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Sony Xperia XZs Smartphone
Mobile Reviews

Sony Xperia XZs Smartphone

With light enhancements and a slow-mo camera, this Xperia flagship tries to find its own identity.

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Sony has been seeking an identity with every smartphone they make. It is not really much of a secret as they portray their Xperia brand with numerous flagships to pierce the market, now trimmed down to an ‘X’ moniker, but still adequate business as usual for the Japanese conglomerate.

Enter the Xperia XZs Smartphone, which might seem a little familiar if you’ve been paying attention. You may even catch a case of déjà vu if you recall the previous Xperia XZ from a few months ago. This is actually no coincidence with the few upgrades being in a couple of technical specs, and camera being the defining trait of this phone — albeit minor as a whole.

Loop Language

The exterior of  the XZs is exactly identical to its young XZ predecessor. In fact, almost everything from the ergonomics, materials, and a “loop” design language that predominately utilizes rounded edges and flat surfaces is the same, except for a larger camera lens on the rear. Our XZs test unit came in a color called warm silver, but can be dressed in more provocative hues like matte black or ice blue.

The look is understated with glass on the front plate, metal on the back and tasteful bits of plastic done everywhere else. Button and port placement are thin to accommodate the profile of the phone such as the headphone jack and USB Type-C port on the top and bottom respectively. On the right side is the power button, volume rocker, and a dedicated camera button for quick snapshots. The only noticeable caveat is the empty space occupying the lower chin that appears somewhat dated against other contemporaries.

Little Left Out

The 5.2-inch IPS LCD display on the XZs is the same so you already know what to expect here. Thanks largely to a Full HD resolution (1920×1080), pixel density of 424 ppi, and integration of TRILUMINOS enhancement, the screen is vibrant in color reproduction and image detail is graciously sharp no matter the viewing angle. The picture quality as a whole is surprisingly good despite the fact that Sony has yet to embrace Quad HD, immediately the Samsung Galaxy S8 or Motorola Moto Z come to mind.

Our tester had 64GB of onboard storage with Android Nougat (7.1.1) and VoLTE, but a 32GB model is also available with expandability through compatible microSD card up to 256GB of additional storage as a secondary option for both. Another feature of the XZs is the ability for a dual-SIM setup (64GB only) which means you have two unique carrier numbers in one device. This a godsend for people who travel abroad regularly, this also makes a genuine ‘world phone’, a rare feature that few North American users may appreciate.

Hi-Res Audio and upscaling remains solid thanks to the XZs internal DSEE HX engine and will satisfy audiophiles wanting to take their LPCM, DSD, and FLAC playlists with them. Wireless performance of high data audio is also possible with Sony’s own LDAC technology, supporting triple the regular bitrate via Bluetooth of up to 990kbps.

A suite of essential Google apps are installed by default, along with mainstays such as PS4 Remote Play and Xperia versions of news feeds and recommended downloads. Of course, you can also expect bloatware such as AVG AntiVirus and Xperia Lounge which can be ignored.

Carryover Hardware

Performance is strong with the Xperia XZs but it is not exactly a leap forward for Sony. I’m probably spoiled for a package like the venerable Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor and Adreno 530 GPU, not because they’re terrible, but because one or both of these components are inside almost every other flagship phone. However, the XZs does get a nice bump to 4GB which aides in multi-tasking and background processes.

In my Xperia Z3 review, I lauded the battery life but that is practically a lifetime ago in Android phone terms. The 2,900mAh supply is the same unit from the Xperia XZ and feels equally middling in longevity, lasting a little under 17 hours from everyday usage. That figure is okay and be perceived as an improvement, considering the Xperia XZ had to work a little harder and sometimes prone to overheating under extreme load.

Dust and light water-resistance come standard with an IP65/IP68 rating, although you shouldn’t confuse this with the ability to completely submerge the XZs or expose it to sea water.

All About That Camera (And Slo-Mo)

Another major change is the camera itself versus its immediate predecessor. The XZs shares the same 19MP Motion Eye Camera on the rear like the Xperia XZ Premium, another top-end phone from Sony just now arriving in the United States. There a few things to make note of, although the megapixel count is decreased from 23MP the individual pixel size is larger to compensate for detail and low-light performance. The front-facing 13MP camera is equally impressive and far more capable than anything necessary for superfluous selfies; as a result, cropping and zooming don’t entirely come at the cost of quality.

As a whole, this camera is stellar with an f/2.0 aperture and photo capturing speed happening before fully depressing the shutter button feel more like a DSLR. The dedicated quick launch button and focus capabilities are insanely responsive, even taking pictures as soon as apparent movement occurs in conjunction with a hybrid autofocus feature. This makes the XZs a technical standout for avid photographers away from their gear who’ve adopted HDR imaging into their work.

Normal people on the other hand will find the XZs can produce images bursting with sharpness and a color that is hyper-accurate for presentation, closer to natural and lifelike without too much exposure. Low-light and white balance are handled well above what you would normally expect, with no issues of blown-out highlights and minimal picture noise that puts itself ahead of other phones.

Yes, the crown jewel of the Xperia XZs is the ability to do 960 fps (frames per second) of slow motion recording, which is incredible and fun to experience with whatever you can film in real-time.

The first few times capturing moments in super slow-mo is like being a kid discovering something new— but as much as it pains me to say it—these magical moments are fleeting at best. The feature is limited at a 720p resolution with cropped dimensions by default and 960fps is capped to an extremely short five seconds, so your timing has to be perfect or an epic scene set up beforehand. As a result, overall quality and shutter speed can make spontaneous videos appear choppy and deteriorated in low-light situations. Fortunately, normal video recording isn’t hampered by these limitations.

Verdict: Middle Child of XZ

Like many of Sony’s recent examples, the Xperia XZs throws in many benchmark features meant to amaze tech enthusiasts like myself, and pretty much a trademark characteristic of the brand itself. The appeal will be an attractive daily phone that few will recognize.

However, the XZs also has to stand up against its own perceived value, and pricing—especially with its interim place within the lineup. At $600, it’s hard to ignore the impulse factor of the XZs and its reliance on being a lifestyle device among its peers. It’s fantastic if you want fashionable right now, otherwise many can wait or go for the more powerful Xperia XZ Premium if money is no object.

About the Author: Herman Exum