Berlin's weather this week may be unseasonably bleak, but the tech companies gathered for its annual IFA exhibition aren't leaving us out in the cold. Sony is starting up the major announcements with its new Xperia Z1, a 5-inch waterproof Android smartphone with an eyebrow-raising 20.7-megapixel camera. Outside of Nokia's entirely unreasonable 41-megapixel sensor in the Lumia 1020, this is as much pixel power as you're likely to find in a flagship smartphone device. Sony's sensor is also larger than average in physical terms, comparable in size to some of the company's point-and-shoot cameras, meaning it has a legitimate chance at succeeding in its goal to be the both the biggest and best among Android cameraphones.
Other than the larger Exmor RS sensor, Sony is also borrowing the BIONZ image processor and G Lens technology from its camera line, offering an f/2.0 aperture on the Xperia Z1. That's only part of the company's effort to distill all its technological leadership into a single mobile device — Sony's taking the Triluminos and X-Reality display enhancements from its Bravia TVs and bringing them down to size with the Z1. Triluminos offers a wider palette of colors than conventional screens, and indeed looks stunning on Sony's HDTVs, but — as with the Xperia Z Ultra, which got the same tweak earlier in the year — the new Xperia Z1 doesn't have a terribly impressive display. The problem is that Sony consistently opts for cheaper LCDs than its mobile competition, which shows in the limited viewing angles and washed-out colors on its handsets.
Physically, the Xperia Z1 is a close sibling to Sony's incumbent flagship smartphone, the Xperia Z. The same OmniBalance design is present, with glass on the front and back, however Sony's now using a rigid aluminum frame around the sides and has improved water resistance to the point where it can call its new phone entirely waterproof (plus the headphone jack no longer needs a flap to cover it). It's slightly larger than the Z, which Sony says is down to the bigger camera module. Also inside, you'll find a 3,000mAh battery, LTE, NFC for hooking up to Sony's range of 62 compatible accessories, and one of Qualcomm's most potent processors, the Snapdragon 800. That quad-core chip is clocked at 2.2GHz and helps drive the 1080p display and all that image processing.
Livestreaming to Facebook will either be a terrible gimmick or this phone's killer feature
Sony's software proposition is a continuation of the company's familiar interface skin atop Android 4.2.2, enhanced with a number of new additions to the camera app. There's a Timeshift burst function, which takes 30 frames before you press the shutter button, one during, and 30 frames after, making for either a quick animation or a choice of the best photo from the bunch. Working in partnership with Bambuser, Sony is also making it possible to livestream video from the Z1 to Facebook, which could turn out to be either a gimmick or one of the phone's most popular features. We'll have to wait and see. Info-eye is another bit of software integrated into the camera designed to help you stay more informed. It'll provide information about a given book, monument, or whatever else you photograph once you present it with an image.
To sweeten the Xperia Z1 deal and stimulate buyers to use its in-house services, Sony is also bundling 60 days of free Music Unlimited access, 10 free PlayStation Mobile games, and 6 "blockbuster" movies. The company puts a 118 euro value on that content bundle, though it isn't yet disclosing pricing for the Xperia Z1 itself. For now, we know it's targeted at a quick global release, and although there are no carrier agreements in place for the US just yet, you should be able to buy the phone from Sony's online store in October.