The new smartphone offers an upgrade in terms of camera functionality and hardware over its predecessor, as "s" devices generally do, but it takes it back a notch in terms of finish and display compared to the Xperia XZ Premium flagship, which sits above it in the Xperia portfolio. We got our hands on it before MWC kicked off to see what it brings to Sony's ever-expanding smartphone portfolio.
Sony Xperia XZs: Design
The Sony Xperia XZs features the same design as the Xperia XZ. It has the company's OmniBalance flat-slabbed finish, along with large bezels at the top and bottom of the display, both of which are typical design distinctions of Xperia smartphones. The XZs also brings with it the same loop design that launched on the XZ though, delivering a slightly curvier finish at the sides and moving away from the squarer look of previous Z devices.
Like the XZ and new XZ Premium, the XZs has USB Type-C at the bottom of the device, a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top and the side-mounted power button with its built-in fingerprint sensor on the right of the device, along with the volume rocker and the camera launcher button. To the left of the XZs is the microSD and SIM slot, covered by a flap for IP65 and IP68 water and dust resistance.
The rear of the XZs is where this device differs from the Premium model launching alongside it. Like its predecessor, the XZs has a separate bottom panel that is a different colour and texture from the rest of the rear, resulting in a finish that isn't as seamless as the XZ Premium model. It also doesn't have the 2.5D curved Corning Gorilla Glass like the Premium model so the finish on the sides of the XZs isn't as smooth as the glossier upgrade, nor as slim, though only by 0.2mm.
The XZs is a little more comfortable in the hand in terms of size compared to the Premium model though, measuring 146 x 72mm and it's also a little lighter at 161g over 195g. It comes in Ice Blue, Warm Silver and Black but we'd choose a colour over black, as we would have done with the Xperia XZ, as they offer much more depth and make the OmniBalance design pop that little bit more.
Sony Xperia XZs: Display
Like Sony Xperia XZ, the XZs has a 5.2-inch Full HD display, adopting the same size and resolution as the now-extinct Z models. Sony has always maintained that Quad HD displays aren't worth the trade off in battery life so when you get to the flagship models, the options are either Full HD or a jump to 4K, like the XZ Premium and Z5 Premium both offer.
The company added HDR to the new XZ Premium model, but there is none of that on the XZs sadly. Instead, Sony has focused on the camera for the XZ upgrade, meaning the display experience will probably be similar to that of the Xperia XZ, unless the Dynamic Contrast Enhancer technology that has been added helps. We felt the XZ display wasn't as impactful as it could have been, delivering when it came to colour and vibrancy but lacking in punch compared to some AMOLED alternatives.
Occasionally software can be responsible for displays not being as great as they should be so we will still reserve judgment on the XZs until we have reviewed it in the real world, but compared to the XZ Premium model, we are expecting it will be a little less exciting.
Sony Xperia XZs: Camera
The Sony Xperia XZs does offer excitement elsewhere however - its camera. Like the Sony Xperia XZ Premium, the XZs features the new memory-stacked camera called Motion Eye on the rear, which has a 19-megapixel resolution and 1.22µm pixels, while the front has a 13-megapixel sensor. The new rear camera is not only said to be five times faster at scanning, but Sony claims it will also offer more clarity thanks to the new G Lens.
The new camera is designed to combine technologies from Sony's Alpha and Cyber-shot cameras in order to try and meet professional camera enthusiasts, as well as those who want to just point and shoot. Like the Xperia XZ, there are manual settings available for those that are happy to play around, but there are automatic settings too.
One of the best things about the new camera is the super slow motion video feature though. It's great fun to use and the results were great too from what we experienced. The new feature allows you to capture video at 960fps, which means that a water balloon bursting or sparking a lighter up has a much more dramatic result than the standard 240fps capture most smartphones offer.
During our demo of the new Xperia XZs, we tested the super slow motion by filming a skateboarder doing tricks with glitter, as well as a cocktail maker playing around with fire and ice. It takes a couple of attempts to figure out what you need to press and when to ensure you capture the best elements of the action but once you've nailed it, the result is very cool. It's definitely a feature we can't wait to test out properly when we come to review this device and the Xperia XZ Premium.
Sony Xperia XZs: Hardware and software
The Sony Xperia XZs features the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chipset, along with 4GB of RAM, which is a slight ramp up in RAM from the Xperia XZ but the same processor. There is 32GB or 64GB of internal storage and as we mentioned previously, the XZs features a microSD slot for further storage expansion up to 256GB.
Like its predecessor, there is a 2900mAh battery on board, along with Sony's Stamina Mode and USB Type-C. We weren't as impressed with Stamina Mode and the battery life on the Xperia XZ as we have been on previous Xperia devices, but hopefully the XZs will have fixed this once again. There wasn't time to test the performance of the Xperia XZs during our briefing but we will of course put it through its paces when we come to review it.
The Xperia XZs will launch on Android Nougat with Sony's software over the top. The company has slowly stripped back the bloatware it offers on top of Android, delivering a cleaner result, though it isn't quite as stripped back as the likes of HTC or even Samsung nowadays. The launcher is pretty nice though, offering sensible options and the apps tray has a nice feature on board too, not only offering search but suggested apps too.
For Sony fans, the software experience will be familiar and although we'd love to see closer to stock Android, things were smooth enough when moving around, as they were with the Xperia XZ.
The Sony Xperia XZs isn't as exciting as the XZ Premium in terms of design or features, but it does bring last year's Xperia XZ up to scratch in terms of Sony's camera offering.
It would have been nice to see a faster processor coupled with the increase in RAM to warrant the "s" in its name a little more, but the new camera makes the Xperia XZs a more appealing alternative to the Xperia XZ and to those after a Sony flagship smartphone without the price tag that will undoubtedly be attached to the XZ Premium.
We think Sony could have done more with the design of the Xperia XZs to make it more seamless like the Xperia Z5, or give it an edge like the XA range, but as an "s" device, it makes improvements over the Xperia XZ and we can't argue with that.