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Sony Xperia Z1

Getting it right on the second attempt: Sony Xperia Z1

The super smartphone Sony should have released six months ago

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Upgraded performance

Exactly how this image-fiddling voodoo works is still a bit of a mystery to me but work it does, so whether you're watching HD movies or looking at photographs it is a truly terrific display. Finally an Xperia device with a screen as good as any of the competition. And about time.

Once again like the Xperia Z, the Z1 has a quad-core processor, but it has been bumped up from 1.5GHz to 2.2GHz making it one of the highest spec smartphones money can buy. Out has gone the Adreno 320 GPU to be replaced by the 330. In other words, it now uses essentially the same chipset as the LG G2 and the Google/LG Nexus 5.

Sony Xperia Z1 AnTuTu benchmark results

AnTuTu benchmark results; left, in direct comparison with the LG 2

Sure enough, in the AnTuTu benchmark test it delivered scores around the 35,000 mark, which is pretty much state of the current art.

Upping the camera’s pixel count to 20.7 million gives the Z1 a higher spec than you’ll find on any other smartphone bar Nokia’s Lumia 1020. There’s a dedicated shutter button on the side, too, which wasn’t present on the Z. If Sony has called the Z1 the Z Cybershot you wouldn’t feel shortchanged.

That’s because it is a very fine camera with a 1/2.3-inch sensor and a F/2.0 27mm lens. In the shots I took colour reproduction was very good, ditto visible detail, and I was impressed by how smooth the image in the viewfinder was. It looks like it is running an unusually high refresh rate.

Sony Xperia Z1

Camera mode menu

With the Z1 Sony has introduced a new video image stabilisation enhancement it calls SteadyShot, a long-established brand. It works well for a digital affair though it does reduce the field of vision and isn’t on par with Nokia’s PureView photographic jiggery-pokery.

The Z1’s digital zoom can’t match the near-magical ability of the Nokia 1020, which crops 41MP images to give the impression of near optical quality zooming, but it is certainly the next best digital zoom I’ve ever encountered on a smartphone. The small LED flash is unusually powerful too.

The camera interface is a little less impressive. By default the camera shoots in 3840 x 2160, 16:9 Superior Auto mode rather than 5248 x 3939, 4:3 so you’ll need to open up the options menu and set it to Manual to make the most of those extra pixels. I don’t know about you, but if I’d bought a phone with a 20.7MP camera I’d like to set that as the permanent default.

Sony Xperia Z1

You can have 20.7MP or 8MP - but not both

Once in Manual mode there are only a limited number of settings on offer: exposure, white balance and ISO, and etering and focus modes are buried rather deep in the settings menu. And that’s your lot - no manual focus, or scope to tune contrast, saturation or sharpness.

Another thing the the Z1 won’t do is shoot 20.7MP and 8MP or 5MP images at the same time the Nokia 1020 can. That’s one of the features I like most about the Nokia - the way you get both 38MP and 5MP versions of your snaps automatically. I was also rather disappointed to see that while there is a panorama mode, the stock Nexus Photo Sphere function is missing.

The resolution of the webcam has dropped from 2.2MP to 2.0MP, presumably in the name of component commonality with the Ultra, but you won’t notice the difference.

Sample Shots

Sony Xperia Z1 sample shot Sony Xperia Z1 sample shot
Sony Xperia Z1 sample shotSony Xperia Z1 sample shot

From top left, clockwise: 3840 x 2160 Superior Auto, 5248 x 3926 Manual point-and-shoot, 5248 x 3926 max zoom, 5248 x 3926 no zoom
Click any image for a full-size version

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