Sony Xperia XZs review: Minor flagship upgrade, but a long way to go

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Sony’s smartphone division is still alive and this year it launched two new flagships at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The Xperia XZ Premium is another attempt at a 4K display smartphone, while the Xperia XZs is a bumped up version of the Xperia XZ which was launched late last year.

The Premium is yet to hit markets because it runs on a Snapdragon 835 chipset, but the XZs has start selling worldwide. The handset does seem very similar to the original, it does have a few new quirks baked in, but are they worth the Rs 49,990 asking price? Let’s find out.

Build and design: 8.5/10

If you have seen or used the Xperia XZ, the XZs is not very different. You get the same look, design and materials as last year. The only difference is that it now comes in new set of colors including black, Warm Silver and Ice Blue. The finish of the blue variant is my personal favorite.

As I mentioned, the new Xperia XZs is identical to the XZ. I think it looks great and don’t mind Sony repeating the design. The angular sharp looks with the curved edges, what the company calls ‘loop surface’ gives it a nice feel. I’ve somehow been a sucker for Sony’s design and the company just keeps me enticed.

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The front is covered in Gorilla Glass while the back has the same special ALKALEIDO alloy. The frame in the middle feels like metal but is hardened polycarbonate. The corners can get a bit sharp for some users, but I frankly got used to them. There is a certain balance to the handset that makes the design different from what smartphone makers are traditionally making these days. The handset is IP 68 certified as well so it is protected against dust and water.

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As for the primary elements and buttons, the stereo speakers sit above and below the display. The speaker at the top also houses the earpiece which is accompanied by the front camera, light and proximity sensors and a tiny notification LED. At the top edge is a 3.5 mm headphone jack and the secondary microphone, while the bottom edge houses the USB Type-C port and the primary microphone. The SIM tray is placed on the left side with a protective flap. The right edge houses the power button which also has the fingerprint scanner, the volume rocker buttons and a dedicated camera shutter button.

At the back is the primary camera which bulges out a bit unlike the Xperia XZ. Below the camera lens sits the laser auto-focus module, RGB sensor and an LED flash that are all stacked vertically.

Features: 7/10

The XZs is a minor bump over the XZ and most of the hardware is similar. You get a 64-bit, Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 (MSM8996) chipset clocked at 2.15 GHz at the heart of the device. But now there is 4 GB of RAM instead of the 3-gigs as on the predecessor. The internal storage is 64 GB which is expandable using a microSD card of up to 256 GB via the hybrid SIM slot.

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On the front, you get the familiar 5.2-inch Full-HD IPS LCD display with Gorilla Glass on top. There is a new 19 MP camera at the back called the Motion Eye and comes with two new features (discussed later). The front camera has a 13 MP resolution to take your selfies and make video calls.

In the connectivity department you get a dual-nano SIM hybrid tray, 4G LTE with VoLTE, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, FM radio, USB Type-C with OTG support.

There is also a fingerprint scanner embedded in the power button on the right edge.

Display: 7.5/10

The display is also the same as the older XZ. The 5.2-inch Full-HD IPS LCD panel and is protected with a Gorilla Glass on top which curves nicely into the edges. I think the only issue I have with the display is its screen to body ratio. With smartphone makers aiming to offer the slimmest bezels today, Sony’s flagship offers a 71 percent screen to body ratio.

Of course the panel itself is really good. As with all high-end Sony smartphones, the display comes with the company’s Triluminos and X-Reality Engine technologies that make the display a bit more immersive and vibrant. Colors are vivid and brightness levels are excellent. While I personally feel that AMOLED panels are the best in terms of quality, the LCD display on this handset is as good if not better.

The handset offers an option to tweak the white balance and you can turn off the X-Reality enhancement feature, but its better to keep it on.

Software: 7/10

The Smartphone runs on the latest Android Nougat update with some light Sony skinning on top. While the UI is mostly stock, you get some good looking wallpapers and themes. Sony has been a bit simple when it comes to user interface but has put in a bit bloatware which could’ve been avoided. The performance of the UI is smooth and for the few weeks I used the device, there wasn’t any stuttering or slowing down of the system.

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Sony has also added a few smart features called Xperia Actions. There are three features, Good Night, Focus and Abroad. The user can set certain tasks or features to trigger during a certain time period during the day or based on your location. For instance, the Abroad mode lets you optimize the smartphone when you are travelling like turning on or off roaming, turning off data and so on.

Performance: 7.5/10

It was a shame to see Sony not bumping up the processor, but it did increase the RAM from 3 GB to 4 GB which honestly doesn’t bring any noticeable difference, but the more RAM is definitely better to handle multitasking efficiently. The Snapdragon 820 chipset from last year comes with a quad-core processor clocked at 2.15 GHz ( two 2.15 GHz Kryo cores and  two 1.6 GHz Kryo cores) and has an Adreno 530 GPU.

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While it carries almost similar specifications from last year, it isn’t a slow device by any means. Everything from sending mails, browsing social media and other less resource consuming tasks are handled with ease. Even gaming is a great experience. I played Mortal Combat X for half an hour without any issues. It gets warm but not crazy hot.

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As for synthetic benchmarks, you can see how it is at par with most handsets that came with a Snapdragon 820 chipset. On AnTuTu the smartphone scored a 127110 and 36148 on Quadrant.

Call quality on the handset was up to the mark and even the stereo speakers offer a nice clear output but not as loud as many smartphones out there. Connectivity features including Wi-Fi and cellular data both work flawlessly.

Camera: 7/10

The camera on the Xperia XZs is a brand new 19 MP sensor. The sensor size is 1/2.3-inch with a 25 mm f/2.0 lens. The camera is aided by a dual-tone flash, predictive and laser auto-focus and an RGBC-IR sensor for natural color rendering. Sony calls its new camera as ‘Motion Eye’ which comes with a bunch of new tricks. The company has focused mainly on two features super-slow motion capture and its predictive burst capture.

Sony Xperia XZs

The super slow motion can capture up to 960 fps making it the first ever smartphone to offer such capability. It is a treat to look at moments captured at such slow speeds. However it comes with some limitations. Firstly this mode can only capture a short moment rather than long videos. Secondly, the mode requires a good amount of light to capture so this doesn’t work so well if you want to slow down things where there is less or low light. Still, I was quite impressed with its capabilities.

The camera also features a predictive capture feature where the camera takes a burst of four images including two shots that are actually taken before you hit the shutter. The feature let’s you capture the right moment at the right time especially a fast movement. It gets a bit tricky at times and some of the shots come out with some blurs and shakes.

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As for the picture quality, the camera can take good looking pictures with quick shutter speeds and fast and accurate focusing. However, the overall quality falls short when compared to flagship smartphones from other brands. Low light isn’t handled that well, something which I’ve noticed in many Sony smartphone cameras. Even the overall picture quality when it comes to details, is not up to the mark. And this bugs me. Sony makes camera sensors for a wide range of smartphone vendors. Why can’t it perfect it for its own products?

The camera app is simple to use. It has four main options which include video, Superior Auto, manual mode and lastly the camera apps which includes some other modes. You can swipe down to toggle between them. The camera apps sections contains the 4K recording mode, some filters. There have been reports of the camera heating up the smartphone and shutting down the camera app just like the Xperia XZ. Now I did notice the upper part of the handset warming up while making videos, but the camera app didn’t close for me. Sony had mentioned about using a heat-sink pipe and of course this is completely different camera sensor. Seems like Sony has tried to fix the issue after all.

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Apart from 960 fps, the camera can also take 120 fps videos for slow motion. 4K video recording is smooth although that wasn’t the case with its stabilizer.

The front camera sports a 13 MP, 1/3″ sensor with an  f/2.0, 22mm lens. Selfies are just about average and there is a soft skin filter which can enabled or disabled.

Sony has got something new and interesting I must say. But it needs more than just slowing down and speeding up things to get consumers’ attention.

Battery: 7.5/10

There is 2,900 mAh non-removable battery to juice up the Xperia XZs. It does sound like a small unit, but it is enough the handset last all day. Under heavy load the phone lasts about 6-7 hours but with light usage and making use of Sony’s STAMINA power saving modes one can easily stretch to about a day and a half. Sony has also put in features to make the battery last longer in terms of charge cycle and usability.

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PCMark for Android gave me around 9 hours 24 mins, which sounds decent considering the capacity of the battery. Some smartphones with 3,000 mAh don’t offer more that 8 hours on the benchmark. The smartphone also supports Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 via the USB Type-C port which charges the handset rather quick.

Verdict and price in India

I mentioned before that I love Sony smartphones. I still do, they have a certain place in my heart. But the past few flagships devices from the company have not been up to the mark and not been able to justify the price. The Xperia XZs is a minor update from the XZ and frankly it doesn’t make it groundbreaking.

Areas where the smartphone impressed me was the design, battery life and those interesting camera features. But as a whole, a price tag of Rs 49,990 is asking too much. Sony has to provide a lot more to make a device worthy of such a high price.

Planning to upgrade from the XZ to the XZs? I think you should save your money or invest in some other device. Flagship devices like the Samsung Galaxy S8, the iPhone 7 and even the LG G6 seem to be more promising. If you want a really good performer with a decent camera on a budget, the OnePlus 3T is still a better option.

Publish date: May 10, 2017 11:12 am| Modified date: May 10, 2017 11:21 am

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