Sony announced their latest flagship in the form of the Xperia Z1 – a 20 megapixel-packing smartphone that runs 5-inch full HD display and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 CPU. Certainly a beast but does it have enough to lure people away from competition. Let’s find out by reading our Sony Xperia Z1 review below.
Design and Construction
As mentioned during our first impressions, the Z1 poses as the better-performing and better-looking brother of the Xperia Z. It also has a waterproof and dustproof body but this time sports an an aluminum frame with rounded edges and slapped with tempered glass on the front and back. All these give the Z1 an impression of durability, sleekness and functionality.
Found on the front of the device is the familiar 5-inch Full HD TFT Triluminous display, along with the earpiece which also doubles as the notification light, and the 2 megapixel front-facing camera. No capacitive buttons here so the rest are all glass.
Take a peak on the left side and you’ll see two flaps that cover the microSD card slot and microUSB port. Also found here is the magnetic port for the dock. On the right is another flap for the micro-SIM slot along with the power/lock button, volume rocker, and dedicated camera button.
Right on top is the headset jack, while at the bottom is the wide speaker grill and provision for a lanyard. Flip it on its back and you’ll see the 20.7 megapixel camera with G Lens, LED flash, and another microphone for video recording purposes.
At 8.5mm thick and weighing at 170g, the Z1 isn’t exactly the thinnest or the lightest of smartphones but it is certainly one of the best looking out there.
The Z1 retains the 5-inch Full HD display of its predecessor which includes the TFT screen. However, Sony included their Triluminos display technology which, according to Sony, gives the Z1’s display a wider color range. True enough, the Z1 was able to deliver a relatively vibrant viewing experience with very rich colors.
Yes, it’s still TFT.
The Xperia Z1 uses a TFT LCD which means that color reproduction and viewing angles aren’t as good as to one with IPS. But this is not to say that the Z1’s display is bad. As mentioned earlier, Sony’s Triluminos technology and X-Reality for mobile seem to be working as advertised as the display is crisp and vibrant.
However, as expected, it is not without flaws. Sunlight legibility is poor, blacks are not that deep, and colors fade when you start viewing from different angles. This could be a downer especially when you’re watching a video with a bunch of friends.
OS, UI, and Apps
The Z1 comes with Android 4.2.2 Jellybean right out of the box. It is skinned with Sony’s UI which doesn’t differ much from the other members of the family. It starts with five active homescreens, three navigation buttons at the bottom, and an app drawer to bring up the installed apps which you can navigate by swiping to the left or right.
Sony also added a shortcut menu here which you can access by swiping from the left edge to the right. From here you can easily uninstall an app or arrange them in different categories. Everything is pretty much straight forward and easy to use.
Speaking of apps, the Z1 is preinstalled with your usual Google suspects with the addition of Sony’s own apps like the Walkman, Socialife, Reader by Sony, TrackID, TrackID TV, Sketch, and PlayStation Mobile. The unit we received comes preinstalled with third-party apps as well like McAfee Security, Office Suite, Pixlr Express, and a demo version of Temple Run 2. All of these can be uninstalled except for TR2 which is weird.
As for your app needs, the Google Play Store and Sony Select are there to provide you with good selections. The Z1 has a total of 12GB of usable storage which should suffice for those who are heavy on apps.
Sony is also leveraging on the Z1’s 20.7 megapixel camera which is a significant improvement over the Z’s 13 megapixel. The company is also careful not to appear as to be playing around with the “megapixel” numbers and equipped the Z1 with a 1/2.3-inch Exmor RS sensor and a wide angle 27mm f/2.0 G Lens.
With the help of the BIONZ image processing engine, the Z1 is capable of shooting sharper, clearer, and brighter images even in low light. Or so they say on paper. But having tested the camera, I can definitely say that it is one of the best we’ve used so far. It is fast and captures a lot of detail with great colors especially in bright conditions.
In low light, the Z1 can handle itself well even without the use of flash. Noise is evident but the camera’s image processing engine was able to tone it down to acceptable levels.
Shot indoors (without flash) during a rainy afternoon.
As with the use of flash, one might expect some improvement in image quality given the light source but prepare to be disappointed. The tiny flash often times washes out the main subject and leaves the rest peppered with noise.
Shot indoors (with flash) during a rainy afternoon.
In addition, the light coming from the LED sometimes makes images appear yellowish. If we were to suggest, better set the flash to OFF and only use if there’s virtually no light source available.
Take a look at more sample photos below:
Sony didn’t stop in just making an impressive camera for the Z1, they also developed very useful apps to go along with it. Just tap the mode button on the lower right-hand side and it will bring up a total of eight camera modes/apps:
Superior Auto – will shoot photos and videos in automatically optimized settings.
Manual – manually adjust your camera settings. HDR works here but only at 8 megapixel.
Timeshift Burst – captures 61 frames within just 2 seconds (starting even before you press the shutter) then lets you scroll back and forth to select the perfect image.
Picture Effect – select an artistic effect to apply to photos
Sweep Panorama – take panoramic photos
AR Effect – choose from 7 virtual scenes to add to your photos.
Info Eye – shares relevant information on your subject through your camera viewfinder.
Social Live – broadcast images and videos live via Facebook
Sony mentioned that there are more camera apps being developed so expect more features to arrive over time.
As for its video recording capabilities, the Z1 is capable of shooting 1080p videos at 30fps. Take a look at the sample video below which includes underwater and low light shots:
As expected of a Xperia flagship, the Z1 is a multimedia powerhouse. Sony’s WALKMAN, Movies, and Album app provide both eye-candy and rich experience.
The WALKMAN and Movies app organizes your songs videos properly and downloads extra info with the help of Gracenote.
The Album app on the other hand makes it easy for you to browse neatly through your galleries and allows integration with Facebook albums, Picasa and Flickr.
Like what was mentioned in the Display section, the 5-inch Full HD display makes it a great partner for watching movies especially of 1080p resolution. If you’re lone watcher, you’ll surely appreciate the bells and whistles of the display but if you’re with other folks, those watching from the sides won’t appreciate the limited viewing angles.
As for the speaker, at first glance you’d think that the whole grill is the speaker itself when in fact it’s only the right side that produces sound. The left side is saved for the mic, similar to that of the iPhone.
By default, the speaker’s power feels weak so you might want to activate ClearAudio+ from the settings to give it some boost if you want to fill a small room. But if you really want a better listening experience, a good set of headphones or external speakers are still recommended.
Performance and Benchmarks
Powering the Z1 is a Qualcomm MSM8974 Snapdragon 800 CPU clocked at 2.2GHz coupled with 2GB of RAM. This immediately takes the Z1 into the ranks of the Android elite. Together with Android 4.2.2 onboard, lags should be a thing of the past.
With more than a week of use we did not experience any slow downs, crashes or random reboots. A good sign that everything is very much stable.
As we have posted in our first impressions, the Z1 scored 34,625 in AnTuTu and 21,578 on Quadrant Standard.
NenaMark 2 maxed out at 60fps while Vellamo gave it a score of 2,914 on HTML5 and 1,144 on Metal.
Call Quality and Battery Life
Call quality on the Z1 is okay and worked normally as expected as everything is loud and clear granted that the network’s signal is good.
To ensure that quality, Sony provided some extra features in this department like Micrphone noise suppression, Equalizer, Speaker voice enhancement, and Slow talk which slows down the speech of the other calling party.
As for the battery, the Z1 is equipped with a non-removable 3,000mAh battery which shows an estimated battery life of 19 hours with mobile network and WiFi on. On Stamina mode it will show an estimated battery life of 2 days and 14 hours. With our regular use which consists of constant WiFi connectivity, heavy browsing on SNS, light texting and calling, the Z1 was able to last between 9 to 10 hours.
We placed the Z1 in our usual battery test and played a 1080p movie at 50% brightness and 0% volume in Airplane mode. The result is 8.33 hours worth of continuous movie playback.
The 5-inch Full HD display, Snapdragon 800 CPU, 2GB of RAM, IP58-certified body, LTE connectivity, healthy 3,000mAh battery, and feature-packed 20.7 megapixel camera, makes the Xperia Z1 one of the best Android smartphones to date.
It is not perfect in some aspects though like the reflective TFT display and weak LED flash performance. And there’s the slow OS upgrade rollout that’s been bugging Sony for quite some time. Let’s just hope that the company has improved in this department now that Android 4.4 KitKat is on the way.
Still, if you’re one of those on a look out for a top-performing flagship smartphone with a “premium” build, the glass and aluminum-bodied Xperia Z1 should be on your top list to choose from.
Sony Xperia Z1 specs:
5″ TFT Triluminous display (1920 x 1080), 440ppi
2.2 GHz quad-core Qualcomm MSM8974 Snapdragon 800 CPU
1/2.3-inch 20.7MP Exmor RS CMOS image sensor
27mm wide angle and bright F2.0 aperture
BIONZ for mobile image processing engine
16GB of internal storage
up to 64GB via microSD
WiFi a/b/g/n, WiFi Hotspot
IP55/58 dust and water resistance
Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean
144 x 74 x 8.5mm
Available in Black, Purple, and White
What we liked about it:
*Very snappy performance
*Good battery life
What we didn’t like about it:
*Reflective TFT display