The Sony Xperia Z1 has long, rectangular shape with flat sides, square corners and a sheet of tempered glass on both the front and the back. The glass on the back combined with a single piece of aluminium wrapped around the edge gives it a real premium feel.
On a negative note, the Z1 weighs a pretty hefty 170g, the glass back easily picks up scratches, and the shape of the handset makes for poor ergonomics. The edges of the phone are a little sharp and can dig into your fingers.
The best design feature of the Xperia Z1 is the fact that it is waterproof, not just water resistant. The phone will handle fresh water at up to 1.5 metres for 30 minutes, and is also dust resistant, provided the flaps covering the microSD card slot, micro-USB port, and SIM card slot are all sealed.
The LG G2 is a very different smartphone as it's constructed largely from plastic. The hard, glossy surface on the back has an attractive, etched pattern printed into it, and it doesn't creak or rattle when pressed. There's no microSD card slot.
The key design feature is LG's decision to put the volume rocker and power buttons on the back of the phone, just below the rear camera lens. It doesn't work very seamlessly in real world use, though, as we often accidentally pressed the lock screen key when aiming for the volume down button.
The G2 is also one of the slipperiest smartphones we've ever held. We definitely recommend investing in a case with good grip to avoid dropping it.
The Sony Xperia Z1 has a 5in screen with a full HD resolution of 1920x1080. The screen is relatively bright and clear and displays very crisp text when looking directly front on, but its viewing angles are mediocre compared to many rival models.
While most people who use their smartphone will be looking at the display directly front on, the Xperia Z1's screen is clearly the weakest aspect of this device.
The G2's 5.2in IPS screen is highlighted by a super thin 2.5mm bezel and means the display almost looks like a completely edge-to-edge screen. It's a full HD 1080p display with a resolution of 1920x1080 and it offers superb colour reproduction, excellent clarity and outstanding brightness.
It performs well in direct sunlight, and displays super crisp text. It's one of the best looking displays on any smartphone we've ever reviewed and the clear winner in this battle.
LG has followed Samsung's path by completely skinning the 4.2 Jelly Bean UI with its own overlay, while Sony takes a less is more approach, making minimal changes to the stock version of Android. Whether you prefer one of the other is ultimately going to be a personal preference.
The Xperia Z1's interface is very similar to its predecessor but with some nice new additions. There's now four customisable toggles in the notifications drop down, an upgraded applications drawer with a new swipe out menu, a minimalist lock screen, and excellent Album and Walkman apps. Most of the changes Sony has made actually add to the overall user experience.
On the other hand, we think LG's overwhelming desire to cram as many features into the G2 as possible actually makes the phone less intuitive to use. The notifications panel is a good example — quick settings toggles, and a large QSlide apps menu take up more than half of the screen, leaving room for just two notifications. LG says the QSlide apps "help you multitask easily" but we found it easier just to use the regular multitasking menu to switch between apps.
The worst feature of all is LG's take on multitasking, called 'Slide Aside', which is no quicker or better than using the regular multitasking menu. The autocorrect software on LG's keyboard is also poor.
The camera on the Xperia Z1 boasts a 1/2.3in sensor, a G lens with 27mm wide angle and a range of software features. The highlight is performance in low light. The LED flash doesn't wash out images like most other smartphone cameras do, and even without the flash, the Xperia Z1 takes decent images in low lit environments.
The Xperia Z1 has a 20-megapixel sensor, but the camera app is by default set to capture 8-megapixel photos. Capturing full 20-megapixel images is only available by switching to "manual mode", which allows users to adjust settings like white balance and ISO. This is a little disappointing as Sony's "superior auto" mode captures some excellent images with a minimum of fuss.
Other camera features include a "Timeshift burst" mode that takes 61 images in just two seconds — a second before and after pressing the shutter. It's a nice feature and works well when trying to capture fast motion. There's also an "Info-Eye" feature that uses augmented reality to provide a visual search function on any captured landmarks or particular items, a sweep panorama mode, and an effect mode that let's you shoot with up to nine live filters.
The LG G2 has a smaller, 13-megapixel rear-facing camera with optical image stabilisation, and a front-facing 2.1-megapixel camera for video calls. Like the rest of the software, LG has added a wealth of options and settings to the camera application. There's a whopping 12 modes in total, including the ability to remove objects or people from photos, panorama, burst shot, time catch and intelligent auto modes. The app is surprisingly intuitive, however, with most controls and settings easily accessible.
We found photos captured with the G2 impressively detailed, especially outdoors in good lighting. However, indoor performance was less impressive with image noise and grain hindering many of our shots. Overall, the G2's 13-megapixel camera is capable of capturing some excellent photos, but it is not significantly better than its competitors.
Like most flagship smartphones, both of these handsets boast impressive specifications. The Xperia Z1 is powered by a 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor and 2GB of RAM. The phone doesn't exhibit any notable lag or slowdown during basic tasks and also handles graphically intense games with notable ease. There's 16GB of internal memory, along with a microSD card slot for any extra storage.
The G2 is one of the fastest and most responsive Android phones we've used, no doubt helped along by the same 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor used in the Xperia Z1, and 2GB of RAM. We didn't experience any performance issues or lag, and the device handles most graphically intense games, including Real Racing 3 and FIFA 14 without skipping a beat. The only real complaint is the lack of removable storage. The 32GB of internal memory will be enough for most, but if not, there's no microSD card slot for memory expansion.
The Sony Xperia Z1 is available now in black, white, and purple colour variants through major Australian carriers Telstra, Optus and Virgin Mobile. It is also available outright for AU$779 through Sony Centres, Harvey Norman and Dick Smith Electronics retail stores.
The LG G2 is available now exclusively through Optus. The handset also sells for an outright RRP of AU$699.