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Sony Xperia Z1 Review: Sony has Seriously Outdone Themselves!

Our full review of the Sony Xperia Z1!
Our full review of the Sony Xperia Z1!

Full Review: Sony Xperia Z1

Sony launched their new flagship, the Sony Xperia Z1, in South East Asia last week in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We were actually there at the event to cover it and we’ve written extensively about it here. Fast forward to today we now have well over a week’s worth of real world use of the Xperia Z1. The big question in the minds of a lot of techies is if this new smartphone from Sony can go toe-to-toe with the flagships of other global brands like the Galaxy Note 3, iPhone 5S, and the upcoming HTC One Max. We’ll jump the gun a bit here by saying that YES it can and that it offers a superb Android experience that will leave you wanting more. Spec sheet below and after that our full review!

Sony Xperia Z1 Spec Sheet

  • 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm MSM8974 Snapdragon 800 processor
  • 16GB internal storage, with microSD card support for up to 64 GB
  • 2GB RAM
  • 5.0-inch TFT triluminous display of 1920 x 1080 pixels
  • 1/2.3-inch 20.7MP Exmor RS CMOS image sensor with 27mm wide angle and bright F2.0 aperture
  • 144 x 74 x 8.5mm, 170 grams
  • IP55/58 dust and water resistance
  • Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean
  • 3000 mAh battery
  • Available in Black, Purple, and White

Xperia Omnibalance Design Philosophy Refined

Sony started their “Omnibalance” design philosophy with the Sony Xperia Z. That was the first time we saw them combine the best of their technology in one device and match the level of technical innovation with design that was purposefully elegant and oozing with class. Imagine that treatment and multiply it several times and that’s what you get with the Sony Xperia Z1.

Elegant. Classy. Premium. Awesome.
Elegant. Classy. Premium. Awesome.

The Sony Xperia Z1 maintains the slim profile and solid build that we’ve come to know with the new Xperia line-up. It has scratch-resistant glass front and back which gives it a very premium look. In our hands the Xperia Z1 felt like a premium flagship device. Little plastic. Lots of glass and metal. On the sides are the trays that cover the ports and slots for the microSD card and the micro SIM. Of course the trays are there not just for show but they ensure that the device can live up to it’s “water-resistant” claim.

By the way, we just have to say that we love the implementation of the trays this time around. They’re much easier to open unlike the first Xperia Z. It’s cool when even the smallest detail gets upgraded.

Glass is great but definitely still a fingerprint and smudge magnet. Always keep microfiber cloth handy.
Glass is great but definitely still a fingerprint and smudge magnet. Always keep microfiber cloth handy.

What we did find initially strange was that the Sony Xperia Z1 is actually a little thicker than the Sony Xperia Z Ultra. That’s a bit mind-boggling since the Z Ultra has a monstrous 6.4-inch display (compared to the 5.0-inch screen of the Z1). After some researching we found out that the main culprit was the camera. The Xperia Z1’s G Lens 20.7-megapixel camera has a big sensor compared to the sensors we see on average smartphones. This lets the camera take more light and detail which results to better photos especially in mid-low light environments (more on the camera later).

The big sensor and the bigger battery (the Xperia Z1 has a 3,000mAh battery pack) are the reasons for the added weight as well. The Xperia Z1 is slightly heavier than the first Xperia Z but we feel that this isn’t a big deal since you won’t really feel the difference too much and the heft plus the solid form factor is kinda reassuring that the device won’t break easily if it fell, hehe.

Improved Display Quality

Better color reproduction
Better color reproduction

One of the biggest complaints thrown at the first Xperia Z was that the display was washed out. This was partly blamed to the use of TFT panels as opposed to the more color rich Super AMOLED HD. We first saw Sony solve this with the Xperia Z Ultra (arguably the best phablet ever) and the good news is that the Xperia Z1 also has a much better display. Sony calls it “Triluminous display technology (1920×1080)”. We call it “more vibrant colors and sharper images”.

If ever we have any complaints about the hardware and chassis design of the Xperia Z1 it’s probably that they still weren’t able to solve the lint/dust problem. There are times that dirt gets into the extreme edges of the phone. It can easily be washed away but not everyone want to dunk their smartphone in water or use some sort of small cotton stick for cleaning regularly.

Screaming Fast Android Jelly Bean Experience

Yep, that's 35,000.
Yep, that’s 35,000. Don’t mind all the finger smudges, hehe.

The Sony Xperia Z1 has a roaring engine with the Snapdragon 800 processor! On the Antutu Benchmark Test we scored a little over 35,000 which we think makes it one of the most powerful smartphones in the market today. What does this number mean in real life use? Absolutely zero (if not .1% only) lag spikes and delays. Everything we did on the Xperia Z1 was crazy smooth and fluid. Launching apps, even the graphic intensive ones, was fast and painless. Switching in between apps also didn’t give us any problems.

Woohooo. Blazing fast.
Woohooo. Blazing fast.

We found the power and speed useful with media editing and uploading. We usually upload high resolution photos taken with our DSLR on Dropbox for uploading on Instagram. Downloading, processing, switching in between Instagram and Dropbox, and uploading were all painless. Obviously LTE also helped out a lot with the downloading and uploading parts, hehe.

Better color reproduction
Play Arts Kai Man of Steel Superman Action Figure!

It goes without saying that we also get excellent performance across the board with almost anything you wanna do with a smartphone on the Xperia Z1. Let’s quickly go through some of the usual scenarios.

Awesome Gaming Experience

The new Asphalt Heat 8 game
The new Asphalt Heat 8 game

The Sony Xperia Z1’s processor, RAM, and graphics chip combined can deliver flawless gaming experiences for users. We downloaded and tested a barrage of heavy graphics games like Wild Blood (which played the smoothest ever), NBA 2k13, Bard’s Tale. Asphalt Heat 8, and our perennial favorite, Dead Trigger on Ultra High settings. All of the games ran smoothly with no lag spikes or delays. You can really feel the power of the specs of the Z1 when it comes to playing games!

By the way, you can enjoy gaming two ways with the Xperia Z1. First up you can play the normal way. Use both hands. Like so:

Play it this way...
Play it this way…

Second, you can get a USB to Go cable, plug your PlayStation 3 Dual-Shock Controller to pair it, and then use that controller wirelessly over Bluetooth afterwards to play your favorite games. Using the Dual-shock controller gave us the most satisfying round of Dead Trigger ever, hehe. Note that you have to assign what the buttons do in the settings panel of the game. It won’t assign automatically.

Or use your Dual-shock Controller. PlayStation FTW
Or use your Dual-shock Controller. PlayStation FTW

While playing Dead Trigger with the controller we were trying to think of a way to mirror the display on our 50-inch TV. We’ll do a bit more research on this but it should be doable (adapter for HDMI).

Speaking of PlayStation, the PlayStation Mobile app doesn’t work in the Philippines yet so we couldn’t test it. We didn’t have any high expectations about the app though so it’s no real biggie. We’re happy already with the controller connectivity, hehe.

Perfect Multimedia Player On-the-Go

Other than games, the Xperia Z1 is also an awesome portable media player. When it comes to music we have the Walkman music app which displays your songs beautifully in an organized manner. Navigation is intuitive and easy to understand. The range of controls can also let you customize the over-all sound quality.

Sony Walkman app offers a lot of features and it looks crazy good
Sony Walkman app offers a lot of features and it looks crazy good

To be honest Power Amp is still way better but if you can’t afford to buy it then this would be an excellent digital jukebox app to use.

For video it’s still best to get the MX Player Pro. The default Sony video player still can’t play all types and formats so it’s best to get a more versatile player. The good news though with video is that Sony’s Triluminous technology really brings video to life on it’s 5-inch Full HD display.

World War Z anyone?
World War Z anyone?

Lastly, the Sony Xperia Z1 can store a lot of media. It as 16GB internal storage but you can slot in a 64GB micro SD card and put in all the videos you want to watch. Perfect for long trips on the plane or on the road and you wanna keep yourself busy/entertained.

Superb Camera with Tons of Smart Features

One of the most touted features of the Sony Xperia Z1 is its 20.7-megapixel shooter. As we mentioned earlier, it’s not just about the megapixels, it’s about the quality of the optics as well. The Xperia Z1 has a fairly big image sensor — 1/2.3-inch (27mm wide angle, F2.0 aperture). Based on our tests it truly is one of the best cameras you’ll ever find on a smartphone.

Some sample shots:

Somewhere in Malaysia
Somewhere in Malaysia
Petronas Twin Towers in KL
Petronas Twin Towers in KL
My team at work (Digit) - Carlos, Belle, and Bea!
My team at work (Digit) – Carlos, Belle, and Bea!
Gotta have an Unbox shirt made!
Gotta have an Unbox shirt made!
Some sort of water wall in one of the parks in Malaysia
Some sort of water wall in one of the parks in Malaysia

For high resolution samples, click here. We uploaded some of them on Flickr.

It literally looks like we used a high-end digital point-and-shoot camera. That’s partly true since the Exmor RS CMOS sensor used here is the same one used in a lot of the point-and-shoots of Sony. All the shots above were taken with just Superior Auto settings.

You can also have a little fun with your camera. There’s a variety of modes you can shoot with but we found two very useful and fun ways.

First we have Time Shift Burst Mode. Once you use this and press the shutter, the camera will take 60 stills in a short period of time (around a second or two if I’m not mistaken). All the images are saved and you can just pick which one you want the most. Here’s a sample of the UI:

Best mode to shoot moving objects like pets!
Best mode to shoot moving objects like pets!

Next we have AR Shot. The camera basically turns the scene in your viewfinder into a canvass for AR (augmented reality) objects. You can go underwater and have fish swimming about or you can even have a rampaging T-rex dinosaur moving about your living room.

Look at the vines growing on the foreground and the volcano at the back. Scary!
Look at the vines growing on the foreground and the volcano at the back. Scary!

Other than these two modes there’s also Panorama, Filters (Art), and a bunch of others.

Outstanding Battery Life

Here’s one thing that a lot of people haven’t talked up yet. The Sony Xperia Z1 actually has a 3,000mAH battery. That’s huge for a 5.0-inch smartphone! Based on our tests we got around 14-15 hours with moderate to heavy usage and that in itself is a major accomplishment for Sony.

Powerful internals. Beautiful design. Brilliant optics. And now long-lasting battery life. This is epic shit.

Verdict: The Sony Xperia Z1 is Epic *hit!

Definitely one of the very best smartphones in the market today
Definitely one of the very best smartphones in the market today

The Sony Xperia Z1 is a masterpiece for Sony. Combining excellent industrial design and efficient engineering with tasteful and classy design, the Sony Xperia Z1 is arguably one of the best smartphones in the market today. It also doesn’t hurt that Sony is doubling up on releasing more NFC-based accessories for their Xperia line-up.

Based on our one-week test, we highly recommend the Sony Xperia Z1 as it passed all our tests with flying colors.

Carlo Ople

Carlo is the Editor-in-Chief and Founder of Unbox.ph. During daytime he’s the Managing Director and Partner of a Digital Marketing Agency in the Philippines and by nighttime he’s living out his passion as a gadget enthusiast and story teller through Unbox.

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  1. Been waiting for this review, Sir! Thank you! Is it already out here in the Phil.? How much could this one be, gosh this could be very pricey, but it’s worth the price.

    Freakin’ awesome.

  2. sana may full resolution photos nakalink. can’t really judge photos na nadownscale halos parepareho lang lahat ng photos ng flagships pg downscaled na.

      1. i’m just wondering bakit kailangan nyo pa magbayad ng server. pwede naman kayo sa Blogger (blogspot) gawa ng blog. Palitan nyo na lang ang URL and adapt your own template kasi pwede naman mag HTML edit dun. Hindi nyo na kailangan bayad ng server at magworry ng bandwidth limits. Pwede rin naman mag-post ng ad codes dun….

        meron ba talaga advantages kung paid yong server nyo? or maarte si google at iba-block yong account nyo pag may di sila gusto na ads?

        1. parang Windows Phone 8 and Android ang website hosting eh… stable and simple si Windows Phone 8 pero limited sa features like customization and capabilities. Si Android naman full of customization and features (self hosting) pero unstable kung di maalagaan hehe.

  3. Pwede rin po pakihanap yong option na HHT… similar to sa cameras ng Sony, intended for clearer and brighter lowlight shots. Wala pa kasing naka-try. Pakihanap naman po kung meron kayo makitang option for HHT.

    HHT – Handheld Twilight Mode po.

  4. Pareho po kayo ng review units nung nagre-review sa Yugatech? Iba kasi impression nya sa display. Or mas maganda lang talaga camera nyo?

  5. For mirroring the screen to TV I’d suggest using miracast. This way you’ll be able to check not only how fun it is to play on the big screen but also does the screen mirroring(miracast) works better than on Xperia Z(on which it works surprisingly well with good TV adapter). There are many good quality chinese miracast dongles available on the internet so you could grab one and use it in your future reviews 🙂

    You could also check if this time sony allows simultaneous Wifi internet connection and direct connection.

  6. Don’t be so hard on Yugatech..
    The reason their Z1 had lousy viewing angles compared to what unbox had is becoz Z1 will have different LCD panels depending on supply.
    The Z1 can come in MVA, PLS, IPS and in some cases TN flavors.

  7. Hi… Just wondering if the 2 major TELCOs in the Philippines will acquire this xperia z1 on their post paid plans? TIA!

  8. Got a hold of this in a Sony store.. And it feels so good to hold.. And those monster specs.. Wanting to upgrade my Xperia Z…

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