Xperia Z1 vs Galaxy Note 3 comparison review

Galaxy Note 3 vs Xperia Z1

We test a lot of smartphones here at PC Advisor, but recently two have stood out. The Sony Xperia Z1 and the Galaxy Note 3 are both big Android phones that offer stunning performance and excellent displays. They are part of a new breed of phones alongside the iPhone 5S that is taking portable computing to a new level of performance and  functionality. But which is best, the Xperia Z1 or the Galaxy Note 3?

You can read our individual reviews of both phones here: Sony Xperia Z1 review: Xperia Z gets tuned but puts on weight and Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review: fastest-ever phone a slim, well-built phablet with stunning display. Alternatively read on for our Sony Xperia Z1 vs Samsung Galaxy Note 3 smartphone comparison review.

Read: Samsung Galaxy Note 4 release date, price and specs.

Galaxy Note 3 vs Xperia Z1: price

SIM-free both these phones will set you back a pretty penny. The SRP for both the Xperia Z1 and Galaxy Note 3 is £599. You can pick up contract deals for both from around the £30 a month mark. And both are offered on 4G deals by various telcos including O2 and Vodafone. Compare mobile phone deals for up-to-date details.

Galaxy Note 3 vs Xperia Z1: build quality and design

These are two of the bigger slabs of phone on today's market.

The Note 3 is big, yes, but it feels slim. And it has that indefinable quality: I want to pick it up and use it. This is subjective of course, but in the past I've found Samsung phones - and the Galaxy Note models in particular - to feel plasticky and cheap. That's not the case with the Note 3.

The Xperia Z1 looks very much like its high-class predecessor the Xperia Z, but there are some noteworthy changes. The phone is still glass clad on the front and rear, but the rim is now aluminium instead of a rubbery plastic. Sony has also made the edges more rounded. It's subtle but it has a significant effect on how the device feels in the hand (it's much better).

The Xperia Z1 is thicker and heavier than was the Xperia Z, though. It's 8.7 mm thick compared to the Note 3's 8.3 mm and it's both a few millimetres taller and wider than the Xperia Z, yet is has the same size screen. Although it is smaller than the Note 3 (which has a bigger screen), it weighs 170 g rather than the Note 3's 168 g. You probably won't notice that difference, but overall these small things add up to a phone that feels more bulky than its rival.

The Note 3 differs from its own father the Note 2 in a few small but significant ways. For one thing the thin plastic back that offers access to the battery on Galaxy phones has a new textured finish. From the outside it does a good impression of being leather. Now stick with this: a leather phone may sound risible, but the faux stitching and leather-like texture adds an important feel of quality, without detracting from the undoubted practicality and durability of the removable and thin back cover.

The Z1 also looks the part and we're pleased that Sony has removed that unsightly statutory information and 'do not bin' logos etc. These are two pretty stylish handsets, especially considering their size.

On the plus side, the Z1 is still waterproof and dustproof. Therefore the ports have flaps to stop the aforementioned getting in, but the headphone jack requires such flap no longer. This was a pain on the Z when headphones were plugged in. Once again there are metal contacts on the left side for use with a docking station so you can avoid using at least one flap on a regular basis.

Xperia Z1Measurements aside, Sony has retained the excellent build quality of the Xperia Z and the Xperia Z1 feels every bit a premium smartphone. Dirt still collects in a tiny groove around the edge of the glass, but the problem isn't half as bad. Since the device is waterproof, it's easy to clean it by simply running it under tap.

There's a grooved metal rim around the edges of the Note 3 that makes it feel well put together and sturdy.

At the bottom we find the S Pen, docked into the grooved metal rim. The stylus is topped in metal so it fits in neatly, although it does irritate the southpaw in me that if I am holding the Note 3 in my right hand it is difficult to extricate the S Pen with my left. Also down here at the bottom is what Samsung refers to as the 'Multipurpose Jack'. Not a handyman named John Patrick, this is in fact the power and synch connector port. It looks different to anything you have ever seen, because it is a Micro USB 3.0 connector.

But before you howl about incompatibility with your existing USB cables it is worth pointing out that any micro USB cable will connect the Galaxy Note 3 to computer or mains. (Samsung includes a warning not to use non-Samsung cables or 'the device may blow up', however. Take this warning as you see fit: despite using multiple third-party USB connectors we haven't yet blown ourselves up.) But Micro USB 3.0 adds faster data transfers via the supplied connector. The first we've seen on a live product. Nice.

It's a close-run thing, and your experience may differ, but we're inclined to give the Note 3 the nod here. Both phones are well built and stylish, but the Note 3 is thinner and (just) lighter, and it offers Micro USB connectivity. The Xperia Z1 is water- and dust proof, however. See also: 18 best Android phones in UK: What's the best Android phone you can buy in 2013?

Galaxy Note 3 vs Xperia Z1: specs and performance

The Note 3 has simply staggering specifications, and performance to match. But the Xperia Z1 is close enough behind to make the difference barely worth registering.

The Note 3 pairs a new Qualcomm Snapdragon Quad-core 2.3 GHz Krait 400 processor with a whopping 3GB RAM. And it shows. Synthetic benchmarks shouldn't be relied upon when making a purchasing decision, but if they were the Note 3 would be a must buy. It smashed our record for the Geekbench 2 real-world performance test, turning in a record average score of 4057. This beats out our next highest performer... the Sony Xperia Z1 with its score of 3673. More importantly in use both the Note 3 and the Xperia Z1 feel slick and zippy. They are truly fast phones.

The Xperia Z1 has a decent 2GB of RAM but has a new Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor. It's a quad-core processor with an impressive clock speed of 2.2 GHz, the second highest we've seen on a smartphone to date (behind our old friend the Note 3).

Galaxy Note 3With Krait 400 cores and the latest Adreno 330 GPU, it's no surprise that the Z1 also flourished in our benchmarks. Consider graphics performance: for the Note 3 graphics are handled by an Adreno 330 graphic processing unit, and benchmark results are similarly impressive. Running the GFXBench 2.7.2 Egypt HD test onscreen we got an excellent - record - result of 54fps. The Xperia Z1 tops out at an also amazing 53fps, close enough to be considered a tie.

Again, none of this would mean much if the real-world performance was poor, but we found games and video footage worked well, with no lag at all, on both handsets.

To complete the set we measured Javascript performance using the Sunspider test. As you may expect the Note 3's result was great, a lowest ever score of 589ms. The Sony is its closest challenger here with 738ms. The result is born out in the web-browsing experience. In all respects the Note 3 and the Xperia Z1 are top performers. Fast and stable. Being the best in benchmarks is not required to make a phone great, and it can be only loosely related to real-world performance. The important thing is that both are truly fast phones.

If we had to pick a winner, however, in this area we'd have to plump for the Note 3.

Galaxy Note 3 vs Xperia Z1: storage

Storage wise the options for the Note 3 are 32GB and 64GB, and there's an SD card expansion slot for up to another 64GB of storage. Xperia Z1 storage remains at 16 GB and it also has a microSD card slot, offering support for 64 GB off the bat.

Galaxy Note 3 vs Xperia Z1: battery life

This is an area in which it is difficult to scientifically pick a winner, but our experience points squarely toward the Z1. This is based on our experiences of using the Xperia Z1 and the Note 3 over the necessarily short period of a review test.

First up is the Note 3's battery cell. Taking advantage of the larger chassis used to house a large display this is a huge 3200mAh Li-ion battery rated at 12.16Wh. And the Qualcomm Snapdragon Quad-core 2.3 GHz Krait 400 processor should be lighter on the battery than was the Note 2's. However this handset has a huge and bright screen with a massive amount of pixels, which will negatively impact battery life. It is utilising 3GB RAM, too, and all the software options that Samsung adds in will suck up battery power when you use them.

Despite this, battery life is a strong point of the Note 3. Using it for email and web browsing, listening to music on the commute, a little social media and some video watching, I could easily get through 24 hours on a single charge. More importantly there was enough juice left over the next day to get in to the office.

The Note 3 is not the handset that will make the great leap forward in terms of battery life. But it is up there with the best current handsets, in my limited experience of it.

The Xperia Z1 is similar... but better. We were wondering, at the beginning of the review process whether the impressive specs of the Z1 would result in poor battery life. After all, that meaty processor and whopping screen have to get power from somewhere.

However, quite the opposite is true now we've tested the Xperia Z1 thoroughly. The phone comfortably lasts a day of regular use, and then struts through a second. We're pleased with this performance, which has only been matched recently by the iPhone 5C.

Chalk up this one to the Xperia Z1.

Galaxy Note 3 vs Xperia Z1: display

The graphics performance to which we refer above is put to good use on the Galaxy Note 3's exquisite display. This is an FHD sAMOLED display with 16M colours and a 24-bit colour depth. That's a lot of colour and it shows. In the past we've said that Samsung's AMOLED screens may be too colourful for some, and that may well be the case here. But if a vibrant and deep hue is something you like in your display you need look no further.

And the colour is just the start. This is a huge 5.7in screen with an HD resolution of 1920 x 1080. That gives it a world class pixel density of 386ppi.

The touchscreen is snappy and sensitive, although prone to picking up finger smears.

By contrast the Xperia Z1 has 'only' a 5in Triluminos Display, with 16 million colours and a resolution of 1080 x 1920. Because of the smaller display area that gives it a staggering pixel density of 440ppi.

We're used to smaller smartphones boasting retina-busting displays, but such sharpness on screens of this size is truly a thing to behold. Movie content looks amazing, games stunning.

We're going to call this a tie: the Xperia Z1 is sharper and the Note 3 has greater colour depth - although in both cases we defy a human to tell the difference. The Note 3 is bigger, of course, but that may not be to everyone's taste. Two great displays.

NEXT PAGE: Galaxy Note 3 vs Xperia Z1 cameras, software, verdict (click here)

We continue our Xperia Z1 vs Galaxy Note 3 comparison review with a look at the cameras and software.

Galaxy Note 3 vs Xperia Z1: cameras

The displays are great, and you can use those displays to view photos and video captured on the Xperia Z1 and Note 3.

The Galaxy Note 3 has two cameras, a front-facing 2Mp camera for selfies and video calling, and a 13Mp rear-facing snapper for more serious photography and video capture. The latter is a serious piece of compact camera kit, offering such features as auto focus, image stabilisation, LED flash and zero shutter lag.

Shooting modes include Drama Shot, Sound & Shot, Animated Photo, Eraser, Best Photo, Best Face, Beauty Face, HDR (High Dynamic Range), Panorama, Sports, Golf, Surround shot and Live effect. And specs wise the Note 3 makes a great video camera, capturing Ultra HD video at 30fps, all the way up to slow motion HD at 120fps.

Photo quality is okay, but not great. We'd call the Galaxy Note 3's camera a smartphone camera. Good enough for the odd snap, but not a dedicated camera for hobbiest photographers.

The Xperia Z1's rear-facing camera has a serious sensor, running to 20.7Mp. It's also got a dedicated camera button which we love.

The camera boots up quickly, even from sleep by holding down that dedicated key. The snapper focuses quickly and accurately most of the time, too. Results are high quality as you would expect, but if you're an Xperia Z owner don't get your wallet out just yet. It's not the major improvement that Sony makes out. Our main complaint is that pictures tend to look a litter darker or duller than the scene did in real life.

Mirroring Sony's compact cameras, there is a Superior auto mode which will simply do everything for you. If you're feeling more adventurous though, you can switch to manual and tweak the settings – although it's no match to the Nokia Lumia 1020 and its Pro Cam app.

Strangely, the manual mode is the only way to access the full 20 Mp resolution of the camera. By default it's set to 8 Mp 16:9 photos which is not made clear at all.

There are also Xperia camera apps, for burst shots, effects and panoramas. For fun there's also a gimmicky augmented reality app in case you want to pretend you're being chased by a T-rex. Social live bizarrely broadcasts events live to Facebook and Info-eye gives you info on things you point the camera at like a bottle of wine.

The resolution of the front camera has dropped slightly to 2 Mp but can still capture 1080p video and the quality is excellent.

It's a close-run thing but overall we prefer the Z1's camera. See also: 18 best Android phones in UK: What's the best Android phone you can buy in 2013?

Galaxy Note 3

Galaxy Note 3 vs Xperia Z1: software

The Galaxy Note 3 comes with Android 4.3 'Jelly Bean' installed, as well as Samsung's own TouchWiz interface. Jelly Bean is the best Android yet, offering a slick consumer experience and access to all the media and apps that Google Play can offer.

You can also install and purchase apps and media from Samsung's own store, which is in some ways confusing but does at least offer you the opportunity to compare and choose based on price.

Samsung does love to stuff its handsets full of software features, many of which I'd wager you never use. There's voice control that allows you to wake up your handset without using your hands. S Finder is like iPhone's Spotlight, allowing you to find files and apps from anywhere in your handset. There are other functions that we'd file under 'bloat'. Digital Scrapbook and My Magazine may prove to be central to your experience on the Note 3. They won't be to mine.

We like Multi Window, although it takes a bit of doing. In essence this is a means of using two apps at once on the same display. With a screen such as the Note 3 this is a key competitive advantage over other devices.

One problem I did have was with the Note 3's onscreen keyboard. Despite the enormous screen real estate I found I made typing mistakes with this much more than I have with the other handsets I use, including the BlackBerry Z10 and iPhone 5. It was just more difficult to hit the right key, and less likely to autocorrect when I did.

Sony has done some spring cleaning with its Android users interface. The overlay looks similar but is cleaner and more stylish in parts. At the time of review the Xperia Z1 is running Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean but will no doubt be updated to 4.3 and 4.4 KitKat in the future.

As usual Sony includes some good looking and handy widgets. There are also small apps which float around the screen including notes, calculator and a timer.

Sony is an Android smartphone maker which likes to add a number of apps to the regular Google selection. Some might come in handy such as TrackID, OfficeSuite and Box, but overall it's a little too busy for our liking.

Two apps called Xperia Lounge (beta) and Xperia Privilege serve up exclusive content and offers but the selection isn't exactly enthralling at the moment.

It's a shame that despite a large area between the bottom of the screen and the edge of the phone, the navigations buttons are taking up screen real-estate. They do disappear for things like full-screen video playback though so it's not the end of the world.

There will be no winner selected here. Suffice to say both handsets run recent and excellent versions of Android.

Xperia Z1

Galaxy Note 3 vs Xperia Z1: only one has an S Pen...

Then there's the S Pen. Samsung's stylus that must never be referred to as a stylus. Again, I'm going to try not to allow my personal feelings to seep into this. I know some people love their S Pens. I don't. I think that if a stylus is required it is a failure of the touchscreen interface. And I don't think a stylus is required here.

However, here is the counter argument for those new to the concept of the S Pen. Pulling out the S Pen wakes up the phone. Hover it over the screen and it brings up contextual menus. The S Pen allows you to write freehand and move around windows on the display. You can capture a screenshot and launch command menus.

I have tried all of the above, and they all work. But I'd still rather use my finger. And I find the process of pulling out the S Pen tiresome and fiddly, even when I use my right hand.

So you decide: is a stylus a good or a bad thing in your view? Only the Note 3 comes with one.

Galaxy Note 3 vs Xperia Z1: and the winner is..?

It's a close run thing, and we'd recommend you handle both of these handsets before you buy. The Note 3 is the better performer, but we're talking about a level of performance on both phones which is more than adequate for everything you need to do. It has a bigger, more colourful screen - but not everyone wants a huge screen and the Xperia Z1 has a sharper display anyway. Camera wise we'd err toward the Z1, but neither is earth-shatteringly good. And battery life is about even, albeit with the Z1 again marginally on top. They run similar software similarly well, and although only the Z1 is waterproof, they are both built to last. You pays your money you takes your chance. Two great phones that show how far Android has come.

(And for those who simply have to see  us choose a winner, I'd go for the Note 3. Purely personal opinion. My colleague Chris Martin prefers the Sony, however, and it is higher in our smartphones chart. See: What's the best phone you can buy in 2013?)

Samsung Galaxy Note 3: Specs

  • GSM 3G/HSPA+/LTE, GSM/GPRS/EDGE (850/900/1800/1900MHz), LTE (800/850/900/1800/2100/2600MHz), HSPA+ (850/900/1900/2100MHz)
  • 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • NFC
  • 2.3GHz Quad GHz CPU Speed
  • Accelerometer, Geomagnetic, Gyro
  • USB 2.0, USB 3.0
  • 3.5mm Stereo Earjack
  • MicroSD External Memory Slot (up to 64GB)
  • Micro SIM
  • Android 4.3 Jelly Bean
  • 32/64GB Memory
  • 151.2x79.2x8.3mm
  • 168g
  • 3200mAh Standard Battery
  • 5.7in FHD sAMOLED 16M Colour Depth, 1920x1080
  • S Pen
  • CMOS, 13 MP BSI Sensor, Auto Focus, Smart Stabilisation, LED Flash (High CRI), and Zero Shutter Lag
  • CMOS, 2MP BSI sensor with Smart Stabilisation, Full HD recording @30fps
  • GSM 3G/HSPA+/LTE, GSM/GPRS/EDGE (850/900/1800/1900MHz), LTE (800/850/900/1800/2100/2600MHz), HSPA+ (850/900/1900/2100MHz)
  • 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • NFC
  • 2.3GHz Quad GHz CPU Speed
  • Accelerometer, Geomagnetic, Gyro
  • USB 2.0, USB 3.0
  • 3.5mm Stereo Earjack
  • MicroSD External Memory Slot (up to 64GB)
  • Micro SIM
  • Android 4.3 Jelly Bean
  • 32/64GB Memory
  • 151.2x79.2x8.3mm
  • 168g
  • 3200mAh Standard Battery
  • 5.7in FHD sAMOLED 16M Colour Depth, 1920x1080
  • S Pen
  • CMOS, 13 MP BSI Sensor, Auto Focus, Smart Stabilisation, LED Flash (High CRI), and Zero Shutter Lag
  • CMOS, 2MP BSI sensor with Smart Stabilisation, Full HD recording @30fps

OUR VERDICT

It's a close run thing, and we'd recommend you handle both of these handsets before you buy. The Note 3 is the better performer, but we're talking about a level of performance on both phones which is more than adequate for everything you need to do. It has a bigger, more colourful screen - but not everyone wants a huge screen and the Xperia Z1 has a sharper display anyway. Camera wise we'd err toward the Z1, but neither is earth-shatteringly good. And battery life is about even, albeit with the Z1 again marginally on top. They run similar software similarly well, and although only the Z1 is waterproof, they are both built to last. You pays your money you takes your chance. Two great phones that show how far Android has come.

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