Sony Xperia Z1 review

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

Sony Xperia Z1 review
The best of Sony in a smartphone? We'll leave it to you to decide

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The Xperia Z1 is another of Sony's media Trojan horses, designed to get you all signed up and comfortable with buying all your music and video from the other departments of the entertainment empire.

Music Unlimited

Sony Entertainment signs you up to everything

To this end, the Z1 comes pre-loaded with Walkman, Movies and PlayStation Mobile shortcuts all placed prominently on the main Home screen, encouraging buyers to explore Sony's shopping and paid streaming portals before they encounter the rival options powered by Google that are also part of the phone's app set.

The sort of good news is that Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited are now linked under the Sony Entertainment network banner, so once you've signed into one you're automatically also signed into the other.

The dangerous thing here is the way Sony uses a cloud-based "wallet" to manage payments. This means that, once signed up, video purchases made through Sony's app are instant, with the cloud automatically charging your credit card. This makes it easier to impulsively buy media on your mobile.

That said, it's probably worth sticking with Music Unlimited if you're a keen fan of new music. Having a Home screen widget that lets you access Sony's enormous back catalogue of virtually everything is a powerful feature and one that's quite addictive.

Shame it can't keep you signed in, though, as the Music Unlimited app seems to require you to open it regularly in order to sign in and connect to the server. Which renders the widget until you've signed in.

Music app

Google's go at cloud-based music

However, being a Google-powered mobile means there's another entirely separate and just as good music-getting ecosystem on the Xperia Z1, all accessed through the pre-installed Play Music app.

This is Google's go at offering everyone access to their own music collection and a cloud-based streaming service, and you can upload your own songs to it, too, for instant access on multiple devices.

It's free to use Play Music with your own music, plus there are two other ways to access music from Google - buying albums and tracks, or paying a $11.99 subscription to activate an unlimited music streaming service that's quite a bit like that offered by current streaming darling Spotify.

And, to illustrate how many competing ecosystems are on here that want to grab your $1.19 whenever you want to listen to a tune, Sony's TrackID music tagging system generates links to online music store 7digital whenever you ID a track through the phone. Which it does through a mobile web page. What a mess. It's enough to make a man go back to Bittorrenting everything and whacking it all on an SD card.