A contender for the best smartphone?
After reviewing the Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3 I didn’t think there would be a phone that could top that, until the Sony Xperia Z1 caught my attention. You see, deep down inside I am always looking for the best of the best and in my mind, the Note 3 is the king of all smartphones at the moment. Seeing the specs of the Xperia Z1 in being powered by the same Snapdragon 800 processor on the Note 3, having a much more premium quality build, an Exmor RS 20-MegaPixel camera, and being water resistant of all that, this has just about everything going for it. Will this dethrone the Galaxy Note 3? Let’s find out!
Note: Sony has announced that and Android 4.3 will be rolling out sometime in December with improvements in user experience and camera performance. I will update the review once I get it!
- 5-inch TFT, Full HD TRILUMINOS™ Display 1080HD
- 144 x 74 x 8.5 mm (5.67 x 2.91 x 0.33 in) weighing 170g
- Android 4.2.2
- Quad core Snapdragon 800 with 2GB RAM
- 16GB Internal Storage with MicroSD Expandability
- Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi, 4G LTE, HSPA+, NFC Wireless Connectivity
- IP58 certified – dust proof and water resistant over 1 meter and 30 minutes
- 20.7 MP Camera, autofocus, LED flash
- 3000Mah Non User Replaceable Battery
Before we get into it, lets do a really quick unboxing of the product!
Here it is!
From the way it was packaged, it feels like I was opening up a new digital camera! Sony is really trying to emphasize that this may replace your point and shoot camera!
I got the bundle that comes with the magnetic charging dock. Notice the big ass UK power adaptor! The importer I got it from was nice enough to include the US power converter!
The Xperia Z1 is one of the best looking 5-inch phones to date. In fact, I don’t think there’s anything else that looks as good as this and I would go as far as saying that the Z1 outclasses even the iPhone 5S in terms of design. Take a look:
Here is the Xperia Z1! As you can see this thing is a dust magnet but you can easily wash it in the sink if you wanted to since it is water resistant!
On the side we have the ports for the MicroSD card and MicroUSB port hidden in the flaps. Also notice the magnetic charging port, which is more or less like the MagSafe found on the MacBooks. The dock that came with this bundle comes in very handy making it easy to charge and dock the phone without having to fiddle with the cables.
The Power (silver round) button is placed in an awkward position. Not sure what Sony was thinking when they put that there!
If you look even closer, towards the left, there is a dedicated two step camera button that makes taking photos feel like as if you are using a digital camera. That camera button also launches the camera app even when it is off making it extremely convenient to take photos!
At the top we have a standard 3.5-inch headphone jack, 2MP front facing camera and notification light.
Similar to the iPhone, the Xperia Z1 is made of a single piece aluminum frame in between two pieces of glass on the front (screen) and on the back panel. Although it looks really pretty, the big issue is that the glass isn’t as scratch resistant as I would liked it to be. After a few weeks of use, I already have two very thin hairline scratches (hard to notice, but I know it’s there) on the back of the device. Another trade off of the design is the ergonomics. I find it a bit awkward to hold because of the shape but maybe that’s just me. It’s also heavier than the iPhone 5S, Nexus 5 and even a little over the Galaxy Note 3 but I don’t mind the weight at all because it gives it a much more solid premium feel. And just like the Note 3, the weight is distributed pretty well through the device so you the heft isn’t that bad and I’ll take aluminum and glass over plastic any day.
As mentioned earlier in the specs, the Xperia Z1 is IP58 certified so it could go up to a meter below water up to 30 minutes. It’s kind of freaky even testing this but it really is water resistant, NOT WATER-PROOF! Keep in mind that the flaps on the ports must be closed otherwise you can potentially damage your device! The water resistant feature is actually pretty useful. Just the other day, I had greasemarks, tomato sauce and cheese all over the phone from taking picture at a pizza party but all I had to do was wash it off at a sink and it was fine.
Like the Note 3, Nexus 5, and the LG G2, the Xperia Z1 is powered by the latest Snapdragon 800 Quad Core processor so it’s no surprise that it yields excellent overall system performance. If you to play games in style on a smartphone than look no further, the Z1 will take any graphic intensive game you throw at it with ease. The same games that I tested on the Note 3 such as Asphalt 8, Zen Pinball, and Dead Effect ran equally well on the Xperia Z1 so a big kudos from Sony for making no sacrifices in performance for good looks.
Multitasking is also not an issue since this comes with 2GB of RAM which is pretty much standard on most of the newer Android phones. You can launch apps all day and not have to worry about any lagging. Also, a wise man on some Android forum once said, unused RAM is wasted RAM and plus Jellybean’s memory management is quite effective as it is.
One thing to note about Sony’s variation of Android 4.2.2 is that they pretty much leave the OS alone unlike Samsung’s heavily modified Touch Wiz. In fact you will not find another phone aside from the Nexus and Google Edition phones with the best stock Android experience.
And no, I am not using Nova Launcher or anything like that. This is the purely stock Sony which again, is pretty much stock Android!
The Xperia Z1 features a 5-inch TFT, Full HD TRILUMINOS™ Display at 1080 resolution. Movies, photos and text look great on the screen. The issue with the screen is if you look at the screen at a viewing angle where the phone isn’t directly facing you, then you won’t be able to see the screen clearly. This might not be that big of a deal for some people (it certainly isn’t a big deal for me) but if you want to share what’s on your screen to multiple people around you then the experience won’t be that pleasant. You can think of it in a positive manner as if it was a security measure where people can’t spy on what’s on your screen! Another issue with the screen is X-Reality is enabled by default in the settings. What it’s supposed to do is enhance images and video and it does sometimes, but for the most part I find it an annoyance where video contrast, noise and the image itself is way off. You can think of it as the 3D feature on the Nintendo 3DS, which most of us just leave it completely disabled.
For the most part, with X-Realtiy turned off,
Kristin Kreuk videos look fantastic.
Anime looks great too. I have no issues playing videos and looking at photos on the Xperia Z1. Also, glare isn’t a big issue when you are outdoors thanks to the way the screen is made which is a big plus for those who are outdoors a lot with their phone.
This is the one area where the Xperia Z1 currently falls short. I say currently because there is supposed to be another update (on top of the initial update that addressed some of the camera issues) coming around December along with the upgrade to Android 4.3, according to Sony. However, as how things currently stand, the camera is unpredictable especially in Superior Auto Mode. Let me give you an example:
On one occasion it takes an excellent shot of spam, eggs and rice. It looks utterly fantastic and damn I am hungry right now even looking at this. Colors, contrast, white balance is all perfect with no post processing from me at all.
And here we have a plate of Mongolian BBQ, on a different day, similar lighting situation and the picture looks dark, colors are off and has a lot of unnecessary noise. I don’t get it.
In areas where I know the iPhone 5S or even the Galaxy Note 3 won’t struggle, the Xperia Z1 disappoints with poor white balance and contrast.
I would go picture by picture with you at full resolution but it would take way too much space on this blog. If I reduce the photos to a lower resolution, then of course they will look better but it won’t really tell the truth about the camera!
Here’s a link to photos I took with the Xperia Z1 posted on Flickr: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjNvQniV
And just for fun, you can compare it with photos taken with the Note 3: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjNvQxN5
If you are a pro photographer or one who likes to adjust the camera settings, you can do a lot with the Manual Mode. What’s funny is for most of the time, switching to Manual Mode and leaving all the settings on default takes better photos than Superior Auto, which I now call “Inferior Auto!” Just like a digital camera, there are several SCENE modes you can choose from and you can adjust the ISO Settings, White Balance, etc and you can indeed take fantastic photos with the right setting depending on the situation. However, most camera photographers want to just pull their phone out and take a decent photo without having too much thought and effort put into it in which the iPhone and Nokia Lumia do a great job of.
Don’t get me wrong, I really like this phone. It’s one of the most beautiful phones ever made, love the fact that it’s water resistant and it’s running on top of the line hardware. The camera however, which is supposed to be the main selling point of the Xperia Z1 falls really short. It has the potential to take great photos but the Superior Auto mode is too unpredictable to make this a decent point and shoot. I am eagerly awaiting Sony’s update later in December and when that comes out, I will definitely re-evaluate this product.
- Amazing design and build quality
- Water Resistant
- Excellent overall performance
- Very good battery life
- Still running Android 4.2.2 (update coming in December?)
- Disappointing camera performance on Superior Auto
Overall Rating: 3/5