Sony Xperia Z1 vs Sony Xperia Z

by: Joshua VergaraOctober 25, 2013

Sony has come a long way in the past couple of years, turning into a highly focused company that relies on exquisite design to differentiate its products.

The Xperia Z, released in early 2013, was Sony’s comeback announcement, but the Xperia Z1 is the phone that really positions Sony as a top phone maker. At first glance, the differences between the Z and the Z1 are not that substantial, especially if you don’t follow Sony closely. But the two phones are distinct in many aspects that we will go through in our Xperia Z1 vs Xperia Z comparison.

We take a look at all the things that matter, from the industrial design, to the display, specifications, and software. Let’s dive in.

The Z1 is an evolutionary upgrade over the Xperia Z, sharing all the design traits that Sony has used throughout its product lineup this year. Some users might even confuse one device for the other, though the bigger footprint gives the Z1 away, once you put them side by side.

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The Sony Xperia Z was among the first devices to feature the OmniBalance design philosophy, which entails a minimalist, symmetrical, and angular aspect, highlighted with metallic accents, such as the now iconic silver power button. The Z is also resistant to water and dust, thanks to the plastic flaps that cover its ports. They might not be an elegant solution, but the flaps are durable and they get the job done. For a phone of its size, the Xperia Z is reasonably lightweight and easy to handle.

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In the opposite corner, the Xperia Z1 feels like a more mature version of the Z, that is not only larger and heftier, but also more refined in terms of design. Featuring a metal frame instead of the plastic on the Z, but the same slate look, the Xperia Z1 feels sleeker and more solid than its older brother. The heft gives it a premium feel, but it may also make it unwieldy for some users. This is a large and heavy phone, but its handling is slightly improved by the subtle curvature of its metallic frame, which makes it nicer to hold. The buttons are in the same position as on the Xperia Z, but the Z1 gains a two-stage camera button, which is important for a phone whose main selling point is the high-quality camera.

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To wrap up, the Xperia Z1 is definitely the more refined device, but the Xperia Z is not a clunky phone by any means.

Right of the bat, you’ll notice the rather large bezels surrounding the displays of both screens. The slimmer bezels on some competing devices make Sony’s phones look a bit dated, but that probably won’t matter for many customers.

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The Xperia Z’s Full HD screen is very crisp, at 441 ppi, and looks great head on, though the image quality plummets when you look at the phone from an angle. It’s one of the phone’s biggest downsides, though some people are not that bothered by it.

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On the Xperia Z1, Sony kept the same general characteristics – 5-inch, Full HD, TFT LCD – but improved the general quality of the image and the viewing angles. The difference is immediately visible when you put the two phones side by side – the black on the Xperia Z1 is deeper and colors are more intense, thanks to the use of Triluminos, a technology that enables LCD screens to display a richer color gamut.

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The viewing angles are still not as good as they could be on the Xperia Z1, but they are certainly better than on its predecessor. Then, there’s the minor problem of the LCD backlight bleeding around the panel’s edges. These qualms aside, the Sony Xperia Z1’s display is beautiful and the dark tones of Timescape UI really complement it.

Back when the Xperia Z was released, some have criticized Sony for opting for a processor that was already on its way out, the Snapdragon S4 Pro. Clocked at 1.5GHz and packing an Adreno 320 GPU, the S4 Pro processor does its job satisfactorily, helped in part by the modest requirements of the mostly bloat-free Timescape UI. Overall, the Xperia Z is a decently performing phone, but it’s nowhere nearly as future-proof as the new Z1.

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Swapping the S4 Pro for the latest and greatest from Qualcomm, the Snapdragon 800, greatly improves the smoothness of the Xperia Z1. You get faster clock speeds and a new and improved GPU in the Adreno 330, and the immediate result is the lag-free operation of the Z1. Everything is silky smooth, from the user interface to the apps, except for a few cases when background operations seem to cause delays, though that’s not Sony’s fault. Looking forward, the Snapdragon 800 will keep the Xperia Z1 performing adequately for at least a couple of years.

Besides the different processors, the Xperia Z1 and the Xperia Z feature mostly the same hardware. One big difference is the larger battery on the Z1 (3000 mAh vs 2300 mAh), which can take you through a full day of work without breaking a sweat. Disappointingly, Sony chose not to equip either of these devices with features that made it to other devices in its lineup, such as the ability to use various objects as a stylus, which we liked on the Xperia Z Ultra.

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Until now, the Xperia Z1 proved superior to the Xperia Z, but never dramatically so. That changes with the camera, which is great on the new Z1, compared to the nice-but-not-great shooter on the Z.

To be clear, the Xperia Z’s 13MP camera is not a bad performer, but it’s not something to praise as a defining  feature either. It takes decent images, and Sony’s well-known Superior Mode is great for those who don’t like to fiddle with settings to get a nice picture. The manual mode unlocks a few more options, but the Z’s camera app is generally simplistic. The areas where picture quality lags behind are low-light image taking and color reproduction, which is off in some cases.

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Sony invested a lot of time and resources in perfecting the camera software and hardware on the Xperia Z1, starting with the 20.7MP sensor. The sensor is larger than on most smartphone cameras, but it’s not just about the size. The picture quality and color reproduction are improved compared to the Z, and any shot that benefits from good light is almost guaranteed to turn out great. Low light shots are pretty good too, but we think the noise reduction algorithm reduces too much detail from darker spots.

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There are some issues though – one is the fact that you can only use the 16:9 format at a resolution of 8MP, which is a shame. Then there’s the slight smudgy look of areas that are outside the focal point, that makes poorly focused images even more unattractive.

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Sony spruced up the camera app a bit with add-on support and some new features, such as the ability to post an image directly to Facebook.

Because Sony didn’t make major changes between the two generations, there isn’t much to say about the software differences between the Xperia Z1 and the Xperia Z. You get the same clean, minimalist interface on both phones, and the user experience in basically the same.

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Unlike some competitors, Sony remained close to the stock roots of Android, and the changes it did operate are unobtrusive. Of course, Sony’s media apps such as Walkman are front and center, but they don’t get in the way if you don’t like them. Small Apps, simple apps that you can open as overlays on the screen, give you a basic level of multitasking, a nice addition to stock Android.

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Sony currently focuses on Asia and Europe as its main markets, and for this reason, the availability of the Xperia Z and Z1 in the United States is limited. Currently, you can acquire the Xperia Z from T-Mobile for $20 a month on a two-year agreement. Unlocked, the phone can be yours for a reasonable $500.

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As of this writing, the Xperia Z1 hasn’t been announced on any US carrier, though it’s possible that T-Mobile will pick it up. The Z1 can be had for $700 unlocked, from Sony or from specialized retailers.

Choosing between the Xperia Z1 and the Xperia Z shouldn’t be too hard in theory. The Z1 is generally a better version of the Xperia Z, and thus delivers improvements and refinements across the board. The processing power is superior, the design is more polished, the display is better, and the camera is a marked improvement. However, the Z1 is not able to fully escape the problems that bogged down its predecessor. The display still has a slight problem with the viewing angles and the camera is still delivering inconsistent image quality.

There are two factors that might push you towards the Xperia Z: its smaller size and its smaller price. But if money is no problem for you and you don’t mind the extra heft, the Xperia Z1 emerges as the clear winner.

  • The Z1 is the best high build quality and all around android phone

    • adrian strozier

      I would have to agree. I love my Xperia Z1. Sony doesn’t get much love but the Z1 has the speed and the design to keep up with the best of today’s smartphones.

  • OleBrom
  • sush

    which phone are best phone in note3 ,z1 and one max

    • Omar

      It’s obvious. Galaxy Note 3 is the best! I am currently using it.

  • dafuqmk

    I am happy with my xperia Z, focus on the xperia z2 comming summer 2014

  • z1

    In 2014 sony will start using igzo, ips lcd or super lcd on their flagship with trilluminos display and xreality engine altogether. That will signal the rise of sony smartphone!

    • jasxgamer

      Agree, that will kick the LG/HTC ass off

    • Viktor Zelenay

      it makes sense to buy xz?????

      • Dickson

        Xperia Z2 I Like

  • Donotbebiased

    The photos with the Android plush and figures in the “Camera” section of the article are pretty cute (:

  • Abiodun Akintola Lawrence

    Sony still trying to keep the flag flowing proofing to be best of the best in Mobile World…

  • Gaz Almonte

    I upgraded my Z which i’ve had since march of this year to the xperia z1 last week. During this period (7days) i am very glad that i made up my mind and bought this phone (the Z1). I marveled at the z mostly because it managed to be a rather normal looking phone that could take a splash (see the galaxy active). It seemed impossible almost back then to believe that this slim package could be so robust and indeed it was. I took my Z numerous times to the beach (even though the IP certification specifies non salty water). The phone managed to stay alive. I dived in to many pools at different depths for different periods of time. People always looked at me like i was crazy; i didn’t blame them. The Z had a good camera that delivered some good pictures but often times it did not. the screen as you already know did get very distorted after a certain angle had been reached (never really bother me) but for some it could be an annoyance.
    When i decided to get my Z1, i went to the store with the mindset that this new Z1 would eliminate those little problems i had with the z (the sharp edges made it uncomfortable to hold after periods of time, the camera inconsistencies, and the flop in the headphone jack). This last one turned out to be my greatest annoyance. I listen to music quite a lot on my phone. Using my shure SE535’s the xperia z never disappointed; although if you were to use it to output to a radio or such it tends to sound too low IMO. The flap kinda got worned out towards the end (a piece of the rubber that isolates got broken and used to get in the way when closing which caused a lot of irritation and allowed water to get through the headphone jack). water got in to my phone 1,2,3 times…. I saved it by leaving it on a bag of rice over night and it always got fixed. One time the ear piece wouldnt work, got fixed, had black dots on my camera, that also got fixed, the last time i actually saw water in the touch screen. This caused the picture to be washed out and very horrible looking. That also got fixed.
    Now that i don’t have to deal with that flop i was kinda scared to drop this phone in the water. I did anyways of course (I shower with the phone sometiemes), and it works as advertised even if your intuition tells you otherwise.
    That eliminated that problem. The Z1 is even bigger than the Z though only marginally, but it feels better in the hand thanks to the fact that there are no sharp angles at the edges. I’ve yet to feel discomfort when holding the phone for long periods of time like the Z used to give me. That fixed that problem.
    The camera…… I had high hopes for this one. In paper, it was going to be a beast. It would eliminate the old habit of carrying point and shoots to events and become the camera phone that should have always been. I love the New UI. Its super intuitive, easy to use and has mostly useful stuff at one’s disposal. The camera quality though; i was kinda dissapointed at. I was hard pressed to find any differences in quality when taking side by side phones with my now defunct Z and my Z1. I wasn’t very happy with my investment. The next day i received an update when i plugged my phone to the SONY bridge for mac and………….
    The quality is much improved. The exposure, the noise, the color accuracy; all have been improved. Its palpable really, this phone now has the best camera of any android phone i’ve ever tested. Another thing worth mentioning too is the speed. I can overstate this, the phone breezes through any task you might want it to perform. The new 800 chipset is very impressive. I dont even have the need to use an alternate launcher to take away the lag that use to minusculy occur when using my Z.

    • blablu

      How did you get the black dots fixed? I have them in mine and I’d like some help..

      • Gaz Almonte

        They are a sensor problem. In my case . Got them to disappear by leaving the phone in a bag of rice, the next day they were gone. Some people are not as lucky though and require an actual repair. My dots appeared when I took my phone to the beach where I wasn’t supposed to submerge it because of the salty water. But yea, good luck getting rid of those; they were annoying. PS: you can have them leave by switching to another resolution. Try switching between mega pixel count in your camera app. This won’ t fix the problem per se but will allow you to take pictures without the presence of the dots. Mine only appeared at 13, so when I switched to 9mp they weren’. There, but if . Went back to 13 they were there again.

        • Nelson

          Read on a Sony forum.
          Go to settings, to Apps, “all”, scrollen to Camera app.
          Do a clear cache (not clear data), and then “force stop”
          Do a reboot.

          I had no need to try it yet, but maybe it helps for you…

    • Norma

      The Z1 is the best high build quality and all around android phone

  • neiz20

    Recently I was really, really low on money and debts were eating me from all sides! That was UNTIL I decided to make money on the internet. I went to surveymoneymaker dot net, and started filling in surveys for cash, and surely I’ve been far more able to pay my bills!! I’m so glad, I did this! With all the financial stress these years, I really hope all of you will give it a chance. – p72s

  • Gaz Almonte

    I had the z and moved over to the z1.
    The z1 is simply better. The fact that the battery last a whole day under most circumstances make it worth the upgrade. I get at least a day of work on it before i need to consider charging. The xperia z in the other hand needed to be charged a few times a day. The camera is much improved. Performance is faster, screen looks better, phone feels better in the hands thanks to its curves etc etc.
    also, you failed to mention the fact that the z1 doesn’t have a flop on the headphone jack and unlike the z. Why? because believe it or not, its kinda annoying dealing with a flop every time you need to hear something privately on your phone. The z1 is now waterproofed as opposed to water resistant on the z. That also makes this phone that much better.
    But great review as always.

  • aiwentimotai

    Many pay high prices for phones with Amoled displays which promise wide
    viewing angles and then spend some more money attaching privacy screens on
    them. Funny right? Wide viewing angles are only important for TVs and maybe
    computer monitors.

    As for smartphones, do we usually read our messages or watch movies on them at
    an angle? Wide viewing angles aren’t good on smartphones lest you want
    strangers beside you reading your mails or messages.