Hands on with Sony's Latest Xperia Z1 Phones

The Z1s and Z1Compact are packed with goodies.

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Sony showed off their latest and greatest Xperia phones, the Z1s and Z1Compact, at 2014 International CES. Building on the key features of the Xperia Z line, like water- and dust-proofing, and bright displays, Sony added some nice innovations to both the cameras and their internal components.

The Body

Physically, the latest Z1s barely differentiates itself from any other touchscreen phones: its a black slab with glass on the front and metal on the back. With a screen diagonal of 5-inches, the Z1s approaches the "phablet" range, but still rests comfortably in hand and, due to its slim form factor, still allows the user to reach much of the lower quadrant easily. Well aware of the average human hand size, Sony chose wisely to place the "Screen On" and volume buttons half way down the side of the device. This placement allows the user to access those buttons without having to shift the position of the phone from the usual working position. The buttons themselves actually stick out a little, and are colored differently, which distinguishes them from the body of the phone.

Unlike its big brother, the Z1Compact comes in both black and white, but also pink and lime. Its screen only measures 4.3-inches on the diagonal, so definitely on the smaller side for the Android smartphone realm. That's not necessarily a bad thing; we've heard quite a few people complain about their smartphone's unwieldiness. Other than color and size, the rest of the body seems very similar in terms of materials choices and button placement.

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The Xperia Z1Compact comes in 4 colors: pink, lime, white, and black.

The Brain

Both phones run an Xperia-skinned version of Android 4.3, which is one version behind and is typical for Sony's smartphone line. Presumably, modifying Android takes time and a lot of testing, which means that the latest Xperia updates will always lag behind the Nexus phones' base software version. Still, the Xperia version of Android looks gorgeous and feels very integrated, which in the end matters more to most users than being on the cutting edge. The interface feels snappy and responsive. A full 2GB of memory and a Quad-core 2.2 GHz Snapdragon 800 processor make app switching and multitasking buttery smooth.

The Eyes

Sony is famous for putting a lot of camera into their smartphones. The company doesn't disappoint this year, incorporating some amazingly advanced optical hardware into both the Z1s and the Z1Compact. Both new phones feature a 1/2.3-inch 20.7-megapixel Exmor-RS sensors in the back, the first of their kind according to Sony.

A compact Sony G-Lens and BIONZ image processor round out the rear camera, which not only shoots great images, but does so in low light (as shown by the example above). The front camera is also no slouch, it's a 2-megapixel variety with a backlit Exmor-R CMOS sensor for sharp and clear selfies. If that's your thing.

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Sony is happily showing off its innovative camera.

A beastly camera like that requires quite a bit of storage space and battery life, and again Sony doesn't skimp. Both version can be expanded to 64 GB of storage space via a microSD slot, which should be more than enough. And so that the user can actually fill up a chunk of that space in a single outing, the Sony Z1s and Z1Compact come with 3000 mAh and 2300 mAh batteries respectively, which are more than respectable.

The Face

Both new Z1 phones feature bright, high resolution screens. The Z1s' 5-inch TRILUMINOS Display with a full HD resolution of 1080x1920 is supported by an X-Reality image processor for sharp and colorful images. Its smaller cousin, the Z1Compact, features a smaller 4.3-inch TRILUMINOS display with the same image processor, but a proportionally lower resolution of 720x1280.

The CES floor was too noisy to evaluate the audio features touted by Sony, like HD Voice, xLoud Experience, Clear Audio+, and Clear Bass; but considering the rest of the new hardware, one may cautiously presume that no expenses were spared here either.

Availability and Price

The Sony Z1s will be a TMobile exclusive and may be purchased starting January 11th for $528. Remember, TMobile does not subsidize their phones, but it will allow costumers to finance the Z1s at 0% interest, which works out to $22 a month. The Sony Z1Compact has not yet found a home among US carriers, but will be available for purchase on Sony's website.

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