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Sony Xperia™ Z1 vs Samsung Galaxy S4

Posted on 5 September 2013

Back in March the Samsung Galaxy S4 was revealed, and it was an instant hit. Six months down the line though and a new generation of smartphones is with us with bigger specs, more features and the latest processors and tech. So, how does the Sony Xperia™ Z1 and its new tricks compare to the older S4?

A body of plastic or an aluminium frame?

The Sony Xperia™ Z1 is a very stylish looking thing. You might even call it a typically Sony-looking device. Flat, shiny, and with an aluminium frame that glints like metallic paint, it's subtle and well thought out. Sony has even rounded the edges to make it more comfortable. The front and back are made from Corning Gorilla Glass 3, designed specifically to be scratch and crack resistant. The metal frame is solid, and prevents heavier knocks from upsetting the device. In fact, the frame acts as an antennae, so you'll even get improved mobile reception!

The Samsung Galaxy S4 is made from high quality, glossy plastics. While it's a nice finish, the metal and glass of the Z1 is definitely a more premium finish. The S4 is also not as hardy, the frame simply not able to take the knocks and drops that the Z1 will bounce up from. Where the S4 does take points is its size and lightness. It's shorter, thinner and a noticeable 40g lighter. The design is also a little more eye catching.

The waterproof credentials.

When it comes to repelling water, the Sony Xperia™ Z1 is a clear winner. With IP58 certification, the Z1 can go 1.5m deep for half an hour, and come out completely unscathed. Take it to the pool for shots of belly flops and to the beach without worrying about sand and water. The Z1 is also protected against dust, so you can take it pretty much anywhere you want.

A standard S4 simply cannot get wet, and it's also not dust tight, so dust can get in and cause some damage. There is a variant of the S4, known as the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active, that is water resistant, but not waterproof. This means it can go into 1m of water for half an hour, but no more. Thing is, this isn't an S4. The camera is 8MP not 13MP, and the screen uses a different technology and isn't quite as vivid as the S4 - or the Z1.

For the best technology in a smartphone blended with waterproofing, it's the Z1 all the way.

5" screen vs 5" screen - but what's the difference?

A specs sheet will show you that the Z1 and S4 both have 5" screens with a high resolution of 1080p HD. This means they have exactly the same resolution and are as sharp and crisp as each other. But there are differences.

The Sony Xperia™ Z1 uses technology taken directly from Sony's TVs. These are Triluminous and X-Reality. Triluminous technology basically lets the screen show more colours. Sony explains it using coloured pencils. If you have only a few colours to choose from, your images won't be as true to life or accurate. With more colours, anything you draw will look more realistic, brighter and, well, better. X-Reality is a technology that's excellent if you watch a lot of medium or low quality content. It effectively boosts the quality of anything you're looking at. Special filters get rid of noise and boost colour and sharpness, so no matter what you're looking at, the quality will be closer to HD than on anything else.

When it comes to the S4, the screen uses Super AMOLED. This is actually a very easy type of screen to spot. It gives distinct, vivid colours. They're not as natural looking as the Z1, but are brighter. The AMOLED screen also shows black colours in a distinctive way. The pixels that show black are actually turned off. This means the parts of the screen that show black colours are actually using no power at all, meaning the screen is very energy efficient.

If you're looking for the most true to life colours and images, and a screen that will boost the quality of less than HD content, the Z1 takes it. If you like vivid, colour-pop colours, the S4 will suit you more.

Cameras: old vs new.

The S4 appeared with its 13MP camera and was right up there with the best cameras. But Sony has upped the stakes again with the Z1. At 20.7MP, it picks up noticeably more detail. A quick pinch and zoom, and you'll see the difference. The 3x clear image zoom also adds a boost, meaning when you zoom in on your shots, the detail stays sharp.

The list of features for the Z1 is extensive and unique. Along with all the filters and excellent automatic mode called Superior Auto that was such a hit with the original Z, the Z1 has Social live, Timeshift burst, AR effect and Info-eye. Social Live is a feature for streaming live videos directly to your Facebook page. Timeshift burst is a rapid fire camera mode and takes 61 photos in two seconds, allowing you to wind back and forth in time before and after you took a photo to find the best shot. AR effect is a great little addition that lets you create photos with virtual objects in them, such as dinosaurs and wild animals. Info-eye™ is possibly the most interesting. It lets you search the internet using photos. Take a shot of a landmark, a barcode, a book or even some wine, and get information including overviews and reviews, all using just the camera and an internet connection.

The S4 also has a host of photo features, but they're largely limited to altering the way you take photos, not utilising the camera for extra features. There's Dual camera, Sound & Shot, Best shot, plus the typical filters and scene selection options. Dual camera lets you take photos and videos using the front and rear facing cameras at the same time. Sound & Shot takes an audio recording along with a photo - excellent for remembering how awesome a gig was. Best shot does just that - it chooses the best parts of a burst of photos. So, if they smiled at different times, the S4 can pick the faces and put them all into the same shot.

Processor power.

The S4 uses an older Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 600 quad core processor, running at 1.9GHz. It's fast and powerful, of course, and was the best out there when the phone launched. Now the best processor for a mobile device is the Qualcomm® Snapdragon 800 quad core processor. That's what's in the Z1, running at an incredible 2.2GHz.

The difference is notable just by going through menus. Everything on the Z1 is noticeably faster, from opening apps to flicking through homescreens. Android has never been so fast. It also means that the Z1 has more power to run apps simultaneously, yet still keep all the apps running at their optimum pace. And because the Z1's processor is so much faster than other chips, it'll be pulling its weight no problem in a couple of years' time. You'll be future proof.

The internet connection of the Z1 is also improved with the 800 processor. If you jump on 4G, the new, faster mobile internet connection, it'll be faster than on anything else.

Perhaps the ultimate admission that the Snapdragon™ 800 is so much better than an Snapdragon™ 600 is the very fact that Samsung has released an S4 with a Snapdragon™ chip powering it. It's only available in Korea though, so if you want the latest, it's the Sony for you.

Battery power battle.

The shiny, metal framed body of the Z1 is home to a chunky 3,000mAh battery. This'll give you a huge 850 hours of standby time, and 15 hours of talk time. The S4 can't get close when it comes to standby time, giving up to 370 hours, but with 17 hours of talk time, it's got some juice. When it comes to music playback, the bigger battery of the Z1 wins again, with up to 110 hours of playback compared to 62 hours for the S4.

The S4's battery is impressive, but the Z1's is 15% bigger, offering longer life on the whole.

The spec differences in a nutshell.
Purple highlighting shows the highest spec.

  Sony Xperia™ Z1

Sony Xperia™ Z1
Samsung Galaxy S4

Samsung Galaxy S4
Size 144 x 74 x 8.5 mm 170g 136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9mm 130g
Display 5" 1080p HD with Triluminous and X-Reality technology 5" 1080p HD Super AMOLED
Processor 2.2GHz Snapdragon 800 quad core 1.9GHz quad core Snapdragon 600
Camera 20.7MP 13MP
Front facing camera 2MP 2MP
Connectivity 4G, NFC, Wi-Fi /b/g/n, DLNA, Bluetooth 4.0 4G NFC, Wi-Fi /b/g/n, DLNA, Bluetooth 4.0
Battery Battery size: 3,000mAh
Standby time: 850 hours

Talk time: 15 hours
Battery size: 2,600mAh
Standby time: 370 hours
Talk time: 17 hours
Memory 16GB on board storage, microSD up to 64GB 16GB on board storage, microSD up to 64GB

1. In compliance with IP55 and IP58, Xperia Z1 is protected against the ingress of dust and is waterproof. Provided that all ports and covers are firmly closed, the phone is (i) protected against low pressure jets of water from all practicable directions in compliance with IP 55; and/or (ii) can be kept under 1.50 metre of freshwater for up to 30 minutes in compliance with IP58.

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