Sony is experiencing a mobile renaissance at the moment, with the original Xperia Z marking the start of its charge back to glory, followed shortly by the impressive Xperia Tablet Z. But the Xperia Z phone’s lacklustre display, was simply good – and not great. In a market full of very strong competitors Sony was going to have to do something spectacular to stand out.
Just nine months after the introduction of the Xperia Z it has been replaced by the Xperia Z1, which now takes the throne as Sony’s flagship handset. Can the Xperia Z1 succeed where the Xperia Z failed?
As we noted in our initial hands-on with the Xperia Z1, it has a heft to it that the Z did not, some of the people who held our review device said that the heft felt like dead weight making the device bulky, others that held it felt reassured by the weight. The metal bands around the edges of the device make for a more refined and premium-feeling handset than Sony has produced recently. The Z1 is a heavy phone though, it tilts the scales at 170g which is 40g heavier than its Korean rival the 130g Samsung Galaxy S4. Although I felt the phone was a bit on the heavy side some people who picked it up commented on how much more premium and sturdy it felt compared to the S4.
The bezels around the display are also massive in comparison to the competition. Samsung in particular managed to keep the S4 and Note 3 relatively the same size as their predecessors by increasing display size and decreasing bezels.
The good news is that the Xperia Z1 retains the dust- and water-proof design (it can be submerged for 30 minutes at a depth of 1 meter) of the Xperia Z – a definite standout feature. The only other flagship smartphone that offers something similar is the Galaxy S4 Active from Samsung.
This is where the Xperia Z1 truly shines. Pairing 2GB of RAM with the current cream-of-the-crop Snapdragon 800 SoC (System-On-a-Chip), from Qualcomm, means the Z1 suffers from little to no lag. It easily breezes through the day-to-day mundanity of email, Twitter and Facebook without even batting an eye, and when the heat really turns up – such as in gaming – the Z1 is an absolute pleasure to use, rendering silky-smooth graphics.
The Xperia Z1 ships with Android 4.2.2, leaving it one version behind the most recent Jelly Bean release, version 4.3. That OS has slowly been making its way onto the premium devices in the market, and has most recently been seen on the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. It won’t make a massive difference to your usage for the first few months but because of the fancy features built into 4.3, your device may start to get slower in time if it hasn’t yet been upgraded.
But since all devices will need to get an update to Android 4.4 (Kit Kat) shortly, we doubt anyone will miss the transition to 4.3 if an update to 4.4 is already being worked on for the Z1.
Sony’s customisation is not as heavy as competitors like Samsung’s TouchWiz and as such the experience is closer to the Android that Google intended it to be. It’s fast and responsive and not weighed down by a bevy of potentially disused applications.
The 5 inch 1080p display in the Xperia Z1 was touted by Sony as the fix to the disastrous display that plagued the Z. With a pixel density of 441ppi and a promise from Sony that the Triluminous display technology used in its fantastic TV panels would improve the display quality of the Z1, there were high hopes that the woes of the Xperia Z’s display would be a thing of the past.
Disappointingly, the display does not live up to the branding. Viewing angles are atrocious, with colours washing out almost the instant that the device is tilted off centre. It may not seem like a big deal, considering the fact that smartphones are single-person centric, but when using it as an in-car GPS the maps would be almost illegible during the day, unless the screen brightness was jacked up to the extreme.
It’s still baffling that a prolific display manufacturer could struggle so much to make a decent display for a mobile phone. Samsung, Apple and HTC all have phenomenal displays in their flagship products (and even in some of the lower end ones) – Sony needs to correct things in this department, and it needs to do so soon.
The 20.7Mp camera sensor in the Z1 is a massive update from the “measly” 13Mp unit found in the Xperia Z, dwarfing every other smartphone in its class, save for the 41Mp monster inside the Nokia Lumia 1020. Although the Z1 is capable of taking (and storing) 20Mp snaps, it defaults back to 8Mp and uses oversampling techniques that take the additional pixels captured and use them to create better looking images at 8Mp.
The newly added two-stage shutter button, (which activates the autofocus and the light meter) along with the bevy of camera options and manual settings are also a welcome addition to the photography mix, giving power users a much more precise control over the photos that they take with the Z1.
The Xperia Z1 gets to brag about battery life a lot, with a monster 3000mAh battery and some of the smartest battery saving additions seen in any Android device. There’s the aggressive STAMINA mode, which turns off all data network connections while the display is turned off, and then the brilliant location based WiFi toggle which uses location services to power on the wireless radio when you’re near a preferred hotspot. This saves power by preventing the wireless radio from always searching for networks.
The Z1 is able to consistently make it through an entire day on a single charge, an impressive feat considering the rigours of our benchmarking and testing. An average user should find the Xperia Z1 to be more than capable of meeting a full day’s work, and by tweaking the Low Battery mode settings can even look forward to extending the critical functions of the phone even longer when the battery runs low.
The Xperia Z1 almost gets everything right. It has the specs sheet to scare rivals and delight customers, but falls short on the final execution. Importers are offering it from around R9 000 while the Galaxy S4 can be found for around R1000 less and comes with 1GB/month free Always On WiFi and the Accidental Damage from Handling warranty. Sony needs to do more to compete at the top end of the market either with more value added services like Samsung or a better price..
If you’re a diehard Sony fan or hate the other manufacturers enough then this could be the device for you, but for anyone else in the market for a new phone it may be that the Xperia Z1 falls just a shade short of the mark that was set by Samsung.
Battery life 5/5
Value for Money 3/5
Display: 5-inch 1080 X 1920 Triluminous TFT LCD
Processor: 2.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 (MSM8974)
Memory: 2GB RAM
Storage: 16GB (Expandable with microSD card up to 64GB)
Camera: 20.7-megapixel rear, 1.2-megapixel front
Networking: LTE, 3G, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, 802.11ac wireless
Sensors: Gyroscope, accelerometer, proximity sensor, light sensor
Other : IP58 certified – dust proof and water resistant over 1 meter and 30 minutes