PROS Superb camera, great screen, decent battery, sleek design
CONS a little bugginess, some smudging
PRICE €670 SIM-free or from free on contract with operators
RATING 4.5 / 5
To begin with ...
Megapixels, megapixels, megapixels. There is quite an aperture arms race going on with smartphone makers. By themselves, oodles of megapixels don’t actually make better photos. But Sony’s waterproof Xperia Z1 makes a serious attempt at matching the little light shardles with decent optical technology to create a serious challenger to a standalone camera.
Does it work? By and large, yes. Are there some compromises along the way? Yes. Read on for a rundown of what’s good and bad about the Z1.
The Z1 is a heavyweight Android handset in its own right. It packs a lot of power (quadcore 2.2Ghz, 2GB Ram) and has a relatively good battery. Its 16GB storage matches most high-end rivals and it has an expandable memory slot.
Design, look, feel
Overall, the Z1 is one of the classier-looking smartphones out there. It’s glassy, front and back, and a little larger than 5-inch rivals such as Samsung’s Galaxy S4. The extra heft is partially because of two features it is relying on to get traction: a better camera sensor and a bigger battery. In my view, the compromise is probably worth it. But the phone does attract some comments for being “big”.
As is increasingly the trend among top smartphones, the Z1 is a unibody design. In other words, you can’t take its back side off. So the sim card and memory card slot are stuck on the side. The advantage to this is that the phone’s materials are better quality, with metal and glass instead of plastic.
But one drawback to its glassiness is smudging. There’s lots of it on this phone. It’s easily wiped off, but looks a bit messy sometimes.
The waterproof thing
One of the Z1’s other pitches is its certified waterproof quality. This works: I plopped it into a jug of water and rang it, listening to its blurbling ringtones.
Perhaps some might see some use for this, but I really can’t. For example, I’ve never used a phone underwater. I’m also not in the habit of dropping the phone down the toilet, an occurrence that some have suggested is a regular danger to be remedied.
True, it does give the phone added protection when it’s raining. But in truth, all smartphones have some degree of water resistance: I have never seen a phone pack it in after a bit of water landing on it.
There is also one Achilles Heel to its waterproof status: the hinged flaps that protect its charging, sim and memory card slots. It took about 24 hours for at least one of these to come off my Z1, neutering its waterproof facility. These micro flaps can easily be reattached, but they often come off.
This is a highlight. The very first thing I do when I look at a new phone is to check its camera. This is a personal habit, but as phones are now the main witnesses to our lives -- via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other messaging services -- I quite like to have the best available snapper attached to my handset.
The crown for best cameraphone changes frequently. Nokia’s 41-megapixel Lumia 1020 has recently arrived in Ireland, while Apple’s ‘large pixel’ iPhone 5S will soon land here.
But I’ve been using Sony’s 20-megapixel Xperia Z1 now for three weeks. It is fair to describe the camera of the five-inch Android phone as outstanding.
Specifically, it offers marginally higher clarity and resolution than any other cameraphone I’ve had to date. That includes HTC’s excellent ‘ultrapixel’ One model and Samsung’s feature-rich Galaxy S4.
Aside from the extra megapixels, this is probably down to Sony’s decision to add a proper (if low-end) ‘G’ camera sensor into the phone. This gives better detail, especially in low light. It also allows a little more depth of field than other cameraphones I’ve used.
An external camera button wakes the camera up from a locked position, while the gadget’s bright, clear screen is a superb viewing display for shots and video, also.
Realising its worth as a standalone camera, Sony has also sensibly tried hard to beef up the device’s battery power, giving it a relatively large 3,000mAh battery. Being honest, it won’t get you through a full day of shooting, Facebooking and tweeting. Then again, no cameraphone will: only Samsung’s Galaxy Note 2 comes close.
What annoyed me
I had one recurring beef with this handset, although it may be related to the phone being an early model release. It was buggy.
In particular, it sometimes froze or went into a grey-screen coma at inopportune moments (such as at night resulting in no alarm sounding the next morning). The aforementioned superb camera also occasionally refused to co-operate for the same buggy reasons.
It would be harsh to conclude that Sony has released a bug-ridden handset, as I had it early. Nevertheless, it would be remiss not to mention it.
I’m also not the greatest fan of manufacturer ‘skins’ over Android. Less is usually better. Thankfully, Sony doesn’t try to forcefeed too much of its ‘helpful’ extra software (unlike HTC) on the Z1.
Finally, there is still a tiny touchscreen fluency gremlin that misinterprets taps for scrolling. Occasionally, attempting to scroll resulted in opening a link.
With the exception of a little bugginess, the Xperia Z1 is an outstanding smartphone with a really excellent camera to compete with most basic standalone snappers. It has a really nice look and feel, too.