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Sony Xperia Z1 review

 Review: September 2013  

Rating: 5 stars

In a nutshell: The Sony Xperia Z1 is a serious candidate for the best smartphone in the world. It's big and expensive, but offers a 1080p HD screen, 20 megapixel camera, blazingly fast processor and exceptional battery life.

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We loved the Sony Xperia Z when it launched 6 months ago, but there were a few issues that stopped it from being the ultimate phone. Those issues have now all been fixed with the launch of the Xperia Z1.

Design & looks

The Z1 is an amazing-looking phone. In fact, we prefer it to the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 and would rank it second behind the iPhone 5s. That's how good it is.

It's not a small phone by any means, but it manages to stay slim and sleek. Like the Xperia Z, the Z1 is constructed from two parallel plates of strong tempered glass. The back of the phone has a stunning mirror effect, although it does tend to attract smudges and fingerprints. Other premium details include aluminium buttons. But while the Xperia Z had sharp edges, making it uncomfortable to hold, the Z1 has a metallic band running around the edge, that not only looks good, but makes the ergonomics of the phone so much better. It's now a really comfortable phone to hold and to pick up off the desk.

As a bonus, the phone is waterproof and dustproof and can be used under 1.5 metres of freshwater for up to 30 minutes. Whereas the original Xperia Z had fiddly pop-up flaps to protect the connections, the Z1 has internal protection for the 3.5mm headphone jack, making this much, much easier to use.

The phone is very heavy, weighing 169g (compared with the iPhone 5s at 112g) and has quite a wide bezel around the screen, which feels like wasted space. The bulk of the phone takes away some of its appeal and make it more of a niche product for those that truly appreciate its looks.

Taking a look at the screen now, this is simply phenomenal. Measuring a full 5 inches and with a 1080p resolution (1920 x 1080 pixels), it has more than 150% of the screen size of the iPhone 5s and nearly 3x the number of pixels, with a pixel density of 441ppi! Although it isn't an AMOLED screen, it does offer Sony's new Triluminos colour feature, and the OptiContrast screen is bright with plenty of colour saturation. Overall it's a match for anything that Samsung can throw at it.


The speed of the quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor that powers the Z1 is quite exhilarating. Running at an incredible 2.2GHz, it decisively outperforms even the Samsung Galaxy S4 and is just a photo-finish behind the A7 processor in the new iPhone 5s. And with a whopping 2GB of RAM to back it up, this powerhouse knows no barriers. If you enjoy mobile gaming, you'll find that even the most power-hungry 3D games load up almost immediately and run to the max with the help of the Adreno 330 GPU. And on that 5 inch screen they look so pretty.

The built-in flash memory of 16GB isn't quite in the same league, but it's sufficient, especially in combination with up to 64GB of SDXC card. That really should be enough for anyone.

20.7 megapixel camera

The last year has seen a marked increase in the performance of smartphone cameras, and Sony has delivered a twofold improvement. First it introduced the Exmor RS sensor, a stacked CMOS image sensor that combines High Dynamic Range and W (white) pixels in addition to conventional RGB (red-green-blue) pixels for vastly better low light performance. And now they've ramped up the resolution to an incredible 20.7 megapixels.

The new sensor is larger than before, measuring 1/2.3", and the lens is an exceptionally large f2.0, to gather as much light as possible for those 20 million pixels. The 20.7 megapixels are oversampled to generate 8 megapixel final images, which reduces the noise we noticed on the Xperia Z. And although the auto setting doesn't always get things perfect, we'd say that overall this is one of the very best camera phones currently available, perhaps just behind the Nokia Lumia 1020.

The camera is fast too, illustrated by the fact that in burst mode it can capture 61 frames in just 2 seconds. We're also pleased to find a dedicated two-stage shutter button.

When it comes to video, the Z1 is an extremely capable performer, able to capture richly detailed 1080p footage in all kinds of light conditions. And what's more, it can play back 1080p video in its original glory!

OS & user interface

The Z1 runs Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean out of the box, which is great news. In fact, there's minimal customisation of the OS by Sony, which should mean that OS updates are available quickly and without problems.

There's no fingerprint recognition, but you do get Android's face unlock feature, if you prefer fun to high security. You also get the WALKMAN, Movies and Album apps from Sony. And there's even an app that lets you add dinosaurs to your photos. Seriously.

4G Connectivity

The Xperia Z1 offers 4G support for 9 LTE bands with up to 100 Mbps download and 50 Mbps upload speeds, as well as 3G HSPA.

NFC is fully supported with "one-touch" sharing of photos, music, etc between phones and screen mirroring on a BRAVIA TV. You can stream music from the phone to a wireless speaker or wireless headphones. Sony also sells a range of Smart Tags that you can touch your phone against to activate particular functions, like setting your phone to vibrate when you arrive in the office.

You'll also find a full range of other connectivity options including WiFi (including WiFi hotspot functionality), Bluetooth 4.0, USB 2.0, 3.5mm audio jack, HDMI and DLNA.

Battery life

With great power comes great need for a powerful battery, and Sony has more than risen to the challenge. The Z1 packs a 3000mAh battery, which by our reckoning is the largest in any smartphone today, unless you include "phablets" like the Samsung Galaxy Mega.

In addition, the optional Stamina Mode disables Wi-Fi and data traffic when the display is off, while keeping calls and text notifications active. As soon as you turn the screen back on, normal activity resumes. You can customise this setting, for example to keep Facebook notifications active when the screen is off. Stamina Mode can extend the battery standby time four-fold.

If you like gadgets, you can use Sony's Magnetic Charging Dock to simultaneously cradle and charge your phone.


The Xperia Z1 is probably the best-looking Android phone of 2013. With its combination of premium materials, great ergonomics and waterproofness, it already has a lot going for it even before you power it up. Counting against that is the sheer size and weight of the device. It won't be right for everyone.

The 5 inch 1080p HD display is as good as it gets, and the camera and processor are right at the top of the tree too. Connectivity, memory capacity and battery life can't be faulted. In fact, the battery life is quite exceptional.

But then there's the price. It's very expensive - even more so than the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One - and that certainly counts against it. But if you've got the money to spend and you're looking for the right smartphone to spend it on, then you'll be hard pressed to find a better option. If you want a phone that will make owners of the Galaxy S4 hide their handsets in shame, then the Xperia Z1 needs to be top of your list.

Sony Xperia Z1 features include:

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Sony Xperia Z1 user reviews

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Average rating from 26 reviews:

Reviewed by notveryhappywithSony from England on 23rd Feb 2015
The Sony Xperia is significantly flawed and in my opinion no one should buy one. We've had the phone for a couple of weeks and it worked for three days before the first screen broke and less than two days before the second did the same thing. With a 180 screen replacement bill each time I would highly recommend that you avoid buying this phone at all costs. It is absolutely not fit for purpose. Get an iPhone or one of the Samsung Galaxy range instead!

Reviewed by electricBILL from UK on 6th Nov 2014
After only owning the Z1 for a few months I noticed the screen would lose calibration so where you were pressing it actually thought you were pressing somewhere else which meant typing was an absolute nightmare.....then after only 5 months of ownership the phone just randomly started turning off and rebooting and then just turning off....It would only switch back on if you plugged it on to charge and then it would only last until you moved the phone or slightly knocked it. I had an amazing experience with my Samsung S3 until an update by Samsung ruined it and I thought I would give Sony a blast but I soooo regret not getting an S5 now...especially when you have to send your phone back to Ashford in Kent to be repaired and that's not even by SONY....I wont make the mistake of buying a Sony smartphone ever again...very disappointed indeed

Reviewed by chandan bisht from India on 28th Jul 2014
It's an awesome phone..

Reviewed by Derek from Scotland on 26th Jul 2014
Great phone except for the screen which is terrible for light scratches, also can't store photos on sd card, so what's the point of sd card?

Reviewed by Sachin from India on 15th Jul 2014
4 months using xperia z1. Only issue the flaps for memory card and sim.
Loved the phone.

Reviewed by Jimmy from England on 12th Jul 2014
What can I say about this phone?, Excellent!, great battery life, outstanding camera, super fast processor!

Reviewed by Vivek from India on 21st Jun 2014
It's an awesome phone..
I've been using it since a month..
Its all time better than IPhone 5..and even 5s..
Speed 5*
Display 5*
Camera 5*

Reviewed by James from uk on 20th May 2014
Loved it until the USB cover broke after a few months of normal use. Sony will not fix the damage under warranty and Vodafone are no help either. Rubbish.

Reviewed by bmehra from India on 14th May 2014
Definitely the best phone of 2013.
Battery Life is superb with Stamina mode enabled.
While I see all the samsung users always running for charger throughout the day, I have never been able to drain the entire battery in a single day so far in 6 months even with all the movies and HD games.
Amazing music. Lose those free earphones that came and try some good ones like Sony-mdr-ex110ap and you will get a wonderful experience. Good noise cancellation as well in this earphones.
Camera is good. Have to experiment a bit with manual settings while taking 21 MP shots.
Internal memory at 16 GB is less. Wish we had 32 GB model as well.
Loved the cover that comes with it. Its flexible and acts like a stand while watching movies.
Display is gorgeous with vivid colors but not like the retina burning cheap over saturated colors we get in samsung's phones.
Loudspeaker performance could have been better.
Some inbuilt apps like Sony Music are a real bliss to have.
In all had a beautiful experience with this phone so far (No Kitkat so far :-)).

Reviewed by Chris from England on 6th May 2014
To add to my review below all of the mistakes in it were made by the phones predictive text, not an excuse just a reason and certainly not the phones fault. That is mine for not checking when I had finished. This was written on a laptop. I have now got rid of the Z1 and gone back to a trusty Blackberry, it may not have 1,000,000 useless apps but it works and won't let me down.

Reviewed by Chris from England on 3rd May 2014
I've had this phone since it was released and while I was relatively happy to begin with I've come to hate over time. It's too big, barely fits in my pocket and the screen is a joke. Picture quality is fine on the screen but it comes with a shatterproof screen peroxide on it which is designed purely to prevent the glass from coming out when dropped and smashed, it's not actually shatterproof as they claim, quite pointless in my opinion as the phone is now or less useless when the screen breaks anyway. I mention this because the phone is supposed to come with a scratch protector in the box (I found this when it was to late) and mine didn't. Within a week my phone has some horrendous scratches that were quite deep and that was when I found out about these stupid screen protectors they fit at manufacture. The screen beneath is scratch resistant but not the shatterproof bit. I then removed the damaged part only to have the front Sony logo to come off with it. All in all very poor for a premium product. It got worse when the update to kit kat came along my phone was left utterly useless as all sound from the phone came through the earpiece speakers and not the loudspeaker so I never heard my alarm, notifications, ring tone or anything for that matter, music would play for ten seconds then shutt itself off. I think it's safe to say that this phone has been an enormous let down. The camera is very good in manual but very fake in auto as it only uses 8mp in this mode, colours are extremely vibrant and unrealistic and zoom in on a photo and it very quickly becomes blurry. In manual there is no such issue, that is only a minor gripe compared to the rest. Sound quality from the loud speaker is poor. Positives: battery life is excellent, screen quality when not scratched to hell is brilliant, phone is fast.

Reviewed by Mahesh from India on 2nd May 2014
I brought it from Quikr.com. This is an Excellent phone for sure.

Reviewed by Dan Clark from England on 1st Apr 2014
Just had the update to Android 4.4.2 Kitkat and it's now even better :-)

Reviewed by Ron from UK on 31st Mar 2014
Very disappointed with this phone. I had a Sony SP which was great, apart from the lifeless display so I thought I'd try the Z1 as most of the reviews said how great the screen was. For me, it's not a patch on the S4 or HTC One. There doesn't seem to be any pure blacks or whites which makes everything look "washed out" - and YES - I HAVE disabled the auto brightness and turned it right up. Still very poor.
And a really cheap and flimsy sim card tray on a so called "premium" smartphone? - what a let down!
Looks like I'll have to wait for the iPhone 6 to make an appearance?

Reviewed by Adel from Cairo , Egypt on 6th Mar 2014
One of the best Mobile I every seen.

Reviewed by Ryan from Wales on 11th Jan 2014
Just got mine and what an incredible phone I have to say I have missed the sheer freedom of Android jaw dropping camera fabulous build quality granted the screen isn't as bright as some rivals but you can't have everything and what's under the hood more than makes up for it

Reply by Ryan from Wales on 14th Jan 2014
Just to correct the comment on my review - turn off the auto brightness and turn the brightness up to full and OMG I stand corrected this is simply put the perfect phone

Reviewed by Oiltec from Fordingbridge, UK on 14th Dec 2013
Sony Xperia Z1for a week and what a disappointment, cons, dull screen, not as easy to navigate than the note 3,just a days battery life, very slow charge time, pros, great camera. Go for the Samsung note 3, best mobile on the market to date.

Reply by David Atkinson from UK on 14th Jan 2014
Dull screen? Are you nuts? Turn it up and turn off the auto brightness. The screen is superb!

Reviewed by albert from uk on 10th Dec 2013
viewing angles aint very good it also scratches very easy no where near as good as the s4 or htc one. volume bit on the low side certainly wouldnt put it on the top of any shopping list there is much better out there and cheaper. i was lucky enough to be able to return mine. you can pick up the s4 now for around 400 and also the htc one for around 400 so why buy a phone that will be covered in scatches in a few weeks time?. infact the nexus 5 can be had for 299 from google a much better screen the 32 version for 340 so again why buy the sony?

Reviewed by A.j from Uk on 7th Dec 2013
Only downfall is poor loudspeaker and call volume. Also having owned an s4 and htc one the interface is not as good as those 2.... Only just.

Reviewed by Bob from Uk on 12th Nov 2013
Some companies have a tendency to promote their phones having say a 13 mp camera for example, but it only taking 8 mp quality pictures... does the Z1 truly take pictures at 20.7mp S21?!?!

Reply by S21 from UK on 12th Nov 2013
The 20.7 megapixels are oversampled to generate 8 megapixel final images.

Reviewed by Lm1980 from UK on 31st Oct 2013
Thought I'd up date my experience with the xperia z1.............well I don't own one anymore. In the space of three days I had two different handsets. The first decided to update itself and never turned back on. The second after the same update was very glitchy. Not sure if it was the device causing the issues or the android rom. Either way I wasn't massively impressed and have gone back to an iphone.

Reviewed by Simon Tompkins from UK on 25th Oct 2013
The Z1 is hands down the best phone of 2013. Sony have slowly been creeping up the ladder lately and they have been adding all sorts of little things which get over looked by reviewers.
They have PlayStation mobile which it's great for indie games (some right unusual ones too). It's got PlayStation game pad sync too.
It's also the best hands down at Facebook integration too. FIX is simply outstanding and it's so underrated. I used it all the time.
The waterproofing speaks for itself. Even if you never use it, it gives you an added confidence with your phone.
The technology Sony have crammed in to their camera and screen is absolutely ridiculous too. I know there are a few issues with viewing angles (which personally doesn't bother me) and low light photos but otherwise it's outstanding how they have managed to mix everything Sony has accomplished in to one device.

Reviewed by Neil from UK on 25th Oct 2013
This is an excellent phone. I have used a number of devices irrespective of their OS, but have felt most at home using android. I had a Sony Z before this and really tried to resist the urge to upgrade. The two choices were the Z1 and the Nexus 5. With no announcement from Google on the Nexus 5, I thought that I'd see what he Z1 had to offer. Would it be a worth while upgrade over the Z......In one word YES. This is a premium Android device and one which I'm sure will serve me well.

Reviewed by Lm1980 from UK on 23rd Oct 2013
Being a longterm apple customer it has been strange changing to Android. The xperia z1 has made the transition easy as it's a very good device. Far better than androids I've used before. Apple went to far the other day banning HMV's app running on the iPhone etc. I had it on my 5s before they removed it from the app store and used it to download a few albums. What I did download/purchase were a few 's cheaper than iTunes. For Apple to restrict competition is unlawful and opened my eyes to how corrupt they are. Sad that I've spent lots on music and films from itunes.

Sony deserve top marks for this phone.

Reply by Tony the Hat from Uk on 29th Apr 2014
In respect of your iTunes, you can upload them all to Google play then stream them to your phone. It's what I did with my ex wife's music, lol

Reviewed by Dan Clark from England on 19th Oct 2013
Have had the Z1 for a couple of weeks now and am loving it! Everything zips along really quickly and the display and camera are amazing. I'm a heavy user and still easily get over 30 hours from the battery thru using the stamina mode :)

Reviewed by Bhuvan from India on 9th Oct 2013
Hi Guys, The viewing angles were bad in Xperia Z. Have they improved in Z1?

Reply by S21 from UK on 9th Oct 2013
The Z1 is slightly better than the Z in this regard. To be honest, it never bothered us. I would urge you to see it for yourself before deciding.

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