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.


Reader comments

Sony Xperia Z1s first impressions


Question, when you say it is more "plasticy" than the rest of their flagships...

...what are you talking about? The Z1? I was under the assumption they shared the same chassis minus the moving of the headphone jack.

The real question should be..

Is the bootloader unlockable??

The T-Mobile Sony Xperia Z had a locked bootloader from the start and I've been looking forward to them learning from that and coming with another Sony waterproof phone.

Does anyone know the answer to this questioN?

Most likely it will be locked. You will have to buy a Z1 direct from Sony for it to be unlockable. I don't even know if Sony will be selling the Z1s full price and unlocked on their site.

As of right now, the answer is no, you cant buy it outright and unlocked on Sony's site, just with a T-Mobile "contract" and their payment plan. Guess I'll be waiting till the 22nd to buy outright in a store, where i can try it out for myself first.

Maybe I'd consider buying it if Sony didn't have bad history with upgrading their phones. My friends are stuck on 4.1 with their Xperia S, even though it was official AOSP phone once. I'll pass.

The plastic he is talking about is the chrome band around the perimeter. T-Mobile asked Sony to change the already metal banding to a chrome plastic for signal issues. Many people were complaining over issues with GPS and radio signal problems with the metal banding, after changing it to plastic chrome signal issues are no more. You can not even tell. Any time you have a metal band around a phone there is always a possibility of antenna problems. One other major improvement the Z1S has over the Z1 is internal storage. The Z1S comes stock with 32gb of int storage and sd-card support up to 64gb. I think that is a major improvement. Never have enough internal storage. I will never buy a new phone with anything less than 32gb of int storage. Thank You Sony and T-Mobile.

Odd, I don't have any signal issues with my Z1, and that's something I've paid close attention to since the Nexus 5 failed me in that regard.

Yes, the extra 16GB internal storage is nice, but I've a MicroSD so I really don't care.

My Nexus 5 on Sprint has better LTE signal strength than my Note II. My only signal complaint is not strength but the fact that it takes forever to connect to a faster network when it's avoidable. I have to toggle airplane mode.

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My wife doesn't have signal issues either but in areas that T-Mobile isn't that good my note 2 gets better signal than the z. Maybe that's why T-Mobile asked them to change the design. I'm looking forward to holding it in the store and comparing it to the z.

Posted via Android Central App

It seems like so many of the blogs/videos etc... have been tearing the Z1s apart. Most of the reviews I've read so far seem to say it's nice but not as nice as the other options on the store shelves.

So which is it? Is it really sub par to devices like the G2, Nexus 5, Note 3, Moto X etc?

The screen and software concern me most. That screen protector bothers me. Once it is ruined or off, there is no coating to avoid fingerprints on the glass.. How scratch resistant is the glass after that happens? The washed out look seems odd. Poor viewing angles.

Then there is Sony's customizations to android which seem .. Crappy?

Other than that it seems awesome. I'm actually trying to decide right now between the Nexus 5 and the Xperia Z1s.

It is proving to be a note difficult choice than I thought.

Posted via Android Central App

Of the devices you mentioned the build quality, camera, and screen on the Z1(s) blows them all out of the water. The only camera of the bunch that really comes close quality wise is the LG G2. Value wise for off contract pricing is a given with the Nexus 5. The only real gripe that is mention in the article that is true is the viewing angles of the screen is pretty horrendous. And as for the built on screen protector coming off/getting ruined you can always put an invisible shield of something of the like on top of it, a lot of people end up taking off the Sony one anyway and potentially voiding their warrantee.

I wish they had incorporated IPS tech as well. Viewing angles have improved on the Z1 over the Z and ZL from early last year, but it still isn't good.

Interestingly, the Z1 Compact does have IPS and the viewing angles are amazing, but it also has the same other great qualities of the Sony displays. Even more baffling as to why IPS wasn't included on the Z1 or Z1s.

That is the funniest post I have read all day.

The camera is better on the Note 3. THe screens are better on both the Note and the G2. The skin is better on the G2 and the Note 3 (not by that wide a margin there though). The Nexus 5 is behind in screen, battery, camera and Skin.

I have yet to hold a Z1s, just like most of the commentators here, so YMMV. The Z1, while not bad, pales to the Note 3 and G2.

Yeah the thing about opinions are like assholes everyone has one. I personally can't stand AMOLED screens so yeah I think the color reproduction and what not is better on the Z1, much more accurate in my opinion even to the "mighty" Note 3. The G2 does have a slight edge in quality screen because you can actually view it off axis and doesn't get washed out like on the Z1. And yes the HTC One screen is still pretty awesome. Note 3 camera is definitely not better than the Z1 especially with the 4.3 update on the Z1

LOL I have owned all three, and the Z1 feels like a premium phone compared to the others. Nexus should not even be mentioned with premium phones.

Just get a nexus 5. I really don't like the Sony bloatware and skin, and for people like me, going to googles android version is better.

Posted via Android Central App

I probably missed it. But what's the screen size? I guess same as the Z1.

Posted via Android Central App on Note 3

Why? Viewing angles matter, and if you've never used a Sony device you don't understand how much bad viewing angles can hurt the usage of a phone.

I think they're aware, but continue to look in the other direction and keep boasting about the "Triluminous" and "Xreality" display tech that they try to market to people. Reviewers have slammed Sony for their crappy display viewing angles over and over again, and have told Sony directly. I think Sony has to know at some level, and just aren't doing anything about it except for on the Z1 Compact now.

I use a Sony device and it's quite fine. There is a drop of brightness when you get too off-center, but it is nowhere near as crippling as you make it sound. It is somewhat narrow, but for a phone, it's quite adequate.

It's a phone, not a TV. Aside from that, Tone and color saturation at a "natural" viewing angle puts to shame many of the screens you reviewers tend to "worship" because of the tech involved or just because the image can be viewed at an angle at which no one uses his device anyway.

You guys should be pestering about the use of a plastic film instead of Gorilla glass to help shatter-proofing. That is a lot more annoying to a user -The film scratches easy.... As for those with a concern about removing it, my phone is almost 10 months old, and I took out the film on day 1, and the glass is still practically mint, with onkly a few very minor and superficial scratches one has to really look for if he want to see them.

I loved my xperia z and my wife loves her z also. Only reason I sold it and got a Note 2 was because I missed my Note 2I had with Sprint. I missed the spen and bigger screen. And although the z is 1080p I liked the Note 2 screen better. But overall the z was a very fast and smooth working phone with cool features and I loved the waterproof feature. I just don't understand people dissing the phone or saying how bad it is by comparing it with other phones that they don't have or being able to compare it by having the z1s themselves. That is why reviews assist in my decision to get a phone but my final decision is actually using the phone.
Only time will tell how this phone does. I'm looking forward to trying out out and seeing how it compares to the z. At 528 with no money down this phone is at a great price. The z still sells for over $300 so there are still plenty of Xperia fans out there.

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In that one always views the display when using a smartphone, less than current IPS (in plane switching) display technology seems like a critical oversight for an otherwise outstanding handset.

I played around with a friends new Z1 the other night and not once did I notice a viewing problem with the PHONE.

...frig it's not a TV!

I've handled the Z in the T-Mobile store and had no issues with the viewing angles. Are people doing Cirque Du Solei moves while checking their texts? Guess I don't understand this gripe.

Good question. If it is that will definitely be a good reason to get it. I just got 39mbps on my aging Note 2 and I would love to see a wideband phone's speedtest.

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I agree with the viewing angles being something silly to gripe about. It's a phone, not a TV. When do you view your phone screen off to the side and not straight on?

As far as the hardware goes, I love it. It's the software that turns me off. I hope to see a Google play edition of it. For now, I'm holding G on to my Google play edition One. It's working amazingly well on kitkat.

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That's another reason I sold my Xperia z. Locked bootloader and not that much in development. If the z1s is unlocked and less bloatware it would be a great deal. Plus the great battery and waterproof feature makes it decent. Yes the nexus 5 is nice and I would love it too but the battery life should be better.

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Just got my z1s delivered today. Man the display on this phone is very bad compared to note 3, htc one, Nexus 5 and any other device out there. It looks so washed out especially the whites, otherwise phone looks decent.

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How did you get it so fast? How bad is it? The AC review says the screen is great.......

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I have the Note 3 with the Galaxy Gear. Love the Note, IMO it is the best phone made to date, that S-Pen is so valuable to me as a builder. I use it so much every day for so many things I can not go without it now.
Being a T-Mobile customer (very happy customer with sick speeds) I think I'm going to grab the Z1S, never had a Sony device but this phone is one good looking device with sick specs and a great camera. The added int storage should be stock for all top of the line phones, anything less is just ridiculous. Throw in the sd-card support and it has it all.

Ahhh I would've definitely tried this out. Literally just ordered a Nexus 5 on Friday. I have never owned a Sony phone before, but this would've been cool

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Man, it's tempting. I think with the longer battery life, slightly bigger screen, and less bezel, I'd prefer the G2. But that price is great.

Another thing that really turns me off is Sony itself. Not a good history of customer relations, particularly with the PS3/linux problem and the CD rootkits they were distributing.

I'm hoping the lower price will drive down other phones' prices, though.

It wont drive down the price of other phones
1. Nexus 5 is $396 from t-mo
2. Sony is just not a big name in mobile world so demand is not there for it

Sony mobile comes from Sony-Ericsson and they have some very attitudes towards customers. Unless the carriers demands it out it's easy to get your boot loader unlocked.
I am very pleased with my Xperia Z Ultra, whose bootloader I unlocked the same day I got it, using a code that I got off Sony mobile website.

I think the viewing angle can be very important, or just an occasional annoyance.

I followed tv tech for a few years. I understand just a little about the advantages of IPS.

I realized lately I spend a lot of time with my Samsung GS2 and now Note 3 rested horizontally about 6 inches ahead of me on a high table say in a coffee house.

In TV's IPS improves or negates loss of colour / resolution at horizontal angles.

I view my phone at a low vertical angle so I don't know how Sony's screens would affect me there.

I like the brand and would consider one. I like the Note 3 screen, size and Touchwiz but little else.

Posted via Android Central App on Note 3

I've had the Z1 here in the UK for a few months now. Before any of you consider buying it you should ensure they've sorted out the awful touchscreen issues.

Google: xperia z1 touch screen problems

There's a thread on their forum with 278 posts in 3 months and ZERO response from Sony. This is a common fault - likely hardware. I won't be buying Sony again on the support basis alone.

First the viewing angle thing is a crock. The whole Samsung GS4 ad campaign was people seeing you use your phone and then asking about it. I don't want anyone looking over my shoulder trying to see what I'm watching. If you do, then the oversaturated and overly bright colors of other phones will be perfect for you. But if you want accurate color reproduction, then get the Sony.

Secondly, complaining to Sony to give wider viewing angles is a waste of time. The main screen complaint of the various Xperia Z's ascend Sony LED LCD tv's is the viewing angles. But the next sentence in most reviews is how great the color reproduction is and how great the black levels are.

Lastly, just go to your nearest Sony or T-Mobile store are see the phones for yourself. You will not be disappointed.

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Just hate Sony their stupid shatter proof sheet on the glass which isn't scratch proof at all and when you remove it the Sony logo comes off with it. There's never any oleophobic coating on their screens either so they end up a smudgy mess. Their screens are pretty poor, their own cameras are of poor quality compared to Samsung who also use a Sony sensor but use better image processing. When will Sony learn?? Every time I have one of their handsets it's as buggy as hell too. The phone is larger than it should be with massive bezels and last of all they are not doing well in North America due to stupid carrier policy. They use select carriers which restricts their sales. Sony=crap do not buy

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All seem like valid points to me. They shun the US and then throw us a tiny bone on a device already released globally to a single carrier in the US and tell us how awesome they are.

I read in the news today that the Z2 is getting ready to be released.

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Thanks for the reminders. Everything you said, I felt when I was using the Z. I had forgotten about that and was about to order the Z1s.

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"Sony logo comes off with it"

Who cares... It doesn't make the phone any less good...

"Every time I have one of their handsets it's as buggy as hell"

I have not encountered any significant glitch since I've owned mine. All the problems I'm seeing are user and app related.

"with massive bezels"

On top and bottom, where it doesn't hamper handling. I'll take a few extra millimeters in exchange for power. I wouldn't even mind if it was 30% thicker and heavier to boot, if it yielded 30% more juice.

"They use select carriers which restricts their sales"

You've got that wrong. American carriers shied away from Sony after they've they had multiple flops. They started with Ericsson's legacy of flops, then Sony created another round of flops, with a run of flimsy phones with gimmicky slide-out PSx game pads.

Sony is a corporation; They avoid anything to "restrict their sales", and specially not scarcity. If they could flood the market, they would. Exclusivity contracts are a way to secure financing for production runs by setting a "floor order", for which payment is guaranteed.

Even for big companies, financing and re-tooling a production facility for manufacturing these devices is extremely expensive, notwithstanding the "cheapness" of the labor.

Exclusivity contracts make financing easier and cheaper by lowering the risk to the manufacturer, as the carrier assumes part of the financial risk too.

Pre-installed non-removable screen protectors are indeed the worst. One of the biggest issues Sony needs to address.

Posted via Android Central App

Will the T-Mobile Z1s work on AT&T 4G/LTE?

Also, how is the sound? Does it sound good or terrible? Not headphones... I mean like external speakers with video etc...

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If the speakers on the phone matter to you get a HTC One. Nothing beats boomsound period. I'm also awaiting to see if it supports AT&T LTE bands. I believe it does

As for viewing angles. With Sony it's worse than normal because you only have to tilt the screen 1 mm and it washes out. Useless. Sony Mobile is run by morons who are stuck in 1980's and 90's tech era that's seen better days.

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Washes out if it's moved 1 mm?? Over exaggerate much?

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"tilt the screen 1 mm and it washes out"

Quite a statement... Incidentally it proves your lack of credibility. There's about 30° play before ill effect take hold. More than enough for anyone to see what's going on without any problems.

Bashing won't change that fact.

The reviews are all over the place with the Z1s. Check out the Gizmodo one.

Posted via Android Central App

So if the Z1s isn't the top choice for Android on T-Mobile, what is? I'm leaning towards the Nexus 5 at this point. The G2 software looks like a hot mess to me.. Overdone.

The Moto X seems awesome but for the money it is just under spec'd. I don't care how you look at the efficiency of the slower older hardware.

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I like the G2 software. Kind of feels like a custom ROM. If you don't like something turn it off. It has a theme chooser built in. I rooted and ran xposed so I have even more options. I have the G2 options but an almost stock look.

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Just got mine today and think the display is gorgeous. Yes it fades quickly at angle but it is unbelievably gorgeous when viewed head on.

It's very fast, and I'm liking the touches Sony's UI brings. I'm also happy with the first few photos I've taken. So far a happy thumbs up.

Posted via Android Central App

That it's only selling on T-Mobile is a fail in my book. For Sony to really make an impact in the North American market, they need to offer it to all carriers, as Samsung, HTC, and even LG did.

Posted via the awesomest of awesome Android Central App on my Nexus 5

Gotta start somewhere and you can always unlock it and use it on AT&T

Posted from my G2 running android 4.4 via Android Central App

You think HTC and LG release their phones to all carriers? They make planty of exclusives like LG Nitro, HTC Sensation, HTC Amaze, etc. Yes they can be unlocked though.

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Being sold on T-Mobile does not mean shit about the quality of the device. I use to be a Nexus nut, wouldn't buy anything unless it was a nexus, no more, I prefer a phone with more internal storage, sd-card support, quality camera etc. Nexus stopped making quality Hardware a long time ago. Only thing it has is updates. Any one can hack the latest software if you need it that bad. As of late most top manufacturers are doing great at updates. After Jellybean the updates are very hard to tell for one to another.
I have the Note 3 because of these facts. Going to keep my Note 3 for that S-Pen. IMO the Note 3 is the best device to date. I also like the Sony Z1S, I think it is a top quality device with all the great specs. If the biggest complaint is viewing the screen from the side than big freaken deal, I don't look at my phone from the side. I also seen a great accessory for the Z1S, there is a magnetic charging cord that can be used where the phone connects to it's dock. There are several to be had, get the one with the strongest magnet.

Although I disagree with what he said I don't think he implied anywhere that the quality of the phone was bad because it was a T-Mo exclusive

My previous query as to whether a screen with bad horizontal viewing angles would have bad vertical viewing angles when laid forward on a table to read - -

was quite dumb on reflection.

A pixel is a pixel. An LED screen cut to size will be the same any which way.

I'm out!

Posted via Android Central App on Note 3

I lay my Z down on the table in front of me to read every day during lunches or when I am doing testing and have to type, wait, type, wait ...

I will be getting the Z1s on Monday. The viewing angle issues are not really an issue for me in any usual circumstance.

I also don't mind the factory installed screen protector. I have been carrying my cell phones in my shirt pocket since the late 90s and a belt clip has never worked for me. Too fat.

Putting any somewhat fragile device in pants pockets seems silly to me. In my teens I used to smoke. I can imagine these same folks carrying soft pack cigarettes in the front pockets and complaining about how keys and coins damage their smokes. :)

Of course, I come from an era where pocket protectors and slide rules were the norm.

I have the z1 and can't fault it. I used to have an iPhone 4s and have never looked back to apple. This phone im sure will sell well and I don't get what people say about viewing angles. After all you mainly look at your screen head on so to speak and they have been great with their software updates since its release. So the haters are going to hate the others won't :-)

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Stop it the iPhone camera is way way better I have the z1 and I use android. Not like I'm a iPhone guy. Note 3 Lumia 1020 Lumia 1520 my old htc butterfly takes better pics than my z1.

LOL you're on crack. The Lumia 1020 is the only phone with a better camera than the Z1.
Top 3 camera phones
1. Lumia 1020
2. Z1/Z1s/Z1 micro
3. G2
I have the G2 and I'm quite happy with it(camera wise anyway)

Love when Sony guy said this is the best camera yada yada. I have the z1 and pics are no good I mean as a camera phone forget it. Pics looks grainy and not clear crisp. The only cool thing is that I jump in my pool with it. Btw when is in wide angle pic mode picture resolution is set to 8 mpx there is no auto mode at 20 mp Just at manual no hdr at auto it's a mess front camera fuzzy anyway

Then you are either a horrible photographer or have a bad unit.

There is plenty of proof online that shows you are wrong.

Posted via Android Central App

Regardless of all the hate I'm still really looking forward to a hands on for myself, as I'm still very interested

Posted via Android Central App

I don't get the issue with the viewing angles, that complaint reeks of isheep mentality(all the cool kids complain so I'm going to regardless of it's validity)... I have the xperia z and yes, if I'm viewing from an angle it washes out... But all I can say is... "really?" when are you ever going to need huge viewing angles?

Sony has no excuse for not using a high end IPS panel in their flagship phone.

It would be like Chevy putting painted steel rims with hubcaps on the Corvette Stingray.

Yeah, it works, but its not acceptable.

A large bezel adds a sense of style? No. Just no. I see a slim bezel like the G2's and it makes the device look...beautiful, but a wide bezel just makes it look a cheap, low-budget tablet.

Posted via my Honestly TerrifiC One

I wonder if it still has those easily scratched unremovable plastic covers on the screen and the back :/. That was the only reason I didn't pulled the trigger on a z1.

No Qi charing.
I'm out.
That is now a deal breaker for me with wireless charginf pads where I need them. I don't miss the cord.

I just compared the Z1 and Z1s on GsmArena and it seems to be the exact same thing. Maybe the frame might be plastic etc. But the specs inside is the same thing. Why is it called a Z1S instead?

But I hope more people buy this phone and develop more ROMs. I moved from Nexus to the Z1 and miss vanilla ROM. Dayum.

Thanks for sharing the review and really I appreciate your work. Really Sony is done great all its latest devices are out of the box, however I have already bought Sony Xperia Z from Prepaymania last month itself and since than I'm in love with this device. Still I'm looking forward for other devices by Sony, Once again thanks for sharing.

Hi! I need help with my Xperia Z. I went to take a glance at my phone to see if there was a notification. There was, i checked and the phone said my SD card was unexpectedly removed and right then i suspected something happened because my SD card was still in my phone! I tried turning the phone off then on and now the SD card will not mount... Help please?

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