Sony Xperia Z1: 3 months on

December 28, 2013
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Sony Xperia Z1 vs Zperia Z aa 9

The Sony Xperia Z1 is one of the best smartphones of 2013. We’ve already taken a look at it in our full review, but how does it fare after three months of constant use? We take a look at the Xperia Z1 after the shine of a newly purchased smartphone has worn off, to find out if it’s still the attractive purchase it was at launch.

Please remember that this is NOT a review in the proper sense. This article is here to help people see how it would be to own the Sony Xperia Z1 for an extended period of time. If you’d like to read our review, click here.

Wabi-sabi (flawed beauty)

Also referred to as “flawed beauty”, wabi-sabi is a Japanese aesthetic centred around the acceptance of imperfection. Indeed that might just embody the design of the Xperia Z1.

The Sony Xperia Z1 is a beautiful black (also available in white and purple) slate, with a glass front and back and a beautiful aluminium frame. Even the notification light demonstrates some thought, as it’s placed neatly inside the earpiece to provide a satisfying glow from the earpiece hole. Sadly, while these design choices do create a svelte and eye catching appearance, they definitely have some drawbacks.

Sony Xperia Z1 vs Zperia Z aa 8

Unboxing the Z1 is unlike unboxing a Samsung flagship, where you are startled by how light ┬áthe device is (further helped by the fact that the battery is usually not in a Samsung smartphone when in the box). When you pick up the Xperia Z1 it has a decent heft to it, and, at 170 grams, it’s no wonder why. But instead of feeling weighed down, the heft adds a second dimension of premium feel to the already premium look.

The Xperia Z1 actually comes with screen protectors already applied to the back and front of the device, so that means no annoying air bubbles! These screen protectors are said to be shatter resistant (and this was evident in our drop test), so this could help you if you’re worried about the glass back — or the glass front for that matter — shattering.

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While the Xperia Z1 comes with screen protectors already applied, these screen protectors are not scratch resistant.

Unfortunately, these screen protectors are anything but scratch resistant. Now, granted I’m not a person who takes the best of care with his devices (a drawer filled with a shattered Galaxy S3, S2 and Nexus 7 are proof of the fact), but the Xperia Z1 back and front are very susceptible to scratches and you’d do well to buy a case and a third party screen protector (if you’re into that sort of thing). In the three months I’ve owned the device, it has collected an assortment of scratches (mostly on the back), taking a little of the gloss of the beauty of the Xperia Z1.

Despite what others may have told you, the Xperia Z1 screen protectors are in fact removable (I haven’t actually removed them yet, but I am considering it), so if you do go down the route of getting your own screen protector, you might want to remove the first screen protector. Note that this does remove the Sony logo off the device.

The second draw back to the Xperia Z1 design is the shear enormity of the device. I compared it to the Galaxy Note 2 and found the Note 2 to be only a little taller and a little wider. This is due to the waterproofing feature found in the Z1. Be warned, this is a device which is usable in one hand, but only just and not without a fair share of hand gymnastics.

sony xperia z1 black drop test aa (9)

While most have blasted the Xperia Z1 (and other waterproof smartphones like it) for flimsy looking flaps over the major ports, I’ve found them to hold up very well during my time with the device.

The final drawback to the Xperia Z1 design is actually an internal design choice. The SIM slot mechanism is one of the worst (if not the worst) methods of inserting a SIM card. The Xperia Z1 takes a microSIM which has become fairly ubiquitous, but inserting the SIM card is a horrendous experience.

Those who swap SIMs regularly may find the method of inserting a SIM card on the Xperia Z1 too tedious.

A paper thin SIM tray is found behind the protective flap on the right hand side of the device, and you’ll need to use your nails to pull it out. After placing the SIM card on the SIM tray, you’ll need to push it in, in an action which can only be described as threading a needle. You’ll need some seriously stable hands to do it, and you should be thankful that you’ll only need to do it once. Those who swap SIMs regularly may find the method of inserting a SIM card on the Xperia Z1 too tedious.

Despite these flaws, there’s no doubt that the Xperia Z1 is an especially beautiful device which stands head and shoulders above the pack, and is, alongside the HTC One and the iPhone 5s, the epitome of premium.

Performance - like travelling through Hyperspace (and then some)

Top of the line processor: Check! High quantity of RAM: Check! High PPI screen: Check! Big battery to run it all: Check.

Unlike its predecessor the Sony Xperia Z, which was left in the spec race dust by the HTC One and Galaxy S4 just weeks after launch, the Xperia Z1 comes with the best chipset possible. The Snapdragon 800 processor makes everything scream on the Z1. Lag is non-existent, plain and simple and as is my custom when buying a new device, after dropping the animations down to zero, I achieved true instantaneous performance from the Xperia Z1.

gaming.jpg

While I’m not a heavy smartphone gamer, you can rest assured that the Xperia Z1 can run any mobile game that you throw at it. The Adreno 330 GPU inside the Z1 won’t break a sweat on most games available on the market today, and that should remain true for the foreseeable future.

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One great addition that Sony has made to the Xperia Z1 (and other smartphones in the Xperia lineup) is in built support for DualShock 3 controllers, meaning that there’s no need to root in order to add that capability. Connecting is as easy as it is to connect to your PlayStation 3; all you’ll need is a USB OTG cable, the USB cable used to connect your controller to your PS3, and of course an Xperia Z1 and DualShock 3 controller.┬áThe controller is supported by many games and I’ve tested it with Dead Trigger 2 and it worked great (although it did make playing the game ridiculously easy).

The Xperia Z1 does tend to run warm to the touch, especially when playing games, but luckily since this is a waterproof (okay, water resistant if you’re really picky) device, you can easily put it under the tap for a few seconds to cool it down.

Screen

While there has been a bit of confusion as to the technology behind the Xperia Z1 display, I can only ascertain from what I have in front of me and what I have is a relatively poor display in an era of brilliant smartphone displays. While the Xperia Z1 is dazzlingly bright even in direct sunlight, viewing angles are very poor.

There's simply no excuse for poor viewing angles in 2013, and the Xperia Z1 display takes some getting used to (and even then it'll never be quite right).

Now I’m sure many of you don’t want me to harp on about it, but it’s something that must be mentioned as perhaps the weakest link in an otherwise brilliant device. While some would argue that viewing angles don’t matter and that it actually helps provide privacy (which it doesn’t, it only makes the display look bad to the person reading your “extremely” important text messages), I’d argue vehemently that it is not the case. There’s simply no excuse for poor viewing angles in 2013, and the Xperia Z1 display takes some getting used to (and even then it’ll never be quite right).

Just glancing at the display while it’s on a table is proof enough of the poor viewing angles and it’s something that Sony must improve upon. Other than that, the Xperia Z1 has great color reproduction (if a bit muted), reaches high levels of brightness and is an overall decent display when viewed head on.

My Xperia Z1 set up

I’ve been using the Google Experience Launcher ever since it was extracted off of the Nexus 5. I use a total of 4 screens, one of them being Google Now, an assortment of regularly used apps on my home page, all of my music players and social networking apps on the second page, and a nice Timely Digital Clock widget, Android Authority app widget, and a few other apps I use are found on the final page.

It’s a simple layout with nothing fancy, but it gets the job done.

Battery life - Finally, batteries have caught up

The Sony Xperia Z1 has a massive 3000 mAh battery powering all of those powerhouse internals, and that’s definitely a good thing. As a heavy user of my smartphone, the Xperia Z1 is the first device that I’ve owned that will get me comfortably through a day (and then some). I’ve only ever killed the Xperia Z1 twice before 9PM and that was after over an hour of gaming and five hours of on screen time, as well as the fact that I’d spent most of the day in an area with poor mobile signal strength.

Unless you are really (and I mean really) pushing the Xperia Z1, it’ll easily last you a day and some light users may find that the Z1 will last them two or even three days. The Sony TimeScape UI is very minimalist and is as close to stock Android as you can get on a non-Nexus (or Motorola or Google Play Edition) device. However, it does offer some great improvement over stock Android and one of those is the built in power saving mode.

Unlike other power saving modes found on other smartphones, the Stamina mode on the Xperia Z1 doesn’t turn your phone into a slow, useless brick. When Stamina mode is turned on, processing speed is left unaffected, and in fact, the device runs normally when the screen is on. When the screen is off, it’ll disable some functionality like mobile data, but what’s truly brilliant about Stamina mode is that you can add apps to a whitelist and you can continue to receive notifications for the apps as they’ll remain active.

After adding my regularly used apps to the whitelist, I found that I had barely noticed a change in the way that the phone worked, and that it didn’t restrict my use of the phone like other power saving features. In fact, most people could probably keep Stamina mode on all of the time after adding their most used apps to the whitelist, and they’d never notice the difference.

Camera - A fine example of the megapixel wars

I’ve left the camera till the last part of my article, and for good reason — this was without a doubt the most hyped feature of the Sony Xperia Z1. Even with the 20.7 megapixel sensor, G lens buzz words, and the rest of the hype, the Sony Xperia Z1 camera isn’t the out of this world camera that we’d hoped for.

I've said this once and I'll say it again. A high Megapixel count is not the be-all and end-all of a great smartphone camera.

The Xperia Z1 is a fine example of the megapixel wars that have been raging for a few years now; despite a high megapixel count, the image quality is a little disappointing, particularly in low light. The two main modes of taking photos on the Xperia Z1 are Superior Auto Mode and Manual Mode. During my experiences, in almost every picture taking situation (low light being the exception), Manual Mode offers better picture quality, truer colour reproduction and sharper pictures overall.

Here is an example of a photo taken in Superior Auto Mode and then retaken in Manual Mode:

Superior Auto (right) VS Manual Mode (left)

Superior Auto (right) VS Manual Mode (left)

While in good lighting conditions, the Z1 proves to be a great performer, in low light it’s not quite as good. Noise is readily apparent, and Sony’s image processing software seems to be over the top in processing, creating poor image quality when faced with low lighting. While it has become better in recent updates, the Xperia Z1 camera performance is still a little lacklustre in low light conditions (but then again so are most smartphone cameras).

On the bright side, the Xperia Z1 can take video and photos underwater, and videos are amazingly crisp. The physical camera button also allows you to reach the camera app in seconds no matter which app is open, or whether the screen is off, meaning you’ll never miss another quick snap moment. The physical camera button also creates a much better photo taking experience as well.

Here are some photos I’ve taken with the Xperia Z1:

The Good

  • The Xperia Z1’s performance
  • Fantastic battery life
  • The premium build quality
  • A light touch on the TimeScape UI with features that you’ll actually use
  • Waterproof (up to 1.5m for 30 min)
  • Great camera in good light conditions

The Bad

  • Poor low light camera performance
  • Huge size when compared to other 5-inch smartphones
  • Screen protectors which aren’t scratch proof
  • Viewing angles aren’t up to snuff

Wrap up


Sony is back with a vengeance in 2013, and the Sony Xperia Z1 definitely deserves to be called one of the best smartphones of the year. With the three months that I’ve spent with the device I’ve seen the work of an OEM that is ready to join Samsung at the top of the Android OEM list.

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