Sony topped our smartphone chart with its flagship Xperia Z smartphone and now it's back with a new and supposedly improved model. Read our Sony Xperia Z1 review to find out if it's a worthy replacement. Updated on 25/09/13.
Sony Xperia Z1 review: Design and build
The Xperia Z1 looks very much like its predecessor 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 Z1 look the part and we're pleased that Sony has removed that unsightly statutory information and 'do not bin' logos etc.
We're a bit miffed as to why the Xperia Z1 is bigger than the original, in every way. It's 8.7 mm thick compared to 7.9 mm and it's both a few millimetres taller and wider, yet is has the same size screen. All of this means that the phone is heavier too, a gain of 25 g to 170 g is not ideal.
The Xperia Z doesn't feel overly large in the hand despite its size, but the Z1 does feel like a big and occasionally unwieldy device.
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.
Measurements 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.
Sony Xperia Z1 review: Hardware and performance
The reason for the Xperia Z1 putting on a few pounds, as it were, may be due to some hardware upgrades. The phone still has a decent 2 GB 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 highest we've seen on a smartphone to date.
With Krait 400 cores and the latest Adreno 330 GPU, it's no surprise that the Z1 flourished in our benchmarks. The Z1 is out new record holder in Geekbench 2 with a score of 3673, beating the Samsung Galaxy S4's 3227.
It also stormed through GLBenchmark 2.5 with 53 fps, again beating the Galaxy S4's 41 fps. Sony has done the treble with a superfast time of 738 ms in SunSpider 1.0.
This is one powerful smartphone and although benchmark results aren't the be all and end all, the Xperia Z1 displays faultless performance. The phone does get a little hot during intense use but not to a worrying level.
As we've mentioned, the screen size is the same as the Xperia Z as is therefore a large 5 inches with a Ful HD resolution. That's 1920 x 1080 creating a pixel density of 441 ppi meaning it's still up there with the best.
Sony has slapped some its sub-brand onto the Z1. Mobile Bravia Engine becomes X-Reality and the screen uses Triluminous technology. The latter means that this is an RGB LED as opposed to conventional white LED. The bottom line is that is looks better than the Xperia Z's display, but it's very marginal.
Storage remains at 16 GB and there's still a microSD card slot, this time support for 64 GB off the bat.
X-Reality does the same job as Sony's Mobile Bravia Engine 2 and makes photos and videos look better. It works well by mainly bringing colours to life but you might then be disappointed when you download your snaps to your computer.
The Xperia Z1 has all the mod-cons you'd expect such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC and support for 4G LTE networks. Some rivals have TV controlling infrared transmitters though, and we're still waiting for wireless charging to be a standard feature in flagship phones.
Sony Xperia Z1: Cameras
Sony prides itself on its photography and the Xperia Z1 has had an upgrade in this department. Its resolution has jumped from 13 Mp to 20.7 Mp making it the highest resolution on an Android smartphone, according to Sony. 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.
Video: Sony Xpperia Z1 hands-on demo
Sony Xperia Z1: Software
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.
Sony Xperia Z1: Battery life
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.