After several years of missteps, Sony is on a comeback trail in the mobile phone market. The company is aggressively going after smartphone buyers. The idea is that Sony should make use of its expertise in design, imaging and display technologies to create smartphones that other companies, which do not have camera or display manufacturing experience, cannot match.
It is an approach similar to what Samsung adopted when the Korean firm came out with Galaxy S in 2010.
Xperia Z — launched in India in March this year — was the first phone following this approach. When we reviewed it, we found it had the potential to be the best phone in the market. But there were some issues that held it back.
Now we have Xperia Z1 in the market. It is an update to the original Z. Is Xperia Z1 the flagship Android phone from Sony we are waiting for? Read on to know…
No more plastic
Xperia Z1 looks similar to the Z at the first glance. But look closer and some subtle differences are apparent.
In terms of design and build quality, Z1 is better than the Z. Much better.
The big change is the material used to make Z1. Unlike the original Z, which used glass and plastic, this phone uses aluminum and glass. The front and back of the device are covered in scratch-resistant glass, which feels sturdier than what was used in the original Z. The frame of the phone is carved out of the single block of aluminum.
Xperia Z1 is one of the best looking phones you can buy in the market currently. Glass and metal is a combination that feels and looks awesome! The device has clean looks. There is no camera hump on the back and all ports except the one for 3.5mm jack on the top are weather sealed with flaps that fit snuggly. Even the buttons – volume, power and camera — on the right side don’t protrude much.
Z1 is a waterproof — and dustproof — phone. On paper this may not look like a big deal but it makes a huge difference while using the device. You can use Z1 in rain! You can pick calls when your hands are wet without worrying about damaging the phone. You can wipe the smudges with a wet cloth. Or wash it under a tap if it gets too dirty. When sweat is running down on your cheeks in the gym, you can pick the phone and take calls. You can carry it with you inside a swimming pool and click your photos under water.
Our only gripe as far the design is concerned is that the phone feels a bit fragile. But that is understandable. It is all glass. We will not recommend using it without a proper case. Due to the glass, the phone also feels a bit slippery and is prone to pick up scratches. It is supposed to be scratch-proof but then we are yet to come across a smartphone that can co-exist with coins and keys in a pocket and still maintain its polished looks. However, once you put a case on it, this should not be a problem.
20 megapixels in a camera
The camera is the big highlight of Z1 so let’s talk about it first. Z1 can shoot images in up to 20.7 mega pixels. These images are clicked and processed using a 1/2.3-inch image sensor, which in terms of size is similar to the sensor inside an average point and shoot camera! Z1 is also the first phone to utilize Sony G Lens and Bionz image processing, which are found in the company’s point-and-shoot cameras. This G Lens has an aperture of F2.0, which is great for a smartphone. There is even a physical shutter release button. This button can also be used to open camera app without unlocking the device.
On the basis of these specs, we expected great stuff from Z1 camera. After shooting over 300 photos with it, we can say that it mostly meets those expectations.
In favorable conditions, Z1 can capture images that are as good as those shot with a proper compact camera. They have good colours, good contrast, subjects in sharp focus and lots of details. In good light, photos hardly have any noise. In low light, the performance is not as good but still offers more than what most of the other smartphones can manage.
The video recording performance is equally good and Z1 is capable of shooting clear and sharp video footage in FullHD resolution. That said, we did run into some issues. Sony’s camera software and post-processing is not as good as what is offered by Samsung or Apple in their phones. Z1, just like the Xperia Z, has difficulty dealing with dynamic range in its auto mode. The performance has improved but if there is bright light in the scene you are shooting and if you don’t take care, you end up with images that have poor contrast.
One way to deal with this issue is shooting in manual mode, which handles scenes with wider dynamic range better.
By default, Z1 uses the superior auto mode to click pictures. This processes photos in 8.3MP size because it uses the extra pixels for oversampling to create images that have fewer artifacts. If you want to shoot in full resolution you can go to manual mode. Under manual mode, if you are clicking pictures in 8.3MP, you can use modes like night shooting or portraits. But if you select 20.7MP size, these modes are not available.
Screen could have been better
What about the rest of the hardware and performance? Mostly it is very good. Z1 is a fast phone. It is powered by a top-of-the-line processor (see the specs) and Android 4.2 aka Jelly Bean. Sony has introduced some smooth animations in the user interface (UI). This makes the UI feels very polished. Subjectively, we found Z1 to be the smoothest and fastest Android phone we have tested so far. In terms of capabilities, we found that it handles daily computing with ease. Pinch-to-zoom is smooth during web browsing. All popular apps work well. GPS connects to satellite signals with seconds. Most of the HD videos can be played with ease irrespective of their bit rate or format. With apps like MX Player even 4K videos can be played, albeit with some artifacts. Demanding 3D games like Dead Trigger run smoothly.
Screen is a mixed bag, though. It is sharp, bright, and shows rich colours. The touch sensitivity is great. But the viewing angles are poor and colours distort if you don’t hold the phone at the right angle.
Sound quality of the device is average. The speakers sound a bit too low. But when we used earphones, we found the sound output to be very good.
Battery life is above average. When fully charged and used with a 3G connection, the device lasts around 15 hours of heavy use.
Should you buy it?
Are you looking to buy a smartphone for around Rs 40,000? If your answer is yes, Xperia Z1 is a very good choice.
It is not perfect but gets most of the things right. It has a stunning design and is fast. It has hardware that will keep it fresh for couple of years, provided Sony doesn’t shy away from updating the device with future versions of Android. It has one of the best cameras you can get in an Android phone. The waterproof design is truly useful.
Screen and speakers could have been better. Similarly, we would have liked to see the IR sensor, which can allow a user to control a TV with a phone, in Z1. But these are not deal-breakers.
Z1 is priced at Rs 44,990 but in the market it is actually available for around Rs 40,000. At this price, Sony is also throwing in a portable 5000 mAh charger, a flip cover and six months warranty for accidental damage. All three are useful additions and put Xperia Z1 in an even better position compared to competitors.
Pros: Very good design, capable camera, fast performance, waterproof Cons: Screen viewing angles are poor, glass makes the device fragile
*5-inch capacitive TFT touchscreen (1080 x 1920 pixels resolution)
*2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor
*Adreno 320 graphics chip
*16GB internal storage with support for up to 64GB MicroSD card
*20.7-megapixel camera, 1080P video recording
*2MP front-facing camera
*3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, NFC
*3000 mAh battery
*Android 4.2 Jelly Bean