Sony Xperia Z1 Review

Hang on… didn’t Sony release its flagship Xperia Z only a couple of months ago? Yes, they did. Now there’s a better one.

Sony Xperia Z1: On the plus side

The Sony Xperia Z1 certainly looks a lot like its predecessor, the generally good Sony Xperia Z. As I’ve previously noted, it appears — whether through preference or lawsuit — that the major manufacturers have settled on their smartphone designs of choice, and that means that the Sony Xperia Z1 looks like the rest of the Xperia range, and somewhat like a tiny Bravia TV set. Some will like the look, while others may find it a bit on the business-serious side of things.
Compared to the purple Sony Xperia Z I tested back in April, the all-black Sony Xperia Z1 I was sent for review does seem a little stern.
Like the Galaxy S4 Active, the Sony Xperia Z1is fully waterproof, rated for up to 1.5m for up to half an hour. The solid construction of the Sony Xperia Z1 gave me a little more confidence in this regard while testing.
There’s something about the Galaxy S4 Active’s squishy back case — which has to be sealed in by you, or it’s gush city — that makes me nervous about actual water usage. The Sony Xperia Z1 has no such issues, and even manages to be waterproof while having a fully exposed headphone jack. There’s some nice engineering here, in other words, whether you’re a keen underwater shooter, or just a clumsy type.
Android benchmarks are something of a hot potato right now with cheating rife pretty much across the board, although Sony seems less inclined than some others.
Still, it does cast a pall over any results if you can’t trust them. For what it’s worth, the quad-core 2.2GHz Snapdragon 800 in the Sony Xperia Z1 managed a Geekbench 3 score of 895 in single core mode and 2127 in multi-core mode, slightly behind the scores the Xperia Z Ultra managed. In day to day performance it’s certainly a brisk performer.
Sony throws a little more of its branding at its Android phones than many other manufacturers — which is why the music player is a WALKMAN, for example — but it’s still sensibly adopted a softly-softly approach to re-skinning and adding additional apps. Everyone else has little pop-up apps, so Sony has to have those, and like many others they’re not that functionally great, especially on a smaller display screen.
You can’t have a premium smartphone without a premium camera, and Sony’s pitch for the Sony Xperia Z1 certainly sounds good. A 20.1MP 1/2.3-inch sensor , meaning it’s only a shade behind the exemplary Nokia Lumia 1020’s camera on paper.
But what about in real life? Here my results were considerably more mixed. For a start, if you’re shooting in Auto, you don’t get the full 20.1MP shooting mode; that’s saved only for if you’re shooting in manual mode.
The Sony Xperia Z1 can take quite nice photos — and as always, you can take dreadful photos with great gear and interesting shots with lower grade equipment under the right circumstances — but in the regular automatic everyday user type of scenario, I was left a little underwhelmed by the Sony Xperia Z’s heavily hyped camera.
For example, here’s a low light test, capturing a Luigi who happened to be lurking under my desk.

It's not wise to ask why Luigi is lurking down there. I try to ignore him most of the time.
It’s not wise to ask why Luigi is lurking down there. I try to ignore him most of the time.

Not a terrible shot, to be sure, but here’s a comparison shot taken on an iPhone 5s, which, as per Sony’s breathless hype for the Xperia Z1, should look a lot worse, because the Xperia Z1 is meant to be (as per Sony) the “best” smartphone camera.
A little darker, but arguably a bit more representative of the real light conditions.
A little darker, but arguably a bit more representative of the real light conditions.

And here’s the same thing on a Lumia 1020
Good detail on Luigi, although the 1020's issue with yellow colour casts persists.
Good detail on Luigi, although the 1020’s issue with yellow colour casts persists.

Taking Luigi for a little walk outside at night showed more stark differences. Here’s the test shot with the Xperia Z1:
And now the iPhone 5s
And finally the Lumia 1020
Suddenly, (pun not intended), the Sony Xperia Z1 doesn’t seem quite as flash as it might.
There is an exception here, and that’s underwater shooting. Take a Lumia 1020 or an iPhone 5s underwater with you, and you’ll quickly need a new phone. That kind of thing doesn’t fuss the Sony Xperia Z1 at all.

Sony Xperia Z1: On the minus side

The Sony Xperia Z1’s battery is reasonable at 3000mAh in terms of lasting the distance, but in testing I noticed that it had a tendency to get rather hot on the back of the phone.
Nothing that I thought was too worrying, until I wanted to switch away from playing a game (Star Command, in this case) to using the camera, only to be told by the phone that it was too hot and the camera would have to shut down.
That suggests that the Sony Xperia Z1’s slim design has some serious heat dissipation issues. I don’t want a phone to cook itself — but equally, I want one that can launch its camera when I want it to!
Like the rest of Sony’s Xperia range, the Sony Xperia Z1 features “Stamina” mode, which switches off a variety of services to enable longer battery life. It certainly works, but does so at a sharp utility cost. If you’re OK switching on your phone only to have it scramble for data networks then start looking for your mail and other data services, it’s workable. In the current smartphone environment, that’s less than optimal.
The waterproofing of the Sony Xperia Z1 seems like it should be all plus, but there is one catch.
The side shutter button makes it easy to shoot underwater, but if you’re the film type it’s trickier; you’ve got to start filming from the touchscreen above water, then dip the phone in, shoot your shots and then take it out of the water. But it’ll still be wet, which means the touchscreen won’t work, and the shutter doesn’t work for stopping video shooting.
I ended up using a towel to dry the phone enough to the point where I could actually stop it filming my belly button. I’ll save you that video — nobody deserves that level of terror.

Sony Xperia Z1: Pricing

Sony sells the Sony Xperia Z1 outright for $779. Harvey Norman have it for $733, while Dick Smith want $767 for it. Mobicity is selling an imported model for $729.95, while Kogan offers it for $709+delivery.
In the contract space, Virgin Mobile are offering on plans starting at $48/month ($200 “worth” of calls/texts, 200MB data, minimum 24-month $1152). Optus offer it on plans starting at $55/month (200 minutes, unlimited SMS, 200MB data, minimum 24-month $1320)
Telstra will offer the Sony Xperia Z1, but at the time of writing pricing had yet to be announced.

Sony Xperia Z1: Fat Duck verdict

When the Sony Xperia Z1 and the very similar Xperia Z Ultra landed on my reviews desk, I suspected I’d like the Z1 a whole lot more than the Z Ultra, if only because my own preferences tend towards smaller phones, and the Z1 hits more of the “premium” points in terms of camera specifications and toughness.
It’s not so, though; the Z1’s camera failed to impress me, the heating up issues alarmed me quite a bit, and ultimately I found myself staring at a rather rigid and unexciting phone, compared to the Z Ultra, which, while a niche product, serves its niche very well indeed. The Z1 is a decent successor to the Xperia Z, but the market as a whole has, I think, moved on a little since then.
The Sony Xperia Z1 is a fair phone, but unless the underwater capabilities really excite you, there’s not enough to put it above other phones in the pack. I didn’t expect to say this, but if you put the Z1 and the Z Ultra in front of me, I’d pick the Ultra.

3 thoughts on “Sony Xperia Z1 Review”

  1. the worst phone that i ever had it over heats cut out after 6 weeks it has me send back for repair sony/telstra willnot cover by warranrty the plug where the charger plugs in is broken and the try to blame so it willcost me $350 to fix how can is be

  2. Buyer beware, screen is very fragile. Phone cracked in my hands rendering useless,had it only five days. Telstra authorised return only to send it back denying a fault, claiming i damaged it. Sony also rejected it under warranty. Now stuck on 24 month $60 plan and no phone …. Do one self a favour, research forums its all there, the blatant refusual to aknowlage there is a design fault….

    1. I had a similar issue with my phone, went down similar channels you did (although I bought mine outright to replace a destroyed iPhone5) and got all the same answers, in the end I went through fair trading and they helped me out, got sony to fix it, however it wasn’t without cost, they did and assessment and couldn’t find any fault within the phone that could have caused it (they claim) and couldn’t find a ‘point of impact’ where they could blame the damage on me, in the end all Sony was prepared to do was split the damage bill with me which still left me $130 out of pocket but it was better than the $260 alternative.
      Not sure whether it would be too late for you do do the same but as long as you have all your case numbers and stuff from Sony you should be able to show that you have attempted to have your phone repaired by them.

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