Sony Xperia Z1 review

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

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Initial shock at the size and featureless front and back of this imposing monolith soon turned to admiration. It's big and extravagant, but its chassis is a little more rounded than the Xperia Z's, making it easier on the hand than the angular older model it usurps.

The cool, rounded aluminium edges, chunky power button and glassy back just about give it enough character to make it loveable, once you've come up with a suitable method for holding it without stressing about dropping the slippery thing.

I've already scratched the back up a little through gently putting it down on tables, mind, so it's one that might require a little care to keep in pristine condition. And given its price tag, you are going to want to look after it.

And as for the performance, the high-end processor powers the Z1 extremely well, with nothing in the way of noticeable slowdown or trouble, even when updating apps while opening and closing tools like a multitasking madman.

We liked

The 1080p display is impressive. Video playback is fantastic, colours are deep and the images clear. Your own photos look great on the screen, the icons are sharp, web text is readable.

This even trickles down to things like the camera, with image previews on the viewfinder appearing incredibly sharp and lifelike.

The camera is, for the most part, one of the best any company's managed to squeeze into a phone. Outdoors it performs extremely well, managing bright days, gloomy contrasts, sunsets, movement and more with ease.

It's only when indoors in poor light and without the flash that there's some noticeable noise on shots, although the update to Android 4.3 appears to have lessened this issue somewhat. 1080p video is smooth and effortless, too.

It is definitely waterproof. I chucked it in water lots of times and it still worked. The sound recording quality gets a bit muffled until the water dries off, but I suspect that might be what happens to all camera mics when you rudely throw them in water, so won't mark it down for that.

Touch screen responsiveness suffers a little when phone and fingers are soaked, but after a few tries it usually responds.

We disliked

Sony's desire to push its other services is a little grating. It's nice having a free trial of its Music Unlimited service, but the way it demands credit card details to activate it, and sets renewals to 'on' by default in the hope you forget to cancel, isn't great.

I've just committed buying the phone – must you try to gouge more cash out of me?

This mass of Sony services all come with disclaimers and agreements to click before initial launch, plus Music Unlimited needs to regularly sign in. Once a day you click on the Music Unlimited widget to play a song, and are told there are 'No songs available' – which actually means you have to open the app and sign in to make it work again.

We're also, confusingly, going to mention the screen here. In certain situations – watching video, looking at snaps – it's excellent, and as rich and deep and colourful as you'd want. But the viewing angles are awful at times, the white balance miles off.

The camera sensor is positioned right in the corner of the phone, so I found I'd quite often end up with fingers and bits of hand covering parts of the shot. It's a phone where you have to come up with your own special way of holding it when snapping, lest a pink blob mask the top-left corner of all your magic moments.


The Xperia Z1 is another all-round great phone from Sony, just like the Xperia Z it replaced and the Xperia Z2 which has just taken over at the top of the pile.

It has a superb display at times, a large battery that easily sails through a day of hardcore use, and one of the best cameras we've seen on a mobile phone for both stills, 1080p capture and clever AR and live streaming toys.

The issue here though is the Sony Xperia Z1 has already been replaced - by the Xperia Z2 - so if you want the latest and greatest from Sony you're best off avoiding the Z1.

If your budget doesn't quite stretch that far then take a look at the Z1 Compact, which has the same power and camera but a smaller, more manageable display. To be honest, the Z1 is a little out of place in today's market. It really needs a price drop to keep it relevant.

First reviewed: September 2013

Tech Specs

Product TypeSmartphone
Network BandQuad Band
Input MethodTouchscreen
Wireless LANYes
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
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 Address
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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