We continue our Xperia Z1 vs Galaxy Note 3 comparison review with a look at the cameras and software.

Galaxy Note 3 vs Xperia Z1: cameras

The displays are great, and you can use those displays to view photos and video captured on the Xperia Z1 and Note 3.

The Galaxy Note 3 has two cameras, a front-facing 2Mp camera for selfies and video calling, and a 13Mp rear-facing snapper for more serious photography and video capture. The latter is a serious piece of compact camera kit, offering such features as auto focus, image stabilisation, LED flash and zero shutter lag.

Shooting modes include Drama Shot, Sound & Shot, Animated Photo, Eraser, Best Photo, Best Face, Beauty Face, HDR (High Dynamic Range), Panorama, Sports, Golf, Surround shot and Live effect. And specs wise the Note 3 makes a great video camera, capturing Ultra HD video at 30fps, all the way up to slow motion HD at 120fps.

Photo quality is okay, but not great. We'd call the Galaxy Note 3's camera a smartphone camera. Good enough for the odd snap, but not a dedicated camera for hobbiest photographers.

The Xperia Z1's rear-facing camera has a serious sensor, running to 20.7Mp. It's also got a dedicated camera button which we love.

The camera boots up quickly, even from sleep by holding down that dedicated key. The snapper focuses quickly and accurately most of the time, too. Results are high quality as you would expect, but if you're an Xperia Z owner don't get your wallet out just yet. It's not the major improvement that Sony makes out. Our main complaint is that pictures tend to look a litter darker or duller than the scene did in real life.

Mirroring Sony's compact cameras, there is a Superior auto mode which will simply do everything for you. If you're feeling more adventurous though, you can switch to manual and tweak the settings – although it's no match to the Nokia Lumia 1020 and its Pro Cam app.

Strangely, the manual mode is the only way to access the full 20 Mp resolution of the camera. By default it's set to 8 Mp 16:9 photos which is not made clear at all.

There are also Xperia camera apps, for burst shots, effects and panoramas. For fun there's also a gimmicky augmented reality app in case you want to pretend you're being chased by a T-rex. Social live bizarrely broadcasts events live to Facebook and Info-eye gives you info on things you point the camera at like a bottle of wine.

The resolution of the front camera has dropped slightly to 2 Mp but can still capture 1080p video and the quality is excellent.

It's a close-run thing but overall we prefer the Z1's camera. See also: 18 best Android phones in UK: What's the best Android phone you can buy in 2013?

Galaxy Note 3

Galaxy Note 3 vs Xperia Z1: software

The Galaxy Note 3 comes with Android 4.3 'Jelly Bean' installed, as well as Samsung's own TouchWiz interface. Jelly Bean is the best Android yet, offering a slick consumer experience and access to all the media and apps that Google Play can offer.

You can also install and purchase apps and media from Samsung's own store, which is in some ways confusing but does at least offer you the opportunity to compare and choose based on price.

Samsung does love to stuff its handsets full of software features, many of which I'd wager you never use. There's voice control that allows you to wake up your handset without using your hands. S Finder is like iPhone's Spotlight, allowing you to find files and apps from anywhere in your handset. There are other functions that we'd file under 'bloat'. Digital Scrapbook and My Magazine may prove to be central to your experience on the Note 3. They won't be to mine.

We like Multi Window, although it takes a bit of doing. In essence this is a means of using two apps at once on the same display. With a screen such as the Note 3 this is a key competitive advantage over other devices.

One problem I did have was with the Note 3's onscreen keyboard. Despite the enormous screen real estate I found I made typing mistakes with this much more than I have with the other handsets I use, including the BlackBerry Z10 and iPhone 5. It was just more difficult to hit the right key, and less likely to autocorrect when I did.

Sony has done some spring cleaning with its Android users interface. The overlay looks similar but is cleaner and more stylish in parts. At the time of review the Xperia Z1 is running Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean but will no doubt be updated to 4.3 and 4.4 KitKat in the future.

As usual Sony includes some good looking and handy widgets. There are also small apps which float around the screen including notes, calculator and a timer.

Sony is an Android smartphone maker which likes to add a number of apps to the regular Google selection. Some might come in handy such as TrackID, OfficeSuite and Box, but overall it's a little too busy for our liking.

Two apps called Xperia Lounge (beta) and Xperia Privilege serve up exclusive content and offers but the selection isn't exactly enthralling at the moment.

It's a shame that despite a large area between the bottom of the screen and the edge of the phone, the navigations buttons are taking up screen real-estate. They do disappear for things like full-screen video playback though so it's not the end of the world.

There will be no winner selected here. Suffice to say both handsets run recent and excellent versions of Android.

Xperia Z1

Galaxy Note 3 vs Xperia Z1: only one has an S Pen...

Then there's the S Pen. Samsung's stylus that must never be referred to as a stylus. Again, I'm going to try not to allow my personal feelings to seep into this. I know some people love their S Pens. I don't. I think that if a stylus is required it is a failure of the touchscreen interface. And I don't think a stylus is required here.

However, here is the counter argument for those new to the concept of the S Pen. Pulling out the S Pen wakes up the phone. Hover it over the screen and it brings up contextual menus. The S Pen allows you to write freehand and move around windows on the display. You can capture a screenshot and launch command menus.

I have tried all of the above, and they all work. But I'd still rather use my finger. And I find the process of pulling out the S Pen tiresome and fiddly, even when I use my right hand.

So you decide: is a stylus a good or a bad thing in your view? Only the Note 3 comes with one.

Galaxy Note 3 vs Xperia Z1: and the winner is..?

It's a close run thing, and we'd recommend you handle both of these handsets before you buy. The Note 3 is the better performer, but we're talking about a level of performance on both phones which is more than adequate for everything you need to do. It has a bigger, more colourful screen - but not everyone wants a huge screen and the Xperia Z1 has a sharper display anyway. Camera wise we'd err toward the Z1, but neither is earth-shatteringly good. And battery life is about even, albeit with the Z1 again marginally on top. They run similar software similarly well, and although only the Z1 is waterproof, they are both built to last. You pays your money you takes your chance. Two great phones that show how far Android has come.

(And for those who simply have to see  us choose a winner, I'd go for the Note 3. Purely personal opinion. My colleague Chris Martin prefers the Sony, however, and it is higher in our smartphones chart. See: What's the best phone you can buy in 2013?)

Specs

Samsung Galaxy Note 3: Specs

  • GSM 3G/HSPA+/LTE, GSM/GPRS/EDGE (850/900/1800/1900MHz), LTE (800/850/900/1800/2100/2600MHz), HSPA+ (850/900/1900/2100MHz)
  • 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • NFC
  • 2.3GHz Quad GHz CPU Speed
  • Accelerometer, Geomagnetic, Gyro
  • USB 2.0, USB 3.0
  • 3.5mm Stereo Earjack
  • MicroSD External Memory Slot (up to 64GB)
  • Micro SIM
  • Android 4.3 Jelly Bean
  • 32/64GB Memory
  • 151.2x79.2x8.3mm
  • 168g
  • 3200mAh Standard Battery
  • 5.7in FHD sAMOLED 16M Colour Depth, 1920x1080
  • S Pen
  • CMOS, 13 MP BSI Sensor, Auto Focus, Smart Stabilisation, LED Flash (High CRI), and Zero Shutter Lag
  • CMOS, 2MP BSI sensor with Smart Stabilisation, Full HD recording @30fps

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