Xperia Z1 Preview – Why you should be excited by Sony’s latest offering

Let’s face it. Amidst all the rumours about the new Nexus 5, fanfare about the Galaxy Note 3 and LG G2, there is one dark horse that is slowly but surely emerging as a top market contender. That, my friends, is the Sony Xperia Z1. Appallingly, very few of my friends actually knew about the Z1. When I plied them with questions about 2013’s flagships, they could only respond with Note 3, S4, and a few talked about the G2 and Nexus 5. I was honestly shocked that none of them, save for one (and that’s only because he’s fan of anything Japanese) knew about the Z1. What the Xperia Z1 has, is the potential to become this year’s and next year’s number 1 flagship. Why? Read on.

First, let’s have a look at the specs:

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon S800 Quad-Core Processor @ 2.2 GHz
  • 5 inch, 16M-color 1080p (441ppi) TFT capacitive touchscreen, Triluminous display with X-Reality and OptiContrast
  • Adreno 330 GPU
  • 2 GB RAM
  • 20.7 megapixels camera with 1/2.3″ Exmor RS sensor and Sony G Lens, F/2.0 aperture; 2MP front-facing camera
  • 16 GB in-built, expandable storage
  • 3000 mAh battery
  • Android 4.2 Jellybean (and the best part)…
  • IP58 certified – dust-protected and water resistant (over 1 meter and 30 minutes); shatter proof and scratch-resistant glass for the front and the back panel, metal frame on the sides

These specs are absolutely rock-solid, and without a doubt will leave you with a very capable phone even 2 to 3 years down the road. As of now, only the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and LG G2 pack the same processor, screen resolution and battery as the Z1, but where the Z1 is heads above them is in it’s design. With the Xperia Z, Sony had introduced its latest design aesthetics, called the OmniBalance, and the Z1 looks to improve upon it. The main chassis of the Z1 has been constructed from a single block of extruded, carved and anodized aluminium. Once the buttons and ports are in place, two sheets of scratch proof glass are placed upon the front and back. The Z1 is now complete, showing off it’s beautiful angular design.

DESIGN

The Xperia Z1 measures 144 x 74 x 8.5 mm, well larger than the Z, and somewhat larger than the LG G2 (even though the G2 has more screen real estate), but this should be acceptable as Sony has very cleverly managed to fit in their new, larger, G lens and their 3000 mAh battery. Sony should actually be praised at managing to limit the size of the Z1 from increasing as much as their competitors’ have, namely with Nokia and Samsung fitting in full optical zoom lenses in the Lumia 1020 and Galaxy S4 Zoom respectively. What Nokia and Samsung did was turn a blind eye to the usability and put in their best cameras. Sony, on the other hand chose a beautiful design and put in the best camera that fit, and this has had amazing results. As seen in our earlier Xperia Z1 camera samples review, what Sony has achieved is nothing short of phenomenal. The Z1 also comes with a powerful LED flash located below the camera lens.

The Xperia Z1 utilizes on screen buttons unlike LG and Samsung, which have two capacitative ‘back’ and ‘menu’ buttons together with a hardware ‘home’ button. While this may be disappointing to some, as screen real estate is compromised, one must note that there is absolutely no chance of being unable to operate them, as has been the case with many phones with hardware buttons. These buttons also minimize when viewing a video or looking through an image slideshow, so you get the full screen when you need it.

The left side of the Z1 has the wired and magnetic charging ports, but the right side holds the signature aluminium power button, the volume controls, the micro-SD slot, and the newly introduced camera button, a feature that disappeared years ago. We hope that Sony’s decision to include it in their flagship will cause other smartphone manufacturers to follow suit. The bottom houses the loudspeaker grille, as well as a lanyard eyelet, another long-lost feature. Truth be told, we are actually quite excited by all the design features Sony is reviving with the Z1 – design features that we feel should be standard with every phone. The top houses the headphone jack, which is joyfully uncovered, unlike the Xperia Z. It is still very much water and dust resistant as the Z’s was, except now the annoyance of having to open a flap every time you wanted to listen to music is gone. It is certainly impressive that Sony has achieved this while improving the water and dust resistance rating from IP57 to IP58.

DISPLAY

Sony has also vastly improved their display from the Xperia Z. The Z1 sports a 5 inch Full HD Triluminos display, further boosted by Sony’s very own X-Reality engine. The Z1’s pixel density is at an impressive 441 ppi, equalled by only the LG G2. Such a high ppi value will ensure that all the content on screen looks crystal clear. What’s more is that above 400 ppi, the human eye fails to differentiate individual pixels, so there is absolutely no way you’re going to be complaining about this screen. One criticism that has been levelled at Sony is about their viewing angles. The Xperia Z had quite poor viewing angles, but the Z1 has improved upon that as well, however it still falls short of the Korean and American offerings. If you are used to sharing movies, games and image slideshows with your friends on a single screen, the Z1 may be a deal breaker for you. The Z1 is also good at maintaining a more than readable sunlight contrast ratio, so those in especially sunny locations will not have problems using it outside. To get the most out of your movies, images and games, one should enable the X-Reality engine, which is the successor of the Mobile Bravia Engine. It aims to improve sharpness, reduce noise, while also boosting contrast and saturation and it quite good at what it does.

PERFORMANCE AND BENCHMARK SCORES

The Xperia Z1 is one of the four smartphones running the Snapdragon S800 processor, with the other three being the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, the LG G2, and Sony’s very own Xperia Z Ultra. Sony has decided to clock the S800 at 2.2 GHz in their devices, unlike Samsung (2.3 GHz) and LG (2.26 GHz). While this may make a slight difference in synthetic benchmarks, we can assure you that nothing will change in terms of speed while using these devices. As said above, it comes with the latest Adreno 330 GPU and 2 GB of RAM as well. One word of advice is to take every benchmark with a pinch of salt. It is not always that real life performance mirrors benchmark performance.

In Benchmark Pi the Z1 placed second, only behind the LG G2. These are really impressive results, but the G2 takes it by a significant margin.

Benchmark pi

In AnTuTu 4, perhaps the most comprehensive of all the smartphone bechmarks, where each and every part of the smartphone is gauged, the Z1 manages to take pole by a narrow margin.

Antutu

BrowserMark 2 is one place where the Z1 stumbles significantly though, ranking fifth, below the G2, Optimus G, the S4 and Sony’s own Z Ultra, however it should be noted that real world performance will hardly be affected.

BrowserMark2

In the Epic Citadel test, which recently received an update enabling Ultra High setting, the Z1 was number one with the company Z Ultra, handily beating the G2 by 4.9 FPS.

Epic Citadel

In the Geekbench 3 benchmark, the Z1 lost to the company Z Ultra by a whisker, with both devices again handily beating the LG G2.

Geekbench

The story was similar in the GLBenchmark Egypt score, where the Z1 shared top spot with the Z Ultra, with both devices leaping ahead of the LG G2.

GL Benchmark egypt

Both the Z1 and Z Ultra were best performing in the GLBenchmark 2.7 T-Rex benchmark, but the LG G2 was hot on their heels.

GL Benchmark trex

The Z1 lost out 1st and 2nd to the G2 and Z Ultra respectively here, but not by much.

Linpack

The Z1 took the crown in the Quadrant benchmark, with the G2 not far off behind.

Quadrant

The Z1 was second here, losing out by little to the Z Ultra, however it still managed to get slightly ahead of the LG G2.

SunSpider

Finally, in Vellamo, the Z1, Z Ultra and LG G2 had virtually identical results, with only 4 points separating the Z1 and G2. There really is no difference in between these three here.

Vellamo

So that concludes the benchmarks. What you should take away is not the win/loss percentage of the Z1, but that the Z1 is a monster of a device and will take care any application you throw at it without effort for at least two or three years. It is extremely fast compared to the S600 processor, even managing to beat some phablets. If you do get this device, simply respect Sony for managing to do so much with their device.

CONCLUSION

The Sony Xperia Z1 is a hell of a device. In the coming days expect to see battles between this, the LG G2 and Samsung Galaxy Note 3 heating up as fans of each device try to convince you of what is the best. We’ll try to summarize this as best as we can for you. In terms of physicality, the Z1 is certainly a large device, unlike the LG G2, which has very impressively managed to squeeze in 5.2 inches of real estate in a smaller body, but as we said before, the bigger camera sensor is a big reason for the Z1’s larger size. It is very good looking though, and in our opinion, the best looking device on the market. If you are going for an Android device’s looks, it’s a matter of glass vs metal when deciding between this and HTC One.

The main selling point of this device is the IP58 certification though, and this is where it is in a class of its own. There is no comparable device right now which can truly call itself a device capable of handling all the kind of abuse you think of – certainly not the Samsung devices, so this is one place where the Z1 is unquestionably the king. It also has a large battery, and with Sony’s already proven power-saving mode, it should easily last two or three days of normal use without charging.

It also has brilliant performance under the hood – no question about that, and will easily burn through every application for the next two or three years.

As said in our camera samples review too, this is the best Android cameraphone to ever be made, so it will be an amazing experience for those who like to take images with their smartphones as well.

All in all, this is the best phone produced by Sony, and may possibly take the title of best Android device in the days to come.

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