Design & Hardware

The Sony Xperia Z1 is beautifully made, with glass at both front and back and an aluminum frame.

In terms of design the Xperia Z1 is very close to its predecessor, while the camera module has, at least on paper, made a huge jump forward and should make the Z1 worth a closer look for any photo-centric Android user.

The big news is not only the very high 20.7MP resolution of the camera sensor, it's also the size of the backside-illuminated CMOS sensor. At 1/2.3-inches it's the same size sensor you would find in your typical Canon Ixus or Nikon Coolpix compact camera. In the camera world that's pretty much as as small as it gets but it's considerably larger than the tiny 1/3 sensors common in smartphones. In combination with the fast F2.0 Sony G lens, this should make for better than usual low-light performance. However, the lack of an optical image stabilization system means Z1 images are more prone to camera shake than competitors with OIS, such as the HTC One or Nokia Lumia 925. 

At its corner location it's very easy to unintentionally shade the Xperia Z1's lens with your index finger when holding the device in landscape orientation.
The shutter button is small but offers two-step operation like on a real camera.

Other hardware specs are pretty much in line with what you would expect from the latest generation of high-end smartphones. The Android operating system is powered by Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 800 chip which is clocked at 2.2 GHz. 2GB RAM should ensure smooth running of all apps and the those with above average need for on-device storage can expand the 16GB internal memory with a microSD card of up to 64GB capacity. The 5-inch Sony TRILUMINOUS screen offers a 1080p full-HD resolution and a pixel density of 441ppi.

With its angular design the Xperia Z1 follows in the footsteps of its predecessor and the one-piece aluminum frame that is visible around the edges gives the Z1 a premium feel. Both front and back of the device are covered with scratch-resistant glass and while this means the Sony is somewhat of a fingerprint magnet, it's also one of the nicest smartphones we've seen for a while and looks every cent of its street price of currently $750.

The Z1 is dust- and waterproof, so the USB connector and MicroSD slot are hidden under sealed flaps.
On the right edge of the device you'll find the volume rocker and power button. Above you can see the door of the SIM-card slot.

Like its predecessor, the Xperia Z1 is also dust- and waterproof to 1m depth (certified to IP55/58). The Z1 is not built for use in a war zone or even a building site, but it should survive a drop in the toilet or use on a dusty beach. The new model's focus on mobile photographers is emphasized by the addition of a dedicated shutter button. Slots for a MicroSim or microSD card are hidden under rubber flaps. Power button and volume rocker can both be found on the right edge of the device. 

The angular shapes of the device make it easy to hold and operate the Z1. Even without a case the Sony always feels securein the hand and the aluminum and glass materials feel pleasant to touch. Only the location of the lens can cause some trouble during camera operation. It is placed so closely to the top left corner of the Z1's back that's it very easy to partially shade it with your index finger when holding the device to take a picture. We've got more than one sample picture to prove it. You'll get used to moving your finger before hitting the shutter but there is an inevitable adaption period during which you'll produce a few unusable shots.