Sony Xperia XZs

The Sony Xperia XZs offers improvements that are so minor to the original Sony Xperia XZ, you might not even notice them. But overlooking them would be such a shame.

This upper-midrange contender has received some welcome internal upgrades to put it above last year’s identical Sony flagship in value and performance. But the show-stealing trick up its sleeve that sets it far apart is super slo-mo video recording. The XZs ups the fun factor to the nth degree by using a lens that can capture 960 frames per second in your pocket. You’ve probably never seen life move so slowly.

As nice as these improvements are, Sony is asking a truly exorbitant price for a smartphone with specs that are so last year: $699 (around £529, AU$876). Sure, its IP68 waterproofing, dual SIM and microSD support, as well as the latest Android Nougat operating system each work in its favor. But until this phone is available heavily discounted to reflect the older tech inside, its super slo-mo feature will only be enjoyed by the truly dedicated.

Sony Xperia XZs price

  • Launch price (April 2017): $699
  • Current price: about $580 on Amazon

Sony nails the small details

  • Refined waterproof design looks and feels better than ever
  • Dedicated camera button is something every phone should have
  • The 960 frames per second super slo-mo mode is a true standout feature

Although Sony’s smartphones haven’t changed all that much design-wise year after year, it is undoubtedly honing its craft. The Sony Xperia XZs is among the company’s finest-looking devices (along with the 4K HDR-ready Sony Xperia XZ Premium) and a lot of that refinement is seen in its many small details.

Despite its simple build, its curved edges make it easy to hold. And while you’re holding onto it, reaching for its unique array of buttons is a breeze. Well, mostly. Outside of the US, this phone’s power button has a fingerprint sensor embedded within. But for “business reasons”, Sony has opted-out of including this baseline biometric method from its phones once again. It’s inexcusable, especially considering this device’s high cost. 

Battery life

  • 2,900mAh capacity brings all-day performance under stress
  • Not mind-blowing performance here, but it’s competitive for now
  • Charging speeds don’t impress, as it takes 2 hours to charge fully

The Sony Xperia XZs mimics the chassis of the XZ down to the millimeter and gram, so it comes as little surprise that the 2,900mAh battery inside is unchanged as well.

Thankfully, there’s no real change in battery performance either. In our experience with a review model, we were commonly able to stretch its life into a second day, so long as we didn’t stress it too hard. But on days filled with gaming, movies and lots of glorious super slo-mo recording, it needed to be popped on the charger at night.

During our lab test, the XZs discharge 18% after playing through a 90-minute 1080p video file. These results fall in line with most phones in this range, and in our experience, 82% is more than enough left in the tank to finish out the day.

Camera

  • Super slo-mo takes the cake as the coolest feature
  • 960 frames per second video requires proper lighting
  • General camera performance doesn’t stack up to the best

Chances are good that if you’re interested in the Sony Xperia XZs, your main reason is likely to be for its camera. Well, we have some good news and some bad news. Let’s start with the good news.

Both the rear and front-facing cameras are capable of relatively balanced photos in a mix of lighting conditions. If you’re into very expressive, colorful photos, the XZs will be a pleaser. The LED flash located on both sides of the phone work well in illuminating the darkness and adding balance to photos in daylight.

The bad news: despite the camera’s fast launch and capture speed, we found the rear camera’s macro mode and general sharpness to be lacking if lighting conditions aren’t perfect. Sure, the same can be said about most phones, but we were disappointed that this phone doesn’t lend much of a hand on the software end for those really tough photo-taking scenarios. Strangely, even photos taken in well-lit environments are subject to bit of nasty grain.

That said, we were able to take more than a few slick (if we say so) examples that show off what the XZs can do. We also try to show off what this phone isn’t so good at.

The super slo-mo feature works by recording video at 960 frames per second. To do this, it essentially doubles the shutter speed to 1,920. We noticed that lighting conditions have to be perfect for the shot to look good, as the capture is so fast that the amount of light needed per frame is much higher than if you were shooting an image with a longer exposure. Below, we’ve included samples shot in both ideal conditions and places where lighting made things difficult. Either way, the slo-mo feature rarely fails struts it stuff.

Anything else I should know?

If you’re a purist in search of the next great phone with stock Android, don’t shy away from Sony’s flavor of Nougat so fast. Sure, it’s not exactly like what you’ll get on a Nexus 6P or Google Pixel, but as it’s a modified version of the Google Now Launcher, it’s closer to stock than some other companies’ Android layer. Better yet, if it follows the company’s past update schedule, it will likely get Android O at the same time as other leading flagship smartphones.

You’ll find Sony-made versions of just about every essential pre-installed app, including the phone app, the news app, a photo album and more. Some won’t find a need for these, though music fans shouldn’t sleep on Sony’s music app. It can connect through Google Drive and other services to play your high-fidelity music at a higher bitrate than Google Play Music is capable of.

There were a few instances of bloatware pre-installed on our reviewed model, though most will find the likes of Facebook, Spotify and Amazon somewhat useful. If you own a PS4 or PS4 Pro, you’ll be able to stream your gameplay straight through the XZs and connect a DualShock 4 via Remote Play. Less useful, however, is AVG anti-virus protection. This aside, you can find all of Google’s core apps tucked away, ready for use in the app drawer.

Just like the phone’s refined outside, the experience provided by its specs hums along smoothly. The combination of power brought by the Snapdragon 820 and 4GB of RAM is a potent combo that can easily tear through today’s most demanding apps and games. If you don’t test it, you’ll likely never see a hitch. Even if you do, chances are low that you’ll encounter a stutter during normal or accelerated use.

Who’s it for and should I buy it?

The Sony Xperia XZs is made for those who are constantly pulling their phone out to capture all of life’s moments. To that end, it’s definitely a winner thanks to its dedicated camera button, the plethora of software capabilities and of course, the super slo-mo mode. Few phones as much versatility as this one does.

This marquee feature does, however, come at a cost that’s currently too high. Specced out with what we’ve seen in flagship phones from late 2015 and into 2016, the XZs doesn’t have what it takes to roll with other devices at its price point, which sits anywhere from $580 to $699.

For that money, you could get a Samsung Galaxy S8, Google Pixel or most other flagship smartphones. The XZs is fully capable of handling any game or app in the Google Play Store with aplomb, but if you have you have your sights set further than its amazing slo-mo feature, your cash could get you so much more.

Cameron Faulkner
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