Sony already tried to grab consumer attention with a flagship Android device earlier this year. The Xperia Z was a decent device to start with, but when the competition hit hard a few months later, the Z fell a little behind. Chic design and water resistance were some of the handset's standout features, but it fell behind mostly in the chipset and display departments.
Sony Xperia Z1 – $ 610 (Unlocked)
- 1920 x 1080 eIPS 5.0 inch (441 ppi) LCD display
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 SoC
- 2.3 GHz quad-core CPU, Adreno 330 GPU, 2 GB RAM
- 16 GB internal memory, microSD card slot
- 20.7 MP camera, 1 / 2.3-inch sensor, f / 2.0 lens, 1080p video
- IP58 water resistance
- 3,000 mAh, 11.4 Wh battery
- LTE, Wi-Fi a / b / g / n / ac, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC
- Android 4.2.2 "Jelly Bean"
- 170 grams, 8.5 mm thick
Enter the Xperia Z1. New Snapdragon 800 SoC. New 20.7 megapixel Exmor RS camera. New aluminum body. In many ways, that's what Sony was aiming for with the original Xperia Z: a solid set of features that will entice every smartphone buyer. It might be available a little later than your Galaxy S4 or HTC One, but there's no doubt that the Z1 is a high-end handset that Sony can get started with in 2014.
The Android market is crowded, however, and Sony has found the North American market to be particularly challenging. Will a 20 megapixel camera be enough to talk about for Sony? Did you fix any issues with the Xperia Z1?
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The Xperia Z1 is more of a platter than any other phone on the market. The Z1 has a mostly rectangular, non-tapered design, is 8.5mm thick and weighs 170 grams, which makes it a bit heavier than your average handset. However, the density is due to an improvement in construction that switches from the polycarbonate (plastic) frame of the Xperia Z to an aluminum frame.
In addition to the aluminum frame that runs along the edges of the Z1, the device has two panes of glass. one in front and one in back. In combination with the aluminum used for construction, the device feels like an expensive piece of hardware through the glass, but it also has disadvantages. First, glass is a huge fingerprint magnet, and although it's oleophobic in coating, you'll find that you'll clean both panels frequently.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, it increases the likelihood of crack damage. We've all seen iPhones with a broken glass bottom, and I'm afraid that if you drop the Xperia Z1 incorrectly, you will get an expensive repair bill. Fortunately, it's proven Gorilla Glass, so it's stronger than your regular silica and extremely scratch-resistant, but not indestructible. However, I was glad that the Z1 had significantly less diagonal flex and virtually no horizontal or vertical flex compared to the Z Ultra, which of course results in a lower likelihood of the device locking into place when accidentally seated.
The front of the Z1 is chic and similar to what we all enjoyed on the Xperia Z. The 5-inch display is right in the middle and has a 16 mm bezel at the top and bottom. Since the Z1 has on-screen buttons, the lower part of this bezel is not used for anything, while the upper part contains a front-facing camera, sensor array, speaker, and notification light.
Unfortunately, the large amount of bezel makes the Z1 larger than necessary, which detracts from its pocketability and usability. It's bigger than other flagships with similarly sized displays like the LG G2 and Samsung Galaxy S4. This shows that the Z1 panel takes up only 64% of the phone's footprint, compared to 76% and 72% for the two devices above, respectively. I would have liked Sony to reduce the height of the phone and clear the front of a significant amount of unused space to make the display appear larger.
On the edges of the Z1 we see the circular power switch and the small volume rocker on the left under a covered SIM card slot. On the right side there is a concealed microSD card slot and a USB port as well as a dock connection, while on the top the 3.5 mm headphone jack and on the bottom the main speakers of the device can be seen. The covered USB port is a little inconvenient when you need to charge the phone every day, but it allows the device to be waterproof.
As for the dock connector, I'm not entirely sure why Sony would include it in this form. It looks weird, feels weird when you hold the phone, and spoils the otherwise well-designed design. The Xperia Z had a smaller, if not magnetic, dock connector that was flush with the edges. The Z1's connector is not flush when it really should be. Some people who briefly used my Z1 tester thought the port looked like a "missing volume button" that basically says it all.
Let's not forget one important addition to the Xperia Z1: the dedicated two-stage camera button. This button is critical for two reasons: It makes the 20 megapixel camera a lot easier to use. and it makes underwater photography easier. As I mentioned a few times in this review, the Z1 is waterproof to IP55 and IP57, which means it can withstand 1.5m of fresh water up to 30m long. The original Xperia Z is also waterproof. However, since you can't use the touchscreen underwater, it's pretty much useless after submerging it. However, with the special camera button on the Z1, the device can actually be used for photos underwater.
The ergonomics of the Xperia Z1 are good, but not fantastic. The edges of the handset are curved so that the rectangular design does not enter the palm of your hand. However, it doesn't fit as well as other handsets I've used. Instead of relying on ergonomics, Sony opted for a chic, visually fantastic design with strong workmanship, which is very appealing in many ways.
Once again, Sony disappoints with the inclusion of a mediocre LCD panel in the Xperia Z1. Sure, I'm talking about a (supposedly) high-end 5.0-inch panel with a resolution of 1920×1080, but the choice of eIPS technology prevents the display from being the same level of quality as the HTC One, iPhone 5s , achieved or LG G2.
For those who have an Xperia Z, the Z1's display will seem very familiar. This means that the panel has some good advantages, but also some significant disadvantages like color quality and viewing angles, which I will examine later. Let's focus on the positives first, starting with pixel density and sharpness.
2.07 million pixels on an area of 68.9 cm² correspond to a density of 441 pixels per inch (ppi), which gives the display of the Xperia Z1 the clarity that you expect from a high-end display. Any box of this quality looks as good as paper when displaying text: there are no jagged edges, no visible pixels, and the curved edges of every letter look as sharp as any book you've read. The high pixel density is also evident when viewing high-resolution photos and videos, with the display being as clear as other 5-inch 1080p panels.
The panel Sony has been working with also has its advantages when it comes to watching videos as the resolution allows you to view 1080p content natively. Five inches is a fair amount of screen real estate for media viewing and gaming. The large frames help slightly when you use the handset in landscape orientation. Even so, most of the time, thanks to the onscreen buttons, the usable screen area is reduced to 4.7 inches, although in some applications (the video player is an example) the buttons disappear.
As with my previous experience with this eIPS display, the panel is both bright and highly visible outdoors. The automatic brightness increases the background lighting of the display relatively effectively when necessary. At full brightness, you can read the display even in direct sunlight. It looks like the display module has a few more layers than competing smartphone LCD panels, which means that the display itself is a bit removed from the glass that protects it.
The extra layers of the screen don't seem to detract from legibility but have a negative impact on viewing angles. Of all the high-end phones currently available that you can name, the Xperia Z1 has by far the worst viewing angles. If you do not look at the display normally, you will notice significant washout and color distortion even at small angles. This is not a big problem when you have the device in your hands. However, if you try to read the display while it is on a desk in front of you, you are likely to fall victim to the poor viewing angles.
The color quality and accuracy of the Xperia Z1 didn't particularly impress me. The eIPS TFT LCD panel is not bad to look at, but I've found that Sony again lags behind its competitors when comparing it to the displays on the HTC One, LG G2, and iPhone 5c. In contrast to contrast and saturation, the Z1 panel only lacks the wow factor that you experience with other displays, which makes it appear rather lackluster. This is especially true if you compare it directly to the devices mentioned above.
Sony has a nifty tool up its sleeve that often improves the quality of the Z1 display, and that is the "X-Reality for Mobile" machine (formerly known as the "Mobile Bravia Engine"). The X-Reality engine implemented in the software of the handset improves the quality of images and videos when you are in the standard applications. It really makes pictures and videos look better by increasing the saturation and applying some sharpness enhancements, although I wish it was implemented in the firmware so that it was permanently enabled for the entire operating system and third-party apps.
The Xperia Z1's eIPS display isn't bad in and of itself, but it's far from the top of the smartphone chain despite its size and resolution. Across the board, Sony made many hardware improvements to the Xperia Z when it released the Z1, disappointing me that the display – a known drawback of the Xperia Z – was not addressed. Instead, it leaves a substantially identical display with the same issues as last time, which isn't great for a flagship that's strong in many other areas.