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Featured Review: Sony Xperia Z1s

January 13, 2014 - Written By Alexander Maxham

Sony may have said last year that they weren’t focusing on the US market, but it sure looks like they’ve changed their minds. At CES last week, in Las Vegas, Sony announced a bunch of new products, and among those were the Xperia Z1s and the Xperia Z1 Compact. The Xperia Z1s is heading to T-Mobile, in fact pre-orders start today! And it’ll be available in-store and online on January 22nd. The Xperia Z1 Compact however is not slated for any carriers yet, but we aren’t here to talk about the Xperia Z1 Compact. We’re here to talk about the Xperia Z1s. It is pretty much identical to the Xperia Z1, but Sony did make a few changes for T-Mobile. The biggest change is that the sides are not aluminum, but plastic. Sony says that is so the reception is better. Which is understandable. They also added 32GB of storage instead of the standard 16GB that comes on the Xperia Z1. There’s also a few new apps in the camera app, but we’ll cover that more in the camera section.

As far as specs go, the Xperia Z1s is sporting a 5-inch 1920×1080 resolution Triluminos display, along with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor clocked at 2.2GHz, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage, and a 3000mAh battery. It is running Android 4.3 – Jelly Bean, so we do have Bluetooth 4.0 LE support, for those interested in that. There’s also a 20.7MP camera on the back which also has a 1/2.3-inch sensor size, and f/2.0 aperture. Along with a 2MP shooter around front. It is also IP58 water and dust resistant (technically “water proof”, but Sony says it’s water resistant at 1 meter for 30 minutes, which doesn’t seem water proof to me), which is a staple for Sony devices lately, not that we’re complaining. We’re actually hoping more OEMs add that to their devices in 2014. The real test of the Xperia Z1s is going to be the camera, Sony is really bragging about the camera on this device, which I think they should. They are the first OEM to put a camera bigger than a 13MP camera without a hump. The Nokia Lumia 1020 has like 41-megapixels but has a huge hump, and the same thing with the Galaxy S4 Zoom from Samsung. So we’re very excited to check out the camera.

What’s In the Box

In the box, you’ve got the Xperia Z1s, as well as the micro USB cable and the power brick as well as plenty of paperwork that most of us will never read. I did do an unboxing video, which is shown above for those interested. On the box, you’ll notice there is a T-Mobile logo, as the Xperia Z1s is a T-Mobile exclusive.

Hardware

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As far as hardware goes, it’s exactly what you expect from Sony. On the front, there’s the 5-inch Full HD Triluminos display, along with your 2MP camera. On the right-hand side is your micro SIM card slot, power button, volume rocker and dedicated camera button (which I really like having). On the left-hand side we’ve got the microUSB port and microSD card slot as well. On the top is the 3.5mm headphone jack, which does not have a cover, but is still water-resistant, which is nice to see. On the back is your 20.7MP Sony G Lens camera, and your typical logos. What I do like about the back, however, is the fact there’s a NFC icon where the NFC chip is. So you don’t have to figure out where it is when you go to use NFC to pay for stuff, or transfer pictures, etc.

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There’s been a lot of talk about the display on the Xperia Z1/Z1s. I will say that I don’t think it’s as good as the IPS on the LG G2 or the Super LCD3 on the HTC One. But I do think it’s better than the Triluminos display they put on the Xperia Z and ZL last year. Of course I haven’t used either of those devices in at least six months. The display does look really nice, however the viewing angles are pretty bad, they look pretty washed out (not sure how good you can see it on video). But that’s the least of my worries, as I’m the one looking at my phone and not everyone else.

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The build quality on the Xperia Z1s is about what you expect from Sony. It’s relatively the same build and design as most of their smartphones that have come out in the past year or so. But there are a few differences. For one, the sides are now plastic. Now according to Sony, T-Mobile asked for that change, as it helps with reception. Which definitely makes sense. But other than that the build is the same as the Xperia Z, and Z1 from 2013.

Hardware Tour Video:

Software

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I’ve said this many times already, but Sony’s skin is the best looking and most useful skin in my opinion. Their skin is pretty minimal, and it actually looks good. The Xperia Z1s is running Android 4.3, so we don’t have the typical KitKat changes, that many of us love. But I’d expect to see Android 4.4 – KitKat on the Xperia Z1s in the next few weeks or months. As Sony has been pretty quick with updates lately. Sony’s UI is pretty Holo-ish. As it’s dark. But there are a few changes. For instance, the quick-toggles are in the navigation bar, not in a separate section like in Stock Android. But these are customizable which is nice to see. The settings app is still the same white UI that we’ve seen in other phones. There are a few more options in here now. Like Xperia Connectivity, Personalization, and Setup Guide.

As far as bloat goes on this device, there’s plenty. It comes with File Commander, Facebook, Mobile Hotspot, OfficeSuite, PlayStation, PlayStation Mobile, Smart Connect, SocialLife News, Sony Select, Support, T-Mobile My Account, T-Mobile Name ID, T-Mobile TV, TrackID, Update Center, Video Unlimited, Visual Voicemail, and Xperia Lounge. So there’s plenty of bloat, but still far less than what most other devices have on board, which is a good thing, at least in my opinion.

Sony still does have their little Pop-up features. Where if you press the recents key, you’ll have a row of icons at the bottom, which you can open up and will hover on your screen. There’s a Web Browser, a Notepad, a timer, a calculator, voice commands, and a quick shortcut to take a screenshot. There are also a few more that will show up if you tap the arrow on the left side. Those include Google Chrome, Gmail and Google Calendar. Which is kinda cool to have Chrome pop up in a hovering window.

Software Tour Video:

Benchmarks

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 As far as benchmarks go, we ran AnTuTu as we normally do. And I was actually a bit surprised by the results here. It narrowly beat out the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, scoring 34,807. Which is pretty good. Although Benchmarks aren’t everything, so you’ll have to go by my word when I say this device is blazing! I haven’t seen a single hint of lag here.

Battery Life

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We’ve been using the Xperia Z1s for a few days, and we’ve found in our testing that we were able to get about 10-12 hours on battery with about 2-3 hours of screen time, sometimes closer to 4 or more. The battery cycle shown above, I streamed Google Play Music for about an hour, included a lot of camera usage and taking pictures of the device, for this review. As well as running some benchmarks. I was quite pleased with the battery life on the Xperia Z1s. Of course, we’d want more, but it’s enough to last at least a full day or longer.

Camera

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The camera on the Xperia Z1s is quite impressive. It is a 20.7MP camera, so we expect great things out of it. Now I probably think it’s more impressive than most people because my daily drivers is a Moto X, which we all know isn’t the best camera. But the Xperia Z1s does have some nice apps built into the camera. My favorite one is defocus. You probably noticed from a lot of my pictures in my reviews, I like to make the background a bit blurry, so you can focus on the review product. That’s exactly what “Background Defocus” does. It takes two pictures then it allows you to go ahead and change how blurry the background is. It’s rather picky though. There are other apps included too. My other favorite is the AR effect. Which can add different props to your pictures.

One thing to point out is that the camera only can do 20.7MP shots in a 4:3 aspect ratio, and the next step down is to 8MP which is 16:9. Unfortunately, if you have it set to “Superior Auto” you’re stuck with 8MP 16:9 pictures. Which isn’t terrible, but when you have a 20.7MP shooter, you want to use all the megapixels, right? The camera app in general is actually pretty easy to navigate. You don’t feel overwhelmed with all the options or anything. Which is nice to see.

You can check out plenty of camera samples and video samples here.

The Good

  • Camera: I really like the camera on the Xperia Z1s, it’s the first camera on a phone I’ve seen that is over 13MP and doesn’t have a huge camera bump. Which I really like. The shutter is nice and fast, and the camera app is pretty easy to use as well.
  • Display: Sure it has bad viewing angles, but I’m not viewing the angles.
  • Battery Life: I was able to get through a good day or so with the Xperia Z1s, depending on the usage. The 3000mAh battery is definitely enough.

The Bad

  •  Display: This is definitely a double edged sword. Overall the display does seem a bit washed out compared to the IPS or Super LCD3 display on the LG G2 and the HTC One. It is better than the Xperia Z, but still not good enough for me to be happy.
  • Android 4.3: I know Android 4.4 has only been out for about 3 months, but still. I was really hoping it’d launch with Android 4.4 – KitKat, but it looks like it’ll get an update within a month or so, so I’ll be awaiting that.

Final Thoughts

It’s definitely nice to see another Sony phone making it’s way into the US. However, I’d love to see this one available on more than just T-Mobile. But if you are on T-Mobile, this is definitely a good choice. It’ll be available for $0 down, which is a great especially those taking advantage of T-Mobile’s new “Contract Freedom” approach, in paying your ETF off. So the big question is, should you buy this phone? I’d say yes. There are many things I love about the Xperia Z1s, one of the bigger things is the water-resistance. As well as the Snapdragon 805 processor and 2GB of RAM, making this one a power house. I’d definitely recommend this to anyone on T-Mobile, and those on AT&T, I’d recommend the Xperia Z1 as it’s pretty much the same device.