Sony’s hold on the smartphone market may have fallen drastically, but the Japanese company is still firmly present and continues to develop and manufacture its devices. And thanks to its continuing development in the field of smartphone sensors, Sony continues to have certain advantages in its smartphones that other manufacturers simply don’t have the technology to replicate. However, Sony’s phones are also ridiculously overpriced, and we haven’t been thrilled with its last few devices.
The company’s latest launch is the Sony Xperia XZs, which brings a couple of incremental updates over the Sony Xperia XZ, as well as the new Motion Eye camera sensor which is capable of recording slow-motion video at a 960fps frame rate. I’ve had a chance to put the phone through the paces, and here’s my review.
Sony Xperia XZs: The Good
Sony’s typical design and look might not appeal to everyone, but there’s a certain level of class that comes with it. With a metal back-plate and shape that is defined by sharp lines at the corners, the Sony Xperia XZs certainly looks different to other flagship smartphones. It has a distinct feel that can be characterized as only something you can expect from a Sony, thanks to a design the Japanese company refers to as ‘omnibalance’. The phone is also IP68 water resistant, so accidental drops in water or splashes shouldn’t worry you.
Other distinct Sony touches can also be seen on the phone, such as the SIM-tray that doesn’t need a pin to eject on the left, the fingerprint sensor built into the lowered home button, the USB Type-C port at the bottom and the dedicated camera shutter key at the bottom right corner, roughly where your finger would rest when you’re taking pictures in landscape orientation. All of this helps the phone retain its character, and this will appeal to fans of Sony smartphones in particular.
When it comes to specifications and software, there are a couple of things that stand out. With 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage, the phone is suitably specified when it comes to memory. Although the battery might seem a bit small at 2900mAh, it does get you close enough to a whole day of use, and can be charged quickly thanks to support for Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0. The phone has a 5.2-inch full-HD IPS-LCD screen which is fairly good in terms of color and sharpness thanks to Sony’s years of experience in display manufacturing, and you get Android Nougat 7.1 out-of-the-box with the phone, under Sony’s user interface.
As a major developer and manufacturer of camera sensors, Sony has a distinct advantage when it comes to smartphone cameras. The company usually saves its newest and best sensors for its own smartphones, and the current 19-megapixel Motion Eye camera makes its debut on the Sony Xperia XZs. The camera has an f/2.0 aperture, hybrid autofocus using phase-detection and laser methods, and can record video at a seemingly unbelievable 960fps.
When it comes to photos, the Xperia XZs does not disappoint. In well-lit situations, the images produce good colors, sharp images and plenty of detail. This can be found even in low-light shots, and the camera is indeed as close as it gets to the winning performance that we recently saw on the Samsung Galaxy S8+. Images are clean, focused and well-composed, with very little grain to complain of. Thanks to the hybrid autofocus, focusing is quick and accurate.
The most interesting feature on the camera is the 960fps slow-motion video recording mode. It’s important to note that 960fps only works in very short bursts because of the immense processing power required to create clips at this frame-rate, while continuous slow-motion recording remains limited to 120fps. Getting good video clips at 960fps requires some skilled shutter work by you, since you need to be able to tell the phone when to slow down recording based on the moment you want to capture.
If you get your timing right, the results are fantastic. Take a look at our video review of the 960fps mode on the Sony Xperia XZs above to get an idea of how super slow-motion clips look on the phone. For a brief burst, it appears as if time has slowed down to an absolute crawl, and we were able to get some great clips of the moving propeller of a toy plane, a bird flapping its wings and a matchstick catching fire, among others.
However, this need for perfect shutter timing on the slow-motion mode means that you might often miss the moment, or shoot a moment right before or after the right one. Additionally, setting the camera up to record at such a high frame-rate also diminishes the phone’s ability to take in light information, so super slow-motion clips are best recorded in very good natural light. Nonetheless, it’s a great feature that no other phone can boast of, and is certainly genuine, as compared to the artificial 960fps mode on the Lenovo Z2 Plus.
Sony Xperia XZs: The Bad
While running Android 7.1 is certainly commendable, Sony does its customers no favors by slapping on its bloatware-filled user interface. Although fairly clean and similar to the stock-Android UI in many ways, the interface has far too many of Sony’s apps on it. Some apps such as Lifelog and Playstation might be useful if you’re a fitness enthusiast or gamer, but you’ll find yourself stuck with a lot of pointless apps such as ‘What’s New’, Sony Liv and more. It’s even more bothersome when these apps constantly push annoying notifications to you.
While most manufacturers place fingerprint sensors at the back of the phone or where the home button usually is, Sony has for some time now had its fingerprint sensors embedded into the power button on the right side of the phone. While this is certainly a different approach, it hasn’t quite worked too well for Sony. Although the accuracy issues aren’t quite as bad now as with previous devices, the XZs still sometimes throws up scanning errors because your finger hasn’t properly made contact with the scanner, and you’ll often have to try a second or third time to unlock the phone.
As has now become an expected occurrence on Sony smartphones, the Sony Xperia XZs faces heat-related issues. Intense tasks such as recording 4K video, playing graphics-intensive games and the like cause significant heat at the back of the phone. This has two key effects on the phone: the battery drains rapidly when the phone heats up, and this also affects performance, such as the camera being forcibly shut down, the UI needing to refresh, and noticeable lag in the interface. This doesn’t happen often though, and in most cases the phone runs smoothly enough.
A big complaint that I have with the Sony Xperia XZs is its use of the aging Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 SoC. While I have no complaints against the chipset itself, Sony launching a Rs 49,990 smartphone with a chipset that is now over a year old comes across as silly, particularly when we’re already seeing the first Snapdragon 835-powered phones. Power users will of course prefer the much more affordable OnePlus 3T, which is powered by the newer Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 SoC, or pay a bit more for the Samsung Galaxy S8, which runs on the 10nm Exynos 8895 SoC.
Indeed, most of the Sony’s shortcomings have to do with its price. While Sony may still see itself as a premium manufacturer that can demand top-level prices, the unfortunate truth is that Sony must adapt and switch to a value-driven model if it is to fight its way back. At Rs 15,000 less, the Sony Xperia XZs would still stand a fighting chance and might have won over a lot of buyers thanks to its great camera and 960fps super slow-motion mode, it’s hard for us to recommend the Sony Xperia XZs at its current price.
A little more money will buy you the more capable Samsung Galaxy S8, while a lot less money will buy you the better-specified and better-performing OnePlus 3T. However, if the ability to record video at 960fps appeals to you, or you’re just a fan of Sony, the Xperia XZs might be worth it to you.