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Sony Xperia Z1S Review (T-Mobile): Big Magenta gets a bit of style


Review by Andrew Kameka on Thursday January 23, 2014.

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Sony Xperia Z1S
Sony Xperia Z1S

Software & Apps

Sony is behind the curve when it comes to having its phone on the latest version of Android. The Xperia Z1S runs a customized version of Android 4.3 Jelly Bean and won't see Android 4.4 Kitkat for a while. Focusing on what's present, the user interface remains one of my favorite among all the Android overlays. Sony's icon choices are more appealing and its use of white and gray keeps things looking more adult. Sony also includes the ability to theme its interface, so someone looking for a bit more pop can get that by adjusting the accent colors and wallpapers.

The Xperia Z1S also benefits from Sony's software additions like Small Apps, which put common utilities on a floating window so they can support multitasking. Smalls apps work great for moments when someone needs to use a calculator and the browser at the same time. It's even more useful because someone can create a Small app out of any Android widget, which allows me to use Google Keep for note taking while I'm on a phone call. There are more than 100 different Small apps available and an infinite higher number that can be created thanks to the widget tool.

Sony also gets by with great media playback apps for music, videos, and photos. The Album app is an excellent gallery that can integrate with several online photo sources or just display local video, and the Walkman music app is already a great way to listen to locally stored songs, but it now integrates with the Sony Music Unlimited streaming service. As much as I hate the way Sony is slow to adapt new versions of Android and recognize potential to improve its services, the company tends to do a good job when it finally gets things right.

There's a healthy serving of preloaded software on the Xperia Z1S, including:

- Backup & Restore to backup apps and app data so they can be restored later
- File Commander to browse storage
- FM Radio to listen to local radio
- Hangouts and Messaging (either can handle text messages)
- Lookout for scanning downloads, links, and tracking phone
- Office Suite to read Office documents (editing requires paid upgrade)
- PlayStation app to connect with your PSN activities
- PlayStation Mobile to browse games to play on the device
- Smart Connect to automate settings changes or app launches based on time, battery state, or device connections,
- T-Mobile My Account, Name ID, T-Mobile TV, and Visual Voicemail for managing T-Mobile services

Sony Xperia Z1S camera
Sony Xperia Z1S camera
Camera Quality

The camera is one area where Sony does its best job to make up for lost time. The 20.7-megapixel G Lens on the back of the device takes excellent pictures that look clear and typically do an above average job of recognizing the right settings necessary to take a decent photo, provided that you have adequate lighting. I was thoroughly impressed that the camera recognized when backlight correction was needed on a gloomy day and pleased that recording video was strong, though sometimes slow to maintain focus during movement when in auto mode (switch to Action and things are much better).

Performance in low light conditions were somewhat disappointing, but the camera was otherwise spot-on. Sony also tries to spruce things up by including a background defocus effect that can draw more attention to the foreground, though the effect works only if taken of a fairly stationary subject and background. Take a look at some of the sample images below.

Communication & Data

The Xperia Z1S runs on T-Mobile's 4G network, so it can be one of the most valuable experiences around - emphasis on can. I've found that T-Mobile is as good as Verizon in my immediate area of Northern New Jersey. However across the river in some parts of New York City, the phone was not as swift. Friends with the carrier were less pleased in my recent travels in Las Vegas. If you live in an HSPA+ or better area and don't travel often, T-Mobile is great to have; however, the carrier's coverage is not as wide as Verizon or AT&T. Data speeds were very fast and phone calls had clear sound quality most of the time, so the trick is to find a good coverage area and enjoy paying less for a still fast service.

Sony Xperia Z1S buttons
Sony Xperia Z1S buttons

Battery Life

Battery life is another strong area for the Xperia Z1S. It passed the all-day battery test and never failed on me despite phone calls, web browsing, podcast streaming, dozens of photos, and a few gaming sessions. The 3,000 mAh battery enables long-lasting battery life, and the Stamina Mode that automatically makes adjustments to conserve energy further prolongs battery life.

Conclusion

The Sony Xperia Z1S is everything that you wanted in a phone...four months ago. Judged against every flagship smartphone released last year, the Xperia Z1S can hold its own in every area except the display. The problem is that the phone arrives at the tail end of the product cycle and will soon be replaced by something newer and better, including a new product from Sony that is already rumored to be more desirable. So why should anyone buy this phone? The same reason someone might have bought an Xperia Z last year - Sony arrives late, but it delivers when it finally shows up.

Sony Xperia Z1S dock connector
Sony Xperia Z1S dock connector

The Sony Xperia Z1S is a fine phone with a display that has terrible viewing angles, but it also has strong internal specs and exterior design. If you're someone who doesn't care about being on the cutting edge and can put up with Sony treating the US market as a second-tier priority, the Xperia Z1S is a solid purchase. The Sony Xperia Z1S shows how Sony excels at hardware design; if the company can move quicker on the software front, there will be few reasons to complain.

 
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About the author

Andrew Kameka
Andrew is MobileBurn.com's managing editor. He is based in Miami, Florida.

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