We test a lot of smartphones here at PC Advisor, but recently two have stood out. The Sony Xperia Z1 and the Galaxy Note 3 are both big Android phones that offer stunning performance and excellent displays. They are part of a new breed of phones alongside the iPhone 5S that is taking portable computing to a new level of performance and functionality. But which is best, the Xperia Z1 or the Galaxy Note 3?
You can read our individual reviews of both phones here: Sony Xperia Z1 review: Xperia Z gets tuned but puts on weight and Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review: fastest-ever phone a slim, well-built phablet with stunning display. Alternatively read on for our Sony Xperia Z1 vs Samsung Galaxy Note 3 smartphone comparison review.
Galaxy Note 3 vs Xperia Z1: price
SIM-free both these phones will set you back a pretty penny. The SRP for both the Xperia Z1 and Galaxy Note 3 is £599. You can pick up contract deals for both from around the £30 a month mark. And both are offered on 4G deals by various telcos including O2 and Vodafone. Compare mobile phone deals for up-to-date details.
Galaxy Note 3 vs Xperia Z1: build quality and design
These are two of the bigger slabs of phone on today's market.
The Note 3 is big, yes, but it feels slim. And it has that indefinable quality: I want to pick it up and use it. This is subjective of course, but in the past I've found Samsung phones - and the Galaxy Note models in particular - to feel plasticky and cheap. That's not the case with the Note 3.
The Xperia Z1 looks very much like its high-class predecessor the Xperia Z, but there are some noteworthy changes. The phone is still glass clad on the front and rear, but the rim is now aluminium instead of a rubbery plastic. Sony has also made the edges more rounded. It's subtle but it has a significant effect on how the device feels in the hand (it's much better).
The Xperia Z1 is thicker and heavier than was the Xperia Z, though. It's 8.7 mm thick compared to the Note 3's 8.3 mm and it's both a few millimetres taller and wider than the Xperia Z, yet is has the same size screen. Although it is smaller than the Note 3 (which has a bigger screen), it weighs 170 g rather than the Note 3's 168 g. You probably won't notice that difference, but overall these small things add up to a phone that feels more bulky than its rival.
The Note 3 differs from its own father the Note 2 in a few small but significant ways. For one thing the thin plastic back that offers access to the battery on Galaxy phones has a new textured finish. From the outside it does a good impression of being leather. Now stick with this: a leather phone may sound risible, but the faux stitching and leather-like texture adds an important feel of quality, without detracting from the undoubted practicality and durability of the removable and thin back cover.
The Z1 also looks the part and we're pleased that Sony has removed that unsightly statutory information and 'do not bin' logos etc. These are two pretty stylish handsets, especially considering their size.
On the plus side, the Z1 is still waterproof and dustproof. Therefore the ports have flaps to stop the aforementioned getting in, but the headphone jack requires such flap no longer. This was a pain on the Z when headphones were plugged in. Once again there are metal contacts on the left side for use with a docking station so you can avoid using at least one flap on a regular basis.
Measurements aside, Sony has retained the excellent build quality of the Xperia Z and the Xperia Z1 feels every bit a premium smartphone. Dirt still collects in a tiny groove around the edge of the glass, but the problem isn't half as bad. Since the device is waterproof, it's easy to clean it by simply running it under tap.
There's a grooved metal rim around the edges of the Note 3 that makes it feel well put together and sturdy.
At the bottom we find the S Pen, docked into the grooved metal rim. The stylus is topped in metal so it fits in neatly, although it does irritate the southpaw in me that if I am holding the Note 3 in my right hand it is difficult to extricate the S Pen with my left. Also down here at the bottom is what Samsung refers to as the 'Multipurpose Jack'. Not a handyman named John Patrick, this is in fact the power and synch connector port. It looks different to anything you have ever seen, because it is a Micro USB 3.0 connector.
But before you howl about incompatibility with your existing USB cables it is worth pointing out that any micro USB cable will connect the Galaxy Note 3 to computer or mains. (Samsung includes a warning not to use non-Samsung cables or 'the device may blow up', however. Take this warning as you see fit: despite using multiple third-party USB connectors we haven't yet blown ourselves up.) But Micro USB 3.0 adds faster data transfers via the supplied connector. The first we've seen on a live product. Nice.
It's a close-run thing, and your experience may differ, but we're inclined to give the Note 3 the nod here. Both phones are well built and stylish, but the Note 3 is thinner and (just) lighter, and it offers Micro USB connectivity. The Xperia Z1 is water- and dust proof, however. See also: 18 best Android phones in UK: What's the best Android phone you can buy in 2013?
Galaxy Note 3 vs Xperia Z1: specs and performance
The Note 3 has simply staggering specifications, and performance to match. But the Xperia Z1 is close enough behind to make the difference barely worth registering.
The Note 3 pairs a new Qualcomm Snapdragon Quad-core 2.3 GHz Krait 400 processor with a whopping 3GB RAM. And it shows. Synthetic benchmarks shouldn't be relied upon when making a purchasing decision, but if they were the Note 3 would be a must buy. It smashed our record for the Geekbench 2 real-world performance test, turning in a record average score of 4057. This beats out our next highest performer... the Sony Xperia Z1 with its score of 3673. More importantly in use both the Note 3 and the Xperia Z1 feel slick and zippy. They are truly fast phones.
The Xperia Z1 has a decent 2GB of RAM but has a new Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor. It's a quad-core processor with an impressive clock speed of 2.2 GHz, the second highest we've seen on a smartphone to date (behind our old friend the Note 3).
With Krait 400 cores and the latest Adreno 330 GPU, it's no surprise that the Z1 also flourished in our benchmarks. Consider graphics performance: for the Note 3 graphics are handled by an Adreno 330 graphic processing unit, and benchmark results are similarly impressive. Running the GFXBench 2.7.2 Egypt HD test onscreen we got an excellent - record - result of 54fps. The Xperia Z1 tops out at an also amazing 53fps, close enough to be considered a tie.
Again, none of this would mean much if the real-world performance was poor, but we found games and video footage worked well, with no lag at all, on both handsets.
If we had to pick a winner, however, in this area we'd have to plump for the Note 3.
Galaxy Note 3 vs Xperia Z1: storage
Storage wise the options for the Note 3 are 32GB and 64GB, and there's an SD card expansion slot for up to another 64GB of storage. Xperia Z1 storage remains at 16 GB and it also has a microSD card slot, offering support for 64 GB off the bat.
Galaxy Note 3 vs Xperia Z1: battery life
This is an area in which it is difficult to scientifically pick a winner, but our experience points squarely toward the Z1. This is based on our experiences of using the Xperia Z1 and the Note 3 over the necessarily short period of a review test.
First up is the Note 3's battery cell. Taking advantage of the larger chassis used to house a large display this is a huge 3200mAh Li-ion battery rated at 12.16Wh. And the Qualcomm Snapdragon Quad-core 2.3 GHz Krait 400 processor should be lighter on the battery than was the Note 2's. However this handset has a huge and bright screen with a massive amount of pixels, which will negatively impact battery life. It is utilising 3GB RAM, too, and all the software options that Samsung adds in will suck up battery power when you use them.
Despite this, battery life is a strong point of the Note 3. Using it for email and web browsing, listening to music on the commute, a little social media and some video watching, I could easily get through 24 hours on a single charge. More importantly there was enough juice left over the next day to get in to the office.
The Note 3 is not the handset that will make the great leap forward in terms of battery life. But it is up there with the best current handsets, in my limited experience of it.
The Xperia Z1 is similar... but better. We were wondering, at the beginning of the review process whether the impressive specs of the Z1 would result in poor battery life. After all, that meaty processor and whopping screen have to get power from somewhere.
However, quite the opposite is true now we've tested the Xperia Z1 thoroughly. The phone comfortably lasts a day of regular use, and then struts through a second. We're pleased with this performance, which has only been matched recently by the iPhone 5C.
Chalk up this one to the Xperia Z1.
Galaxy Note 3 vs Xperia Z1: display
The graphics performance to which we refer above is put to good use on the Galaxy Note 3's exquisite display. This is an FHD sAMOLED display with 16M colours and a 24-bit colour depth. That's a lot of colour and it shows. In the past we've said that Samsung's AMOLED screens may be too colourful for some, and that may well be the case here. But if a vibrant and deep hue is something you like in your display you need look no further.
And the colour is just the start. This is a huge 5.7in screen with an HD resolution of 1920 x 1080. That gives it a world class pixel density of 386ppi.
The touchscreen is snappy and sensitive, although prone to picking up finger smears.
By contrast the Xperia Z1 has 'only' a 5in Triluminos Display, with 16 million colours and a resolution of 1080 x 1920. Because of the smaller display area that gives it a staggering pixel density of 440ppi.
We're used to smaller smartphones boasting retina-busting displays, but such sharpness on screens of this size is truly a thing to behold. Movie content looks amazing, games stunning.
We're going to call this a tie: the Xperia Z1 is sharper and the Note 3 has greater colour depth - although in both cases we defy a human to tell the difference. The Note 3 is bigger, of course, but that may not be to everyone's taste. Two great displays.