Sony introduced new design aesthetics with the Xperia Z called OmniBalance and the Xperia Z1 brings the latest refinement.
The chassis of the 5" flagship is constructed out of a solid slab of aluminum that's extruded, carved and anodized. After all this, all that's left is the rectangular frame to which all the ports, slots and buttons are attached (including the trademark aluminum power button) and then two scratch-resistant sheets of glass are put on the front and back to finish the praised angular look.
This seems wasteful, but since this is a premium product, Sony has spared no effort and expense, while recycling is built into the cost.
The Xperia Z1 measures 144 x 74 x 8.5 mm, which is a little bigger than the Xperia Z in all dimensions, but Sony has blessed the Z1 with a large 1/2.3" sensor and a 3,000mAh battery - the two smartphone features that drive the thickness up.
In comparison, a Nokia Lumia 1020 is 10.4mm thick not counting the camera hump (its sensor is twice as big though) and it only has a 2,000mAh battery. The Samsung Galaxy S4 zoom has a 1/2.3" sensor and is pretty chunky (by smartphone standards), though that's because of the optical zoom. We'll talk about Sony's answer, the QX detachable camera modules, later.
While Nokia and Samsung sacrificed the design and pocketability for the sake of the camera, Sony went the other way and put the best camera that would fit in.
As we said, the Sony Xperia Z1 is bigger than the original Xperia Z, which wasn't one of the most compact 5" phones to begin with. That's the one potential deal-breaker with the Z1 - even if you like 5" screens (and some don't), there are smaller phones with bigger screens (like the 5.2" LG G2).
Still, Sony has smoothed out the edges and the Z1 feels right in the hand (unless you're in the 5" phone detractors' camp). Having grown used to large handsets, we thought the Xperia Z1 was a pleasure to hold.
The Xperia Z1 is IP58-certified, which means it will survive dives of up to 1.5m under water for 30 minutes (at least, it can actually last longer). Few phones outside Sony's lineup offer that, especially ones with uncompromised flagship specs (the Galaxy S4 Active is one).
The water resistance makes it necessary to protect the more complicated ports and slots with plastic flaps with rubber lining. However, the simple 3.5mm audio jack and the two charging pogo pins are left out in the open (flaps make plugging and unplugging a headset or a charging cable a hassle).
Next to the pogo pins are two flaps - one guards the MHL-enabled microUSB port and the other is for the microSD card slot (the Z1 comes with 16GB of built-in storage). Sony deserves a pat on the back for this as some other makers skip the microSD card slot even when they don't have to worry about keeping water out.
It's the other side of the phone that holds all the physical controls, starting with Sony's favorite aluminum power button, the volume rocker and the dedicated shutter key. All the buttons are great and give a satisfying click when pressed.
Also here is the flap that holds the microSIM card, which goes in on a small tray.
The loudspeaker is at the bottom of the phone, so it doesn't get muffled when the handset is placed on a table. The lanyard eyelet is in the bottom right corner.
The back of the Sony Xperia Z1 holds the impressive camera with G Lens and a single-LED flash. We guess the camera will have to rely on its larger-than-usual sensor for low-light photography (realistically, a xenon flash wouldn't fit in a device this thin). You'll also notice the small NFC logo here, which marks the position of the NFC transmitter.
Speaking of which, Sony says the Z1 gets better reception than the original Xperia Z thanks to improved antenna tech.
The phone will launch in the three standard colors for the Xperia line - Black, White and Purple. The back and parts of the sides of the phone are painted, while the front is black for all color versions.
We mentioned that the aluminum frame undergoes anodisation. It's a new two-stage process that allows for better control over the color of the exposed aluminum on the edges and also offers better protection for the metal.