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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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