If you read my Xperia Z Ultra review, much of this section will seem familiar as the software used on the tablet-like smartphone and the Z1 are very similar. Out of the box, the device runs Android 4.2.2 with a custom Sony skin and a few extra features, although the additions aren’t quite on the scale of the Samsung Galaxy S4 or LG G2.
For those of you who dislike ‘heavy’ Android skins with over-the-top designs and features, you’ll be pleased that the Xperia Z1’s skin is relatively light. In many respects the design cues of vanilla Android are kept throughout the lockscreen, homescreen and other applications, but it still leads me to think that Sony’s skin is skinning for the sake of skinning, rather than trying to introduce something new to the Android ecosystem.
There’s nothing particularly unfamiliar with the way Sony has designed their UI. The lockscreen has widget support and a quick launcher for the camera, homescreens are standard with a 4x4 grid and a traditional app launcher. There’s an array of okay (but not amazing) Sony widgets to choose from, and the notification pane is basic with a few quick setting toggles. The Xperia Z1’s base software provides users with few improvements to help with routine tasks, for better or worse.
Flicking through the standard range of included apps reveals exactly what you’d expect, and nothing more. The calendar app shows your calendar, the contacts app shows your contacts, the album app shows your images, and so forth. This is a benefit of the light Sony skin, which keeps down bloatware, but also provides the bare minimum in terms of features. If you were hoping for some cool new way to manage contacts, or wanted an integrated messaging experience, you’ll find yourself disappointed; but at the same time, the basic apps will provide enough functionality to keep most people happy. And of course, if you want anything more, there’s plenty of choice to be found in the Play Store, including a range of stock Android applications as provided by Google.
Dig into the Xperia Z1’s settings and it becomes immediately clear how well geared up this device is for wireless streaming. The device is easily integrated into your home network as both a media server and media viewer, with the capability to ‘throw’ content to other devices appearing in many applications. Not only that, but you can wirelessly mirror the handset’s display on your TV, and in games you can use a PS3 DualShock 3 wireless controller (provided you pair it through a USB cable first).
Aside from the wireless streaming features integrated into the device, there aren’t a great deal of other features to mention. The battery saver mode does a decent job of disabling services where necessary, and there’s a find my phone feature you can enable called ‘my Xperia’. Aside from those few things, you’re basically getting the stock Android treatment in terms of settings and features you can enable.
The aspect of the Xperia Z1’s software I was most disappointed with was the keyboard. After nearly a month of using the device, I couldn’t get used to it at all, and consistently made errors when typing. Many of the problems stem from a spacebar which is too small, causing me to frequently hit the full stop key, or when I was using the built-in swipe mode, the prediction engine was poor and often inserted the wrong words. Luckily, Android allows you to swap out the keyboard, which I’d highly recommend you do.