Long Term Review: Sony Xperia Z1

Z1 is quite a looker in white. Note the charging
port on the left hand side.
I go through a lot of phones. Really, at any one time I have at least three phones - an iPhone, an Android phone and a Windows Phone - and that doesn't include any devices I have for test or review.

For more than seven months now though I've stuck with one phone as my daily driver and that's the Xperia Z1. Although it's a phone that was superseded by the Z2 after just six months on the market, it's worth looking at how the Z1 has shut out the competition for such a long time.

The Z1 has the best performing camera in a smartphone, even alongside the Lumia 1020's massive 41mp sensor. Whilst the 1020 ultimately allows you to take better pictures if you take manual control and know what you're doing, 99 times in a hundred the Z1's superior auto mode will take a better picture. The speed of launch and shot to shot times of the Z1 are better, the add-on camera apps better integrated and overall the camera experience just works better.

The Z1 does waterproofing better than the competition too. It's waterproof for longer at greater depths than the Galaxy S5 - and because it packs a hardware shutter release can be used for photography underwater. Unlike the S5, there's no need to open the flaps on the Z1 once you've completed your first setup. That's because the Z1 has a magnetic charging dock which means that you can just drop it in for charging purposes.
That port connects to the magnetic dock, meaning
wirefree charging

You won't need to be charging that often either. I've found that the Z1's battery will last from morning of one day through to the evening of the next easily, and if you make use of Sony's power saving modes I found that a whole weekend of use without charge was (just) possible.

In the hand the Z1 is a super-premium phone. Only the HTC One (M7 and M8) vies with it for tactile pleasure. The aluminium frame and glass front and back panels, trademark power button and huge screen make for an aesthetically pleasing device too.

That screen is 5" and the only minor weak spot on the Z1. Colours are fantastic head-on and it copes very well with sunlight too. However at wider viewing angles the colours do wash out considerably. I haven't found this to be an issue because, let's be honest, when you're using a phone you're looking at it head on aren't you? At 1080p and 440ppi it's sharp for text and great for viewing media, thanks in part to the X-reality engine which Sony has used to customise the display in response to the image types being displayed. You won't struggle for space on the Z1 either, as the micro-SD card slot supports 64GB cards for expansion.

Size-wise I think 5" is the perfect compromise between screen size and device size and it's no surprise that that's the general vicinity that flagship phones are migrating too.

On the software side Sony has bundled a selection of its in-house packages - Walkman music player supporting Music Unlimited, Video Unlimited and Playstation Mobile are the main ones. TrackID and some Sony social and app recommendations. There are two automation engines installed. Trigger and Smart Connect, both of which allow you to use rules to trigger different activities on the phone. Sony supplies decent software packages for the desktop (Mac or PC) in your life - if you plan on using that for syncing media.

One piece of software that Sony has installed which doesn't get noticed much is the small apps add-on, which allows you to run several applications as floating windows above whatever else you're doing. It can also convert any widget into a floating application should you desire and as they are reached from the running apps home key are always only a click away. Very useful indeed and not a feature that gets mentioned in a lot of reviews.

Sony has been very careful to keep the Z1 up to date as newer versions of Android have arrived - the transition from the launch Jelly Bean 4.2 through to the current KitKat 4.4.4 release has kept pace with Google's Nexus devices, which bodes well for future Sony customers hoping to stay up to date.

The Z1's camera is capable of some stunning results
Performance-wise the Z1 has more than enough power to cope with anything that the Play store can throw at it. The Z1 experience is completely smooth and lag free at all times. Gameplay is particularly strong, especially if you take the option to wirelessly connect a PS3 dual shock controller freeing you from the tyranny of onscreen controls. Use the MHL support to plug your Z1 into a TV as well and you've got an extremely capable console.

Overall the Xperia Z1 has so many strong points it isn't hard to see why it's been my favourite phone for so long. Normally I'd expect to change my primary phone around three times a year. I'm expecting to retain the Z1 in that role until the Z3 arrives - which here in New Zealand could be as late as Christmas. Potentially the Z1 could be the first phone to last me a whole year unchallenged.

A sign of a great device, maturity in the market or weak competition? I'll let you be the judge of that.


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