Sony Xperia Z1 hands-on and first impressions (video)

September 5, 2013
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We got to spend some hands-on time with the Sony Xperia Z1, and these are our first impressions.

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Here we are in Berlin for IFA, Europe’s largest consumer electronics show and the epicenter of the mobile industry this fall season. One of the most anticipated devices that launched at IFA is the Sony Xperia Z1, also known as the Honami, a smartphone that epitomizes the One Sony philosophy that CEO Kaz Hirai has been promoting so passionately since the beginning of his tenure.

Looking at the spec sheet alone, the Z1 is an impressive technical accomplishment, but will it be enough to make it a viable contender for the title of best Android smartphone out there? We got to spend some hands-on time with the Sony Xperia Z1, and these are our first impressions.

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Design, build quality and feel in hand

To get the obvious out of the way, if you disliked the slate-like design of the Xperia Z, you won’t find much to love about the new Z1. Of course, the opposite applies, so fans of angular design and sleek accents need to look no further than the Xperia Z1.

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The Z1 is mostly similar in appearance with its predecessor, though it’s overall larger: 3 mm wider, 5 mm taller, and 0.6 mm thicker. The increased size and probably the beefier battery, make the Z1 24 grams heavier than the Xperia Z. At 170 grams, this phone may skirt the limits of usability for some users. At least for me personally, that’s too much for a smartphone, though some might be perfectly fine with the Z1’s heft, especially since it enables such an amazing build quality.

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With a solid aluminum frame, metallic accents (with the signature silver power button as a highlight), and two uninterrupted glass surfaces, the Xperia Z1’s elegance stems from its simplicity. The corners are just a bit more angular than on the Xperia Z, but, for the most part, it’s the same design. Of course, the Xperia Z1 is waterproof.

Display

The Xperia Z has often been criticized for its poor viewing angles, resulting from Sony using a lackluster TFT LCD in its display. The Xperia Z1 moves past that shortcoming and then some. At a basic level, we’re looking at a 5-inch 1080p LCD display of 440 pixels per inch. But Sony’s technological expertise is visible in two key technologies that give the Z1’s display a special vibrancy – Triluminos and the X-Reality engine.

We liked the display of the Z1 in the lighting conditions of the Sony event at IFA, but we’ll have to analyze it in-depth to offer you a definitive opinion on it.

Specs and performance

A Snapdragon 800 processor and 2GB of RAM propel the Xperia Z1 to the top of benchmark leaderboards. From our limited time with the Xperia Z1, we can say that the performance on paper is indicative of real life use, at least when it comes to the general user interface, which is smooth and lag free. We look forward to putting the Z1 through its paces, but all signs are good for speed fiends.

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The Sony Xperia Z1 packs all the bells and whistles we’ve come to demand from flagship Android devices, including a microSD card. The size of the battery is impressive, at 3000 mAh, which is a massive 25 percent improvement over the Xperia Z.

Camera and QX lenses

Sony really pushed the camera capabilities of the Xperia Z1 at the launch event, and it’s easy to see why. Not only the Sony Xperia Z1 packs the highest resolution sensor of any Android flagship, but it also comes with a special twist, in the form of the QX10 and QX100.

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Sadly, we couldn’t test the camera of the Xperia Z1 in a meaningful way at the Sony event, so we can’t appease the questions raised by some commenters who were worried about the relatively small size of the sensor on the Z1. We’ll look deeper into the matter when we have it on hand.

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The QX10 and QX100 lenses are Sony’s slightly odd attempt to turn the Z1 into a high-end compact camera, without going the Galaxy Zoom route. The clip-on lenses bring a larger and better sensor, as well as quality optics (Carl Zeiss in the case of the QX100) to the device, to which it communicates via WiFi.

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The concept is certainly interesting and we can envisage a range of nice use cases for the QX10 and QX100. Josh tried his hand with a few creative shots, and the entire concept is surprisingly easy to use. There’s a plastic bracket you’ll have to attach to the phone in order to use the lenses, but besides that, using them is relatively straightforward. With that said, it remains to be seen whether the QX10 and QX100 lenses will ever graduate from the status of novelty or niche product.

Software

The general UI is pretty much unchanged on the Z1, so if you’re already used with Sony’s minimalist software design, you’ll feel right at home.

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The company did introduce a few new and potentially interesting software features, mostly camera related, such as Social live, which lets you upload a video directly to Facebook and get comments on the device instantly, and Info-Eye, a visual search tool similar to what Google offers.

Hands-on video

Wrap up

The Sony Xperia Z1 is for all purposes a wonderful phone that continues on the path that the Xperia Z opened last year. We liked its great build quality and buttery user interface, and the camera capabilities are industry leading. One potential drawback that could limit the general appeal of the Sony Xperia Z1 is its mass and size. At 170 grams, it may be too large for some people.

Stay tuned for more coverage of the Sony Xperia Z1, including quick comparisons with its main competitors, which are coming soon on the site and our YouTube channel. Also, LG and HTC have presentations today, and the IFA show hasn’t even officially started, so stick around!

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