It wasn’t very long ago that Sony kicked off the new wave of Android flagships with the Xperia Z. A move that signalled the Japanese electronic giant’s renewed determination to crack the smartphone market. The Z1 is an unexpected mid-cycle update that boosts the specs in an attempt to compete with smartphones like the Galaxy S4 and the LG G2. It retains everything that made the Xperia Z an attractive proposition, but throws in a much-improved 20.7MP camera, along with a faster processor and a bigger battery.
The Xperia Z1 adheres to Sony’s usual minimalist design language. It’s available in black, white, or purple. It is glass, front and back, with an aluminium frame and plastic sides. There are no physical buttons on the face of the Z1 and the only real detail to catch your eye is that signature silver power button on the right spine. The ports are hidden behind rubber covers designed to keep water out. You’ll also find the volume rocker, dedicated camera key, and the microSIM tray on the right spine. The left is home to the microSD slot and the USB port. Up top there’s just the 3.5mm headphone jack.
It’s a big device measuring 144.4 x 73.9 x 8.5 mm, which makes it slightly bigger than the Xperia Z in every direction. It’s also heavy at 169g, but it really does feel like a premium device and it’s quite comfortable to hold. One-handed operation is a little tricky, though.
That full HD, 1920 x 1080 pixel, 5-inch display is gorgeous. Colours are vivid and action is silky smooth. The only niggle is that the viewing angles are not great. You’ll generally be looking at your phone head-on anyway, so this won’t usually be a problem, but invite others to gather round and watch a video and you might find it annoying.
Inside we have a quad-core processor clocked at 2.2 GHz. There’s also 2GB of RAM. Performance is excellent and you won’t encounter any lag. The Z1 ships with 16GB of storage, but you can boost that with a microSD card up to 64GB in size.
Sony has bet on waterproofing as an enticing prospect and it is nice to be able to drop your smartphone in water or use it any weather without fear. The Z1 is IP58 certified and that means it can withstand periods of immersion. As long as you make sure the flaps are closed, this device will work just fine after a dip.
One of the big selling points is the 20.7MP camera featuring Sony’s compact camera know-how. It has an Exmor RS sensor and a 27mm F/2.0 G lens. You’ll also find a range of features including autofocus, stabilization, white balance presets, burst mode, HDR, panorama, and more. General performance is top class and it’s very easy to use. Low-light conditions are always a weak spot for smartphone cameras and the Z1 is no exception, but you won’t find a better Android smartphone camera right now.
The improved hardware doesn’t end there because Sony has also addressed everyone’s number one complaint with smartphones – battery life. The Z1 has a 3,000mAh battery in it. That means you’ll get a full day of use out of it with power to spare.
Connectivity is really good with LTE, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0, and dual band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac. There’s also A-GPS and a host of options for sharing content with your TV or speakers via NFC, DLNA, or Wi-Fi Direct.
Android 4.2.2 is the platform and Sony’s interface isn’t too intrusive. There are lots of tweaks and animations, but this is obviously Android. Many of the tweaks, such as the ability to edit what appears in Quick Settings are welcome. In some areas, such as the gallery, Sony has gone a different direction with a clear album layout and a really stylish feel. You can even use face recognition to sort photos by person.
There’s no doubt that Sony would like you to use its services for content and you will find a lot of preloaded apps. There’s also no denying that the Z1 will link up best with other Sony devices for a really easy and seamless experience. Sony’s apps and services are good, and the company offers a strong entertainment portal, but you can always opt for Google Play if you prefer.
The lock screen widgets are cool for quick access to specific things like the camera or Google Now. You can also use floating small apps to capture quick notes or make calculations. There’s a lot on offer, but that typical manufacturer clash where certain services are duplicated because Google is already offering them does grate a little and ultimately anything you don’t want to use is bloatware.
Sony definitely deserves to carve out a decent share in the Android market. The Xperia Z1 is an excellent smartphone by any standards. You’ll pay £600 for a SIM-free handset, but you can get it for free on a two-year contract as low as £32 per month.
The battery life, the camera, and the ability to withstand water, combine with impressive all-round performance, to make the Xperia Z1 a real contender for anyone shopping for a new Android flagship. We recommend you take a look.
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