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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Sony's heaped the tech spec bullet points on the Xperia Z1, suggesting the screen features a thing it calls a Triluminous Display - which makes it the perfect media machine, right?

In reality, this means the screen's bright, extremely sharp, and although viewing angles aren't amazing, when sitting there viewing HD content right in front of your face, the picture quality really is impressive.

There's also a useful auto brightness option in here that enhances the controls of stock Android models. Sony lets you manually select a brightness level, with the Xperia Z1 then also able to manually adjust it for lighting conditions when it thinks it's necessary. On stock Android, it's either full auto or full manual.

It also seems to adjust brightness very gradually. We're yet to actually notice the screen brightening or dimming in front of our eyes, it just always seems to be at the right level. That's definitely a feature Sony's added that enhances usability quite a bit over standard Android models.


In terms of video playback, the 1080p display is good. Blacks are pretty black, framerates of downloaded media and clips recorded yourself with the camera app are rock solid, and there's none of the tearing or artifacting generated by other cameras when attempting to capture 1080p clips.

Your own video clips are recorded at either 1080p, 720p or lowly SMS resolution, and the power of the Snapdragon 800 chipset ensure the results at max resolution are fantastic.

Frame rates are high and consistent, colours appear natural, the focus options are useful and quick to react, while even tricky organic stuff like leaves, grass and water are captured with virtually zero blockiness or motion artifacting.

The Sony Xperia Z1 is a 1080p phone that delivers clips that look like they're 1080p, not the usual upscaled mush other phones try to pass off as HD material. It's extremely impressive.

The video app itself is stylish too. Sony's one of the few Android hardware makers that makes a big deal out of its video player and presents an obvious link to it, and it immediately impresses by looping a short clip of your most recently recorded clip in its header. That's how much spare power this phone has kicking around.

Of course, the reason for this front-and-centre video app is because Sony's Video Unlimited tool comes pre-loaded on the Z1 and, thanks to the Xperia Privilege app, you're given five free film downloads to test the download service.

A two-hour film comes out to around 1.5GB in size, and once the Xperia Z1 has cached the first few minutes of the film you're able to begin watching while the rest loads.


The Sony 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.

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.

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 useless until you've signed in.

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 £9.99 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 99p 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. It does this through a mobile web page.

What a mess. It's enough to make you go back to Bittorrenting everything and whacking it all on an SD card.