Sony Xperia Z1 User Review

*This is a review of a loaned unit from Sony Mobile Malaysia*

In my past review of 2 recent Sony Xperia series devices, I really like the build quality and refresh of what Sony has done to their flagship Android devices. Since the buy-back of their Sony brand for their mobile phones division from the Sony Ericsson partnership, the Japanese manufacturer has revived itself with greater and greater devices, bringing them back in the game.

After reviewing both the Sony Xperia Z (last year’s flagship) and Sony Xperia Z Ultra (large screen phablet version), I am happy to get my hands on the Sony Xperia Z1, this year’s Android flagship smartphone.

Having spent about 2 weeks with this gorgeous tempered glass slim smartphone, here’s my full user review on the Sony Xperia Z1.

Sony Xperia Z1

Here’s a quick snapshot of the specifications of the Sony Xperia Z1 :-

  • 5″ Full HD TRILUMINOS™ display (1920 X 1080)(441 ppi)
  • 2.2 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor
  • 16 GB internal memory (expandable micro SD slot up to 64 GB) + 2 GB RAM
  • Powered by Android 4.3 Jelly Bean OS
  • 20.7 megapixel Sony Exmor RS rear camera (pulsed LED flash, autofocus, 1080p HD video with HDR), 2 megapixel front facing camera ( 1080p video)
  • 8.5 mm thin, weighing only 169 grams
  • 3,000 mAh non-removable battery (up to 14 hours 3G talktime)
  • Waterproof (IP55/IP58) up to 1.5m freshwater for 30 minutes & Dust resistant (IP5X)
  • Connectivity : 4G LTE/HSPA+, WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, DLNA
  • Available in 3 colours : Black, White and Purple

For more detailed technical specifications, check out Sony Xperia Z1 Product Page at http://www.sonymobile.com/my/products/phones/xperia-z1/

 

Hardware and Design

Sony Xperia Z1 - Box
Front and back of the Sony Xperia Z1 box packaging

Firstly, let’s unbox the Sony Xperia Z1. If you noticed, the box packaging is actually the same with the previous 2 phones from Sony, with a square cardboard box, that’s slim with a picture of the device in the front and high-level features at the back. To be honest, I don’t quite like the box for such a premium phone like this. I also feel that once the seal is broken, it’s hard to hold the device and its content securely in the box without the lid popping up all the time.

Perhaps with the new redesigned phones, they can do something about making the box  packaging better?

Sony Xperia Z1 - Unboxing
Unboxing the Sony Xperia Z1

Inside the box you’ll find the device, a 2-pin power adapter, USM to micro USB charging and syncing cable and user manuals. Missing from the usual suspect is a standard headphones and spare earbuds, something they probably should include.

Sony Xperia Z1 - Hardware 1
Front and back of the Sony Xperia Z1

The device is gorgeous as expected. The front houses a 5” TRILUMINOS™ Display for mobile with X-Reality for mobile at a 1920 X 1080, full HD 441 ppi display screen with glass all over the sides, including the thin bezel around the touchscreen display. At the back, tempered glass back with the 20.7 megapixel rear camera and a minimalistic Sony branding in the middle.

Sony Xperia Z1 in hand
Sony Xperia Z1 in hand

As with previous phones, the back being glass can get to be quite a fingerprint magnet. But holding the device in your hand, you cannot deny the premium and high end feel this phone gives you. Weighing in at 169 grams, it’s not heavy but feels firm and solid in your hands with the square-ish design.

Sony Xperia Z1 - Hardware 2
Ports and buttons on Sony Xperia Z1

The phone is nice and slim, too at 8.5 mm thin with a solid one-piece aluminium frame housing the ports and buttons at the sides. You get a 3.5 mm headphone jack at the top with nice clean lines. There’s a flap to access a somewhat flimsy tray for your microSIM card, the Power On/Off button in the middle at the right side (for easy single hand access) just above the volume rocker.

And… a dedicated camera button! This is usually seen in Windows Phones, but for Sony to include this dedicated button for the camera on an Android smartphone is simply ah-mazing! Well done!

On the left side of the device, you get more flaps to access the expansion microSD slot as well as the microUSB charging and syncing port. There’s also a connector point for docking stations (added accessory). At the bottom, you’ll find an elongated speaker grill. Not bad for placing this at the bottom instead of at the back of the phone like some other manufacturers. Still don’t beat the front facing speakers on HTC One, though.

Overall, I can’t fault Sony for anything major. In fact, the design of this slim phone and the premium build quality with the tempered glass back is one of my favourite design in smartphones today – be it Android or Apple or Windows Phone or BlackBerry.

Gorgeous design. Great build quality.

 

Software and Features

As you can see in the video above, the Sony Xperia Z1 comes with a whole bunch of new features and enhancement since the last version of the Xperia Z.

Sony Xperia Z1 - Menu, Navigation
Menu and navigation with Sony’s minimal skin/theme

The Z1 runs on Android 4.3 “Jellybean” OS out of the box, but will be receiving an upgrade to the latest Android 4.4 “KitKat” OS soon (according to Sony’s blog here). Nevertheless, the user interface and experience is nice, with easy to use menu and navigation, and simple dark swirl theme, which I really like.

Sony Xperia Z1 - Shortcut mini apps
Shortcut mini apps are great

Like with Samsung Galaxy Note devices, there are mini apps that Sony has included which comes in quite handy. Pressthe on screen “Multi task” button and you’ll launch the last few opened apps. Here, at the bottom bar, you’ll see 4 icons of mini apps along with an arrow to expand to see more mini apps you can launch. These includes simple and quick tasks you might want to perform, like calculator, mini note, voice recorder, bookmarks, timer and even Gmail!

See Also : Sony Xperia Z Ultra User Review

Sony Xperia Z1 - Sony Select
Sony Select app and content store

There are some  pre-installed apps in the Z1, some showcasing the great features of the camera, social connectivity and the breadth of Sony’s parent company with their movie production and music recording businesses. You get to browse, purchase and download some amazing content from movies, music and apps through Sony Select, their own app and content store.

 

Dust and water-resistant (IP55 & IP58)

There are lots to love about the feature of the Z1, which undoubtedly includes the greatest feature of them all – being waterproof and dust proof. This is not a “rugged” or “active device per se, but the certification of IP55 and IP58 for waterproofing means you can submerge the Z1 in up to 1.5 metres of freshwater (not in the ocean saltwater) for up to 30 minutes. Dust proofing keeps any dust and dirt particles from malfunctioning your Z1 as well.

Sony Xperia Z1 - Flaps
Flaps to cover microSIM, microSD and microUSB ports

Provided, of course, that you have all the flaps for the microSIM, microSD and microUSB ports covered. The flaps might seem flimsy, like they might not be up to par in securing your device from water or dust, but trust me, I’ve done enough test in washing the device in the sink and submerging it in my swimming pool. It works!

You might be wondering, what about the 3.5mm headphone jack? Well, even though that’s not covered with flaps, Sony’s included some great technology to ensure that it’s waterproof as well, even if it’s seemingly exposed.

 

Camera

Sony Xperia Z1 20.7 megapixel rear camera
Sony Xperia Z1 20.7 megapixel rear camera

The other major improvement to the Z1 is the camera. This time round, Sony included a 20.7 megapixel camera at the back. That’s a massive boost from the previous 13 megapixel on the Xperia Z.

The Xperia Z1 is built with the very same components as Sony’s compact digital cameras, meaning it’s a great smartphone for capturing images.

The Exmor RS™ for mobile image sensor on the new rear camera uses the same technology as their digital cameras, build for mobile for the first time.

Sony Xperia Z1 - Camera
Z1’s Camera app

The Camera app itself has very good controls for multiple modes and toggles. From either defaulting to Superior Auto mode to Manual to other funky camera apps and effects, there are certainly a number of cool enhancements and features added to the Z1.

Here are some sample pictures taken with the Sony Xperia Z1. Images are not edited or resized, so mouse over to view the photo condition and click to view enlarged version.

Sony has made low light photography amazing as well. While it’s no Nokia Lumia 1020, the Z1 does take great pictures in low light condition. Even with the flash on, images are not over exposed or white out.

In my previous review of Xperia Z here, I noted that the touchscreen loses its sensitivity when I attempted to take a picture underwater, because the touchscreen loses its recognition of my colder finger (which is essential for capacitive screens). So Sony improved it this time with a dedicated camera button on the right side of the device. This is godsend. You can now easily take pictures, be it on land or underwater, without having to use the on screen camera shutter button.

Kudos, Sony.

Sony Xperia Z1 - AR Effect
AR Effect allows you to select different AR animations
Sony Xperia Z1 - AR Effect 2
Had loads of fun with dinosaurs and fishes on my keyboard

The Camera app is much improved as well, alongside a number of other camera-related apps which includes:-

  • Social Live – Broadcast a video to Facebooka s it happens, so your friends can comment immediately, live, while you’re still recording
  • Info-eye – Works like Google Goggles, photograph an object and it gives you info on the object on your viewfinder
  • AR Effect – Include some fun Augmented Reality (AR) animation (like dinosaurs, fishes) and see them come to life on your viewfinder
  • Timeshift Burst – Like Samsung’s Best Shot / HTC Zoe, capture 61 frames in 2 seconds, then select the best frame and save that shot to never miss a moment again

Check out more on these camera apps and video demos on Sony Xperia Z1 Product Page here.

 

Battery Life

The Sony Xperia Z1 comes included with a 3,000 mAH non-removable battery, which is average and more than sufficient for normal light to moderate usage.

Sony Xperia Z1 - Battery Stamina Mode
Battery Stamina Mode

If you’re a heavy user though, you’d want to know about Sony’s inclusion of battery STAMINA Mode to prolong the juices of your smartphone. It basically disables data on your phone when the screen is off, thus saving you the much needed battery if you don’t check your phone every 5 seconds.

However, this might render some of your realtime, push messages like email and WhatsApp to not work. Which is why Sony allows you to add apps to be included in the “exception” list, where even with Stamina Mode on, these apps will still be data-active, so your push messages and notifications will still work.

Sony Xperia Z1 - Battery Life

 

In my 2 weeks using the Z1, as my primary phone, with my usual moderate use of a couple of phone calls, a number of emails and messages, some browsing and social media updates, the Z1 lasted me a healthy 15 – 18 hours of use with usually about 50% of battery left. If I left it on, I am confident that it will likely push the 24 hours mark with my usage.

 

Pricing and Availability

Sony Xperia Z1 is already available on sale since early October 2013, at a Recommended Retail Price (RRP) of RM 2,399.

You can also purchase the device at a discounted price along with a telco bundle plan as follows:-

  • Maxis plans with device from RM 1,199 HERE
  • Celcom plans with device from RM 1,538 HERE
  • DiGI plans with device from RM 2,100 HERE
  • U Mobile plans with device from RM 1,188 HERE

 

Conclusion

Sony Xperia Z1

 

Do I like the Sony Xperia Z1?

Hell yeah!

See Also : Sony Xperia Z User Review

In fact, let me round up my Top 3 likes and dislikes of the Sony Xperia Z1:-

What I Like

  • Premium and solid build quality and gorgeous design of glass back
  • Great camera with great pictures, low light photography and amazing camera apps. Using the added dedicated camera button.
  • Waterproof and dustproof. Seriously, no one else does this better

What I Dislike

  • Glass front and back worries me that I might accidentally drop the phone and shatter something
  • No hardware buttons, just on screen “Back”, “Home” and “Multitasking” buttons
  • Flimsy microSIM tray underneath the flap, makes me worry that I might break it

There’s really not much I can fault with this phone. The build quality is premium and solid. The software is nice and easy to use with many added features that makes this phone a great contender in the crowded Android smartphone market. Great camera, great features and an overall good job from Sony once again.

If you’re looking for an Android smartphone, likes the fact that this Sony is waterproof for you to take pictures while chilling and playing in the pool, then seriously, just go get this Sony Xperia Z1. The only downside, in my opinion, is likely the hefty RM 2,399 price tag. Well, this is Sony’s latest flagship phone after all.

 

 

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