Positives

Solid build quality
Comfortable in-hand feel
Clean software with Android Nougat
960 fps slow motion video
MicroSD slot
Hi-Res audio support
Vibrant display

Negatives

Front-facing speakers are weak
High price point
No fingerprint sensor (U.S. model)

Rating
Battery
8.0
Display
8.5
Camera
8.5
Performance
8.6
Software
9.0
Design
9.0
Bottom Line
8.6
8.6
Xperia XZs
by Sony

The Sony Xperia XZs takes most of what we know from its predecessor and makes some improvements, but the changes are so few and far between that it isn’t worth Sony’s asking price of $700.

Sony took the wraps off of two new high-end smartphones at this year’s MWC. While the Xperia XZ Premium deservedly garnered most of the attention, the company also unveiled the successor of the Xperia XZ, which was their 2016 flagship.

The new flagship, dubbed the Xperia XZs, features only mild upgrades when compared to its predecessor, but are these changes enough to make this device more noteworthy? Find out in our Sony Xperia XZs review!

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Design

As mentioned, there are only a couple of changes with the Xperia XZs when compared to its predecessor, but none as far as the design or build quality are concerned. Like the Xperia XZ before it, this device features what Sony calls a loop design, complete with sides that are rounded and taper towards the front and back, allowing for an in-hand feel that’s comfortable in the hand. The Xperia XZs’ loop design also features a flat top and bottom on which the phone can stand.

The XZs also comes with a metal plate on the back, plastic along the sides, and glass up front. The headphone jack and USB Type-C port are at the top and bottom respectively, and the power button, volume rocker, and a dedicated shutter camera shutter button are all found on the right side.

Sony, it may be time for a change

Sony has always been known to create impressively-designed smartphones, but it has to be mentioned that in a world where we are increasingly moving towards near bezel-less designs, the top and bottom chin on the Xperia XZs may be especially glaring to some. Granted, the design is reminiscent of previous Sony flagships going back a few years and isn’t bad by any means, but as some other OEMs have done, it may be time for a change.

Display

The Xperia XZs also retains the 5.2-inch IPS LCD display, with a Full HD resolution resulting in a pixel density of 424 ppi. As expected, the screen is sharp and vibrant, provides excellent viewing angles, color reproduction is good and doesn’t look too oversaturated, and the brightness is good enough for comfortable viewing outdoors. The 1080p resolution more than gets the job done here, and unless you are planning to use this device for VR, you aren’t going to miss Quad HD.

Performance

The first difference between the original Xperia XZ and the Xperia XZs comes in the performance section, but even this isn’t particularly significant. The Xperia XZs comes with the same processing package as its predecessor, including the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor backed by the Adreno 530 GPU, but the RAM has been bumped up from 3 GB to 4 GB.

The Snapdragon 820 processor may not be the latest and greatest anymore, but is more than capable of handling even processor-intensive tasks. There have certainly been no issues with lag or dropped frames when opening apps, browsing the web, or playing games, and multi-tasking and having more apps running in the background has only improved with the availability of an additional gigabyte of RAM.

Hardware

32 GB and 64 GB are the built-in storage options available, but if that isn’t enough for you, expandable storage via microSD card is possible for up to an additional 256 GB. Depending on the market, a dual-SIM version of the device is also available.

A couple of signature flagship Sony features are retained with the Xperia XZs, the first of which is the dual front-facing speaker setup. While they do sound pretty good, they unfortunately don’t get as loud as what you’d expect from stereo speakers. The second feature is an IP68 rating for dust and water resistance, which means that the device will be safe even if submerged under a meter of water.

US buyers: no fingerprint sensor for you

There is a fingerprint scanner embedded into the power button of the phone, but this feature is once again not available for the US version of the device. Unfortunately, Sony has made it clear that this is something that isn’t going to change anytime soon.

One area where Sony could have, and should have, made an improvement is with regards to the battery. You get the same 2,900 mAh unit as is found with the Xperia XZ, and this means that you also get the same mediocre battery life.

Light usage that involves texting, reading emails, and browsing social media will get you a full day of use, but anything heavier like watching videos on YouTube or playing games for even a small amount of time will require you to reach for the charger at some point before your day ends.

It would have been great if Sony had followed in the footsteps of OnePlus and squeezed in a larger battery in the same space as the latter did with the OnePlus 3T, and it certainly feels like a missed opportunity.

Camera

Megapixels aren't everything when it comes to image quality

What is easily the biggest change between the Xperia XZs and its predecessor comes in the camera department. This time around, you get a 19 MP Motion Eye camera on the rear, which may seem like a downgrade from the 23 MP unit found with the Xperia XZ, but as we all know, megapixels aren’t everything when it comes to image quality. In this case, there may be a reduction in megapixels, but the pixel size has been increased for better performance in low-light conditions.

I’ve been very impressed with the camera experience overall. The camera is quick to launch, focus, and take a shot, and the predictive hybrid autofocus system is a fantastic feature for capturing moving objects. Of course, the inclusion of a hardware shutter and quick launch button is just as handy and useful as it has always been. Photos offer plenty of sharpness and detail, great color reproduction that looks very natural and lifelike, and excellent dynamic range, with this camera very rarely underexposing or overexposing a shot.

It also performs surprisingly well in low-light conditions, and it is safe to say that this camera is one of the better low-light performers that you will currently find on a smartphone. There is still a fair amount of detail, noise is kept to a minimum, and it doesn’t have any issues with blowing out highlights or maintaining a proper white balance, as can be seen with a lot of other smartphone cameras out there.

This camera is one of the better low-light performers that you will currently find on a smartphone

The front-facing camera is also exceptionally good. A 13 MP front-facing shooter lets you capture plenty of detail and really nice looking colors, and the high megapixel count provides a lot more flexibility with zooming and cropping without a huge loss in quality. If you are into taking selfies, you are certainly going to have a great experience with this camera.

Sony Xperia XZs camera samples

As good as this camera is with photos, the big story here is actually what you can do in video, with the camera having the ability to record slow motion video at a ridiculous 960 frames per second. It can look incredible when you capture the right moment and it is a lot of fun to use, but it isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

You can only record at 960 fps in short bursts, and it is capped at a 720p resolution. The biggest problem with it being 720p is that you are dealing with a huge crop factor, which deteriorates the quality and sometimes makes it hard to get exactly what you want into the frame unless you’re shooting outside or in an open area where you can take a few steps back. This frame rate also means that the shutter speed is extremely short, and as a result, doesn’t work very well in low light situations.

Software

On the software side of things, the Xperia XZs is running Android 7.1.1 Nougat out of the box, with the latest version of Sony’s UI on top. Sony’s user interface has always kept things light and simple, and that remains the case this time around, making for a very smooth software experience. It isn’t a stock experience though, with Sony features like a built-in theme engine, custom launcher, wallpapers, and Settings menu setting it apart.

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Android Nougat review: what’s new in Android 7.1.2?

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Unfortunately, Sony still continues to ship their phones with a slew of Sony apps and other third-party bloatware like Amazon Shopping and AVG. Other than that, the overall software package is pretty clean, and because the device is running Android Nougat, you are also able to take advantage of Google Assistant right out of the box.

Specifications

 Sony Xperia XZs
Display5.2-inch Triluminos Display IPS LCD
1920 x 1080 resolution
424 ppi
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor
GPUAdreno 530
RAM4 GB
Storage32/64 GB
MicroSDYes, up to 256 GB
CameraRear: 19 MP sensor, f/2.0 aperture, EIS

Front: 13 MP sensor, f/2.0 aperture
ConnectivityWi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth 4.2
GPS + GLONASS
NFC
USB Type-C (USB 3.1)
Battery2,900 mAh
Non-removable
SoftwareAndroid 7.0 Nougat
Dimensions and weight146 x 72 x 8.1 mm
161 g

Gallery

Pricing and final thoughts

So there you have it for this in-depth look at the Sony Xperia XZs! The Xperia XZs and the Xperia XZ that came before it are certainly not bad devices by any stretch of the imagination, but the $700 price point of the former is unfortunately going to be a deal breaker for some.

If you want a real upgrade from the Xperia XZ, you're better off waiting for the XZ Premium

The Xperia XZs is definitely not worth an upgrade from its predecessor, and if you are in the market for a new phone, there are quite a few options out there that undercut the Xperia XZs by several hundred dollars, such as the Moto G5 Plus and the OnePlus 3T. If you want a real upgrade from the Xperia XZ, you are better off waiting for the more powerful Xperia XZ Premium, which will be more worth your money.