A few differences set Sony's Xperia Z1s apart from its competition. Some of them, such as the handset's waterproofing, help it stand tall among a field of functionally similar phones. Others, like its bulky heft and TFT display technology, detract from its user experience and turn what could be a top smartphone into a second-tier contender. If you're looking for the best of the best, this isn't it. If, on the other hand, you're in the market for the finest waterproof phone money can buy, the Xperia Z1s could be exactly what you're looking for.
As smartphones with 5-inch screens have become increasingly common, we've learned to expect thinner, more compact chasses that offset the large screen size and keep phones pocketable. Unfortunately, the Xperia Z1s has a thick bezel around its display, bulking up the overall size of the phone and clocking its weight at 5.71 ounces. This treads perilously close to phablet territory, without the benefit of an extra-large phablet screen.
The screen itself, meanwhile, is a moderate disappointment. Though it packs 1080p resolution into a tight 5-inch space – netting the phone an extremely crisp 441ppi pixel density – it's built on basic, TFT LCD technology. You'll enjoy fantastic color depth and vibrancy if you look at the phone head-on, but turn the phone even slightly away and colors are quickly washed out. Sharing a video with a loved one is a troublesome experience, and being forced to hold the phone at the perfect angle whenever you use it gets tiresome.
Granted, if you buy the Xperia Z1s, it's probably because the device is IP58-certified as dust- and water-resistant. Technically the phone can handle submersion in fresh water, at a depth of up to 1 meter, for up to 30 minutes. In practice, it's functionally waterproof, so long as you stay out of the ocean and don't go scuba diving. You can leap into a pool and take underwater photos of your friends; spill a drink on the phone and rinse it off under a running faucet; or take it into the shower and catch up on your Twitter feed in the hot steam.
A flagship waterproof phone isn't enticing without the internal specs to back it up, and sure enough, the Z1s delivers. Its 3000mAh battery is a bit underperforming, but it drives a blazing-fast, quad-core 2.2GHz processor that will chew through the most graphics-intensive apps you can throw at it. The phone comes with a merely average 32GB of internal storage, but if that's not enough for you, its expansion port will let you load microSD cards, giving you plenty of space for your music, photos and videos.
Physically chunky but aesthetically sleek, the Sony Xperia Z1s is a clash of the good and bad. We expected more out of its 5-inch, 1080p screen than its poor viewing angles delivered. We're disappointed by its extra-wide bezels, and we've seen other phones squeeze more life out of 3000mAh batteries. But it's hard not to be excited about the Z1s when you can bring it into the bathtub and browse Facebook – or play intense 3D games – while you soak. That versatility qualifies the Z1s to stand with the best smartphones we've reviewed.
With its water resistance, dust resistance and speedy processor, the Xperia Z1s is Sony's new flagship in the U.S., and it shows.
The screen is sharp, but its terrible viewing angles make sharing pictures and videos with friends a pain. The phone itself is a lot chunkier than other devices with 5-inch displays.
It may not be as pocketable as its 5-inch brethren, but the Xperia Z1s makes up for that bulk with a great feature set.