Sony Xperia Z1 review: Walking on water
The Sony Xperia Z1 comes with the custom Sony gallery, called Album. Images are organized into groups of thumbnails and sorted by date.
Pictures is the main tab and one of its features managed to impress us: you can make the image thumbnails bigger or smaller, either with a pinch gesture or a sideways swipe. The whole thing is very responsive and hundreds of thumbs fall in and out of differently sized grids in a nifty animation.
There is a second tab here, My Albums, which includes online albums (PlayMemories, Facebook, Picasa) along with albums stored on devices in the local network. Also here are some special albums - Maps and Globe, which use the geo-tagging info to display photos where they were taken, and faces, which groups photos by the faces of the people in them.
Images can be cropped or rotated directly in the gallery. Quick sharing via Picasa, Email apps, Facebook, Bluetooth or MMS is also enabled.
There's a slide show using the SensMe brand and much like the music player feature, this one scans files and groups similar photos together.
Video player has good UI, codec support could have been better
The video player is dubbed Movies and it too has a great custom UI, reminiscent of HTPC interfaces. It's connected to Gracenote, which helps you find additional information about the movies and TVs you have on the phone. It will even download posters for them and for movies, it will download metadata like genre, synopsis, director and cast.
The Xperia Z1 didn't experience any difficulties playing 720p and 1080p videos. It loaded them pretty swtiftly and that's no surprise considering the hardware that's under the hood. MP4, DivX, X264 and MOV files played without a glitch, too.However, Sony still refuses to pre-install codec support for AVI, MKV and XviD formats. The Movies player didn't play them at all, and neither did it open AC3-enabled DivX. That's easily fixable though with a quick stop over at the Google Play Store where you can get a hold of a third-party video player with an enhanced codec support
While that's certainly an option, you lose the Gracenote features - the Movies app always plays videos (or tries to, anyway) with its own player rather than what you've set as system default. We tried BS Player and it worked well with the aforementioned video formats.
Walkman music player
The updated Walkman music player, which is present on all 2013-Xperia smartphones is also on board. It offers the same cool interface as before, but this time it has more options for sound enhancement.
The Walkman is divided into Playing and My music panels. In the My music section, you can update your album art and music information like album, year released, and more. SensMe is included, meaning you can filter your songs by mood - upbeat, energetic, mellow, dance, etc. Creating playlists is enabled and you can also view your Facebook friends' activity if they too use the Walkman player.
The Now Playing screen offers the standard music controls, shortcuts to the library, "Infinity" key and the song cover art. The Infinity key lets you quickly look up a song on YouTube or browse for the lyrics, among others.
Sony has improved on the Walkman player's settings. There's the familiar ClearAudio+ option, which determines the best audio quality settings depending on the song you're listening to. We liked how it changed the music and carefully accentuated various details.
There's Surround sound mode, which imitates the Studio, Club or Concert Hall experience. The Clear stereo mode enhances the perceivable stereo channel separation. Dynamic normalizer minimizes the difference in volume between songs (great if you're playing a shuffled mix).
Speaker settings include Clear Phase, which adjusts the quality, while xLOUD enhances the loudness of the internal speaker.
And audio fans will be pleased as there is a configurable 5-band equalizer with bass adjustment. However dedicated audiophiles might want to consider alternatives off the Play Store, with support for a 10 or even 20-band equalizer.
There are music controls on the lockscreen. Swiping them to either side brings back the clock. The notification area also offers the now playing screen with music controls and the option to jump into the Walkman player.
Google's own music player called Play Music is on board as well. It features the Listen Now feature, which tries to determine what you like and the sequence of your track-changing so that it can start offering you music you might like to play next.
The Now Playing screen uses the song album art and gives you a quick shortcut to the rest of the artist's songs along with the play controls.
FM radio with some neat tricks
The Sony Xperia Z1 also features an FM Radio aboard complete with RDS support. The app features multiple visualizations and integrates with TrackID to recognize the currently playing song. You can even directly send an "I'm listening to..." post to Facebook.
Sony has updated the FM Radio app and as a results it's now more stable than it was on some recent mid-range Xperia smartphones.
Audio output is smooth
The Sony Xperia Z1 did impressively well in the active external amplifier part of the audio quality test. The smartphone posted excellent scores top to bottom with the below average volume levels the only weak point to its performance.
Better still, there's very little quality drop when you plug in a pair of headphones. The stereo crosstalk rises significantly, but distortion remains undetectable and, while signal-to-noise ratio and dynamic range are still great. Volume levels are only average here, but the overall performance is great.
And here go the results so you can see for yourselves.
|LG G2||+0.03, -0.28||-91.9||91.9||0.0097||0.011||-91.3|
|LG G2 (headphones attached)||+0.07, -0.03||-91.5||91.8||0.037||0.041||-54.3|
|Samsung Galaxy S4||+0.03, -0.08||-95.9||93.2||0.0030||0.0092||-96.4|
|Samsung Galaxy S4 (headphones attached)||+0.03, -0.08||-96.0||93.3||0.0031||0.089||-95.5|
Sony Xperia Z1 frequency response
You can learn more about the whole testing process here.