Ease of Learning: 4.5 / 5
Ease of Use: 4.5 / 5
Enjoyment: 5 / 5
Design: 4.5 / 5
Value for Money: 3.5 / 5
In February 2013, Sony launched its new-look flagship smartphone, the Xperia Z. This marked a new era for the company’s mobile division, distancing itself from its formerly frenzied release schedule…not to mention the back and forth alphabetical naming scheme. While the Xperia Z was a decent smartphone, it sported specs from mid-2012, which meant that it wasn’t an easy pick for most avid Android fans looking for raw power and performance. Fast-forward a few months, to September 2013, and Sony released their new flagship smartphone, the Xperia Z1 (codenamed Honami). As with the Xperia Z, the company took stock of what Android buyers were looking for in a smartphone, and improved on almost every aspect with the Xperia Z1.
When mentioning that the Z1 was an improvement in almost every aspect, it didn’t include much in the design. The overall look, shape and feel are pretty much identical. Who can blame Sony? They had received such good feedback in regards to the premium build of the Xperia Z. The few improvements made include a single-piece, aluminium frame, a dedicated camera button, and a cleaner glass rear, removing the licensing and other superfluous information. Instead, all that’s remaining is centred Sony logo, the camera, a very small NFC logo and the Xperia branding. The aluminium frame not only gives it a more premium look, it also provides more strength to the device, which already offered extreme durability with its tempered glass front and rear. Although it may seem trivial, the inclusion of a dedicated camera button is extremely integral to the device’s underwater capabilities. While the Xperia Z, too, offered underwater and dust-proof certification, taking photos while underwater posed something of a challenge as utilising the touchscreen in water was almost impossible. The waterproof capabilities have been improved slightly, now allowing submersion of up to 1.5m for 30 minutes, while also not needing to close a flap for the audio jack and docking port. You still shouldn’t expect full touchscreen functionality underwater.
The Xperia Z1 has the same 5”, 1080p resolution and 44ppi capabilities; the only difference being that Sony swapped out the Mobile BRAVIA Engine 2 display of the Z for the new Triluminos display with X-Reality Engine. You will still require to carry an extra cloth on your person, as it remains susceptible to fingerprints. Despite the same display dimensions, the Xperia Z1 is slightly heavier and thicker than the Xperia Z, but nothing complain about. In fact, the improved camera and battery capabilities provide ample justification for the increased measurements.
As mentioned previously, one of the biggest drawbacks of the Xperia Z was its slightly outdated hardware. The lower-specced hardware not only hindered its performance against other leading smartphones, its 5” display consumed additional performance, producing further lag and battery drain. This time around, Sony has packed some of the latest tech into the frames of the Xperia Z1. Sony Mobile have gone with the latest (at the time) Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 Qualcomm chipset, with its Quad-core 2.2GHz Krait 400 CPU and Adreno 330 GPU, the same chipset powering the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, LG Nexus 5, and Nokia Lumia 1520. While many of the other features remain the same, or similar, the battery has been changed to a 3000mAh Li-Ion, non-removable battery, and the camera to a 20.7MP camera. The latter is what makes most of the headlines.
Sony has fitted the Z1’s camera with some of the same technology you find in some of its leading point-and-shoot cameras on market, including Sony’s Bionz image processor. Along with the 20.7MP resolution, the sensor has also been increased over its predecessor to 1/2.3-inch. This increase in sensor size means that the camera allows more light to be taken in, which produces a clearer image. This is of particular significance in low light environments and photos at night time. Sony has improved the camera app, introducing a few new features and different shooting options. The default, auto setting produces 8MP photos, while switching to manual mode allows users to capture at a higher 20.7MP resolution.
The dedicated camera button makes it easier to snap photos when timing is of the essence. Unfortunately, the image stabilisation is lacking somewhat, which leads to a few blurry photos. This is even more noticeable when attempting to snap shots of wider landscapes. While the Z1’s camera is impressive compared to almost all other smartphones, it just doesn’t come close to the 41MP camera packed into the Nokia Lumia 1020. It may not be an entirely fair comparison, all the other OEMs will be playing catch-up in the months to come.
The Xperia Z1 is not a complete smartphone, and has a few obvious faults. The biggest such issue lies in its size. While it may make sense to Sony developers having to pack all the necessary hardware into such a small frame, prospective buyers are too keen on overly large bezels surrounding the edges of the display. Sony, too, have not yet perfected battery optimisation with its version of the Android OS, as many power users will be eking out a full day’s use. One of the main reasons for the battery drain is the increased temperature of the device when used under certain conditions, most of which stem from gaming. Switching to ‘Stamina’ mode increases battery life to a few days, but isn’t an ideal solution to the problem. Although the device is fully waterproof, it isn’t fully useful underwater, as mentioned previously. While the waterproofing isn’t another marketing gimmick, it would go a long way if the device was fully functional under these conditions.
The Sony Xperia Z1 is a marked improvement over its predecessor, packing more into a similarly sized frame. It may seem, though, that the Sony’s mobile division has thrown quite a lot of resources around the device’s camera capabilities, which ultimately can’t match that of the Nokia Lumia 1020. The Z1, however, has a whole lot more going for it if not for the camera; its build quality and durability, waterproofing, hardware and performance, as well as a good-looking display. Interestingly enough, none of these key features are world beaters when isolated, but combine to make a well-rounded product, beating out many of its opponents. The only other negative is the cost. At R9,899 it is quite expensive, but compared to other offerings, it fits the mould of current pricing, especially for level of performance you can obtain from the device.
You can find the full specifications here.