04
Sep
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Sony's oft-leaked Xperia Z1 finally made its official debut at IFA in Berlin yesterday, and I had a chance to take a few minutes and look at the company's latest smartphone creation. The Z1 has opted to keep the same basic dimensions of the Xperia Z with its 5" 1080p LCD, enclosed in an aluminum chassis sandwiched between two glass plates. As such, holding the Z1 is very reminiscent of the Z - lots of glass, and an extremely solid, premium feel. Of course, the Z has had its fair share of criticism for the potentially fragile glass back plate, and it seems the Z1 will be equally likely to draw fire on that point. There's also the whole waterproof aspect, which means those fiddly port covers are making a return.

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The display immediately got the same mixed reaction I had with those of the Z and ZL - straight on, it looks like a pretty good 1080p LCD. Colors are fairly vivid (I think more so than they were on the Z/ZL) and sharpness is wanting for no one but predatory avians. The issue is the viewing angles. As you can see in the photos and, to a lesser extent, the video, at any kind of substantial angle the Z1's display distorts color and brightness in a rather extreme way. Some may not mind, though I personally find this to be a very 2011 sort of problem - no other major Android OEM (LG, Samsung, HTC, Motorola) seems to be having such an issue with display viewing angles. What gives, Sony?

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The charging dock pogo pins from the Xperia Z make a return on the Z1

There's a large speaker grille along the bottom of the Z1, pogo pins on the left hand side, a microSD card slot, and a microUSB port. The charging / notification light has been moved under the earpiece speaker, as well, which I think looks kind of cool.

The Android 4.2-based software experience feels very much like what we've seen on Sony smartphones for the last year, albeit with a few new features. While that software has not aged aesthetically as poorly as Samsung or LG's, there's little denying that it could do with a refresh. It is still a more "stock-like" experience than what you'll get on a Galaxy S4, One, or G2, though, and Sony's fans have long made a point of this.

I will say that Android finally, truly feels fast on the Z1. On the Z and ZL, everything felt quick most of the time, but little frame rate drops and stutters here and there navigating the OS made the experience inferior to competing phones at the time. On the Z1, there doesn't seem to be a trace of this. It's fast, fluid, and highly responsive (as you can see in my admittedly less than useful homescreen swiping in the video).

The camera is obviously the Z1's crown jewel, but in the trade show booth environment (super bright lights, phones not connected to web, etc.), there's not really much that I can say about it other than what Sony has told us. I do know that the camera software on the Xperia Z and ZL was incredibly frustrating and finnicky in terms of getting consistent results, but that Sony is touting a new "manual" mode on the Z1. Perhaps this will allow the 20.9MP G Lens camera to really outshine the competition and produce some stunning photos. We'll have to wait for a full review to know, and hopefully we'll have that for you later this month.

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David Ruddock
David's phone is an HTC One. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, imparting a legal perspective on tech news, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • Suhas

    "The camera is the crown jewel"; wish we could see it in action soon. The phone is great, but... there's a but..., maybe the bezels, maybe the Xperia UI, I dunno. But i'm sure there are many other factors to love the Z1. Only if the front of the phone looked as good as the back...

    So now we've seen the X, G2, Z1 & Note III, eagerly waiting for my preferred phone to be outta the lot, the Nexus 5 or whatever multiple devices Google's gonna show off!

    • Lucian
      • portalpirate

        That's odd. In most low-light comparisons there isn't that much of a difference between the One and the Lumia phones, and definitely not betweent he 1020 and the 925. Something smells fishy here. For example, Digital Photography Review did this: http://connect.dpreview.com/post/5234892048/nokia-lumia-1020-camera-review?page=10

        • flosserelli

          Agreed. Every low-light comparison I have seen between the HTC One and iphone 5 suggest they are fairly equal (the One is sometimes better). So the above comparison does not convince me. I'll wait for more reviews.

        • Benjamin Rodriguez

          That test was made by a firm Sony hired. They probably fiddled with the settings, wait for another one.

  • Michał Droździewicz

    Maybe WiFi works OK this time.

  • portalpirate

    My biggest hesitation with this phone is that it's camera, the main selling point is 20.7 mp in what looks like a really small sensor. Now, I'm no camera enthusiast nor do I know that much about cameras, but isn't a big problem with smartphone cameras is that they try to do large amounts of megapixels in a really small sensor and end up with inferior light capture and not great photos? I know Sony is a camera expert, but their phones have had really bad cameras recently and I doubt this is an exception to the rule. Then again, I might be wrong.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      The sensor is a 1/2.3", though it is still a "mobile" Exmor R image sensor, and so not a direct copy of the 1/2.3" Exmor R found in the cheaper CyberShot models. The size of the sensor itself, though, seems to be the same, and for reference, is the same size as the sensor in the Galaxy Camera.

    • gggggg

      Sony have always had top notch cameras on their phones, the exmor r sensors deliver low light performance that is unmatched by any camera phone, bettering the v purview Lumia even

      • Abhijeet Mishra

        Huh, don't think they have top notch cameras, even the Xperia Z takes good enough pictures, not great. Bettering the PureView? Hmm, fanboy much?

    • andy_o

      Number of pixels is not intrinsically related to more noise in the (whole) image, even when sensor sizes are the same. If you're looking at a picture at 1:1 pixel mapping on your monitor (like pretty much all review sites like to do), sure more noise can be visible, but bear in mind that the objects in the higher density picture will also be bigger in the frame, thus showing more detail that compensates for the apparent increase in noise.

    • aet

      One of their promo videos mentioned 6400ISO I believe, which is crazy high and should let a hell of a lot of light in. How much noise we see in those photos will rely on sony's image processing, which if I'm not mistaken is quite good usually (at the very least in their actual proper cameras, which they claim is the same software at work in the Z1).

      fair disclaimer: I'm being a bit of a fanboy because I intend to buy one.

  • Stranger from a Far Coast

    Color looks too unsaturated on the screen that to the point where everything looks gloomy. I'd still prefer Amoled.

    • TY

      Actually, Trilumonous is kinda like amoled, with a too wide colour gamete and thus making colours overly saturated. Both suffers from some problem though: amoled by nature is hopeless on colour accuracy after a few months of usage, and the Sony one somehow doesn't use IPS and suffers from poor viewing angles.
      Some people may prefer unrealistic colours that seem to make the display good, unfortunately that's not me. I prefer being accurate than being unreal. High quality IPS displays are my choice.

      • Cristi13

        Didn't the s4, on movie mode got excellent scores when it came about color accuracy?

        • TY

          *Initially* yes, AMOLED displays can be calibrated to be color accurate. However, in AMOLED displays, sub-pixels degrade individually. Moreover, sub-pixels of different color have different half-lives, e.g. blue degrade the quickest. Thus after some time, say half a year, the color accuracy of AMOLED displays start to go off. Yes, the sub-pixels have different sizes to compensate this; however how the degrade would be highly dependant on the images displayed. On the other hand, on LCDs only the brightness of the backlight degrades; color shift is a relatively slow process.

          • Cristi13

            Do you live in 2009 or something? There have not been problems with burn ins with amoleds for quite some time. I know a lot of people with samsung phones that still look good as new. Do you really people have to make everything a competition: lcd vs amoled, s4 vs htc, google vs ms, it's anoying.

          • TY

            Don't get me wrong, if you like AMOLED and cannot notice the shift in color or any burn-ins, that's totally alright. Not everyone is so sensitive to colors, and everyone have their preferences. I'm just stating my opinion.

          • Cristi13

            Well I could notice how bad the xperia z screem was, so I think I'm pretty good at noticing. But, like I said newer amoleds have a much longer lifespan and I haven't heard about major cases with burn in in ages.

  • bungadudu

    http://www.buhnici.ro/2013/09/04/sony-z1-honami/ - full review with camera pics etc. But it's in romanian..

  • mlj11

    I also can't fathom why Sony persists with using screens that appear washed out at anything more than a head on angle.

    Maybe it's a flaw, but it'd be interesting if they they sold it as an intentional design decision - "Introducing the Sony Honami, now with built-in Privacy Guard™ Screen Technology, which partially obscures the screen from busybodies trying to take a sneak peek at what you're doing!"

    • Alex

      There might be some battery efficiency benefits if it's only projecting light in one direction, perhaps?

      I doubt privacy is the issue, but last time I was in Japan, a couple of years ago, "privacy guard" screen protectors were being sold everywhere. They blurred/blocked anything except a straight-on view.

    • GL

      I believe its a coating above the display, that enables you to use the touchscreen underwater. I may be wrong...

      • at

        Did the Z ultra have this coating as well? I dont recall any reviews of it saying the angles were bad, which is odd because it uses more or less the same display (just smaller)

        • jonathan3579

          The Z Ultra had no coating other than an "improved" anti-shatter screen protector. However, that screen looks amazing!!!

    • dextersgenius

      How did you make your text bold?

      • mlj11

        Use tags around your target words. For bold it's and but without the space.

        There are more formatting tags available for Disqus, just Google and you'll easily find them.

    • flosserelli

      Yep. Apple would have marketed this flaw as a "feature".

    • Josh

      But why would you use your phone from a side angle? I personally prefer it that other people can't see whatever I'm doing on my phone, and as far as I know whenever I'm using it I look straight at the screen. I don't tilt it round, whats the point?

      • mlj11

        Some common situations when I don't have / need the screen to be facing me head-on are when I'm doing a quick check to see what notifications I just received (say I have it laying face up on the table when I'm in a meeting), and when I'm sharing the device with a friend to watch a video or look at pictures.

        These situations happen to me quite regularly. I would be annoyed if the wash-out effect renders the screen barely visible.

        • Fëanáro Nénmacil

          I could watch video with others on my XZ without any problem.
          Only the extreme angle that make the color wash out. If you use a camera to take photos of the display on the side-angle, it's even more washed out. Practically, it's not the awful :)

          Reading the text from the side angle is fine too. Z1 which has a better display than Z should have no problem.

    • Andrew Wood

      PIcking up on this - as I got my Honami this morning - the viewing angles are MUCH improved over the Xperia Z, and are not what I'd call a problem in any way. They do start to wash out at about 40 degrees or so, but only slightly, and not to the extent that it detracts from the experience. And this is a much nicer phone to hold than the Z - the rounded edges are easier to grip and don't dig into my face when I use the phone as a phone...

  • subramanianv

    Sony should hire a god damn designer to make a god damn wallpaper that looks good on that god damn screen. Their current wallpaper is god damn depressing. Seriously speaking, it just needs a better looking and possibly a bright wallpaper to attract more users. They have the name and reputation and though aged, a cleaner UI, but if they keep using this same wallpapers in all of their higher end phones, they are not going to make any god damn progress.

    • Arve Svendsen

      God damn! Youre right!

    • WhyWai

      I'll just change it in 3 seconds when I boot up mine. :D

    • Andrew Wood

      Yes, you're right. Wallpapers are what attract users, because they're so difficult to replace. Apart from the fact that the default xperia wallpaper gets a lot of positive comments, I think you're getting more worked up about this non-issue than it merits...

  • Jason Bailey

    "There's also the whole waterproof aspect, which means those fiddly port covers are making a return." Well you shouldn't have to worry about a port cover for the headphone socket. Like the Z Ultra there is now no cover for it as it is completely waterproof.

  • Anang Taz

    Sony Xperia z1, is one of the latest product of sony in 2013, after success with its waterproof phones xperia Z ultra.
    If you want to know more about the Sony Xperia z1, please see his video review below :

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mj135yNO5x4

  • Cory Crew

    How big are your hands?
    ...the thing looks like how a 4.2" might look in mine, Or is it just like that?

    • Cory_S

      The thing dwarfs the LG G2. It makes the G2 look like an iPhone.

  • Tim Harper

    I personally like poor viewing angles sometimes..everybody on the bus doesn't need to be able to read my emails and texts. I know I sometimes shoot a nosey glance occasionally, simply because the view is there.

  • Nuno Telez

    Why are the "bad" viewing angles always being pointed out as a con (on a phone)? I just don't get it. The way i see things, a phone is a personnal thing; i don't want the person sitting next to me to be able to see what i'm writting or watch what i'm watching.

    I would definitly like a phone with poor viewing angles.

    • LAKAME

      True dat. I don't really use my phone to view content with many people, while there are many times that I wished my phone had "bad" viewing angles. I remember seeing a screen protector a few years ago in Japan that had the same use: limit the viewing angles.

    • Cristi13

      Look at the photos, it's not about privacy, you can still.see the content, it's about how the colors get messed up.

    • Andrew Tan

      Bad viewing angle does not means you get more privacy. People still can see what you are doing.

      Bad viewing angle affecting general usage as the color is shift in different angle hold.