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As Sony continues to make impressive inroads with the smartphone market, their Xperia Z1 promises to be a litmus test for them. It’s the first device that truly ties it all in for Sony: it’s not as comically large as the Xperia Z Ultra is, but has a lot packed in. The Z1 is water resistant, gorgeous, and ready to make a splash — literally, and figuratively — while the camera is unheard of for an Android device.

Its biggest challenge will be the Galaxy S4, the new champion of the ubiquitous Android lineup from Samsung. For all intents and purposes, this is a pretty fair fight — but there can only be one champion.


For this, we may need to split hairs. The 4.99-inch Super AMOLED display on the Galaxy S4 is tried and true. Love it or hate it, it has grown on us. The color hues aren’t wonderful, and it seems muted at times, but the AMOLED technology is still de rigueur for many devices. Motorola saw fit to include it on their new flagship Moto X, and we remain confident in what it brings to the table.

Sony brings its big guns, though, as the 5-inch Truliminous display with the X-Reality engine have been improved a great deal since the Xperia Z from earlier this year. The colors are vibrant, which is really the dividing line here. Both are 1920 x 1080, full HD displays, so the AMOLED vs. Truliminous battle is the real test here.

moto x vs galaxy s4 aa software s4 jelly bean

Processor & GPU

Sony continues with their intention to dominate by packing in a top-end Snapdragon 800, which clocks in at 2.2GHz. The Galaxy S4 uses a Snapdragon 600 pro, which is no slouch either. Both use an Adreno GPU, though the Xperia Z1 uses the (again) higher end 330, opposed to the Galaxy S4 320.


Samsung has always had very middle of the road battery life, partly because they rely on removable batteries as their apologist feature here. While the removable battery is the easy way to forgive terrible life, it’s not a solution. The 2,600mAh battery in the S4 isn’t terrible, but it isn’t great either. Removable is nice, but it doesn’t solve the demands TouchWiz places on the S4.

A truly water resistant device may be more handy than a swappable battery.

Sony has a 3,000mAh battery in the Xperia Z1, which is of course sealed. The device is water resistant, which is handy, but is a removable battery more useful for real-world situations? We haven’t had the chance to test the device yet, so we can’t really say how long the battery lasts, but it’s not a huge size improvement over the S4. Sony’s devices are usually pretty good with battery life, so we’re hopeful the Xperia Z1 holds true to form.


The Xperia Z1 has the familiar 2GB RAM and 16GB of storage on board, but also packs the micro SD Card slot for us. Samsung does all this as well, they just offer more storage options at staggered pricing. You can get a 64GB Galaxy S4 if you like, and it supports up to a 64GB micro SD Card.

Sony Xperia Z1


A point of contention for any smartphone, the 13MP rear camera on the Galaxy S4 is really nice. The device also has a host of photo editing software to make your photos stand out, but they may have run into a brick wall with Sony.

The Xperia Z1 has a monstrous 20.7MP shooter backing it up, and the Exmor RS Sensor is nothing to blink at. If you’re looking for a really great shooter, the Xperia Z1 is — hands down — the winner here. Samsung may have a host of photo editing functions, but those are for satellite use cases. For our money, a better shooter is the order of the day, and the Xperia Z1 delivers.


Both are Android Jelly Bean, but Sony gets the nod with 4.2.2 and a more svelte skin. For Android purists, the Sony interface will be much more attractive. If you look at our Xperia Z Ultra video, that gives you a much better idea of what to expect.

On the other hand, TouchWiz gives you just about everything you need -- and a whole lot you don’t want.

On the other hand, TouchWiz gives you just about everything you need — and a whole lot you don’t want. As we alluded to before with the photo editing, so much of TouchWiz is just satellite use case scenarios. How often do you need to crop someone out of the front of your picture to save the shot? It’s a neat trick, but like most of TouchWiz, a lot of bulk for little return.

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Hands-on comparison

Who wins?

As an Nexus user, I’d go with the Honami Xperia Z1. It’s got a really great shooter, and Sony’s camera software is great. The Snapdragon 800 is a beast, and the expandable storage is helpful if you like storing files locally. I would have liked more RAM involved, but 2GB is plenty.

I also find the Sony display better in general, but the Super AMOLED is never a bad choice. The removable battery on the Galaxy S4 comes in handy when you least expect to run out of juice, too. There’s nothing more frustrating than actually needing your device while out and about, only to find that red bar at the bottom of the battery indicator.

However, if we’re talking real-world scenarios, a truly water resistant device may be more handy than a swappable battery. Not having to shield the device from the real world may be really handy.

The turning point for me is TouchWiz, which I’m just not a fan of. I find it bulky, confusing at the wrong times, and more than a little ugly. Sony’s interface is clean, simple, and gets me where I need to be.

Though when you think about it, one real world problem remains: I know I’ll be able to find the S4, but will the Xperia Z1 be readily available? Sony devices are stunning, but also elusive. I know I can get an S4, but that Xperia may prove nearly impossible to get.

That could end up being the real deciding factor, here.