Hands-on with Sony's Xperia Z1: 'Sony is throwing everything at this phone'

Sony are hoping their new flagship smartphone will be the best Android device out there, David Phelan gets a hands-on with the handset to find out if it's got a chance.

For months now, there’s been a buzz in the world of technology that Sony was about to release a mobile phone that would be a giant leap forward compared to its rivals and its own previous phones. “Sony is throwing everything at this phone,” those in the know would cryptically hint.

When the Sony Xperia Z arrived at the beginning of the year, many thought that was it. Or that the svelte, huge-screened Xperia Z Ultra was the one. But no. Today at IFA, the electronics trade show in Berlin, Sony Mobile announced the Xperia Z1.

This is the one they were talking about. Is it any good? After all, there are a number of impressive phones on the market to choose from. Initially I was unsure – does the world need another phone with a big five-inch display? I’ve spent some days with the first Z1 allowed outside Sony property to put it through its paces.

The software first: Sony’s take on Android is elegant and subtle with discreet icons and plenty of special elements like TrackID – Sony’s version of Shazam – and its entertainment download store.

But it’s the hardware’s features, some of which are genuinely groundbreaking, that stand out.

At first glance, it’s very similar to the Xperia Z, though a touch bigger in every direction – which is worrying as the Z was quite big enough, thank you. The same design language is evident here: glass front and back, matte frame and engraved power button gleaming on the side.

But look more closely and this is clearly a phone that’s much classier than its predecessor. Where the Z had slightly sharp sides, the Z1 boasts chamfered edges that are smooth and comfortable, disguising the bigger dimensions: this phone doesn’t seem significantly bigger and in fact feels better in the hand.

Chamfered edges and a solid consrtuction means that the 5-inch display doesn't feel like too much of a handful.  

The screen is similar to the Z, too, a 5in Full HD display that makes use of Sony’s TV-making knowhow and has Triluminos X-Reality for Mobile, which just means it’s designed to enhance photos and videos – useful for upscaling YouTube content for instance. Sony’s supplied video looks breathtaking on this screen: rich, sumptuous and bright with realistic colours that avoid being over-saturated.

Also like the earlier Xperia Z and Z Ultra devices, this is a waterproof phone, so texting in the bath is a breeze (though the screen won’t work underwater if you drop it, butterfingers). Don’t be put off by the fact that there’s no flap to protect the headphone socket from water. It doesn’t need one. Sony has made it waterproof and flapless – an acknowledgement that too many flaps can be fiddly. You’ll still need to peel one back to put the sim card in or charge the phone through its microUSB socket. But there’s also a magnetic charging connector to avoid this faff.

The full HD screen makes use of Sony's expertise with displays - the colours are bright and sumptuous without becoming unrealistic.  

The Xperia Z1 really stands out for its remarkable camera (see below for example pictures). It uses a custom-built sensor that is significantly bigger than most cameraphones can muster, so allowing light to be collected more effectively. And it has a startlingly high resolution – 20.7MP. Nokia’s forthcoming Lumia 1020 has an even higher pixel count (40MP) so cameraphones are suddenly becoming highly capable and Sony won’t have the market to itself.

Still, it’s not all about the pixels. Sony’s digital imaging division has created the phone’s camera, using the same high-quality components found on the Sony HX50 – a compact camera with an advanced sensor. The HX50 delivers mouthwatering results and the initial photos produced on the Xperia Z1 were very impressive.

Snaps from the Z1's 20.7 megapixel lens are impressive.  

Like most cameraphones there’s no optical zoom here, but there are enough pixels to mean you can zoom in digitally and still have enough detail to look good. The phone’s Superior Auto camera setting is optimised to an eight-megapixel image, meaning you can zoom in considerably before image quality drops below this resolution, thanks to the exceptional sensor. Manual settings let you scale the heights of 20MP images and these are strikingly rich, though some shutter lag was evident on this setting. And, of course, file sizes increase hugely (from around 2MB to 6MB on sample shots).

There are also PlayStation mobile games included, plus access to the company’s video and audio stores and more. The Xperia Z1 has decent battery life (well, there’s room for it) and a nippy processor ensures there’s no stuttering, whatever you’re doing. This phone is a real all-rounder, so despite my earlier misgivings, it won me round. I’d say it’s the slickest, most powerful Android handset yet.

Even so, it won’t suit everyone: those favouring a smaller piece of glass to press to their ear will be better off with an iPhone 5, HTC One Mini or Nokia Lumia 1020.

Although it’s announced today, the phone will be in shops pretty soon – Sony says later this month.

This week is sure to see mobile phone releases from Samsung and next week will reveal the new iPhone. Competition has never been tougher but Sony’s phone is a contender: sleek, powerful and with an awesome camera.

 

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

    Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

    £50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

    Ashdown Group: Part time Network Support Analyst / Windows Systems Administrat

    £30 per hour: Ashdown Group: An industry leading and well established business...

    Day In a Page

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'