Sony Xperia Z1S: Ten days In

Howdy folks! About ten days ago my wife and I switched to T-Mobile. She kept with an iPhone 5C; I switched to Sony’s Xperia Z1S, which is the subject of this review.

Dry Technical Description Nobody Reads

The Xperia Z1S is specced about the same as all major Android smartphones released last year. It has:

-1920×1080 Triluminos screen(more on this in a second, as most smartphones last year used IPS, and Triluminos is a Sony technology that’s exclusive to them)

2.2 gigahertz Snapdragon 800 processor

-32 gigabytes of storage(expandable with an SD card, up to 96 gigabytes.)

-2 gigabytes of RAM

3,00MAH battery

Sony’s take on Android

Sony has gone with a relatively non-intrusive take on Android. There are eighteen Sony-specific apps that come bundled:

-Officesuite (an Office documents reader)

-File Commander (a file folder system)

-Lookout (virus/malware protection)

-Playstation Mobile

-Playstation

-Smart Connect (for using Sony’s NFC tags with the phone)

-Social Live

-Socialife

-TrackId

-XperiaCare

-Update Center

-Walkman

-Video Unlimited

-Movies

-FM Radio

-Album

-Notes

-Camera

All of them can either be disabled or outright uninstalled if you so desire, with the exception of the Album and Camera application. I have found most of them to either be cool or at least useful, with the exception of TrackID and Officesuite, both of which I’ve uninstalled. Not having them active does not take away from the user experience of the device itself. Sony has done a good job of both providing an expanded user experience beyond stock Android, and not crippling the device under bloatware or keeping you from using the phone in the way you’re meant to should you choose to forgo their offerings.

Sony also has a collection of “small apps”, which are what they sound like: apps that don’t require a whole lot of screen space and can be run directly over a home page or a full-size app. Below is the note-taking app:

 

The Z1S is also a T-Mobile exclusive. The carrier software on this device includes:

T-Mobile My Account

T-Mobile Name ID

T-Mobile TV

-Visual Voicemail

These can all be disabled in App Settings.

The Sony launcher and combined notification center/power controls are just okay in and of themselves. You can turn the power controls off (which I’ve done) and replace the stock launcher, which I’ve done as well.

Sony focuses heavily in three areas on the Z1S:

-Camera functionality

-Weatherproofing

-Integration in the greater Sony ecosystem, especially PlayStation.

The Camera has nine settings:

-Superior Auto. In my experience this is the least useful setting, producing largely substandard photos.

-Manual. I’ve switched to this as my primary means of taking a photo on the Z1S. It produces exceptionally high-resolution images easily.

-Info Eye. This offers informative blurbs about whatever is in the viewfinder, to include locations and landmarks.

-Social Live, which allows video streaming directly to facebook.

-Timeshift burst, which allows to take multiple photos at once to allow you to choose a favorite.

-AR effect, which lets you stick dinosaurs and stuff in photos:

-Picture effect, which I have not used and allows you to apply ‘artistic effects’ to your photos

-Sweep Panorama, which is what it sounds like: widescreen photos. It is very stable and easy to use in my brief experience.

-Background defocus, which claims to give a DSLR-like macro effect to photos. I have not gotten it to work yet.

Sony has succeeded in weatherproofing the entire phone against mild submergence in water, to include the headphone port. A minor refinement for underwater photography is a physical shutter button that can launch the camera and take pictures, as using the touchscreen doesn’t work in water; the screen registers water as a finger.

Sony has also made an effort to pull its phone line deeper into PlayStation’s orbit. The PlayStation app allows for syncing and apparently some in-game features with a PlayStation 4; not owning one of those I really can’t comment. You can pair a DualShock 3 controller with the Z1S to play games, though:

Eventually the Z1S will get PlayStation Now, Sony’s recently announced game streaming service. To be honest this is what tipped the iceberg for me to get the Xperia. With native Dualshock 3 support and (counting eventual PlayStation 1and 2 integration into the service) possibly 5,000 games available to stream, this is honestly a killer feature for obvious reasons. Sony has potentially felled two birds with one stone: First the problem of backwards compatibility with console games, and second, the wasteland of quality games on mobile devices. There’s lots of games on mobile phones, just very few good ones, and having a giant gaming library combined with native controller support for each and every title is simply awesome.

Battery Life

An additional, and valued, Sony-specific feature is Stamina mode. This helps conserve battery life by minimizing applications’ background operations and data use when the screen isn’t on. You still get push notifications, and can whitelist specific apps to always run in the background as well. In my experience over the last few days, it works fairly well with moderate usage; I’m not constantly on my phone, but do use it regularly throughout the day.

On average, I’ve experienced about 3-4 hours of screen-on time, and around 20 hours of overall life:

The Camera, Part II

I spoke about the camera earlier, and its settings. I’ve grown fairly competent with the manual controls; here are some images I’ve taken with it:

It does have a learning curve, particularly coming from an iPhone, which demands very little manual input to take excellent photos. Getting your settings right is immensely pleasing, though.

The Triluminos Screen and complaining about viewing angles

I’ll be frank. Sony’s Triluminos screen does look fantastic from head-on, but poor to fair from an angle. That being said, if this significantly bothers you, I’m pretty sure this is you:

                                                                                       Above: Most Verge editors. No, skinny jeans don’t make you a reliable source of information.

Does the screen look off at an angle? Yeah, it does. Is it a big deal for how people use their phones, IE directly ahead, pressed against an ear, or down-angled:

This is not a problem is a way that matters. 

Final thoughts

Sony is coming off one hell of a year. They’ve had solid and excellent devices across the board, starting with the Xperia Z phone and tablet in march, rolling into the NEX cameras, and then triumphing in console making with the PlayStation 4. The Z1S is the perfect cap for that year, and the start of what is hopefully a second great year for them. It’s an excellent phone with long battery life, a rock-solid implementation of Android, a terrific camera, and the best support for mobile gaming you will find in any device. It’s available solely from T-Mobile, so your service experience may vary, but I can still whole-heartedly recommend this device.

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