Several marked differences set Sony's Xperia Z1s apart from its competition. Some of them, such as the handset's waterproofing, help it stand tall in a field of functionally similar phones. Others, like its bulk and TFT display technology, detract from the user experience and turn what could have been 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 a decent, waterproof phone, the Xperia Z1s has its appeal.
As smartphones with 5-inch screens have become increasingly common, we've learned to expect thinner, more compact chasses that offset large screens and keep phones pocketable. Unfortunately, the Xperia Z1s has a thick bezel around its display, bulking up the phone and making it uncomfortable to hold for extended periods. At 5.71 ounces, its weight treads perilously close to phablet territory, without the benefit of an extra-large phablet screen.
The screen itself is a 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 it slightly away and you'll wash those colors out. Likewise, the screen's reflectivity makes glare a real problem; you'll quickly tire of having to hold the phone at the perfect angle just to be able to see.
Granted, if you buy the Xperia Z1s, it's probably because the device is IP58-certified as dust- and water-resistant. 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. There's nothing quite like running your phone under the faucet to wash off a bit of grime. We'll admit it – testing its waterproofing was a blast.
A flagship waterproof phone isn't enticing without the internal specs to back it up, and the Z1s delivers. Its 3000mAh battery underperforms a bit, 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 with 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 is what 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.
The screen may be sharp, but its problematic viewing angles and high reflectivity can make sharing things with friends a pain. The phone itself is a lot chunkier than its competitors, and isn't easy to hold.
It may not be as comfortable or pocketable as its 5-inch brethren, but the Xperia Z1s tries to make up for it with a solid feature set.