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Sony Xperia Z1 review

The next level of Sony's Android ambitions or a needless mid-cycle vanity upgrade?

Our Verdict

It's a Range Rover for the school run. A gold toilet seat. Having all the sport and film channels on a telly in the shed. You'll feel awesome with one in your pocket, but for an all-round device, it feels like Sony has dropped the ball on design and screen technology and gambled too hard on camera - a move that didn't pay off fully.

Product features

  • Built-in Memory : 16 GB
  • Rear Camera Resolution : 20.7 Megapixel
  • Battery Talk Time : 14 Hour
  • Screen Resolution : 1920 x 1080
  • Processor Core : Quad-core (4 Core)

View full specification

For

  • Good battery life
  • Waterproof
  • Some clever Sony additions

Against

  • Loads of Sony bloatware
  • Disappointing indoor photos
  • Erratic screen technology
Ratings in depth

Sony Xperia Z1 review

Sony Xperia Z1 review

Sony Xperia Z1 review

Sony Xperia Z1 review

Sony Xperia Z1 review

UPDATE: Sony has now upgraded the Xperia Z1 to run on Google's Android 4.4.2 KitKat release. We've updated the review again to reflect this.

Sony was the first of the big-name manufacturers to launch a new 2013 flagship smartphone back in March of last year, with the Sony Xperia Z, a 5-inch model outwardly rather similar to the new Sony Xperia Z1.

The Xperia Z beat the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 to market, offering a quad-core processor, 1080p display, 13MP camera, 2GB of RAM, and water and dust resistance. It was awesome.

But a new Sony flagship arrvied for the autumn/winter 2013 season, in the large, glossy shape of the Xperia Z1. There's a more powerful processor inside, a higher-spec camera and a new metal chassis, but it's still recognisably related to the older Z, both in design terms and the software it runs.

It's a premium model too. The Z1 launched last year for a stonking great £599 in the UK, and even though it's just been usurped by the all-new Xperia Z2, it's still a hugely expensive phone with an unlocked price of around £479.

As with the Xperia Z, the Z1's 5-inch screen displays at full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution. The key upgrades here are hidden inside, with the Z1 powered by a faster Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chipset clocked at 2.2GHz and backed up by the same 2GB of working RAM as the Z.

There's also an upgraded aluminium chassis that rounds off the sharp edges of the Z in favour of a gentler, colder, metallic feel. The headline feature is the 20.7MP camera sensor, on paper a vast upgrade over the 13MP unit inside the older Z.


Sony Xperia Z1 review

The Z1 is certified to IP standards for dust and water resistance, so ought to be 100% impervious to the more mundane threat of pocket fluff.

Indeed, the phone's ports - microSD, USB and micro-SIM - are all hidden behind rubber stoppers, to keep water, dust and fluff at bay.

The Z1's 3.5mm headphone jack is open to the elements on the top-left corner of the phone, so Sony's done a bit of useful work here to waterproof that and do away with the rubber stopper.

stylus and tablet

I thought the addition of a flap over the USB connector would be a first-world problem-causing frustration on a daily basis, but thankfully I was wrong.

It pops out easily. It pops back in easily. It's a second and a half worth investing each day in return for a fully waterproof phone.

Holding the Sony Xperia Z1 is a treat to the senses too, as the Z1 features a full glass exterior as well as a smooth, featureless and button-free front.

The back's so shiny you could mistake it for a display, albeit a broken display that's stuck showing the Sony logo in the middle.

Sony's designers have ensured that the Z1's plastic sides extend by a fraction of a millimetre over the phone's glassy rear.

This acts as a shock absorber and means the glass should be protected from casual tosses onto hard surfaces - although I've scratched the back a little already. But that was probably from chucking it in the sea to check its water resistance, so I have only myself to blame.

Side view
The Z1 is cool to the touch

It feels big and wide, although thanks to also being rather tall as well it manages to balance pretty nicely in the hand. It's also cool to the touch, with the aluminium sides giving your hand the odd chill when it's been out on a table for a while.

Sony's also stuck with its idea of putting the power button on the side of the phone a little above the middle, meaning it's easy to find and naturally appears where your fingers tend to sit when holding a phone of this size.

But being so slim and smooth has you worrying. Putting it in a pocket makes you stress that it's so slick it's surely only a matter of time before it somehow works itself up and out onto the floor.

But that's not happened to me yet. I am probably just worrying too much. It encourages you to worry, as it's such a large lump of a phone you're always aware of its presence.

Hands
Just about possible to hold in one hand

Thanks to the positioning of the power button it is just about possible to use the Xperia Z1 in one hand. It's not entirely comfortable to hold, though, as the angular slab design and glass back has you panicking that it's a very droppable item.

Your fingers end up seeking out the docking port as the only gripping spot, as that's the only feature on the left-hand side of the Z1 that isn't completely smooth and flush.

The front... no, wait, this is the back. The back looks like the front. It's all glass and smooth, although I suspect it's not made from stuff as tough as that which covers the front, as a fair few tiny scratches have developed in a little over a week of use.

Rear shot
The back looks like the front

The right-hand edge features the microSIM card tray - which can be pulled out with a fingernail - power button, volume up/down toggle and the camera shutter button, the latter of which can be used to open up the camera by holding it down for a second or so.

The SIM tray is peculiar, housing an impossibly flimsy piece of plastic that's used to insert the SIM, which is so thin it's bordering on paper-like. If you're a regular SIM-swapper it'll be a nightmare, as this teeny holder is definitely one of the few weak spots in the Z1's design.

The left-hand side has the microSD slot and USB connectors, which sit above the docking station pins, while the bottom edge is all speaker grill.

Front
Well-positioned buttons make holding easier

It's not the best place for a speaker as, what with this being such a huge phone, you often end up supporting it with a finger or thumb while using it - blocking or at least changing the level of the audio when simply adjusting your grip. Not a massive flaw, but a minor annoyance all the same.

The bottom of the display is allocated for Android's software buttons, which are presented here in standard Back, Home and the Recent Apps multitasking button.

There's enough chin beneath the display to ensure these software buttons aren't too low down the Z1's body, again helping to make one-handed use a little easier. No mean feat when dealing with a 5-inch monster.

Tech Specs

Product TypeSmartphone
Network BandQuad Band
Input MethodTouchscreen
TouchscreenYes
BluetoothYes
Wireless LANYes
USBYes
Contract TypeSIM-free
Maximum Memory Card Size Supported64 GB
Built-in Memory16 GB
Built-in FlashYes
Memory Card SlotYes
Cellular Data Connectivity TechnologyGPRS, EDGE, HSDPA, HSUPA, UMTS, HSPA+
GPS ReceiverYes
Multi-SIM SupportedNo
Near Field CommunicationYes
Integrated TV TunerNo
Product FamilyXperia Z1
Cellular Generation3.9G
Cellular Network SupportedGSM 850, GSM 900, GSM 1800, GSM 1900, WCDMA 850, WCDMA 900, WCDMA 1700, WCDMA 1900, WCDMA 2100
Multi-touch ScreenYes
Rear Camera Resolution20.7 Megapixel
Number of SIM Card Supported1
Front CameraYes
Memory Card SupportedmicroSD, microSD Extended Capacity (microSDXC)
Phone StyleBar
ColourWhite
Operating SystemAndroid
Brand NameSony Mobile
Battery Talk Time14 Hour
Product ModelC6902
Screen Size12.7 cm (5")
Screen Resolution1920 x 1080
Touchscreen TypeCapacitive
Weight (Approximate)169 g
Processor CoreQuad-core (4 Core)
Maximum Video Resolution1920 x 1080
Processor ManufacturerQualcomm
Wireless LAN StandardIEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth StandardBluetooth 4.0
Operating System VersionAndroid 4.2 Jelly Bean
Messaging TypeSMS (Short Message Service), MMS (Multi-media Messaging Service), Email, Instant Messaging
USB StandardUSB 2.0
Pixel Density441 ppi
Front Camera Resolution2 Megapixel
Height144.4 mm
Width73.9 mm
Depth8.5 mm
Radio TunerYes
Battery Standby Time880 Hour
ManufacturerSony Corporation
Product NameXperia Z1 C6902 Smartphone
Processor Speed2.20 GHz
Processor TypeSnapdragon 800
Product LineXperia Z1
Screen TypeLCD
Sensor TypeAccelerometer, Gyro Sensor, Proximity Sensor, Digital Compass
Manufacturer Part Number1276-8728
Manufacturer Website Addresshttp://www.sony.co.uk
Marketing InformationThe quality and performance of a compact digital camera

Xperia Z1 is built with the very same components as Sony's compact digital cameras meaning it really is the best smartphone for capturing images. Xperia Z1 combines a large 1/2.3" 20.7MP Exmor RS™ for mobile image sensor, Sony's award-winning G Lens and intelligent BIONZ™ for mobile image processing engine. We've also included Superior Auto, allowing you to get the best from these technologies without having to worry about camera settings. The result? The most stellar pictures you can imagine. And thanks to SteadyShot™, you can shoot beautifully smooth and stable videos too.

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