Sony Xperia XZs Review
Sony is dishing out flagships like there's no tomorrow. Last year, the Japanese company was probably the most prolific top-of-the-line manufacturer of them all. And this year, at MWC, Sony decided to update its flagship line once more. The result were two new phones – the adequately refreshed Sony Xperia XZ Premium and the less-novelty Xperia XZs.
Leaving the XZ Premium aside, let's dive into the XZs and see what's what with the device.
In terms of hardware, little has changed from the XZ. The new phone uses almost exactly the same body design, and almost the same internals with some small, but significant differences.
We've held this phone in our hands before.
The design is anything but a major leap from its predecessor. The Xperia XZs looks exactly like the XZ, save for the slightly more prominent camera bump on the back.
However, this is not inherently a bad thing, as the look and feel of the phone screams “Xperia”, and that means that it's stylish, elegant and clean. It still features the “loop” design Sony introduced last year, making the somewhat bulky phone quite ergonomic and pleasant to hold by curving the sides a bit.
The materials used to manufacture the phone have also stuck since the last model, with glass on the front plate, metal on the back and plastic everywhere else, including a strip of it on the lower portion of the rear panel. However, the plastic components still feel pretty solid and nice to the touch, so we have no complaints there whatsoever.
Our problems with the design start when we look at the right side of the device. It houses the power button, with the fingerprint scanner for the international model, and the awkwardly placed volume rockers on its lower portion. Our thumbs would much appreciate it if the hardware buttons were moved around a little bit, and the volume rockers actually ended up above the power button.
The bottom of the phone houses the USB Type-C port, while the top hold a 3.5mm jack for your classic audio needs.
The Xperia XZs comes in Ice Blue, Black and Warm Silver, and all three of those colors look gorgeous in person, unlike their rather bland looks in most photos, official ones included.
5.2” LCD display that does its job extremely well.
Its resolution stands at 1080 x 1920 pixels, which is more than enough pixels to deliver a very clean, easy to read image.
Interface and Functionality
Android 7.1.1 got the Sony treatment.
Despite the fact that the Xperia XZs comes with Android 7.1.1 on board, its interface still feels satisfyingly familiar. If you've used a Sony phone before, you will have no troubles when you pick up the XZs, as everything is pretty much the same.
When it comes to the standard pre-installed themes, they're pretty much the same as those of the Xperia XZ, safe for the new Xperia Loops live theme, featuring some beautiful elliptical shapes that shift under your touch.
Unfortunately, the similarities don't end there and Sony opted to continue using the SwiftKey keyboard. Needless to say, we're far from thrilled about this one. The layout is somewhat questionable and confusing, and punctuation is awkwardly placed in all possible cases.
And in case you don't like using predictions while typing, we have some bad news. Not only that they can't be turned off with SwiftKey, but they also take a solid chunk of your screen above your keyboard.
Processor, Performance and Memory
This is not the upgrade you're looking for.
Just like its predecessor, the Sony Xperia XZs employs the Snapdragon 820 chipset with Adreno 530 GPU. While it's not top-of-the-line anymore, the 820 is still a solid chip. However, we expected more from a so-called “upgrade”. The RAM did get some love, though, and an extra gigabyte has been added for a total of 4 GB of memory.
The rest of the internals stayed the same, with 32 GB of internal memory, expandable through a microSD card, and a 2,900 mAh power pack, but we can't complain for the lack of upgrade here. These should be more than enough in most cases.
Internet and Connectivity
Thankfully, Sony's default browser is still Google Chrome, so you'll be getting the best possible Android compatibility.
The Xperia XZs also comes with support for all standard bands, but there will be a difference between the US and International models, so do make sure to double-check what you're buying and if it supports the bands you need.
The phone also supports all standard connectivity options – the latest Wi-Fi standards, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, GPS and so on.
An impressive back camera, courtesy of Sony, but only in good light conditions.
The major upgrade from the Sony Xperia XZ is the main camera. Sony makes use of its latest smartphone sensor that comes with 1 GBit of its own DRAM. This allows the camera to shoot video at 960 fps for a short burst of super-slow motion, which looks stunning if you film the right scene.
There are two super slow-motion modes – regular and one-shot. The first allows you to shoot normal video, and click an extra button for a burst of slow-motion footage in the middle of the clip; the second records a short video at 960 fps when you click the capture button, and stops recording right after.
The hard part with shooting these clips is touching the button in just the right moment. The super slow-motion feature is meant to be used for those “blink-and-you'll-miss-it” moments, which also means that you will struggle with timing the shot. We found that the feature works best when used to film something planned in advance, so you can properly prepare to click that on-screen button in just the right moment.
Unfortunately, the camera app that comes with the phone is just as cumbersome as we remember it from previous years. Taking a photo shouldn't be a chore, but with all Sony phones from the past few years, it certainly feels like one. The Xperia XZs is no exception. The app is slow to load and react to input, and the UI is somewhat counter-intuitive.
If you can live with the clunky camera interface, though, you will be rewarded with some pretty pleasing photos. The rear-facing camera of the Sony Xperia XZs provides plenty of detail and returns very little noise. This holds true both indoors and outdoors if you have some good light.
When it comes to low-light shots, however, the Xperia XZs lags behind most flagships of the past year. If you use the auto settings, HDR fails to kick in at times, resulting in some over-exposed areas, while others are way too dark. Also, HDR or not, a lot of detail is lost in low-light indoor shots.
The selfie snapper doesn't fall far behind either, providing plenty of detail under regular lighting conditions. Both outdoor and indoor shots look pretty good. However, the so-called “soft skin effect” does very little to hide skin imperfections.
When it comes to video recording, the Xperia XZs is capable of shooting 1080p clips at 60 frames per second, and they do look pretty decent. The continuous auto-focus does its job, but it does struggle a bit, compared to other devices in the same range. As for the 8x digital zoom, it's no surprise that it makes the shot look rather unclear. Still, most people won't zoom in eight times when shooting a video in a regular situation, and the lower zoom-in levels do look pretty decent.
The Xperia XZs, similar to its predecessor, comes with two front-facing speakers. They're sufficiently loud without sacrificing too much quality. Of course, you can't expect a smartphone to produce sound with the same quality as a pair of PC speakers, but with the Xperia XZs, you won't hear too much distortions even in more complex songs with lots of instruments.
Call quality is far from ideal with the Xperia XZs. While it's not necessarily bad, there are some audible distortions during calls. Finding better cell reception and testing with different phones on the other end didn't help much.
Still, while the call quality could have been far worse, we expect a bit more from a flagship smartphone of any brand.
A battery that's nothing to write home about, but it still does the trick.
That being said, during our standardized test, the Xperia XZs lasted almost an hour less than its predecessor, the XZ. It lasted for 5 hours and 55 minutes, which while not bad, is not actually good either.
Still, if you play a lot of heavy games, or rely on your navigation a lot, you might want to keep a USB-C cable close by for emergency charging.
The Xperia XZs could have benefited from some more improvement, but it's still an okay phone.
The Xperia XZs is a solid device, don't get us wrong. But it's still too similar to its predecessor, the XZ. Everything, from the design, through the hardware and software, could have benefited from some more revisions.
What was changed, though, is pretty good. Of course, we're talking about the camera. Sony's latest sensor produces great results in medium to strong light, despite struggling in low-light conditions. Its best selling point, though, is the 960 fps slow-motion video, which looks stunning under the right circumstances.
Overall, the Xperia XZs is not a bad phone at all. It might not be a suitable choice for owners of the Xperia XZ, but it is a good all-around handset for people looking to replace an older device. However, it does have a very solid competition in its $600 - $700 price range, so only time will tell whether or not the Xperia XZs can compete with the rest.