Our Verdict 
Sony fans will love it – this speedy slab of Xperia glass is an impressive smartphone
For 
Superb sound
Sophisticated screen
Great battery life
Waterproof and dustproof
Against 
Narrow viewing angles
Not very ergonomic in the hand
Camera not best in class
Reviewed on

We've not been short of flagship Sony smartphones in the past 12 months – the Xperia Z barely got to bask in its well-deserved glory before the Xperia Z1 and Xperia Z Ultra phablet muscled in to steal some attention. 

At a glance, the Xperia Z1 doesn't look too different from its Xperia Z predecessor – but in fact there are plenty of changes.

Externally, the harsh lines of the Z are smoothed out. And, on the inside, there's a new 20.7MP camera and a bigger battery to look forward to.

Since the Xperia Z landed, we've been impressed by the likes of the LG G2 and iPhone 5s – does the Z1 do enough?

Screen

Sony Xperia Z1

The screen at least stays the same and that's mostly a good thing. This 1080p stunner impressed us the first time round with smooth text, vivid but not unnatural colours and crisp webpages.

Apps, games, Sony's UI – everything looks fresh and clean on this big 5in screen.

As with the Z and other big phones like the G2 you'll soon find that the extra screen space changes how you use your phone – you'll be more likely to create, edit and get things done.

It's not all smooth sailing though.

The Z’s viewing-angle problem has been improved slightly but it does persist – which means that if you lie the phone flat or try to watch a YouTube clip with a friend, colours will fade more and more for every degree you move from the Z1's viewing sweet spot.

We'd steer clear of the X-Reality optional setting too.

Sony Xperia Z1

It will pump up the colours on photos and video, but the Sony does such a good job with picture quality we'd leave it au naturel.

Load up the Z1 with Star Trek: Into Darkness in Full HD and you’ll get a clear and crisp picture with a nicely cool colour palette.

True-to-life colours make the G2 look a little overcooked perhaps, but otherwise the LG’s brilliant 5.2in screen just pips the Sony on insight.

The Sony’s blacks can look a touch washed out compared with the G2’s inky strokes and the LG also delivers marginally purer whites.

Still, this Sony remains talented enough to be considered one of the best smartphone screens out there when viewed head on.

Sound

Sony Xperia Z1

For sound quality, there’s no question of the Sony’s excellence. Both your own music and Music Unlimited tracks can be found in the Walkman app – hunt for an app named ‘Music’ and you’ll be disappointed.

Play The Beach Boys’ Feel Flows with a quality pair of headphones such as the AKG K451s and the Sony sounds superb.

It’s punchy with bags of detail and next to the likes of the G2, it’s simply a more interesting and engaging listen.

The Z1 handles busy tracks like Daft Punk’s Derezzed with ease and bass sounds nice and solid too.

All in all, the Z1 is a fantastic choice if your smartphone will be your main on-the-go music player.

Dynamics are strong and varied, while rhythmic precision is positively class-leading for an Android phone.

Design

Sony Xperia Z1

As an object to look at, the Xperia Z1 is gorgeous – lots of glass, aluminium curves and neat design details, such as the big aluminium power button halfway up the side and symmetrical speaker/mic grilles.

But the Sony does tip the scales at 169g and doesn’t sit that comfortably in hand, especially those of us with smaller palms.

Still, it's solidly built and looks smart and business-like compared with plasticky rivals such as the Samsung Galaxy S4.

There's a handy LED notificatons light at the top edge of the screen, but otherwise the front and back of the device are clean.

It's around the sides that the action happens – play hunt the port as the microSD card slot, SIM slot and microUSB port are all hidden under flaps on the left hand edge. Why? One word: waterproofing.

More after the break

Sony Xperia Z1

The Xperia Z1 is actually slightly more waterproof than its predecessor, the Xperia Z.

Why should you care? Well, it makes the Sony at home in wet and wild environments and we’re not just talking about the water park.

There’s always the potential for the odd mishap with drink, or an unfortunate incident in the bathroom, so it’s comforting to know the Sony should survive (provided all its port flaps are closed), up to 1.5m underwater.

Less really is more with Sony's grown-up Android Jelly Bean skin. Most of its added apps and services are useful rather than useless.

Its Music and Movies Unlimited services are so comprehensive and well-designed that they come close to the all-powerful iTunes ecosystem.

Its Smart Connect app is a good hub for keeping tabs on Bluetooth headphones, headsets and NFC accessories – Sony sells plenty – plus you can run “small apps” like a notepad and calculator over whatever else is going on onscreen.

Performance

Sony Xperia Z1

Same screen, same UI, but the Z1's battery life is one of the improvements over the Z.

It will last until lunchtime on your second day of use now – anyone switching from an iPhone will be especially impressed considering the number of power-hungry pixels on this 5in phone.

Switch on Sony's clever Stamina mode which kills data when the screen is off and the Z1 can go a couple of days on a single charge.

Use it as an MP3 player on long journeys and battery goes to 100+ hours. We salute you, Sony.

Whether you're just messaging and casually browsing or really testing the Z1 to its limits with intensive mobile games and big downloads, this Xperia won't falter.

The Snapdragon 800 inside is still some of the fastest processing power available (though it may make your Z1 feel hot at the back in use) and it shows – and there’s 4G onboard if you choose a 4G data plan.

It's altogether a nippy experience with plenty of storage available. Just 16GB on the device but slot in a microSD card up to 64GB to expand that.

Camera

Sony Xperia Z1

With an easy-to-use camera app and fantastic Superior Auto to guess which scene mode you need within seconds, taking great shots with the Xperia Z1 is pretty much a given.

The 20.7MP camera is reliable, then, but not quite the best. It can't match the G2 in low light – colours can look washed out.

1080P video is smooth, though, and the 5in screen is superb for framing footage.

Verdict

Much like the Xperia Z, this is a brilliant smartphone not just for sophisticated picture and sound quality that's a cut above most rivals but also as an all-round package.

The design is sleek, if not the most manageable, the camera is reliable, the battery life excellent, and Sony's entertainment services brilliant.

Add in expandable storage, good picture quality and excellent sonic skills, and the Z1 makes a convincing case for itself.

MORE: Best smartphones 2014

 

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