Update: check out our video review of the Sony Xperia Z1S, complete with underwater photography demo.
When the Sony Xperia Z1S landed on my desk, I started hoping that Sony would finally have a hit on its hands. At least, a hit in the sense that it would be a serious consideration for Android buyers who are considering a Moto X, Nexus 5 or Galaxy S4.
Unfortunately, Sony's Xperia line has failed to grab customer attention in a big way, unlike what Samsung and HTC have been doing with their phones. A big part of that, of course, is greater availability from those companies and their accompanying marketing budgets.
Now that we're talking about the new Xperia Z1S, let's take a birds-eye look at what the device is before diving in.
First, there is Sony's design, which is almost unmistakably Sony. I mean that in the sense that it's usually easy to distinguish some Android handsets from others based purely on physical design. The Xperia Z1S seems classically Sony, which is great.
From the shape to the trim and accents, the Z1S doesn't look like a cookie-cutter Android handset clad all in black or dark gray plastic.
Once you get past that initial design, you'll find yourself in Android 4.3 Jelly Bean with Sony's custom UI over it. While the UI is very much part of the Xperia Z1S's experience, it's not bloated or slow like Samsung's TouchWiz UI.
In fact, I didn't mind Sony's UI at all, and found it more pleasant to use compared to what Samsung and LG offer on their devices.
After considering the design and software as a single package, there are other details that make me really like this phone, too. The 20MP camera is a nice touch, and so is the fact that it's waterproof down to 1.5 meters for up to 30 minutes. That is actually a big deal since so many phones are rendered useless every year due to water damage.
Moreover, the Xperia Z1S packs a 3,000 mAh battery for all-day use. What more could we ask for?
The Sony Xperia Z1S measures 5.74 x 2.91 x 0.34 inches, though it has a 5-inch 1920 x 1080 HD display. This leaves a lot of room above and below the display, unlike other Android handsets that have near edge-to-edge displays.
However, we're willing to forgive that extra bit of space for now because of the large, 3,000 mAh battery.
We do like the glass front and back with the metal accents along the edges, giving it a very classy design reminiscent of Sony's other products.
The front of the device has a 2MP camera capable of recording 1080p video at 30 FPS. The rear camera is a 20MP unit with what Sony claims is the biggest sensor on any smartphone right now, including the Nokia Lumia 1020, which has a 41MP sensor.
The base of the phone has a large speaker grille for the speaker, and it's also where the microphone is housed. Beside that, to the lower-right corner, is a hole that goes through the device for attaching lanyards.
Considering the size of the speaker grill, I was surprised to find that it wasn't very loud at all. During calls, it was hard to hear the person on the other end of the line, and music wasn't much better, either. Perhaps it's because of the waterproof sealing. If that's the case, it's a tradeoff I'm willing to take.
The right edge of the phone has the power, volume and camera buttons. The power button is quite small, and can sometimes be hard to press by feel, but after several days it becomes easier to get used to. You'll also find the SIM card slot on the same edge, where the device takes micro-SIM cards.
To the left edge there is a slot door covering the micro-USB port, and another door covering a microSD card. The Xperia Z1S will support up to 64GB microSD cards, which is excellent. The same edge also has a connector for docking.
While I've never been a fan of putting doors over slots and ports, it does help clean up the design a bit, and I suspect it also helps making the phone waterproof.
The top edge of the phone is clean except the 3.5mm headset jack, which does not have a door or cover to it.
Over to the back of the device is a 20MP camera with LED flash, another microphone perhaps for recording and for noise cancellation, an NFC logo, Xperia logo and T-Mobile logo. It sounds like a lot of clutter, but Sony and T-Mobile managed to make it all very subtle.
The last thing I want to mention about the design for now is that the device is waterproof. I can't stress enough how great this is because of how many devices succumb to water damage every year.
The Xperia Z1S, in our testing, was able to remain completely submerged in a bowl of water with the display on. It wasn't responsive to touch inputs, but was working just fine when removed from the water and toweled off.
If the incredible specs and nice design weren't enough to sway you in considering this phone, the fact that it's waterproof just might.