Review : Sony Xperia Z1

The Sony Xperia Z1 was one of the very good surprises this season. Finally, a surprise is a way of speaking because in reality we had known everything about him for weeks, if not months. However, knowing the technical sheet of a smartphone is not an end in itself. To get a clear idea of it, nothing beats a good grip. And in fact, the Z1 has been with me every day for a little over a week. The time has therefore come to take stock of the operation , and to share my impressions with you about this exceptional terminal.

And as usual, it should be noted that this test will not fall into pure technique. Well maybe a little, but not too much. You will be entitled to a few figures, of course, but do not expect ultra precise measurements made on the screen or the sensor of the terminal either. Others do it much better than I do, anyway, and it only takes a little Google search to find dozens and dozens of such sites.

Test Sony Xperia Z1

The Sony Xperia Z1 connector, designed for its dock.

Technical characteristics

The technical specifications of the Sony Xperia Z1 have been known for a long time, it's true, but you might as well take the time to recall them so that everyone knows what we're talking about:

  • 5 inch Full HD 1080p Triluminos display 441 ppi.
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 @ 2.2 Ghz processor.
  • GPU Adreno 330.
  • 2 GB RAM.
  • 16 GB of disk space.
  • SDXC port up to 64 GB.
  • 20.7 MP Exmor RS sensor.
  • G Lens f / 2.0 lens.
  • BIONZ processor.
  • 8x digital zoom.
  • 3x optical zoom.
  • 2 MP camera (1080p).
  • 3.5 mm jack socket.
  • Micro USB connector MHL compatible.
  • WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, aGPS, DLNA, NFC.
  • LTE.
  • 3000 mAh battery.

Okay, as you can see the Z1 hits the high end and it shares a good deal of its specs with most “superphones” on the market. I am thinking in particular of the LG G2, tested here . After that, you should know that Sony was not content to integrate fashionable technologies to design its new terminal. The screen, to name but one, thus benefits from Triluminos , X-Reality , Super Resolution and OptiContrast . These names do not necessarily speak to you, just know that these are technologies developed by Sony, technologies that are found in particular in all televisions produced by the brand. Basically, therefore, the latter improve the color rendering, contrast, brightness and readability of the Z1 screen.

Same thing for the photo part since the Z1 inherits all the technologies developed for the CyberShot range. Sony has therefore integrated a 20.7 megapixel Exmor RS BSI sensor , a 27mm f / 2.0 G-Lens , a SteadyShot optical stabilizer and even a BIONZ processor in its smartphone. Awesome, isn't it? Certainly, and we must admit that the guy is doing well in photos and video. We will also have the opportunity to talk about it a little later in this article.

We end this part with the usual benchmarking solutions:

  • BenchmarkPi: 124.
  • Quadrant: 20994.
  • Linpack: 810897.
  • An3DBench: 7983.
  • GeekBench 3: 909 (single-core), 2715 (multi-core).

Awesome, isn't it? The Z1 does as well as the G2 and that's pretty good news.

Test Sony Xperia Z1 1

The speaker of the Sony Xperia Z1, which delivers good quality sound.

Test Sony Xperia Z1 2

The jack, which does not need a tab to be hermetic.

Design & Ergonomics

Hey, how about design now? Very good idea, even if the subject will necessarily divide you. Not everyone has the same aesthetic sense, nor the same tastes. What will be beautiful for one will not always be beautiful for the other. From my personal point of view, and which therefore only commits me, the Sony Xperia Z1 is one of the most beautiful smartphones on the market.

On the design side, know that the Z1 is composed of two tempered glass plates held by a metal structure designed in one piece. The joys of unibody, in short. In addition, Sony has placed a thin plastic film on each side of its terminal to protect it from scratches while reducing the well-known phenomenon of “nasty ugly fingerprints”. Connoisseurs will also appreciate the presence of this famous premium button placed on the right edge of the Z1, a button that will allow us to get it out of its lethargy when we need its services.

It is not finished because the Xperia Z1, like predecessors, also benefits from an IP55 / 58 treatment. In other words, it will be able to survive immersion in fresh water, as long as we do not descend below 1.5 meters depth , for a period not exceeding half an hour . Be careful, however, because the terminal would not survive submersion in salt water, so it will not be possible to take it to the sea. In addition, the Z1 is also resistant to dust.

A lot of people wonder what this treatment can be used for. I admit it to you, not everyone will necessarily use it, but it's still very pleasant to be able to take out your smartphone in the rain without fear for your health. As far as I'm concerned, I also got into the habit of washing it once a day. Why ? Because it is possible, let's see!

Now let's move on to the ergonomics of the Z1. On the right side of the terminal, and apart from the “premium” button mentioned a little above, we will find the port for SIM cards, the volume control buttons and the camera shutter button. By keeping the latter pressed, it is possible to launch the associated application. On the left edge, we will have the right to the micro USB port and the port for micro SD cards , as well as the connectors that will make the junction between the mobile and its dock. Note that all ports are protected by plastic tabs, tabs that will make the Z1 perfectly waterproof. However, this is not the case for the jack on the upper edge since the latter benefits from the same treatment as that of the Xperia ZU.

So what about the lower end? This is where Sony has placed the loudspeaker of its terminal, as well as a notch for attaching a strap. After all, the Z1 is also a camera, eh?

I haven't talked about it yet, but if we will find the various usual sensors above the Z1 screen, we will also be entitled to a notification LED whose color will change depending on… the associated notification. The sensor and its flash, for their part, are directly integrated into the back of the case, but unfortunately we will not be entitled to an additional microphone. If you plan to use the Z1 to make short films, you will have to opt for a dictaphone to record the voices of your subjects, and then switch everything to suitable video editing software.

Test Sony Xperia Z1 3

The micro usb socket of the Sony Xperia Z1, accompanied by the port for microSD cards.

Android & Sony Overlay

Do not be scarred by words. When its first version was launched, Android was ugly and not very ergonomic. It was even painful to watch. Google, however, has worked a lot on its platform since then and the latter now has nothing to envy the competition. The same goes for the builders' overlays which are more and more neat , and more and more pretty to look at. Sony is doing quite well in this area and the Z1 is full of useful and pleasant functions to use. Note, however, that the following list is not necessarily exhaustive, and it will also evoke some specific features of Android.

Lock screen

You might as well start at the beginning, and therefore with the lock screen. Jelly Bean requires, the latter supports widgets and it will therefore be perfectly possible to customize it , as we would do with our home screens. Sony has opted for a double scan, however. Everything will take place at the top of the screen. By swiping from left to right, the user will be able to access the various widgets set up, and even modify them, delete them or add more if the heart tells him. On the contrary, if he swipes sideways from right to left, the application dedicated to the photo will open. Exactly as if we were holding down the trigger built into the right side of the terminal.

To unlock the Z1, it is in the lower area of the screen that everything will happen and so it is here that we will have to perform a vertical swipe from top to bottom, or from bottom to top. Other unlocking methods are available in the device settings, so we can opt for facial recognition , for this good old pattern , for a PIN code or even for a password . Nothing very surprising here, these are options that are found on all androphones on the market.

The notification center

Unlike the LG G2, the Xperia Z1's notification center plays the card of minimalism. Apart from the usual alerts, we will thus be entitled to a horizontal bar containing a series of five icons, icons which will allow us to activate or deactivate the functionalities of our choice. By default, we will have the right to vibrate mode , bluetooth , WiFi , brightness and a shortcut pointing to the settings , but it will suffice to go for a walk in the terminal settings to add other icons. Be careful though because you can only place ten at most, and you will therefore have to make a choice.

Just below this area, we will find the date and time, followed by a button to delete all notifications at once. Google Now will find its place alongside these, and we will always have an overview of the available cards. Very practical in everyday life, even if the widgets offer exactly the same thing.

The list of applications

Sony has also customized the display of the application list. By swiping from left to right when you are on the first screen, a bar will appear with various shortcuts. In a few moments, we will be able to launch a search, uninstall the tools that we do not use or even change the display order of these. Several sorting methods are available, we can display the applications in alphabetical order , highlight the most used applications or even display only the tools installed by us . Finally, at the very bottom, we will have direct access to the Play Store and to the Sony Select.

Here again, the Japanese manufacturer has opted for a simple, accessible and ergonomic interface. A good thing, if you want my opinion, since anyone can find their little ones, including those who have never touched an Android terminal in their life.

Window mode applications

If you have read my LG G2 review, then you should know that it includes QSlide Apps, that is, applications that can run in windowed mode. Sony, for its part, also offers the same thing, but the manufacturer has taken the concept a little further . Yes, and the great interest of the thing is that the system imagined by its engineers works with … any widget!

To access this special mode, everything will happen from multitasking. Below the list of open applications, we will actually find a horizontal bar made up of several icons. By default, the tool will display the last four applications launched in windowed mode, but it will be possible to display all of them by tapping on the arrow on the left. This is where the real fun will begin. If we will be able to dig into the various applications installed by default, we will also have the possibility to add our own elements by tapping on the button located at the top, on the right.

There, two solutions will be available to us: either we will add micro-applications from the Play Store , or we will convert our widgets into micro-applications . In my case, it is this last solution that caught my attention, since it works with the widgets of all the applications installed on our terminal. And it works great with Twitter, or Gmail.

Another interesting point, Sony does not limit us and therefore we can display as many micro-applications as we want. Then, well each window can be moved individually and we will only have to tap on the cross located at the top right to close those we no longer need.

Home screens and edit mode

The Z1 virtual desktop consists of several home screens, screens that can be customized as we see fit. No big surprise here, all devices running Android offer exactly the same thing. Where Sony stands out from the crowd is in its edit mode, an intuitive, well-thought-out mode that requires no adaptation time.

To switch to edit mode, just press and hold one of our home screens for a few seconds. At the top of the screen, we will see thumbnails representing the different screens that make up our desktop. It will be enough to tap on the buttons at the top to remove the screens that we do not need, or to set the home screen that will be displayed by default. The office desk, if you prefer. The silly thing, however, is that it is obviously not possible to change the order of our home screens. Pity.

At the very bottom we will have a series of four icons that will allow us to very easily insert widgets and applications, or even change wallpapers and themes.

Sony applications

Like all manufacturers operating on the mobile technology market, Sony accompanies its Z1 with a series of home applications, applications that affect both basic utility and multimedia. I haven't tried them all, but here is a non-exhaustive list to help you see a little more clearly about the Japanese giant's offer:

  • News and weather: It's all in the title.
  • Alarms and clock: Same as above.
  • Albums: Integration of Facebook, Flickr or even PlayMemories Online.
  • Camera: Don't be in too much of a hurry, we'll talk about this a little later.
  • Calculator: To do … calculations that are not always complicated.
  • Contacts: Simple, clean and efficient, with the support of external accounts.
  • Drawing: Didn't you already understand how to draw?
  • Email: I haven't even opened this app.
  • Movies: DLNA support, but few codecs supported.
  • Notes: Simple and efficient, with support for voice notes.
  • Voice recognition: It works pretty well.
  • Backup and restore: Very convenient.
  • Smart Connect: Allows you to define automatic actions.
  • Sony Select: Application selection, by Sony.
  • Walkman: Nice, and very complete, with integration of Music Unlimited.
  • Music & Video Unlimited: Not tested.
  • Xperia Link: For managing connection sharing.
  • Xperia Lounge: Information on the Xperia range.
  • Xperia Privilege: Discounts for Xperia users.

I really liked Smart Connect which allows you to define automatic actions based on several criteria. Thanks to this tool, we can define a “do not disturb” mode, switch the music to the headset when we are on the move, and so on. It's frankly not bad, even if some actions are still missing. The Xperia Link is also very well designed and it ultimately avoids having to get your hands dirty to swing the connection from your smartphone to your tablet or computer.

STAMINA mode

It's not unique to the Z1, Sony has made a habit of integrating it into every Xperia that leaves its factories, but it's a feature notable enough to be highlighted. STAMINA mode, as its name suggests, will allow you to easily optimize the autonomy of your terminal. The idea, in reality, is quite simple since the latter will deactivate all unnecessary services when the terminal is locked. This includes mobile data, WiFi and inactive apps. Be reassured, however, because it is perfectly possible to customize this function, and therefore to deactivate STAMINA mode for certain applications. Same thing, if you wish, you can also set conditions for the activation of this mode, for example when the battery drops below a certain threshold.

But does it really work? The answer is simple, and can be summed up in one word: yes. In normal times, and for traditional, but sustained use, the Xperia Z1 is able to take a little more than a day without recharging. It's really not bad, but we can still save a little time thanks to the STAMINA mode. Once activated, and for a similar use, my Z1 managed to exceed twenty hours of autonomy.

Various settings and optimizations

We could hardly talk about the overlay developed by Sony without addressing the issue of settings. If we find all the usual options, it is also possible to put your finger on some very practical tools, of which here is a non-exhaustive list:

  • Use of data: Very practical for monitoring the consumption of your terminal, and knowing the most demanding applications.
  • Xperia connectivity: The Z1 is an ultra connected terminal and this section reflects it perfectly. It will effectively allow us to access the Throw settings, screen mirroring, settings affecting the multimedia server, the Mirrorlink and… settings related to DualShock 3 support!
  • Quick settings: As indicated above, it is in this menu that we can customize the display of quick settings, that is, the display of icons appearing in the notification center.
  • Power management: This is where we will find all the options related to the STAMINA mode mentioned above.
  • MyXperia: This tool is positioned in the same segment as Apple's Find My Phone, so it will allow us to find our terminal in the event of theft.
  • And so on.

Unlike the LG G2, and the Samsung Galaxy S4, Sony has not integrated “smart gestures”. As far as I'm concerned, however, I haven't missed them.

Test Sony Xperia Z1 4

The metallic border of the Sony Xperia Z1 is made in one piece. Unibody inside.

Multimedia, Photos & Video

We discussed the technical specifications of the Xperia Z1, but also its design, ergonomics and functions related to its overlay. The time has therefore come to take an interest in multimedia , and more precisely in photography and video. And there, obviously, we have a lot to say about it since the Z1 is positioned as a “photophone”, and therefore as a smartphone capable of competing with digital compacts.

During my digital wanderings, I came across some very incisive articles pointing out the many shortcomings of the sensor and the optics integrated into the Z1. After a few tries, it appeared to me that these various criticisms were not necessarily founded. Because in reality, everything depends on the use made of the terminal. As some of you may know, the application in charge of the camera incorporates several shooting modes, including a “superior auto” mode and a “manual” mode . Let it be said, if the automatic mode is very efficient when the light conditions are ideal, it quickly finds its limits when the light begins to lack. And in these cases, it is therefore imperative to switch to “manual” mode.

A fashion that does not live up to its name. Contrary to what we find on some devices such as the Samsung Galaxy Camera, the Sony Xperia Z1 does not allow you to adjust the aperture or shutter speed. In reality, the only settings on which it is possible to intervene are the white balance , the focus , the sensitivity , the measurement , the image stabilizer and… the scenes . However, by combining these settings, it is possible to obtain very different and even very qualitative results. I am thinking in particular of the night scene which works wonderfully in more difficult conditions. The same goes for night portraits and for pictures of animals or food. Also note that this mode will allow us to set the resolution of the image.

But the Xperia Z1's greatest asset when it comes to photos and videos are these specific and very well-thought-out applications:

  • Superior auto: This is the basic automatic mode, the one that should delight “point & shoot” enthusiasts. The settings are obviously very limited, but we can always program a self-timer, or the optical stabilizer.
  • Manual: My favorite mode. I have just briefly explained how it works, so there is no need to introduce it again.
  • Timeshift Burst: If you are afraid of missing out on the photo of the century, then this mode is for you since it will take about 20 photos all at once. Then all you have to do is choose the best shot.
  • Photo effect: Everything is in the title, this mode will allow you to assign Instagram-like effects to your photos. Fun in the moment, a little less in the long term.
  • Sweep Panorama: Again, the title is evocative enough that you immediately understand what it is about. Basically, with this mode, we will be able to capture panoramas.
  • Augmented reality effect: I put it in the same category as photo effects. It's fun, but not very useful in the long run since this mode just adds images to the captured scenes. Like dinosaurs, or pretty hats on the heads of our models.
  • Info-Eye: Again, it's about augmented reality. This mode will allow you to obtain information on the objects of your choice. And no, it doesn't necessarily work with everything.
  • Social Live: A very useful mode that should please a lot of people since it allows you to broadcast live on a Facebook profile the scene captured with the Z1. Be careful though, because there are some rather annoying limitations. Social Live does not work with pages, and the recording time cannot exceed ten minutes.

Sony could have stopped there but the Japanese manufacturer has decided to play the card of openness and it will thus be perfectly possible to install new applications if the heart tells us. Interestingly, some tools offered on the Play Store already use this feature and this is particularly the case of Evernote. Once installed, a new mode will be added to the Z1 library, a mode that will allow us to send the captured photos directly to our account.

Note also that video capture is not available in all modes. In reality, you can only enjoy it from the “intelligent auto” mode and the “manual” mode, not forgetting Social Live of course.

So what about reading photos, videos and music?

The applications offered by Sony are well thought out, but they are not perfect. The integrated video player will thus be unable to recognize all the codecs, so it will necessarily be necessary to go through a third-party application to enjoy our films and our series. As far as I'm concerned, I opted for the MediaHouse / VLC combo but everyone will see noon at their door. For the images, again, the Japanese firm could have done better. While the integration of Facebook, Flickr and Picasa is pretty cool, unfortunately we don't have control over our albums, so we can't organize our photos as we see fit. It's quite strange, but I may have missed the related function.

Talking about multimedia without mentioning the general performance of the Z1 is impossible. Fortunately, on this side, there is not much to say since the latest addition to Sony's laboratories is running… wonderfully. It doesn't matter if you're playing gourmet games or watching 1080p movies, the Snapdragon 800 won't budge a bit. Same thing for the overlay, during this week of testing, I did not have to suffer even a shadow of latency.

Test Sony Xperia Z1 5

Premium is good for your health.

Conclusion

The time for the final verdict has arrived. And so from the conclusion of this article. Let's say it very clearly, the Sony Xperia Z1 is a great surprise. It has everything, absolutely everything you might expect from a top-of-the-range terminal. Powerful, fast, neat, accessible, it had no trouble making me forget my iPhone 4S, and iOS.

After that, it is true, it is not given either. Finally, not given, everything is obviously a question of point of view. At Sosh, for example, and if you take the bigger plan, it will cost you less than an iPhone 5S and less than a Samsung Galaxy S4. Better, it even has the luxury of being offered at almost the same price as the iPhone 5C, which is nothing more than an iPhone 5 with a plastic shell. And if you prefer SFR, then know that it is even more accessible … provided you take a big package behind.

Is the investment worth it? Yes, not to doubt it. If you are looking for a “premium” smartphone capable of replacing a digital compact, then the Z1 is a solid alternative. And I also think that I will let myself be tempted by this great adventure.

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