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Smartphone cameras have been improving in their ability to capture just the right moment you’re looking for over the past couple of years, with Nokia making the biggest leap in offering a smartphone with a high resolution 41MP camera. The Lumia 1020 certainly impressed us with its ability to offer a great camera experience within a smartphone, although it device may have some competition now that Sony announced its new Xperia Z1 early last month.

The Sony Xperia Z1 is being touted to deliver a “true compact camera performance” through a combination of the smartphone’s G Lens, its CMOS image sensor and the BIONZ for mobile image processing engine. The camera isn’t the only thing Sony beefed up on its Xperia Z1 as the device runs on a quad-core 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, has 16GB of internal memory, 2GB of RAM and is completely waterproof. With all of that goodness inside of the Xperia Z1, along with its 20.7MP camera, we think the Android smartphone deserves to be given some attention, which is exactly what we’ll be doing in our review of the device.

Sony Xperia Z1 Specs

  • Display: 1920 x 1080
  • Display Size: 5”
  • Display Type: TFT LCD
  • Processor: 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800
  • RAM: 2GB
  • Storage: 16GB
  • MicroSD: Yes > up to 64GB
  • Battery Capacity: 3,000mAh
  • Rear-Facing Camera: 20.7MP
  • Front-Facing Camera: 2MP
  • Weight: 170g
  • Dimensions: 144mm x 74mm x 8.5mm

Context

We all use our smartphones in different ways, which is why we always like to preface our reviews with a short explanation on what we aim to do for our reviews. In my daily life, I use my smartphone as my main form of communication across a number of ways which include email, instant messaging and social media. I barely use my smartphone as an actual phone as I prefer to communicate through sending messages, and when I’m not communicating, I’m usually reading various articles on a wide variety of topics.

Industrial Design

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Sony’s Xperia smartphones tend to have similar design schemes when compared to one another, although they have slight tweaks here and there. The overall design of the Xperia Z1 is extremely sleek, starting with the front of the device. The Sony Xperia Z1 features a 5-inch TFT LCD display, which is surrounded by a bezel that’s around ½ an inch at its sides and nearly 2 inches at the top and the bottom. The top bezel includes a Sony logo along with the device’s 2MP front-facing camera. There are no physical or capacitive buttons on the front of the device, instead Sony opted to have Android’s Back, Home and Menu buttons be available at the bottom portion of the display.

"THE OVERALL DESIGN OF THE XPERIA Z1 IS EXTREMELY SLEEK"  

The outer rim of the Xperia Z1 has something going on in each side, starting with the right side where you’ll find the device’s SIM card tray, wake / sleep button, volume rocker and at its end is a camera button. The bottom of the device has a long speaker, which we’re hoping sounds as good as it looks since you don’t see many speakers this large on a mobile device these days. The left side is where you’ll find a microSD slot, a microUSB port and a wireless charging port. The finish off the grand tour of the Xperia Z1’s outer rim, you’ll find the device’s 3.5mm headphone jack located at the top-left corner.

The outer rim provides a nice amount of contrast from the all-black smartphone through a combination of silver and black. We also liked how well Sony made the covers to the SIM card tray, microSD slot and microUSB port blend so well into the rest of the device. It doesn’t blend so well where you’ll miss the ports, but they certainly won’t catch your eye unless you’re actually looking for them.

The rear of the device is pretty plain as a large Sony logo can be seen located directly in the middle of the device with a logo for Xperia located towards the bottom. Above the Sony logo you’ll find an NFC logo, and in the top-left corner is where the Xperia Z1’s 20.7MP camera is located along with its LED flash, which sits right below the camera lens.

Display (excellent)

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Having a 1080p display available in your pocket at any time is something that we’ll never get used to, which is a very good thing for manufacturers as we can’t help but be smitten any time we review a new smartphone that features a Full HD display. In regards to the Sony Xperia Z1, the 1920 x 1080 resolution combined with its TFT LDC display makes for some gorgeous visuals. Colors look bright and vivid and images have a nice contrast to them along with some deep blacks.

On a clear sunny day, the screen of the Xperia Z1 was easy to read, although we had to turn up its brightness to 100% as we experienced difficulty in seeing the screen outdoors. The glare of the LCD combined with the all-black exterior of the device made it even more difficult to see, but as long as you have your display set to 100%, you shouldn’t experience as much difficulty.

Sony Xperia Z1 Custom Apps

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Walkman

Sony’s Walkman brand is one we’re sure many of you are familiar with, and even though the actual product has been dead for quite some time, its legacy lives on in a number of the company’s products. The Sony Xperia Z1 comes with a Walkman application which serves a more sophisticated music player than what normally comes on Android devices. The Walkman app allows you to view your music in multiple categories, which include Artists, Songs and Albums. The Walkman app also serves as a gateway to access Sony’s Music Unlimited service, which if you’re a Sony Entertainment Network member, you may have signed up for the service on your PlayStation 3. If you have, you can access music from the Music Unlimited service while you’re on the go on your Xperia Z1.

PlayStation Mobile

The PlayStation Mobile application is Sony’s own marketplace for mobile games which can be purchased with your Sony Entertainment Network funds instead of directly using your credit card, as Google Now tends to do. At this time, PlayStation Mobile games don’t have trophy support, for those of you who own a PlayStation 3 or PlayStation Vita, but Sony has been promising trophy support for several months now.

Pixlr Express

Being able to tweak your photos to be published onto photo-sharing services such as Instagram and Flickr have been pretty popular for quite some time. The Xperia Z1 features a free photo-editing tool called Pixlr Express, which allows you to edit your images in a number of ways including the addition of borders, text, overlay, stickers and effects. You can also adjust a number of aspects of the image, such as its blur, contrast, focal blur and color.

Killer Apps

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Virtual Keyboard (very good)

The virtual keyboard on the Sony Xperia Z1 is very responsive and allows for a number of customizable options so users of the smartphone will have a higher possibility of finding one that fits their needs. By default, the Xperia Z1 features a grey QWERTY keyboard with a few dark grey keys. Numbers and characters are accessed on a second page of the keyboard, with additional symbols available on a third page. Sony has included Swype support on its Xperia devices, so you’ll be able to drag your finger across the keyboard’s keys in order to type in your words, if that’s your preferred method of writing.

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Facebook (very good)

Facebook on the Sony Xperia Z1 is exactly what you’d expect from a device with a 5-inch display. Your News Feed will be slightly larger when compared to the traditional Android version of the application as images, videos and ramblings from your friends will all look great on the Xperia Z1’s 5-inch display. The overall experience was very fast and responsive as we were able scroll through our News Feed and load new ones in no time at all.

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Google Maps (excellent)

Google Maps has been the go-to mapping application for many people over the past few years and it’s as great as you remember to be on the Xperia Z1. The large display on the Xperia Z1 means you can view more of a map and everything looks to be in proportion as there doesn’t look to be any weird stretching or anything like that with the application. As you’d expect, you can view your current location, receive turn-by-turn GPS guidance and even view information regarding a business or other point of interest.

Entertainment (very good)

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Video Playback (very good)

The video player on the Xperia Z1 is pretty much what you’d expect from a media player on a smartphone device. You’ll be able to control a videos playback as you can fast forward, rewind, pause and play a video at any time while it’s playing. The player makes it possible to “throw” media to compatible devices so you can access them onto a number of devices including your TV or speakers. Tweaking how the videos sound can be done with a simple tick of the “ClearAudio+” option, which can be used to automatically optimize sound settings for anything you play.

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Gaming (excellent)

The Sony Xperia Z1 has an extremely powerful 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor running it, which means we already expected our gaming experience on the smartphone to be an exceptional one. For the purpose of our review, we played Candy Crush Saga and Dead Trigger as they’re two games we feel best represent the majority of games Android owners will play. Candy Crush Saga is a casual puzzle-type game, while Dead Trigger is a game that requires more from a device’s hardware as it’s a 3D first-person shooter. For both games, we noticed absolutely no lag or hiccups when playing either game, and to be honest, we can’t see there ever being an issue with how a game performs with the Xperia Z1 considering its powerful specs.

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Speaker Quality (average)

We mentioned the speaker on the Xperia Z1 earlier in our review when we were taking a look at its overall design. Sony has placed the speaker at the bottom of the device in one long strip, leading us to believe its quality would probably improve as a result. Unfortunately, we were let down as the large speaker port doesn’t mean the speaker quality has improved on the Xperia Z1 as audio pumps out from the right portion of the speaker. If you’re an audiophile, you’ll probably appreciate Sony including its ClearAudio+ technology as an option to help improve the sound of music played both on its internal speaker as well as headphones, although without ClearAudio+, the sound quality favors higher audio ranges, leaving much to be desired from the mid and low ranges.

Digital Imaging (very good)

Sony has put a lot of thought into the Xperia Z1’s camera as it’s one of the main selling points for the device. The Xperia Z1 features a 20.7MP main camera which the company touts has a “true compact camera performance” thanks to a combination of Sony’s award-winning “G Lens,” its ½ 3-type Exmor RS for mobile CMOS image sensor and BIONZ for mobile image processing engine. What this means for the everyday consumer is there’s some high-quality tech behind the Xperia Z1’s main camera.

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Camera Application (very good)

The Sony Xperia Z1’s camera application comes with a nice amount of bells and whistles as you’ll be able to take photos and video right from the get-go with several options, such as self-timer, auto upload, burst with longpress and face registration, which tags familiar faces so you can find their photos with ease.

The camera application includes a number of applications that further expand what kind of photos you can take with the Xperia Z1 as you can add picture effects at the moment you’re taking your shot, take a sweep panorama shot, live stream directly to your Facebook friends through Social Live and even take photos with virtual scenes and characters with AR effect. Sony also has additional applications that can be downloaded from the Google Play Store for those who want to have even more modes to play around with.

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Photo and Video Quality (very good)

With a 20.7MP camera, you would expect the Xperia Z1 to be able to produce amazing images. Unfortunately, this isn’t the Lumia 1020 which we found to be the absolute best camera on a smartphone hands down. The Xperia Z1 does produce some nice images both indoors and outdoors, but its color seems to be a bit washed out when compared to images taken with the iPhone 5. On the other hand, there’s a nice amount of detail and better contrast in images taken with the Xperia Z1, which we’re sure most people will enjoy their experience with the camera, although don’t expect it to come close to the Lumia 1020’s camera.

"THERE’S A NICE AMOUNT OF DETAIL AND BETTER CONTRAST IN IMAGES TAKEN WITH THE XPERIA Z1"  

Performance (excellent)

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Sony included a powerful 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor in its Xperia Z1, making it one of the most powerful smartphones currently on the market. Along with the Snapdragon 800 processor, the Xperia Z1 also includes 2GB of RAM, which seems to be the sweet spot for most smartphones these days. With that said, we ran the system through two benchmarks we like to use to see just how well our smartphones perform: Antutu and GLBenchmark.

"IT’S A POWERFUL SMARTPHONE"  

Antutu 3.x is an overall system performance benchmark which takes into account everything an Android device has to offer, including its CPU, GPU, and storage. The majority of Android devices tend to fall into a comparable performance footprint, which means unless you need to do something very specific with your device, like gaming, then you can expect a similar performance across the board.

antutu results

The results of our Antutu benchmark test told us what we already assumed of the Xperia Z1: it’s a powerful smartphone. The score we were presented with was 29449 which is pretty high for similar devices of this size, although it slightly loses to the LG G2, which scored over 30,000 in our benchmark for the device. With that slight difference, we’re sure you won’t notice such a small gap between both devices.

The second benchmark, GLBenchmark 2.7, was designed to stress the Android device’s graphics processor by running a game-like demo which features a fight between various characters in a number of different environments.

glbenchmark results

The GPU of the Xperia Z1 is able to produce some impressive results, according to our GLBenchmark test which resulted in a score of 53fps. This means you shouldn’t expect games and other applications that rely on the use of heavy graphics to pose much of a threat to the Xperia Z1 as you’ll be able to have an extremely smooth experience.

Perceived Performance

In addition to benchmarks, we also think it’s important to make a note of how a device’s perceived performance is. During our time with the Xperia Z1, we didn’t experience any bit of slowdown or hesitation when we launched multiple applications while switching between them on a regular basis.

Battery (good)

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For the Xperia Z1, Sony equipped the device with a 3000mAh battery, which seems to be the sweet spot for devices its size, which is to say it teeters on being a phablet, but not quite there yet. With that said, let’s just see how well the Xperia Z1’s battery performs in our tests.

Moderate Usage (good)

For our moderate usage test, we keep tabs on how far a battery drains after an hour of use while using it for light activities including corresponding through email and instant messaging, checking social media networks, reading articles and other things that wouldn’t require too much power to be drained from a device. As a result, we noticed a drop of 18% in the Xperia Z1’s battery, which means under these conditions you can expect a little over 5 hours of battery life.

Video Streaming Test (good)

For our video streaming test, we have a Youtube playing for one hour with the device’s brightness set to 50% of its full potential to see just how far its battery drains. For the Xperia Z1, we noted a drop of 16% from its battery, which means you should expect a little over 6 hours of battery life when used under these conditions.

Intense Usage (good)

If you play a lot of 3D games like Dead Trigger or use your device for activities that would drain its battery much faster than normal methods, then you’re going to want to make a note of how much its battery drains when under intense usage. For this test, we played Dead Trigger for an hour and made a note of how far the battery drains on the Xperia Z1. The result of our test shows the battery drained a total of 28%, which means if you can expect around 3 ½ hours of battery life.

Charging Time (very good)

As important as it is to make a note of how long a battery lasts, we also think it’s equally important to see how long it takes for a battery to charge itself. For this test, we simply have the Xperia Z1 charging itself with its display off for an hour and noted its battery jumped up by 46%. This means you can expect to spend a little over two hours to charge the Xperia Z1’s 3000mAh battery, which is a pretty good rate considering the battery’s size.

Conclusion (good)

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The Sony Xperia Z1 has a lot going for it as it has a really sleek design, is really powerful and has a great 20.7MP camera. If you’re looking for one of the most powerful smartphones around, then the Xperia Z1 is certainly up there.

"THE SONY XPERIA Z1 HAS A LOT GOING FOR IT"  

Unfortunately, there are some “buts” when you look at the big picture of the Xperia Z1. Sony has yet to offer any unique software to help make the Xperia Z1 stand out against other similar devices, such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. We found it difficult to come up with some interesting custom apps for our review since there really aren’t any unique applications on the Xperia Z1 that was worth talking about. Sure – its water resistance is a nice addition to a phone this size, but if you’re not going to find yourself in a body of water on a regular basis, it’ll just be another feature that you’ll probably use more times to show off to your friends than actual real-world use.

With that said, the Xperia Z1 does have a nice 20.7MP camera with some interesting applications available that can possibly help make the device worth your time and money. If you need an Android device with a large megapixel camera and powerful specs, then the Xperia Z1 should be up your alley. Just don’t expect it to have anything else to set it apart from the rest of the pack.

Overall product rating: 7/10
Filed in Cellphones >Featured >Reviews . Tags: Sony and xperia z1.
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