When Sony first showed us its Xperia Z handset at CES earlier in 2013, we didn’t expect a new model in the series until the following year. Boy, were we wrong, as Sony has a follow-up all ready to go, sporting an upgraded body, faster innards, and a new 20 megapixel camera.
A new Sony Xperia for the latter half of the year, this model takes much of what was praised in the previous generation and gives it a step up, making it possible for the handset to compete with the calibre of devices coming out just before Christmas.
There are quite a few devices making their way out to store shelves in that time, so it makes sense for Sony to update the Xperia Z, and these changes are coming in the Z1.
We’ll start with the things that haven’t received a huge set of changes, and that seems to be the body and design.
The materials used here are a little difference, with a shift from plastic framing to aluminium, but like the Z from earlier in the year, it’s glass on both the front and back. That glass is mineral strengthened and better at protecting against drops than regular glass.
The design is still very much based around a softened rectangle, and Sony has included another 5 inch display — just like on the first iteration — running a Full HD resolution of 1920×1080, which in turn pushes out 441 pixels per inch.
Under this glass, you’ll find a quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor clocked at 2.2GHz with Adreno 330 graphics, working alongside 2GB RAM and 16GB storage, with more easily added thanks to the microSD storage slot found on the left side of the unit under a flap. Google’s Android 4.2 “Jelly Bean” is the operating system found here, with Sony’s overlay found on top.
Connectivity options aren’t spared in this model, with 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0, Near-Field Communication, GPS, DLNA, and Cat4-compliant 4G LTE, which of course works with the more common Cat3 connections that practically all Australian telcos now support.
Cameras are on pretty much every smartphone now, and that doesn’t chance on the Z1, with Sony bringing a 20.7 megapixel sensor to the back of the Xperia Z1, relying on a 1/2.3 inch-sized sensor boasting image stabilisation, auto-focus, Full HD video capture, and supporting some augmented reality assisted camera modes, as well as an LED flash, while the front camera is a 2 megapixel shooter with Full HD video support, too.
Of particular note in the Z1 is the weather-proofing, and just like on the Sony Xperia Z from earlier in 2013, this one has some, which is more than most smartphones can say. Sony has managed to get the Z1 certified for IP58, which means it’s resistant to one metre of water for up to 30 minutes, with some dust resistance also provided.
The battery in the Z1 is rated for 3000mAh, but it is not removable, as everything is encased in the body. You will find a few flaps here and there, with the flap for the microSD on the left just above the one for the microUSB charge and data transfer port, a jack that also supports the MHL video display method that works via HDMI ports.
The microSIM slot can be found on the top right edge of the phone, with the SIM sitting in a small plastic tray and covered by a flap, while the remainder of physical buttons all exist below this flap, including a circular power button, volume rocket directly below it, and camera shutter button at the very bottom.
The 3.5mm jack is at the very top of the handset on the left side.
While all Android smartphones tend to include soft buttons, the ones normally found in these devices are virtual and on-screen in the Z1, just like how Google’s own devices work, as well as what we’ve seen on LG’s and Huawei’s.
All of this sits in a body measuring 8.5mm thick and weighing 170 grams.
It’s barely been six months, and already we have an updated Z handset from Sony. We can’t say we’re totally surprised, mind you: while the Xperia Z was an excellent phone, it had an outdated processor that made it easily beaten by the likes of the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4, even if the sum of its parts were brilliant, regardless.
Now in October, we’re ready to see a more perfected model, this thing isn’t bad at all.
For the Z1, Sony has elected to use a similar same body to what it released earlier in the year on the first Z, with mineral strengthened glass on both the front and back, and an aluminium frame holding both these sections, replacing the polycarbonate frame we saw last time.
It’s a design that can feel blocky thanks to its very rectangular form, softened as it may be, but still altogether sturdy.
In fact, the use of aluminium and glass makes this one of the best built smartphones of the year, comparable in heft and in a solid build to what LG offered in the Optimus G and the Nexus 4. It’s not quite as well balanced as either the Apple iPhone 5S or the HTC One, but the glass design does manage to feel stronger and more sturdy than any of the plastic bodies we’ve seen all year.
The positioning of the buttons helps this, with a circular metal button in the centre of the right edge acting as the power, and the volume rocker just beneath it.
If your hands can grip the just over 7cm horizontal length that the phone has, you’ll be able to hold this easily, and while this is a rectangular phone, it’s a touch comfier than the past generation thanks to edges that feel like they’ve been bevelled backwards for better hand grip support.