Stuff goes hands-on with the Sony Xperia Z1

Sony refreshes its flagship smartphone – and we've got our paws on it

Sony's taken the wraps off its new flagship smartphone the Xperia Z1 – but is this just a refreshed Xperia Z, or something more?

Spot the difference

The Xperia Z1's an evolution rather than a revolution. The Xperia design language hasn't been overhauled with the Z1 – in fact, the exterior is pretty much identical to the Xperia Z. That means the same glass build, in the same black, white and purple finishes, with a chunky power button tucked around the side. 

The less visible features have been upgraded, though, with the water- and dust-proofing bumped up to IP55 and IP58 protection. Unlike its waterproof rival, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active, the Xperia Z1 retains the Z's plasticky flaps to protect its precious ports.

Sony gets social with the Z1's camera

Stuff goes hands-on with the Sony Xperia Z1 - Sony gets social with the Z1's camera 2Stuff goes hands-on with the Sony Xperia Z1 - Sony gets social with the Z1's camera 3Stuff goes hands-on with the Sony Xperia Z1 - Sony gets social with the Z1's camera 4

The camera is where Sony's made the most improvements to the Z1. Gone is the Xperia Z's 13.1MP snapper, replaced with a 20.7MP 1/2.3in Exmor RS sensor and an f/2.0, 27mm equivalent lens.

Camera apps run within the main camera app; the most interesting is Social Live, which lets you livestream video to your Facebook page – effectively turning every Z1 user into an outside broadcast unit for citizen journalists. Info Eye is similar to Google Goggles, using Amazon for book recognition, Vivino for recognising bottles of wine - which appeared to work surprisingly well - and Tripadvisor for looking up ill-informed complaints about hotels. 

A Timeshift Burst feature lets you snap 60 frames in a row and pick out the best shot – like the Galaxy S4's camera, it constantly buffers 30 frames in advance, so it shoots from just before you press the shutter. The more frivolous AR Effect, meanwhile, lets you liven up your pics and video by inserting a cartoon dinosaur.

More after the break...

Under the hood

The Xperia Z1's had a small spec boost over the Z – it packs a quad-core 2.2GHz Snapdragon 800 processor, along with 2GB of RAM. 

The juice is supplied by a 3000mAh battery, which should keep the Z1 ticking over nicely – although as always, you'll have to wait for our full review to find out how it fares in the real world.

Internal storage is a little scanty at just 16GB, although a microSD card slot allows for up to 64GB of additional storage to be added. The Z1's by-now-standard NFC means you can link it up to loads of other Sony gizmos – including, presumably, the PS4 (although Sony wouldn't confirm this).

A 1080p screen – colour us unsurprised

The Xperia Z1 packs the by-now-standard 5in 1080p display, with Sony adding the same Triluminos and X-Reality tech used in new Bravia TVs – which, it claims, increases the colour gamut. At first glance, it's plenty bright and colourful enough to render images and video – though a proper assessment will have to wait until we can see it side by side with rivals like the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One.

Extras and verdict

Sony's bundling the Z1 with 60 days of free Music Unlimited, 6 free movie downloads on Video Unlimited – one of which has to be Elysium, which frankly is no bad thing – and 10 games.

Although it's not a comprehensive overhaul of Sony's flagship phone, the Xperia Z1 does offer several incremental improvements – as always, we'll be digging deeper into the performance and battery life in our full review, so stay tuned. 

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