The Sony XZs is a high-end device just announced at MWC 2017 which is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chip. Sony has optimized it for value-to the user, and this device isn’t meant as winning any “specs war” — that role is fulfilled by the Sony XZ Premium, which is powered by a Snapdragon 835 and features a 4K display. Don’t miss our review of the XZ Premium either.
The XZs focuses on the camera experience by using Sony’s latest and greatest image sensor which is capable of capturing shots at an incredible speed of 960 FPS. Sony also designed the phone to be a bit more compact than the XZ Premium model. Compactness and large display are conflicting requests that often show up in consumer surveys, so phone makers have to strike a balance.
Pros: impressive new main camera, relatively compact body, simple and light design
Cons: 1080p display doesn’t show the full photo glory
Bottom-line: provided that pricing is right, this handset should be a relatively affordable handset for people who want a premium photo experience.
The Sony XPERIA XZs isn’t very different from the current XPERIA XZ, which has similar body proportions, weight, display and positioning. As the “s” name indicates, this is a slight upgrade, which is the new camera sensor and Android 7.0 (vs Android 6.x previously).
Industrial Design (Good)
The XPERIA XZs continues to carry Sony’s iconic XPERIA design language, with a rectangular shape, with pronounced corners. At the same time, Sony has slightly rounded edges, which makes the handset feel soft to the hand.
The metal finish comes in three colors (black, blue and gold) and looks nice and clean. The non-metallic parts have a matching color, and although you can see the separation, it doesn’t bother the eyes as much as antenna slits on other well-known phones. These non-metal areas are required to let the antenna broadcast and receive radio-waves which are the foundation of any phone.
In the back, the large camera ring is prominent. The ring itself is larger than what would be required, but this is a design statement to put the emphasis on how powerful the camera is supposed to be, a design-language to say “this is a great camera phone”. Just below the camera ring, there’s a vertical area that houses the flash and various sensors that are camera-related.
Sony did not elaborate much about it but that would be where the infra-red sensor go for color-metering etc… we’ll have to dig into the specs a little more to find out because the information was a little scarce at the moment.
The front of the phone is minimalist and I really like that. The black version of the phone looks like it is a seamless surface, although the colored ones show the screen area in a more obvious way. There is no Home button or fingerprint sensor for the matter.
On one hand, the lack of fingerprint sensor makes the phone look a bit better to some people, but on the other hand, that sensor can conveniently replace a long password, which is good for security purposes. I’m a bit thorned on this one, and I hope that Sony will eventually use an under-the-glass sensor in the future so that we could have the best of both worlds.
All the controls are on the right side of the phone (Power, Volume and Camera shutter), while the left side has the SIM tray (or dual-SIM depending on your region). At the bottom, you will find a USB Type-C connector although we’ll have to confirm if it is rated for USB 3.1 speeds (5 Gbps).
Water resistance (IP65/IP68)
As Sony was a pioneer in building water-resistant Android phones, it’s not surprising to learn that the Xperia XZs is water-tight too. Sony says that the IP rating could be IP65 or IP68, probably depending on the region. There is a considerable difference between the two. IP65 means that it can resist water sprays (rain, typically) but should NOT be immersed in water. IP68 phones can be immersed under 3 meters of water, which means that it would survive a trip to the bottom of a pool.
The display of the Sony XPERIA XZs is an LCD 1080p. It look quite good, and gets the job done, but there’s nothing specific to rave about. The screen is there to support the rest of the phone, and most people should be content with it.
The important thing here is that the display seem to be slightly underpowered in regards to the camera’s capability (more on that in the next chapter). However, it is understandable in some segments of the markets that the pricing structure pushes OEMs to opt for 1080p instead of high PPI 2K or more displays. Technologically speaking, Sony knows how to use extremely high PPI displays and the 4K screen of the new Xperia XZ Premium is a testament to that.
Camera (Excellent Specs)
Without a doubt, the Camera is a highlight in this phone. Sony has upgraded the image sensor, and this new one is capable of shooting at 960 FPS, which is equivalent to a 40X slow-motion. This newfound shooting speed is unique and is made possible because Sony has added a layer of ultra-fast, low-latency, memory storage to the sensor itself.
With a 19 Megapixel resolution, we expect the Sony XPERIA XZs to perform very well in broad daylight, for nature shots and cityscape shots where light and details are abundant. As light become more scarce in the evening and night, the quality of the sensor matters more than the number of pixels.
Also, keep in mind that while camera optics and electronics are key, so are the set of algorithms that are used to compose the final image. Handset such as the LG G6 and Google Pixel have shown in their own ways that software matters at least as much as hardware when it comes to mobile photography. It is a hard truth that should be known to more people.
System Performance and Processor (Very Good)
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor (or SoC) was the one that powered the fastest Android phones for nearly all of 2016. Last year at MWC 2016, Qualcomm pretty much got all the key contracts, and with the exception of Huawei and Apple in the high-end, everyone else used the Snapdragon 820, and later the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 towards the end of 2016.
Learn more: what is a SoC or System On a Chip?
As such, we already know that the system performance should be very good, and although there are some differences because each phone maker can tweak the frequency and have different thermal management, all the Snapdragon 820 phones can be seen as being in the same “class” of experience.
We’ll run some benchmarks when the retail units arrive. At the moment, the units that are floating around are not final and a lot can happen in the firmware in the weeks leading to its retail availability.
Battery (Very Good)
A capacity of 2900 mAh is considered to be very good for a 5.2” smartphone. Additionally, this phone has a 1080p display which consumes less power as the 2K alternative, so users should end up with an all-day battery smartphone. We’ll take a closer look to this later, but in general, the battery capacity remains the best fact-based indicator for expected battery life.
In the real world, there are dozens of different factors that could influence the battery life, including some that can never be reproduced accurately for a large number of users, including: network conditions, combination of apps installed, frequency of apps wake-up and notifications, wifi conditions etc…
The Sony Xperia XZs is a good Android phone, and it can differentiate itself thanks to a unique design language and a Camera system that has extraordinary technical specifications. We can’t wait to try it in the real world and challenge it in situations where it could make a difference against the best handsets out there.
Commercially speaking, Sony will have to figure out how to price it to win. With the older unlocked Xperia XZ costing around $588, it is essentially competing against the Galaxy S7 Edge which is priced anywhere between $472 and $558 on Amazon. We’ll leave Sony to deal with this, but now you have our feedback on this new handset from a capabilities standpoint.