updated 06:15 am EDT, Fri September 27, 2013
Sony throws down the gauntlet with its powerhouse Xperia Z1
In the wake of its official reveal at IFA Berlin, Sony has given Electronista an opportunity to get some quality hands on time with its new Xperia Z1 flagship smartphone ahead of its October rollout. The Xperia Z1 follows the Xperia Z and utilizes virtually the same chassis design but with some subtle and welcome refinements. However, like the iPhone 5s versus the iPhone 5, the Xperia Z1 is a true next-generation device from Sony and incorporates numerous enhancements that make it worthy of attention from anyone in the market for a new smartphone.
The first thing that you notice about the Xperia Z1 is that its edges have been rounded off. The original Xperia Z was more squared off and although it looked very elegant, it was not particularly comfortable to hold. The Xperia Z1 remedies this and is much more comfortable in the hand. However, in adding a whole raft of new features, the Sony Xperia Z1 has also gained some weight and thickness. The original Xperia Z came in at 0.31-inches (7.9mm) thick and weighed 5.15 oz. (146 grams), while the Xperia Z1 comes in a 0.33-inches (8.5mm) thick and weighs in at 6.00 oz. (170 grams). Counteracting this is Sony's clever Omnibalance design that evenly spreads its weight across the whole smartphone so that its 'in the hand' feel belies its slightly increased dimensions.
In adding a larger 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor with redesigned G-Lens optics with a large F2.0 aperture and processed by discrete BIONZ imaging engine, Sony has opted for a path similar to the Nokia Lumia 1020 -- to accommodate such a high-quality camera, it has had to compromise on the depth of the device design. Unlike Nokia, however, Sony has managed to keep the rear of the device flat, which is impressive given the exceptional capabilities of its new camera. We have seen some full blown enlargements of photos taken with the Xperia Z1's 20.7-megapixel camera that are easily comparable with the best point and shoot cameras that you can buy and give some entry-level DSLRs a run for their money. For many, taking a slight hit in weight and thickness while being able to permanently leave their point and shoot camera at home is worth it.
The Xperia Z1, like the Xperia Z Ultra stable mate that we recently reviewed, is powered by the 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor that is paired with 2GB of RAM and incorporates the outstanding Adreno 330 GPU. It is a very potent system-on-a-chip and will give users a lot of horsepower that they will notice when playing graphically intensive games and using some of the more advanced camera capabilities of the Z1 including Timeshift burst and AR effects. Taking advantage of the additional internal space, Sony has packed in an extra-large 3,000mAh battery into the Xperia Z1, up from the 2,330mAh unit in the original Xperia Z. This is the same capacity as the battery in the much larger Xperia Z Ultra which needs a large battery to keep its large 6.4-inch display powered all day, meaning that Xperia Z1 users can look forward to plenty of battery life.
One aspect of the Xperia Z Ultra that we really appreciate is its outstanding 6.4-inch Triluminos display, which offers tremendous color reproduction and great viewing angles. The Xperia Z1 offers a much improved display over the Xperia Z, which while offering a similar 5-inch 1080p viewing experience, quickly lost image fidelity when viewed off-axis. This is significantly better on the Xperia Z1, while the color reproduction and image quality we have seen on the Xperia Z Ultra has been translated pretty effectively across to the Xperia Z1 as well. However, if we were pressed to pick between the devices for the best overall image quality, we would subjectively give the nod to the Xperia Z Ultra display. However, as you can see from the photos below, the Xperia Z Ultra is considerably larger, but its incredible thinness offsets this to some extent putting Sony Xperia fans in something of a quandary.
The Xperia Z1, like the Xperia Z and Z Ultra (as well as other devices in Sony's mobile stable) features water and dust resistance - in the case of the Xperia Z1, it is IP58 certified allowing it to remain submerged in 3 feet of water for up to 30 minutes. It is a fantastic capability and Sony is definitely leading the market in this regard as active users and others alike can equally enjoy Sony's single flagship model without having to seek out special device variant. We've walked along in the rain using our Xperia Z Ultra without any fear of it getting water damage, while there are not too many flagship devices with the power of the Xperia Z1 that you can also take to the beach or use in the pool to shoot photos and video under water.
The Xperia Z1 will reach North American markets in October. Look out for our forthcoming, and extensive, full review of the Sony Xperia Z1 flagship as we put it through its paces. It's early days yet, but it certainly offers some key features that are unmatched in its Android competition that could see it take the current Android smartphone crown.
By Sanjiv Sathiah