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Xperia Z1S deep-dive review: A stylish phone with power and panache

JR Raphael | Jan. 15, 2014
Sony's new Android phone, the Xperia Z1S, combines a distinctive design and premium build with stellar stamina and an underwater-capable camera.

Sony's setup requires you to place icons precisely in a guideline that appears on the screen.

Moving shortcuts out of the app drawer and onto the home screen also requires an extra step, for no apparent reason, and folders have been altered in a way that makes them both more cumbersome to manage and less attractive to view. Most of the system apps have also been given a custom coat of paint to no great effect — a classic example of change for the sake of change.

In the big picture, though, these software sins really aren't that bad. Sony's take on Android is quite usable and far more palatable than the heavy-handed efforts most other manufacturers produce. And the fact that the company sticks with the standard on-screen Android navigation buttons goes a long way in making the phone pleasant to use.

To its credit, Sony has added a couple of potentially useful features into the mix. The Z1S's Recent Apps section, for instance, has a panel full of widgets that can open as movable windows on top of other content. The widgets are fairly limited in functionality, but you can add any regular widget into the list and turn it into a movable window as well.

Sony has also done away with the standalone Android Quick Settings panel and replaced it with a customizable bar of toggles that sits above the main notification panel. The implementation is tasteful in this context, and the ability to customize the toggles is a welcome touch.

The Xperia Z1S does come larded with ample bloatware, some of which can't be easily uninstalled. I had to go into the Android settings and manually disable Lookout, for example, to get it to quit bugging me with annoying ( and unnecessary) security pop-ups.

Sony has bundled plenty of its own content services onto the phone, too — services for purchasing movies, music and apps — which causes some confusing overlap with the more robust Google equivalents already present on the device. The company has preloaded two different PlayStation apps as well: The curiously separated "PlayStation" and "PlayStation Mobile." The apps aren't anything you couldn't manually install onto any other Android device, but they do come with 10 free games here, which is a nice perk.

The Xperia Z1S also comes with a credit for six movie downloads from Sony's store as well as a 60-day trial of the company's music streaming service.

Bottom line
Too many Android phones slap together high-end components but fail to deliver anything new or memorable. Sony's Xperia Z1S is not one of those devices.

At a Glance
$22/month (for a total of $528) over two-year period from T-Mobile
Striking and distinctive design; premium build quality; waterproof; top-notch performance; excellent battery life; exceptional camera that works underwater; microSD slot for expandable storage
Bulky and awkward to hold; display somewhat washed out and with more limited viewing angles than other devices; inconvenient flaps on all ports and slots; ships with dated version of Android and no upgrade guarantee; no wireless charging


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