Sony’s 20.7MP smartphone wunderkind

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Whatever is currently happening at Sony’s smartphone division, I like it. A lot. Following this year’s Xperia Z — an all-glass, waterproof flagship that helped usher in 1080p displays in smartphones — and the Xperia Z Ultra — a razor-thin, 6.4-inch, waterproof smartphone that treads dangerously close to tablet territory — they stepped on stage today to announce the new head of the Xperia smartphone family. Meet the Xperia Z1.

Now prepare to want it.

In an effort to recapture market share lost to Samsung, Sony has pumped every piece of its broad product portfolio into the Z1. Walkman, Bravia, Sony’s legendary camera department — all have had a hand in crafting this latest Xperia.

Continuing a trend for high build quality established this year, the Z1 is a unibody aluminium device with tempered glass on the front and rear, featuring Sony’s OmniBalance design sucked into a frame that promises IP58 water- and dust-resistance. Up front, it’s the latest version of Sony’s 5-inch, 1080p screen, now with Triluminos and X-reality technologies lifted straight from the company’s Bravia TV line-up. It aims to deliver superior viewing angles and contrast ratios in comparison with the Xperia Z’s often-criticized panel. Above that sits a 2MP camera, which is complemented around back by Sony’s main showstopper.

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Throwing down the gauntlet to Nokia, and their 41MP Lumia 1020, Sony is calling their latest smartphone camera the best currently available, with independent consumer tests apparently lending the Z1 the title of best overall image quality compared with its competitors. The reason for this? Sony’s latest Exmor RS sensor — a 20.7MP behemoth. Featuring the company’s brand new G Lens, it has a 27mm wide angle lens with F2.0 aperture and a custom-made 1/2.3-type CMOS image sensor. With Sony’s BIONZ image processor attached and a 3x “clear zoom” function, they promise “beautiful, sharp and bright images even in lowlight conditions.” Lowlight was an area where the Xperia Z’s 13MP camera struggled, so it’ll be interesting to see what difference the 20.7MP big brother can make — especially in comparison with Nokia’s outstanding Lumia 1020, the current smartphone imaging king. Outside of Windows Phone, though, the Xperia has the highest resolution camera of any Android or Apple handset currently available.

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Complementing the imaging prowess, Sony has baked a few specialized imaging functions into their Android build. Info-Eye offers image-driven search through landmarks, barcodes and brand recognition; Social Life broadcasts live footage from the Z1 to Facebook with friends’ comments appearing on screen as you shoot; Timeshift burst captures up to 61 images in just 2 seconds, starting a second before and finishing a second after pressing the shutter button; and AR effect overlays a selection of customizable animations into images using Sony’s SmartARTM technology — think adding a T-Rex into a group photo and you get the idea.

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Powering all of this is Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 800, clocked at 2.2GHz, with 2GB of RAM in complement. There’s 16GB of storage with microSD allowing for further expansion up to 64GB, and a 3000mAh battery to keep you snapping and watching all day. There’s also the usual flagship armory of NFC, Bluetooth 4.0, LTE and various WiFi bands.

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Launching globally in September 2013, the Z1 will be available in black, white and purple — though we’ll need to wait and see if Sony has secured any US carriers. The Xperia Z took 5 months to reach American shores — hopefully the same won’t be true of its seemingly superior successor.

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Rhuaridh Marr is one of Metro Weekly's contributing editors and covers cars, technology, gaming and world news. He is usually found with a game controller in one hand and a smartphone in the other and can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.

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