This past summer I took my daughter to the waterpark. It was fun going down the slide with her and running through the fountains. At the time, I had my HTC One and iPhone 5 with me. Both have great cameras but neither could handle being run under water. So I was really disappointed that wasnít able to snap some pictures of her. At the time, there were a couple of water resistant phones available but they were either lower-end models or bulky ruggedized phones.
You can see where Iím going with this: Wouldnít it be great if there was a no-compromises phone with the power, features and form factor of a top-of-the-line flagship but waterproof?
Looks like Sony has done it with their Xperia Z1. With itís a water resistant phone with a powerful quad-core processor, full HD display, 20 megapixel camera thatís ready to slug it out with the LG G2, Samsung Galaxy S4/Note 3, HTC One and the Apple iPhone 5s.
I tested the Xperia Z1 on the TELUS LTE network in Ontario.
I loved the LG G2. When I reviewed it I thought it was the best Android phone so far in 2013 - even better than the Note 3 which was released around the same time.
The G2 has very similar specs to the Z1. They both have the same quad-core SoC which is an absolute monster, 2GB of RAM, 1920x1080 displays and best-in-class 3000mAh batteries (the Note 3 is a class bigger). Both also support LTE Cat 4 for speeds of up to 150Mbps on supported networks.
The biggest reasons to get the Z1 over the G2 are that the Z1 adds water and dust resistance, a memory card slot, lanyard attachment (not a common feature these days), a higher megapixel camera with a dedicated camera button and a glass and metal body. Another neat feature is the ability to use a PS3 controller.
Of these features, the water and dust resistance, memory card slot, dedicated camera button and maybe the lanyard attachment are the Z1ís strongest extra features.
The G2 has a stabilized lens (a better feature than just having more megapixels) and a slightly bigger screen, 5.2 vs 5.0Ē though practically speaking, the difference is not noticeable. The G2ís screen is also more usable because it has much better viewing angles though it is a little over-saturated too.
When you pick up the G2 youíll notice that there are no buttons on the side. The volume and power buttons that normally go on the side have been re-located to the back. If you find that inconvenient you can turn the screen on by double tapping the screen. You can turn it off the same way though you have to double tap the home screen in a spot that doesnít have anything on it.
The Z1 has a 20 megapixel camera with a Ĺ.33Ē sensor. I have no idea what size the G2ís camera sensor is but whatever it is, itís stabilized. The stabilization is a the best thing since sliced bread if you shoot video.
The Z1 has superior low-light performance but mostly because the camera software is extremely aggressive. This also makes it very good at freezing action.
The problem is that the Z1 camera software can gets overzealous. Sometimes the trade-off between image quality and Ďgetting the pictureí swings too far away from quality.
The G2ís stabilized lens makes it amazing at taking nice smooth video. Itís hard to say which camera is better. Sometimes I appreciate the Z1ís Ďgetting the pictureí settings but other times they drive me crazy because there isnít much detail left in pictures.
Anyways, both are mind-bendingly fast flagships with amazing battery life.
Right now, I think the G2 and Z1 are at the top of the Android food chain. If youíre looking for an Android phone right now, these 2 are the ones to get. Honestly, if I had to choose between both of them, my choice would constantly change.
Samsung Galaxy S4:
Itís funny, if you asked me my top 5 Android phones the GS4 would be my 5th choice. Does that mean it sucks? Absolutely not, itís a fantastic device, the fact that itís 5th is more a reflection on the intense competition between Android manufacturers.
Anyways, compared to the Z1, the GS4 adds a removable battery - that means you can run out and get 3rd party batteries with many times the capacity of the included one. Iíd argue that the GS4ís screen is also better. While the Z1ís is better outdoors itís not like the GS4 stinks outdoors - itís merely adequate in this regard. Where the GS4 pulls head is the viewing angle. When you look off angle the GS4 beats the Z1 10 times out of 10. I guess I should also mention all the GS4ís extra software.
From watching your eyes to watching your hands the GS4 has a lot of extra stuff. Let me quantify it: When you first turn the Z1 on, it has around 11.8GB of free space available while the GS4 only has around 9.6GB. Thatís right, the GS4 has nearly 2GB of extra Ďstuffí on it when you first turn it on. Is the extra 2GB bloatware or is it 2GB of awesomeness? Both I guess, some of the GS4ís extras like S-Beam (great if your friends all have Samsung phones), pop-out video and multi-view are great. Other features like most Air gestures are totally useless and should be turned off immediately. Iím going off topic now but Samsung should make many of the GS4ís extra features available as a download. At the very leaset they should make it so you can remove them if youíre never going to use them.
Otherwise, the Z1 easily wins the battle on paper. While both have Snapdragon processors the Z1ís is meaner, it has a bigger battery that takes it past the Ďlasts a work dayí point. The camera is more specíd out, letís not forget about the water and dust resistant, camera button and lanyard attachment.
As far as the intangibles go, the GS4 has a louder earpiece and much louder speaker phone. Low-light performance aside, the GS4 also has more steady camera performance though the Z1ís is probably more capable.
While it doesnít feel cheap, compared to the Z1 you really notice that the GS4 is a plastic phone thatís trying to look like a metal one. The Z1 just feels more special in your hand.
The GS4 is still a great phone. However, unless you really want a Samsung and arenít considering the other Samsung, the Note 3 then you should get the Z1.
Samsung Galaxy Note 3:
If you donít mind going up one size, the Note 3 with itís 5.7Ē display matches up better with the Z1 than the GS4.
It has its S-Pen stylus which works much better than a regular one. Like the GS4, the Note 3 has a removable battery. At 3100mAh, itís slightly bigger than the Z1ís 3000 but given the Z1ís smaller screen itís probably got the slight edge in the battery life department though both are stellar performers in this regard.
The Note 3 also has more RAM: 3GB vs 2GB (doesnít really make a difference) and more built-in storage: 32GB vs 16GB (a really nice thing to have).
Going back to the size argument, while the Note 3 is bigger, both are pretty huge and neither is particularly suited for one-handed usage. So the argument for Ďgo big or go homeí or should I say Ďgo big and get the Note 3í may apply here.
The Note 3 has all the extra software that the GS4 plus it adds some S-Pen specific stuff too.
The same camera stuff I said about the GS4 applies here as well though the Note 3 is able to shoot 4K video. Itís probably not a particularly useful feature but hey, itís still nice to be given the choice.
The Note 3 also has USB 3.0 which may help if you transfer a lot of large files to it.
In the display department itís a draw. Like the GS4, the Note 3 has a Super AMOLED display, but the Note 3ís is slightly better in every way - especially when it comes to outdoor performance. Itís not as good as the Z1 in this regard but difference between them is much closer than it is with the GS4. Indoors, the Note 3 display wins hands down.
Again, Iíll bring up the Z1ís trump card. The water and dust resistant, camera button and lanyard attachment. Letís not forget that the Note 3 is more expensive.
While the Note 3 feels more expensive than the GS4 it has a strange plastic back cover thatís pretending to be made of leather. At a glance it looks good but it doesnít feel as good as it looks. Again, the Z1 feels more special in my hand.
Between the Note 3 and the Z1 (And LG G2) itís very close. but Iíd pick the Z1 over the Note 3 albeit by a razor thin margin.
Despite being the first one out of the gate, the HTC One is still a very competitive package. Yes, it has the slowest SoC out of all the Android phones here but the thing is most people wouldnít be able to tell the difference between the phones unless they used them back-to-back. So the slowest SoC argument isnít terribly important.
Out of all the Android phones here the Oneís display is still the best one out of the bunch. It works great outdoors, is bright, has great viewing angles and has nice colour that isnít obnoxious to look at (Iím staring at your LG G2).
The HTC One also has the best sounding built-in speakers here - like the difference between the HTC One and almost every other phone out there is startling, especially the Z1ís. If I was to compare the two, Iíd use a 4 letter word to describe the Z1. Yes, the Z1ís speaker sounds pretty foul.
Itís mostly metal body is the classiest out of the bunch though the back looks a bit unbalanced. Then again, it doesnít matter what the back looks like unless a) you have transparent hands or b) Android manufacturers run out of stuff to put on their phones and start putting screens there.
Where the HTC loses points is itís 2300mAh battery. While I wouldnít say itís small, 2300mAh will not make it through the day for everyone. Aside from the water resistance this is the Z1ís biggest advantage.
Both the One and Z1 have notable cameras. The Z1 for having 20 megapixels while the One takes the opposite approach with only 4 megapixels. Both have their strong and weak points. The Z1 has very aggressive imaging software which makes it very good at Ďgetting the shotí. The problem is that sometimes things can get a little messy looking because the sensor isnít afraid to use super high-ISOís and isnít afraid to use massive noise correction and other post-processing.
The One on the other hand is very good at taking low light pictures plus it focuses really fast. Donít forget that it has a stabilized lens too. Itís problem is that when I use it, I get the feeling that itís only tuned to capture low-light photos. Itís not very good outdoors. When you use it outdoors, you also begin to notice that itís down on resolution compared to itís 8, 13 and 20 megapixel competitors.
Iím not a fan of the HTC Oneís software. HTC over-reached with their newest version of Sense and made some changes which Iím still not that comfortable with. First off, it only has 2 soft buttons instead of 3. Then thereís the annoying Blinkfeed feature which took HTC 6 months before they gave us the option of turning it off. Iím also not a fan of how theyíve arranged the app drawer.
Anyways, while the HTC One has aged very well, and is still a very competitive package, Iíd pick the Z1 because of itís superior battery life and water resistance.
Apple iPhone 5s:
Ah the iPhone 5s, comparing it with the Z1 is almost pointless. Itís an apples to oranges comparison, or should I say Apples to Androids. You canít really compare them but some people will prefer an apple while others would love an orange.
I know that I just copped out of a loaded question but itís really a good way to think about it. iPhones have their own way of working that makes sense to some people. While Androids have their own charm. So the question of should I get an Z1 or an iPhone is really a question of Android or Apple.
I will say one thing, the Z1ís battery life blow my 5s out of the water.
If you want a fancy Android phone then you should get the Z1. If you want a fancy iPhone get the 5s.