Sony Mobile started a new chapter of their smartphone design with Xperia Z. The refreshment was very welcome and Sony sold a large amount of smartphones since then, and Xperia Z, as a pioneer in this undertaking, proved to be an excellent device. In an attempt to put the pressure on competition, that largely adopted their approach of making an excellent Android smartphone each year, we’ve got a successor – Z1. It’s got quite a task before it, because it should replace the Xperia Z model and confirm that it wasn’t an exception, but a rule.
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Without headphones

In the box of the similar design, but of smaller dimensions, than with Xperia Z, there was room for a user manual, the phone and a charger. Unfortunately, Sony decided to leave out the headphones, like they did with Xperia Tablet Z model. That’s a real shame, because they’re usually a lot better than what the competition provides with their smartphones. Unlike the tablet which is accompanied by an anemic charger which takes hours and hours to charge it, this charger is almost twice as powerful with its 1,5 A of charging power quickly charges the battery of large capacity and autonomy.
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Most of the users decide on in which class the phone belongs to based on the first encounter, and those impressions are important to us, as well. Xperia Z1 is a very sturdy phone that instills a sense of sturdiness, which is primarily thanks to the chassis made out of one piece of aluminum. However, the increased use of aluminum also significantly increased its weight and if you drop it on pavement, it will get damaged. Grip firmness is now decreased due to polished metal edges, which is enhanced by the increased thickness with respect to the Xperia Z model. As with the predecessor, omnibalance design is present, so top and bottom sides are completely made out of reinforced glass. The fact that Z1 is the design inheritor of the Z model is clear because of the edges. They are made out of grey metal, while the central parts of the edges are made out of highly-polished black aluminum. In the upper left corner there are two lids for the micro USB and micro SD card. Below them, there’s a docking station port which supports magnetic charging, so it can be without contact. We can hardly wait for the moment when some of the manufacturers decide to provide those kinds of chargers with the phone, which would be important for the owners of waterproof phones, because they wouldn’t have to open the micro USB port all the time.

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On the upper side of the right edge, there’s the lid for micro SIM card slot, and below it, there’s a metallic power button, which is now smaller, but still looks well-made. Below is the volume rocker, which is well-positioned, and further below is the camera button, which confirms how important camera photographing is for Sony. In the lower corner, where the speaker was located previously, now there’s a slit for carrying chain. The speaker is noticeably bigger and takes up most of the lower edge surface, although only the right side functional; the left one is present purely because of esthetics. On the upper side there’s a headphones out, which is waterproof even though it doesn’t have to be closed with a special lid, just like with S4 active phone. Users who look to listen to a lot of music will appreciate this because it eliminates the need for frequent opening and closing of that port.

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Front side is completely covered with protective glass which has a Sony’s logo printed on it in the upper area. It is accompanied by the front camera and various sensors and inside the small opening near the top, there’s a small signal diode capable of RGB color reproduction. Unlike its predecessor, this time it’s more discrete, but more noticeable when necessary. The screen takes up most of the surface, which has a slightly bigger space between the side edges. The space below the screen is empty; there are no mechanical or sensor navigational buttons because they are incorporated into the screen display. Back side is also covered with protective impact-proof glass, Sony logo is almost in the center, and there’s the Xperia logo near the bottom. In the upper middle area, there’s an NFC element, and in the upper left area, there’s the camera accompanied by LED flash, that don’t stick out, which is a great success.

How much horse power?

Like we’ve said many times, the screen is one of smartphone’s most important features, especially when it is 5 inches long. With Xperia Z, we weren’t too thrilled with the screen at first, although Sony performed an actual miracle by drastically increasing the quality with a software update. New, Triluminos screen on Xperia Z1 is better than Z’s, but there’s still room for improvement. That applies especially to viewing angles; color display is changed drastically by changing the viewing angles. Sharpness and precision of the display are great, as was to be expected of Full HD screen, and color reproduction Is, when Bravia Engine is turned off (because it overemphasizes colors, in our opinion), rather pleasant. Contrast, and even the lighting, has been upgraded when compared to Xperia Z model, so we can safely say that the new screen is a step in the right direction. We don’t think that Sony will once again do the same magic and with some future software update drastically increase the screen display, as was the case with the predecessor. Therefore, we recommend that before purchase you check how the screen looks, in order not to get a wrong impression due to our review; maybe you don’t mind the viewing angles that much. The gap between the screen and side edges, unfortunately, can’t be fixed by a software patch, and in time where the competition is striving towards the borderless screens, this looks a bit outdated.

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On the other hand, we have no issues with the new combination of the processor and video card. This is the peak of what ARM currently has at its disposal, and it shows. Each operation we’ve performed on Xperia Z1 smartphone are executed very quickly and it can only be compared with LG G2 out of the smartphones we’ve tested. Even the most demanding games that worked a bit slow on Xperia Z due to weaker CPU + GPU combination had no issues on Z1. We were especially impressed, regardless of the high work frequencies on both components; we haven’t been able to notice an increase in heating during usual work. Whether the heating is decreased due to smaller production process and/or the cooling is better due to aluminum chassis isn’t that important. What’s important is that it’s heating a lot less, which isn’t the case with other top smartphones lately. Even though 2 GB of RAM appears to be enough in this moment, even in the next few months, we would have preferred that the capacity was increased to 3 GB. All more demanding applications, video memory, parallel use of multiple applications… It adds up and with the upcoming versions of Android OS, the amount of memory will be more and more important.

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We would also have preferred that the amount of internal memory is bigger than 16 GB, but at least there you have the option of increasing it with micro SD cards, which is a good thing. Also, unlike Galaxy S4 that leaves its users with less than 10 GB out of advertised 16 GB, that amount with Xperia Z1 amounts to 12 GB. We’ve liked it very much because the battery capacity was also drastically increased, which resulted in great autonomy, so its increased size is somewhat justified. Even under highest load we can’t see how you can empty the battery in one day, because in real working conditions and under demanding use, two days of autonomy isn’t a problem. With moderate use and Stamina mode, you can easily stretch it to three to five days, depending on amount of use. As usual for top quality devices, this one also supports LTE.

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Camera had a lot if improvements as well as resolution increase from 13 to 20 MP, along with increase in sensor’s physical size. It’s clear that a bigger sensor catches more light, so the pictures are good, even under weak lighting. Not only that, but also the optics have been improved and they’ve used the famous Sony G lenses and they’ve also used the special BIONZ processor for image processing, which was also borrowed from their Alpha series of cameras. We have to admit that the results were rather impressive, the images are more detailed and truly great under good lighting, and in shadows with many light sources unexpectedly good. Superior Auto now works perfectly, and during testing we weren’t able to confuse it; it unerringly used the scene settings where we were using it. The mechanic button for taking pictures is really convenient to use and by pressing it longer it opens the camera app, no matter what screen you were previously using. By pressing it only halfway will focus on the object in front, and by fully pressing it will take a picture of the scene. The only unpleasant surprise was the fact that HDR pictures are in 8 MP resolution, which is drastically less than the camera’s full capacity.

Processor Qualcomm quad core Krait 400 @ 2.2 GHz, Snapdragon 800
GPU Adreno 330
Memory 2 GB RAM, internal 16 GB, available 12 GB
Battery Li- Ion 3000 mAh
Display 5'', 1920x1080 pix, Triluminos TFT, Dragontrail glass
Interfaces microUSB, Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi ac, HSDPA, GPS, LTE, USB OTG, USB Host
Camera Back 20 MP with autofocus and LED flash; Front 2 MP
OS Android OS 4.2.2
Dimensions 144 x 74 x 8.5 mm
Weight 170 g
Price 750 €

Neatly polished

User interface didn’t have too many changes, in terms of look. Better optimization during rendering coupled with better graphics and processor led to more fluid animations during transitions that were noticeable with Xperia Z model and to this day weren’t fully removed. If you swipe to the right in the app drawer, you get an additional menu. In the same menu you can set how the apps are sorted, search them or uninstall them. This is a nice and functional addition, so we hope that Xperia Z will also get it soon.

Navigation area is the same with three software buttons: back, home and task manager. It would have been nice if the layout could be changed or be able to add the menu button like we’ve seen with the LG G2 model, but Google guidelines have to be followed. The background on which the navigation buttons are displayed is dynamic, so depending on the surrounding it changes from completely transparent to completely black, which leaves a good visual impression. As was to be expected, task manager, aside from switching between active applications, at the same time enables access to Small Apps programs, which represent a limited version of multitasking. As you might already know, those are small applications such as calculator, browser, flashlight that are located in the windows outlined in the main screen and can be moved at will. Notifications area remains unchanged; there are shortcuts to some of the most used settings, but without possibility of changing anything. There are a lot of user interface themes that change the interface everywhere, including widgets of pre-installed applications and the settings area, which looks really nice.

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In the settings area, turning an option on or off is animated, as well screen transitions, and in the list of settings options, the only thing that stands out is the Xperia Connectivity area where options such as Throw are located. That way you can use DLNA compatible devices in the local network to play music or videos. In order to get to additional Xperia options, you have to dig a bit deeper to get to separate menus for Display and Sound. There, you can play with software enhancers for sound and image, and we prefer for them to be turned off, because we like the originals better. Only during sound reproduction on speakers, we like to turn on ClearAudio+, because the conversation is clearer then.

Even better software

Xperia’s video and music applications are among the best in the pre-installed applications category. That’s because they support a large amount of formats, from visually appealing and ergonomically well-designed user interface, to a large number of functions they support. Every function they’ve had before, they have now as well, automatic updates about multimedia content, such as album covers, song lyrics, movie posters and capability to play the content in the local network. You’ve just downloaded the new album, listened to it while walking home and you want to continue doing so, but on a stereo system. It’s really easy, you just click Throw and that’s it (assuming you have DLNA or smart-compatible system). There’s the renowned application Album, for viewing images, and recognizable camera user interface had slight changes, which are intuitive. New option in the camera segment is info (Eye), a service that should provide additional information about the image, not unlike Google Goggles. The idea is for notable monuments, wines, brands or signs to be recognized immediately and to provide further information about them. This service doesn’t rely on Google, but has its own database, so its success will depend on the speed of adding new information and how much it will be locally-oriented. We played it with for a bit with a couple of global brand as well with the option of recognizing and scanning business cards, but haven’t had much luck with local monuments.

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There are also the old and reliable FM Radio and File Commander applications, which have their designs upgraded to match the new user interface. TrackID TV recognizes what are you watching on TV by scanning the video and provides info about it. Xperia Privilege provides a lot of free content, for example, in England it would enable you 60 days of free music streaming from Sony servers, as well as 5 movies of your choice. For document viewing you have OfficSuite, Evernote for taking notes, Sketch for drawing, etc.

Nothing more to say

Sony Xperia Z1 is a noticeably improved version of the Xperia Z model, but not in every way. It’s thicker and weighs more, which isn’t that good when combined with the increased dimensions. Furthermore, considering the many improvements that Sony boasted about, including Triluminos screen, we’ve expected more out of it. It’s better than with Z, but the viewing angles are noticeably worse than with competition. The last objection is more of an impression than really a fault with the smartphone, so there is the possibility of Sony surprising us with an update in near future. Namely, presenting two top models from the same class in a short time period probably means that Z will now find itself on the sidelines and that Sony will stop publishing updates and newer version of operating systems for it. Let’s hope that we were wrong, because otherwise, same the current flagship, Z1, will meet the same fate, which isn’t good at all for all those that bought them.
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However, there are far, far more positive aspects and in those terms Z1 set a high bar. One of the main features with Z model, waterproofing, is also present, and headphones out doesn’t have a lid anymore. The camera is great, with potential to be excellent, and addition of a mechanic button for turning on the application drastically increased the usability. With Xperia Z model, Sony drastically improved the quality of images after two updates, but there is still more room for improvement. Since we’ve mentioned updates, Sony doesn’t have to be in a rush for Xperia Z1. Unlike Xperia Z and Xperia Tablet Z models that had some serious software issues, Z1 doesn’t have such problems.

Top quality hardware base deals with anything remarkably fast and fluidly. Implementation of a huge battery resulted in an impressive autonomy time, especially for a device with a screen as large as this one. Build quality is great and only HTC One can match it, but it’s not waterproof and doesn’t give off a sense of sturdiness.
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All in all, Xperia Z1 is a noticeably improved version of the predecessor. Sony implemented a lot of suggestions, and with the new hardware platform they have a powerful device that can deal with other top models. Owners of Xperia Z are in the clear, for them there’s not too much need to think about Z1, and the others who want a top Android smartphone with a 5-inch diagonal, Z1 is a device to be considered.