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Sony Xperia XZs review: A new milestone in smartphone photography
It was in December 2016 when Sony introduced the first Xperia XZ smartphone in the Indian market. Marking a shift from the company's well-known but struggling Xperia Z series, the smartphone offered the last year's flagship Snapdragon 820 chipset, minor upgrades in design over the company's well crafted product portfolio, a gorgeous 1080p display and the capable 23MP rear camera. It was priced at Rs, 52,000 and proved to be a competent Android flagship smartphone.
- Capable camera
- Super Slow motion video support
- Premium and Durable design
- Gorgeous 1080p screen
- Battery performance could have been better
- Super slow motion video capturing process can be clumsy
Fast forward to 2017 (April), the company has introduced a new handset n the series- the Xperia XZs, or we can also call it the same smartphone with a newly designed first-of-its kind mobile phone camera.
The Xperia XZs is powered by the same Snapdragon 820 CPU, features an identical 1080p screen, premium design, and is backed by a similar 2,900 mAh battery unit. What really has changed is the rear camera that can now record 'Super Slow Motion' videos at a staggering 960 fps, which no other flagship handset can achieve; not even the bezel-less Samsung Galaxy S8 or Apple's flagship iPhones.
This brings us to the question- Should you really spend half a lakh on Sony's latest Xperia handset, which brings upgrades on the imaging part and memory optimization? We try to answer this with our review of Xperia XZs.
The 19MP Motion-Eye camera is a delight
Known for its camera technology, Sony has designed the Xperia XZs to be an imaging-wonder for photography enthusiasts, especially for those who love to experiment with mobile cameras. The 19MP Motion Eye camera is the first snapper with memory stacked image sensor. What this means is that the camera sensor has its own set of memory to capture and scan imaging data and it does not have to wait for the chipset to perform the job for it.
This gives the 19MP camera an ability to read the image resolution with 5x faster speed than the other smartphones to minimize distortion while capturing moving objects. Besides, the stacked memory also allows the camera to save images at a faster rate.
The 19MP rear shooter also features Sony's predictive hybrid autofocus technology with phase detection autofocus, which can sense a fast-motion and captures four shots even before you press the shutter button.
What truly differentiates the Xperia XZs in terms of photography is the fact that it packs in first mobile camera that can shoot super slow motion videos at a staggering 960 fps. The super slow motion videos are recorded in 720p resolution and run in standard fps until you press the toggle button to start recording in 960fps.
It is worth mentioning that the results are best when you capture the slow-motion videos in ample lighting, otherwise the noise can ruin the output. And while the super slow motion videos look amazing, the entire process to get the desired shot is quite cumbersome.
The Xperia XZs only captures a six second video in super slow motion for which you have to take extra care of the on-screen camera controls. Make sure you press the toggle button at the right moment to slow the time for that perfect moment.
Talking about the still images, I found the camera to be quite effective in capturing moving objects, thanks to Sony's predictive hybrid autofocus technology. It might not be 100% effective and the camera might occasionally fail to activate the mode, but it works for most of the times while you try to capture something interesting. It worked seven out of 10 times with my Xperia XZs review unit.
The 19MP rear sensor uses the same f/2.0 aperture, a mild disappointment at this price but it still gets the job done. The downsized megapixel count (from Sony's standard 23MP to 19MP) results in better low-light images, as the camera utilizes Sony's IMX400 Exmor RS sensor with 19% increase in pixels size.
The results are pleasing and the low-light images captured by Xperia XZs look decent, especially when you use a tripod. However, it is worth mentioning that the noise reduction algorithm is not very effective and it mostly makes the image look quite artificial, especially in cases when you are shooting sky or have other soft backgrounds. I recommend using the manual mode with a tripod if you are shooting landscaped in low-light.
In favorable lighting conditions, the pictures captured by Xperia XZs have plenty of sharpness and detailing. The colour reproduction is vibrant, natural and camera offers great dynamic range. The camera can also record 4K videos with accurate colors and good contrast, which look amazingly crisp on the 1080p screen.
The camera does not support optical image stabilization, but you get Sony's SteadyShot with Intelligent Active that offers 5-axis image stabilization to maintain the video quality.
For selfies, Sony Xperia XZs has a 13MP front camera with a 22mm wide angle lens, ISO 6400 and f/2.0 aperture that is also quite impressive. The selfies captured by the camera in day-light looks super crisp on the 1080p screen.
Coming on to the camera interface, it mostly works on swipes without any performance issues. The default mode, i.e. Superior Auto will be in action for most of the part with resolution set at 17MP and aspect ratio- 16:9. You can also set it to the maximum mark of 19MP, but that reduces the aspect ratio to 4:3.
As far as modes and filters are concerned, you get panorama, sound photo, 4K video recording, AR effects offering a variety of interesting modes and a total of 19 filters to play with. Last but not the least, the manual mode is also provided in the package to tweak ISO, exposure, white balance and shutter speed.
To sum up all, the Sony Xperia XZs does a great job for what it's been designed for. The 19MP Motion Eye camera is certainly built to please the shutterbugs.
Design: It's compact, durable but the same Xperia we have seen before
The latest Xperia XZs brings nothing exceptional in terms of design. And when I say nothing exceptional, it means that there's no major change in design when you compare it to the previous Xperia XZ or even with Sony's Xperia Z series handsets. In general, the smartphone is by far the best looking Xperia handset I have seen and ticks all the right boxes.
While it maintains the Sony's traditional Xperia range design elements, the smartphone has been given a sleeker look and more defined edges when compared to previous Xperia handsets. The flagship smartphone is made out of stainless steel and features a matte finish at the back that feels good in hands and also offers a good grip. However, it easily picks up smudges in everyday usage.
The matte Black variant simply looks stunning. I really liked the fact that the Xperia XZs is quite compact and can be used with one hand without any problems. Sony calls it a loop surface design that makes the handset quite ergonomic in everyday usage.
The right side of the smartphone has the volume rockers and power button that also integrates a fingerprint sensor. Sony's signature dedicated two-stage camera hardware button is also provided on the right side, which comes quite handy during photography. The SIM card tray is positioned on the left side.
Another highlight about the design of Sony Xperia XZs is the IP65/68 water and dust certification. The handset can easily withstand accidental water spills, thus allowing users to shoot in non-favorable weather conditions.
Display: Gorgeous 1080p display with Corning Gorilla Glass protection
Comparing the 5.2-inch full HD screen of Xperia XZs with its predecessor will only make me say that Sony hasn't improved on the display quality. However, I honestly have no complains on display part of Xperia XZs. Powered by Sony's Bravia engine, the 5.2-inch 1080p screen is just brilliant and offers best-in-class touch response. It's vibrant, offers amazing touch response and makes everything look detailed and crisp with a pixel density of 424ppi.
The colour tones and contrast is handled by Sony's Bravia Mobile Engine and X-Reality, which we have seen previously in a number of Xperia devices. The colours pop out well and the viewing angles are also good. The 5.2-inch full HD display also gets Corning Gorilla Glass protection.
Hardware: The last year's flagship CPU seems aged but performs without any issues
This is the part where things seem twisted. With a price tag of a flagship handset, Sony Xperia draws its power from the Snapdragon 820 processor, which is now two generations old. It is paired with 4GB of RAM to take care of multitasking. The smartphone is available in 64GB variant and the internal memory can be expanded by up to 256GB via microSD card.
In real-life usage, as far as the performance doesn't suffer, it's not that a big deal. Having said that, the smartphone can handle everything with an ease and is no less than any other flagship smartphone running on the latest chips from Qualcomm.
I did not face any major issues on the handset while performing everyday tasks that involves browsing, photo editing, camera usage, social networking apps, etc. Xperia XZs also handled heavy games quite well.
There were no frame drops during gameplay of Marvel Contest of Champions and Asphalt 8. The smartphone also handles heating effect very well during strenuous tasks.
Audio Quality: Xperia XZs offers the best-in-class audio experience on a mobile phone
If I am ever buying a smartphone for audio, it has to be Sony Xperia XZs or even the previous Xperia XZ. First of all, the output through the front-facing speakers is really clean. It's not very loud but the clarity is really appreciable. If you are really into immersive audio through headphones, then you will simply love the Xperia XZs.
Sony's ClearAudio+ that determines the best audio quality settings depending on the track you're listening to is quite effective. Next in the list is Sony's proprietary DSEE HX, which transforms the audio quality of compressed files to near Hi-Res audio. Basically it restores high-range sound and theoretically works only for wired headphones. However I found some good results even with wireless headphones.
Last but not the least, the audio settings also offer Dynamic normaliser, which basically moderates the volume level to minimize differences in their recording levels. It's a nifty feature in case you download audio files from multiple sources.
Software and Connectivity
Sony Xperia XZs runs on Android 7.1.1 Nougat with Sony's Xperia UI on top of it. The user interface is standard Sony with pre-loaded signature apps such as Sony Lounge, Movie maker, Sony Liv, etc. You also get Xperia Actions, which is basically the next gen version of Xperia tips to provide weather, place and time based suggestions to simplify daily life scenarios.
The Android Nougat ran quite smoothly and I did not notice any lags or performance issues with the software on Xperia XZs. Besides, the feature rich Sony's multimedia apps, the functional app drawer and nifty tweaks throughout the user interface enhances the user experience on Xperia XZs.
Battery: If only there was a bigger battery
If there's anything that I really want Sony to include in their upcoming handsets is a bigger battery unit. As for Xperia XZs, the smartphone is backed by the same 2,900mAh battery unit that supplied power to Xperia XZ and even the Xperia Z5. On a single charge, the battery can last for a day, depending upon your usage pattern. It also supports QuickCharge 3.0 that usually recharges 35-40% power in over 30 minutes.
While the battery's firepower seems to be on a lower side, Sony is claiming that the optimized power management mode makes the handset deliver a two-day battery life on a single charge.
In my case, it only lasted for a day on a single charge without switching on the Sony's stamina battery saving modes- Regular and Ultra saving modes, which basically narrow down the performance and smartphone user experience. However they can actually work in case of emergency when you don't have a power source to recharge the battery.
I am a heavy user of camera and music and a bigger battery would have made a big difference in the overall usage of Xperia XZs.
Sony has once again delivered a great product in the form of Xperia XZs. The improvements might seem minor upon comparing the handset with the previous Xperia XZ; however Xperia XZs is very consistent and is a good overall performer.
It does come at a hefty price tag but the payback is certain, especially the super slow motion videos support, which is the first for a mobile device. You can say that the Xperia XZs is not a true flagship, but that's only on papers as the real-life performance is no less than any flagship smartphone currently selling in the market.
And in case you are really drooling over the latest breed of bezel-less handsets and want to try the new 18:9 screen aspect ratio, then you can explore the recently launched flagships from Samsung and LG. They are selling at somewhat higher price tag than the Xperia XZs, which is priced at Rs. 49,990 in the Indian market.