Sony Xperia Z1S

Sony and T-Mobile have paired to bring another great phone to the U.S. market

Sony was firing on all cylinders last week at CES, and one of its most impressive new products already is available here in the United States. Meet the Xperia Z1s, the North American answer to Sony’s Xperia Z1 flagship and T-Mobile’s exclusive follow up to last summer’s Xperia Z. It’s available now online (coming to stores next Monday) for $22 per month or $528 outright.

We’ve spent the past few days with the device and before we break it down piece by piece in a full in-depth review,  a few of our first impressions can be found after the break.

First and foremost, the release of the Z1s marks another exclusive collaboration between T-Mobile and Sony, which is quickly shaping up to be one of the most exciting relationships in the mobile industry today. This feels like very much like a Motorola-Verizon moment --  Sony, who has found minor success overseas in its smartphone division, has thus far had a difficult time breaking into the North American market. Stymied by competition from more populist brands like Samsung, LG and HTC, Sony has had a difficult time proving that its extensive know-how in the tech world could translate to first-class smartphone experience.

The Z1s, like the Xperia Z before it, changes that in a big way.

In my full review of the Xperia Z, I noted that its release was a turning point for Sony, proving that the company was no longer content watching the American smartphone wars from the sidelines. With some of the best hardware on the market, the Xperia Z was Sony’s first smartphone here in the US that had the ingredients to draw its fair share of attention. With the Z1S, Sony has followed up in a big way, and T-Mobile has managed to once again snag an exclusive that’s bold, exciting, and unlike its competition in the most refreshing way.

On the hardware side of things, the Xperia Z1s is as unique as it is beautiful with sharp corners, a boxy footprint, and a sleek plastic and glass chassis. The design is wholly Sony, and while the Z1s is a bit more plasticky than the rest of the company’s flagship lineup, it still manages to make competition like LG’s G2 and Samsung’s Galaxy S4 seem downright flimsy. If I had to compare apples and oranges, I’d put the Xperia Z1s alongside the HTC One – not because it shares the One’s metal design, but because Sony, like HTC before it, opted for a design that’s premium, daring, and unlike any other smartphone on the market today. And, like the Xperia Z before it, the Z1s is completely waterproof -- not splash proof, mind you, but whole-heartedly, drop-it-in-the-toilet waterproof. 

The display is almost perfect. At full 1080p resolution with Sony’s Bravia mobile engine, it’s as sharp and crystal clear as I’ve ever seen on a smartphone. It’s super bright too, even at 75 or 50% brightness. Its viewing angles are terrible, though, which is a common problem that plagues Sony’s devices. There's also a noticeably large bezel here that adds a sense of style to the Z1s, though some will undoubtedly (and rightfully) find it obtrusive.

The Xperia Z1s is fast. Super fast, even, thanks to a 2.2 GHz Snapdragon 800 processor and 2 GB of RAM.  It’s also long-lasting thanks to a whopping 3,000 mAh battery. This thing should have no problem getting you through your day.

The Xperia Z1s is still running Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, but updating it to 4.4. KitKat is already on Sony’s to-do list. It’s also running Sony’s custom UI that takes some getting used to but is most certainly worth the learning curve. It’s got some super cool features for both productivity and play – things like the hovering quick apps, Sony’s answer to LG’s QSlide, and the included Playstation, Walkman, and Sony Movie Store apps prove that Sony is furthering its own brand while not losing sight of what’s coming out of its competitors' labs. We’ll be diving into Sony’s UI more in depth in out full review.

The feature I’ve spent the most time with in the past few days is the Xperia Z1s’ camera, which may shape up to be one of the finest on the market today. Not only does it pack 20.7 megapixels, but it uses Sony’s G Lens and advanced optics to produce vibrant, detailed images. It performs well in just about every lighting condition, and it’s got a grab bag of features, like Sony’s background defocus app, that are capable of producing some pretty striking results.

Xperia Z1S Xperia Z1S

 Xperia Z1S Xperia Z1S

We’re pretty smitten with the Z1s and we cannot wait to pick it apart in the coming days and weeks. But what we know for sure right now is this: both Sony and T-Mobile are at exciting points in their evolution, and the Xperia Z1s proves that their partnership is capable of shaking up the status quo in the US smartphone market. The Z1s is a refreshing alternative to the cookie cutters it shares the shelf with, and with T-Mobile's star on the rise, this just might be what Sony needs to push it over the edge.