Review by Andrew Kameka on Thursday January 23, 2014.
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Sony has developed a habit of releasing a gorgeous phone in Europe and then forcing Americans to wait several months until they are able to get a version that becomes less impressive as time and technology push it from the boundaries of the cutting-edge. The latest such instance is the Sony Xperia Z1s, a slightly retooled version of the Xperia Z1 that debuted in September. At least this time, the wait is not nearly as prolonged to render the Americanized Sony device irrelevant. We're still well within a product cycle that keeps Sony's subtle design and hardware choices current. The question is how current?
Hardware and Design
All of the Xperias that we've seen in recent years have followed the "Omnibalance" blueprint that introduces consistency and minor details to an otherwise flash-free body. The Xperia Z1S follows the path wholeheartedly. The body has a reflective rim with inner grooves that provide a suitable amount of grip. The back of the phone has a smooth glass texture that retains fingerprints but not moisture. That's because the Z1S is a waterproof phone capable of being submerged underwater for 30 minutes without suffering any damages. The IPX 8 waterproof certification and IP5X dust resistance require that most of the ports be hidden behind protective plastic flaps. The flaps maintain consistency throughout the phone and provide no obstacles, except that it can sometimes be annoying when attempting to recharge.
Sony didn't make many changes to the exterior of the Xperia Z1S. It still has a power button distinctively placed slightly above the middle of the device and there's a dedicated camera button along the lower right portion. The headphone jack remains exposed at the top of the device but it was relocated to the center at the request of T-Mobile. A large speaker lines the bottom of the device and delivers 3D Surround sound that's a little muddled at max volume, but the ClearAudio+ setting can make a subtle difference. The look and feel are both phenomenal testaments to what Sony's design team have been doing in recent years.
The 5-inch TRILUMINOUS display is not so phenomenal. One thing that's been typical of Sony screens has been brightness, lots of color, and strong outdoor visibility. Those are all positive traits, but the less ideal traits like washed-out appearances and very restrictive viewing angles are also present. The screen is incredibly detailed thanks to a 1080p HD resolution (441ppi), so the bright white tone of the display will not be an issue for most; however, it's something that will be hard to miss for others. Turning on the photo and visual enhancements and adjusting white balance can make some positive changes, but there's no getting around the poor viewing angles.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 continues to be the processor of choice among Android phone makers, and for good reason. The 2.2 GHz quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM make for a fast-loading, smooth-scrolling experience. The Xperia Z1S predictably launched app content quickly and responded well to games, so there's nothing to complain about on that front. The Xperia software doesn't have the zip of stock Android, but it moves along at a reasonable pace. The one area of poor loading time is the lock screen, which seemingly takes forever to jump into the camera (it's really only about three seconds).
Sony doubled the internal storage to 32GB (26.11GB accessible) and the Z1S supports up to 64GB micro SD slots, so storage should not an issue for most. Other key specs include NFC, Bluetooth 4.0, and a 3,000 mAh battery.
Andrew is MobileBurn.com's managing editor. He is based in Miami, Florida.