Sony's Xperia Z was released back in March of this year, and was, according to our gentleman reviewer, the best phone Sony's ever made. Sony obviously didn't agree, though, as it's effectively rubbished its earlier effort by releasing the Xperia Z1 just six months later -- a faster, sturdier, even more luxurious smartphone.

 

What Is It?

A powerful mobile running a custom version of Android 4.2.2 on the cutting edge Snapdragon 800 chipset, with a redesigned, metallic chassis, and a similar 5-inch, 1080p resolution display to the old Xperia Z.

 

Who's It For?

People who want the best phone available right now this week, even if it means binning, selling or recycling the one they spent £500 on just six months ago.

 

Design

It's metal, it's glass, it's huge. It's your own portable communications skyscraper. All of the ports except the 3.5mm headphone jack are sealed with rubbery stoppers, to ensure it earns its IP rating and is therefore fully waterproof. These stoppers, and the way Sony's introduced slightly more curved corners to the phone's body than the angular Xperia Z, make it a surprisingly featureless yet slick and smooth phone to hold.

The back is equally simplistic. It's all glass, with just a couple of logos and Sony's G Lens camera sensor, which sits flush to the case without any of the unsightly bulging we've seen from other recent mobile photography powerhouses.

It's bordering on the bland, but, when you pick it up and feel the cool metal and smooth glass, it definitely has a premium feel to it that makes you think: "Hey, wow, this is actually a really nice thing, so I'd better not drop it or I will definitely start to cry."

 

Using It

It's Android 4.2.2 underneath Sony's thorough and virtually unrecognisable skin, so you get all the usual pre-loaded Google apps (Gmail, Chrome, YouTube, G+ and so on), plus an editable number of Home screens (up to seven) upon which to drop your icons and interactive widgets.

Sony's even built its own widget and app shortcut management system, which, with a pinch-zoom or long press on any Home screen, pulls up a custom menu with visual icons that can dropped into any vacant Home screen slot. You're even able to decide which of your Home screens is the one the Z1 defaults to when exiting apps and pressing the Home key.

The power of the Snapdragon 800 processor is definitely evident, with the Z1 a constantly smooth performer. The 2GB of RAM ensures multitasking is effortless and your games and apps open super quickly, including the responsive and feature-packed camera app, which can be pulled into action from standby mode by holding down the dedicated shutter button.

 

The Best Part

The camera, powered by Sony's G Lens system and a 20.7-Megapixel sensor, is a definite step up from the Xperia Z's imaging tech. Outdoors in good and even quite dim light the Z1 captures great, noise-free images, with clear backgrounds, lots of detail and nice, realistic colour tones. Like this:

The Z1's 1080p video capture is equally impressive, with the phone generating clear, noiseless clips, free from glitches and running at a constant frame rate. It delivers on Sony's promise to offer compact camera performance in a mobile.

 

Tragic Flaw

Sadly, the camera's not quite so hot indoors. There's a fair bit of grainy white noise introduced at lower ISO levels, which is oddly jarring when viewing your shots. It's better when the flash goes off, though, so isn't really a deal-breaker of any sort.

 

This Is Weird

Sony's gone to great lengths to ensure its Music and Video Unlimited apps are on here, working properly, fully integrated with the Walkman and Movies apps, linked under one umbrella account for easy access and loaded up with free trials to ensnare users into its ecosystem, but... the Music Unlimited widget is next to useless. This is because it won't play any music until you've opened the full app and separately signed in to Sony's servers, a process we had to go through at least once a day.

 

Test Notes

- It's definitely waterproof. We had fun submerging it in various liquids, then marvelling as it emerged fully operational. Filming and snapping underwater is possible too, although the touchscreen's rather unresponsive when screen and finger are both wet.

- It's also definitely very powerful. The Android experience has seldom felt smoother, with the phone gliding effortlessly between its customisable Home screens, installing apps quickly and powering up the camera from standby to image capture in less than a second.

- The 1080p display is sharp, bright and clear, plus it's very usable in outdoor light -- and Sony's own auto-brightness option works well to keep the phone's screen bright and accessible even when you emerge from your man-cave squinting into the sunlight.

- Sony's filled it with apps. Some useful, like the Xperia Privilege one that grants buyers free films downloads and an extended Music Unlimited trial, some not so handy like the TrackID music recognition tool that shuffles you off to 7digital's browser-based web store to buy tracks.

- It's a great device for video playback, with downloaded films looking great on the HD display. But the placement of the speaker,  which sits along the bottom edge of the Z1, means sound is a little offset to one side when watching stuff in landscape orientation, plus it does get a little crackly when pumped up loud.

- It's surprising how quickly the eyes and hands get used to the larger size phone. The 5-inch Z1 and its rather bulky metallic chassis seemed laughably huge for the first day or so, after which it became just... what your phone is like. Normal. Going back to a Nexus 4 after using this feels like being stuck watching TV through a keyhole.

- Battery life was rather better than expected given its large HD display. The 3,000mAh battery kept the Z1 going for a full day of fiddling, and on the days we were careful (or not quite so obsessed with checking Twitter) it could easily make it into a second day of uptime on one charge.

 

Should You Buy It?

Yes you should, particularly if you're after a big, relatively heavy, solid and powerful smartphone that is, at time of writing, one of the best performing and most impressive models available. Sony's software skin isn't hugely thrilling to look at, mind, but as a complete package the Z1 has enough innovative tweaks to make it, and whoever's holding it, stand out from the rest of the Android crowd.

Sony Xperia Z1

Price: £599
Gizrank: 4.5/5
Processor: Quad-core 2.2Ghz Snapdragon 800
Screen: 5-inch 1080 x 1920
Memory: 2GB RAM
Storage: 16GB, micro-SD
Camera: 20.7MP rear camera, 1080p front camera
OS: Android 4.2.2
Battery: 3000mAh