IRL: Sony Xperia Z1S

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IRL: Sony Xperia Z1S
Welcome to IRL, an ongoing feature where we talk about the gadgets, apps and toys we're using in real life and take a second look at products that already got the formal review treatment.

CES wrapped just two weeks ago, and already, the gadgets announced there are starting to arrive on our review desk. First up, Sony's Xperia Z1S, a modified version of the waterproof Z1 we tested last year, complete with a 20.7-megapixel camera. Only this time, the phone's being sold exclusively on T-Mobile -- at least here in the US, anyway. So how does it stack up? Our own Joseph Volpe spent a week with one to find out.

I'd never been a fan of the Xperia Z's "omnibalance" design; those hard edges and right angles made the phone pretty to behold, but uncomfortable to grip. That is, until I picked up the Xperia Z1S for the first time. The phone carries on that same Sony design sentiment, but with one minor cosmetic addition that has made a world of difference: subtle curves. Yes, that change alone goes a tremendous distance in making this 5-inch device something you'd carry in hand all day. It's even propelled me from being staunchly against the rectangularity of the Z line to being somewhat smitten.

As odd as it is to admit, I am genuinely surprised and delighted every morning when I first lay eyes on the phone -- it's a stunner -- and, yes, that feeling extends to actually using it (more on that in a moment). I guess this is the kando (a Japanese word roughly meaning emotional resonance) CEO Kaz Hirai has been talking about for years, except it's only now starting to hit home. Sure, the concept of forming a bond with your smartphone may seem like an irrational -- if not downright silly -- one, but if you're spending hundreds for new electronics, shouldn't it have the effect of making you smile? To Sony's credit, this one does.

Alright, so we've established the Xperia Z1S is a beautiful thing. It's also a waterproof thing, but I haven't had much opportunity to test that out yet. I mean, sure, I've taken it in the shower with me, well, just because... and it performs without a hitch. But I just don't see myself wanting to plunge into the deep end of a pool or take a dive in the ocean with it in hand. I'd be too worried about losing it to the Atlantic. The truth is that I'll appreciate the Z1S' intense waterproofing should I ever have the misfortune of dropping it in a toilet. Don't judge, we all know someone who's done that.

I did use the Xperia Z1S' 20.7-megapixel camera, but mostly to add dinosaurs and exploding volcanos or swarms of butterflies to my shots using AR Effect, one of Sony's many bundled camera apps. If you're not a child at heart like me, you'll probably want to just stick with Superior Auto mode and not worry about the ISO and aperture. Which is fine since the Xperia Z1S does a great job anticipating settings. But at some point, you're going to play around with the Picture Effects or bokeh-making background defocus apps and be glad you did.

Never once did I find myself chucking the Xperia Z1S to the couch out of frustration. Why should I? It runs on a Snapdragon 800 and has a battery life that lasts well over a day. Which is to say, it runs like butter. No, I actually clung to it and even dabbled with thoughts of making the jump to T-Mobile so I could use it as my daily driver. Turns out, T-Mobile's LTE speeds are pretty good in New York right now, or at least they're better than whatever I get with my current provider. I was able to download an 80-song Spotify playlist to the Xperia Z1S in about a minute. That's impressive.

There's only one blemish on what would otherwise be a pristine experience, and that's the 1080p display. I've whinged on about this in previous Xperia reviews, but it bears repeating here: Sony desperately needs to adopt IPS panels for its smartphones. It's no good trying to watch a show on Netflix at the gym and having to constantly adjust the angle you view the screen so as to avoid washout. This is the crux of Sony's Xperia phone line and I want it to stop. I don't even mind that the Triluminos display doesn't have the exaggerated pop of saturation that AMOLED does. It's refreshing in a way to not be assaulted with color; it's easier on the eyes. But I want to see the same image quality from any angle I hold or view the phone. Is that too much to ask, Sony?

You see, this is the danger of Sony's philosophy, of connecting emotionally with our electronics: you expect perfection. Thing is, people are allowed to have flaws, not gadgets. Warts and all isn't something I'm willing to pay good money for, and because of that, I love the Xperia Z1S a little less than it deserves.

-- Joseph Volpe

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