sony Xperia Z1 screen
Switch the device on and you're greeted with a plethora of Sony's own apps and widgets, including its Walkman, Album, Movies and Playstation Move apps – none of which we found ourselves using much during our time with the Sony smartphone.

But it is easy to customise the homescreen on the Xperia Z1 to get rid of Sony's irritating widgets and replace them with apps from the Google Play store.

Hit the multitasking button and you're greeted with a selection of Samsung Galaxy S4 style pop-up applications, such as Notes and a stopwatch. We used these quite often, as they worked well on the Xperia Z1's large 5in screen.

Upgrading the Xperia Z1 camera from that of its previous flagship smartphone by seven megapixels, Sony has set the bar for many other smartphone makers – apart from Nokia, which has already put a huge 41MP camera in its recently unveiled Lumia 1020.

Sony Xperia Z1 review back rear facing camera
HTC recently claimed that megapixels don't count when it comes to picture quality, which might be why it configured its flagship HTC One smartphone with just a 4MP rear-facing camera. However, like Nokia, Sony seems to disagree, having put a 20.7MP rear-facing camera on the Xperia Z1.

Images taken in brightly lit conditions looked great, and the camera doesn't perform badly in low lighting either, although it's not quite on a par with the camera on the Nokia Lumia 1020.

Xperia Z1 camera shotSan Francisco
                                           Taken on the Sony Xperia Z1

The 20.7MP sensor also means that photos show excellent detail, allowing you to zoom in on a shot without loss of detail.

A great feature added since the Xperia Z is a dedicated camera key. Sony left it out on the Xperia Z and we weren't pleased, as – due to the size of the handset and its angular corners – we often found it difficult to hold the phone steady to get the perfect picture. Luckily the firm has added a button on the bottom right of the Xperia Z1, which in landscape mode sits on the top right, perfect for shooting pictures while balancing the large handset in your hands.

Something that did irritate us, however, was that the camera shutter button does nothing when it's pressed when in the Xperia Z1's home screen. It would have been nice for this button to take you to the camera app, although this might be something for Sony to upgrade in the next firmware update.

Sony Xperia Z1 review front facing camera shot selfie
There's also a 2MP camera on the front of the Xperia Z1, which proved plenty good enough for video calling and selfies. As expected, this was much grainier when shooting pictures in darker conditions than the rear-facing camera, but it still managed to take better shots in low light than the iPhone 5, for example.

Battery and storage
The battery on the Sony's last smartphone the Xperia Z wasn't the best, with the 2,230mAh cell struggling to make it through an entire day. From what we see on paper, we expected the Xperia Z1's updated 3,000mAh battery to last longer, though with a more powerful processor we worried that this could balance out and last the same amount of time.

In standby mode, with the screen turned off but still connected to WiFi or 3G, and able to recieve text messages, calls and social media updates, the Sony Xperia Z1’s battery drained by just 15 percent over a seven-hour period. Using it almost constantly on full brightness, watching videos, browsing the web and listening to music, for example, the Xperia Z1’s battery discharged by around 15 percent over one hour. The battery life performance therefore depends on how you use the phone over the course of a day.

In general use, using the phone from time to time to send messages and check social media notifications, we found that the Xperia Z1 lasted around a day and a half before needing a recharge, a significant improvement over Sony’s last flagship phone, the Xperia Z, which failed to last a full working day.
Sony Xperia Z1 review side view connectivity
The Xperia Z1 has 16GB of internal storage, which is fairly standard by today's smartphone standards. We were pleased to see that Sony included a micro SD card slot too, allowing the storage to be expanded with a further 64GB, making a total of 82GB. Like the charging port, the micro SD card slot is covered by a flip door, making the Xperia Z1 airtight and waterproof, unless you drop it in water while they are open, of course.

In terms of connectivity, the Sony Xperia Z1 supports standard Bluetooth, WiFi and 3G/4G mobile internet. It also has a micro USB port for charging via the included charging cable.

AccessoriesSony will launch the Xperia Z1 with two snap-on lenses, the QX10 and the QX100, which work with any Android smartphone or iPhone, supporting a device width of 54mm to 75mm with a thickness of up to 13mm. These two optional external lenses can either be mounted on the phone or work on their own to capture images, with the photos stored on a micro SD card inside the lens itself.

Working via NFC technology and Bluetooth, the lenses turn the Xperia Z1 into a device that resembles a full-size camera.

Sony Xperia Z1 hands on
The QX10 is the smaller of the two lenses, with an Exmor R 18.2MP sensor and 10x optical zoom, and the 20.2MP QX100 has built-in optical Steadyshot stabilisation for reducing camera shake and blur. Both lenses can also record video in MP4 format at 1440x1080 resolution and 30fps. The two lenses will retail at the same time as the Xperia Z1, though final prices are yet to be announced.

The Xperia Z1 is the best smartphone Sony has ever released, proving that the firm is getting better at developing good, sturdy and stylish smartphones that are built to last.

We weren't the biggest fans of the firm's custom software skin or the handset being prone to scratches, but the Xperia Z1 is a huge leap for Sony.

Thanks to its excellent touchscreen display, 20.7MP camera and slick performance, we think the Xperia Z1 handset gives the Samsung Galaxy S4, HTC One and the Apple iPhone 5 – although it remains to be seen whether it can beat the new iPhone 5S – a run for their money, even if it does annoy those who have just invested in the now old flagship smartphone, the Xperia Z.

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