After a wavering couple of years back there, Sony's been back on fine form with its mobile arm, ever since it ditched Ericsson and came out with the Xperia S back in January 2012. Its latest, the Z1, isn't just another large-screened mobile -- it's a 5-inch mobile with a 20.7MP camera, and two optional external lenses which can either be mounted on the phone as you see above, or waved about to capture all sorts of surreptitious shots.
But first, the phone itself. Capable of being dunked in water (and, crucially, surviving) for up to 30 minutes in depths of 1.5m, its 5-inch display may not appeal to everyone's hands (it's certainly too large for me), but the colours and depths of black are mind-blowing in person. It's like watching a shrunken-down Bravia, in your palm. The hardware is very similar to the previous Z; in fact, some people will be hard-pressed to tell the difference.
Inside, the 4G phone is running on a quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor clocked to 2.2GHz, and yes, the battery should hopefully be able to support all of that, considering it's a 3000mAh sized one.
Like with other Sony Xperia models before it, users can stream songs from the 22m-strong archive using Music Unlimited, and over 150,000 movies and TV shows from Video Unlimited. Five "blockbuster" films will be available to download for free from the get-go, plus a free two-month trial of Music Unlimited has been thrown in to hook customers into using the streaming service over, you know, Spotify and the rest.
The rear-facing camera is a 1/2.3 CMOS Exmor RS doozie with a 20.7MP sensor and Sony's BIONZ image-processing grunt. What I really liked during my brief play with it was the new additions to the Xperia camera apps menu, which included some novelty AR overlays (take a look through the gallery for the underwater and dinosaur scenes), but more intriguing still was a new live-streaming feature for sharing live moments straight to Facebook (unfortunately I wasn't able to test this myself). One other trick which could be useful is the Info-eye app, which provides contextual information on landmarks or items, such as a book or bottle of wine, just by taking a photo of it. Sony's promised that there'll be even more Xperia camera apps available at a later date, all coming thanks to Sony's dev-grooming.
But, connecting the new Sony QX10 or QX100 lens-style cameras via NFC (a process which took less time than actually strapping the fiddly plastic brackets onto the width of the phone, if that was the desired usage), and suddenly you've got something which resembles more of a camera than a phone. It's not just the Z1, or even Sony phones which the QX10 and QX100 are compatible with, however -- other Android phones, and even the iPhone, are supported, along with the Kindle, should you wish to transfer photos and video thattaway. The brackets support a device width of 54 - 75mm, with a thickness of up to 13mm.
The idea behind these lenses is that you can shoot (covertly) from any angle, and then actually frame and adjust photo settings using the phone's touchscreen, almost as a remote. Sending photos back to the primary device via Wi-Fi, the native photos are also stored on a microSD card within the lens, and should you wish to use either lens for a great period of time, the removable battery is actually the same size for both lenses.
The QX10 is the smaller of the two, with an 1/2.3 type 18.2MP EXMOR R CMOS sensor and 10x optical zoom, and like the zoomier 20.2MP QX100, it has inbuilt optical SteadyShot for reducing camera shake and blur. Both lenses allow you to snap photos using either the phone or lens itself, but it's only the QX100 which has a control ring for adjusting manual focus and zoom. Maximum aperture and focal length for the QX10 is listed at F3.3 wide-angle to F5.9 tele, and 25-250mm, whereas the QX100 pushes it to F1.8 wide-angle and F4.9 tele, and 28-100mm focal length, with an optical zoom of 3.6x. Both lens-cameras record video in the MP4 format in 1440 x 1080 and 30fps.
If the Xperia Z, which came out earlier this year, was Sony's best smartphone ever made, then the Z1 has just knocked it into the ground. Available in black, white or purple from September, around the same time that the QX10 and QX100 will also be available.
Take a look below for the world's first hands-on video of the Z1, from O2 Guru TV: