Remember that one scene in X-Men: Days of Future Past where Wolverine and Professor Charles Xavier rescue Magneto from the Pentagon with the help of Quicksilver? Days of Future Past was undeniably a fantastic movie, but, Quicksilver's one-minute super slow-motion -- or rather super-fast -- sequence on the back of Jim Croce's 'time in a bottle' was something else altogether. It was, for the lack of a better word, jaw-dropping. Must have taken some serious gear to pull it off. Must have taken some crazy cool -- and crazy sophisticated -- cameras. Real cameras. Professional cameras. But, what if a smartphone camera could get close? Apparently, it can. Enter Sony's new Xperia XZs.
The Xperia XZs, when you look at it closely, is old wine served in an old bottle with some extra cheese. It's business as usual if you know a thing or two about Sony, a company known to encourage, not, a begin from scratch attitude with regards to any of its flagship titles. Rather, it's a company known largely for iterative flagships. Only, in the case of the Xperia XZs, the extra helping of cheese might just be the best thing to have ever happened to a Sony smartphone in a long, long time. Problem is, just like the Xperia Z5 Premium (with its crazy 4K screen), the Xperia XZs (with its super slo-mo camera), might also just be a little way too ahead of its time.
The Xperia XZs is a pint-sized RX100 IV. Just like the RX100 IV, Sony's Xperia XZs can theoretically shoot slow-motion clips at a mind-boggling 960-frames-per-second. While digital cameras can afford the luxury of protruding lenses, for a smartphone, to accommodate a similar sensor inside is no walk in the park. Even for a company like Sony that has literally spent eons supplying camera sensors to third-party OEMs. For your reference, the slowest slow-mos available in a commercially available phone right now can't exceed 240 fps. Sony's new phone can record videos 4X times slower than the slowest in the trade. It's right at the other end of the spectrum, the Xperia XZs, with no other smartphone coming close. At least, not yet.
The 960 fps slow-motion mode is activated via a dedicated toggle inside the camera app. But if you thought freezing a live-action moment was as simple as pushing a toggle, well, it's not that simple. Rather, it's quite complex. For one, it's going to take some time getting used to, and even when you do get used to it, recording a 960 fps slow-mo the way you imagined would be a hit or miss really. Timing and proper lighting are crucial.
There are two ways in which you can record a super slow-mo with the Xperia XZs. You can either record a regular video interrupted by short spats of slow-mos or a full-scale slow-mo depending on the situation at hand. Since, 9 out of 10 times, your subject would be in some sort of motion (because, that's the whole point of recording a slow-mo) you'll have to be quick to make that decision. While the latter is quite straight-forward, the former would be a little more adventurous.
You begin by pushing the super slow-mo toggle that sits next to the standard video recording toggle. Once enabled, the process begins with a standard recording. You then wait for that perfect moment you want to freeze in time and push the same toggle again. The sensor would then capture a super slow-motion 960 fps video for a period of 0.182 seconds (only because that's all the time it takes to fill up the 128MB DRAM layer of memory) before going standard again. Pushing the toggle once again would capture one more freeze-frame. So on and so forth. The recording -- when played -- would then play as standard video interrupted by 6 seconds of dramatic slow-mo depending on how many you recorded.
The technology that Sony has employed inside the Xperia XZs is fantastic, but, it has its shortcomings. To begin with, you can record super slow-mos at mere 720p -- even as the main camera can record 4K -- and because it's all a game of speed and accuracy, more often than not, focus would be an issue especially when shooting close ups. The farther the subject, the better the focus you would be getting in your videos. As for the video quality, well, a lot of it would depend on the available light. Since the sensor operates at a much higher ISO in super slow-mo, the quality of videos shot goes for a spin. Even more so in tricky and low light.
The Xperia XZs, in addition, can also record steady 120fps videos to which you can manually apply slow-motion effects post processing.
Because well, why not? The Xperia XZs' rear camera -- Motion Eye -- apparently has a knack for moving objects. As soon as you fire up the camera app and should there be some sort of motion in view the phone's sensor is able to predict the same. The sensor then (predictively) captures three random shots of the object in motion before you actually press the shutter key. The focus is on getting the best possible -- blur-free -- result out of the given scenario. Once you've taken the picture, the camera app would show you four different cases of the same photo -- three taken automatically by the sensor and one taken by you -- and you can then chose to keep either all of them or select the best possible outcome.
Just so you know, predictive capture works by default in the Xperia XZs, which means that it is active all the time. The mode, however, springs into action only when it detects motion.
Sony finally exits megapixel race, gives you a camera with larger individual pixelsThe Xperia XZs sports a 19-megapixel camera on the rear -- f/2.0 aperture -- assisted with predictive phase detection and laser autofocus, but no Optical Image Stabilisation. There is EIS for videos though. But, more importantly, for the first time in a long time, Sony has favoured larger individual pixels -- from 1.12um in last year's Xperia XZ up to 1.22um in this year's Xperia XZs -- that should technically increase light sensitivity resulting in better low-light photos. The Xperia XZs is resultantly a better camera phone than its predecessor, the Xperia XZ. But, only marginally.
Photos clicked with the XZs are (still) a mixed bag with mostly well-to-do results in good lighting. The phone is able to hold and retain plausible dynamic range with little or no metering issues like the Xperia XZ before it. Unlike the Xperia XZ, however, the Xperia XZs photos are less susceptible to digital noise even in tricky light. Sony still hasn't been able to better its macro-photography game though.
Low-light is where the Xperia XZs makes a strong case for itself over the Xperia XZ. Low-light photos shot with the phone have more detail and far less noise in comparison. But, does it best the iPhone 7 and the Google Pixel? Not really. But it gets close.
Although the camera on-board the Xperia XZs is pretty quick to focus with passable shutter speed, much like the Xperia XZ (and the Z5), the algorithm on-board is marred by a slight delay in processing and saving pictures after you've clicked them. Even more so during predictive capture. Phones like the Pixel and the iPhone 7 feel faster. And they also give better results overall.
Just like the 13-megapixel front camera in the Xperia XZ, the 13-megapixel front camera in the Xperia XZs also is a boon for selfie lovers. The wide angles lens on-board ensures it can cover a larger area while still managing to retain lots of detail and mostly accurate colours even in tricky light situations.
Almost everything about the Xperia XZs would seem familiar if you take the camera hardware out of the picture. It's because deep inside it's almost the same phone as last year's Xperia XZ.
-- The Xperia XZs comes with a 5.2 Full-HD 1080p display which feels like an AMOLED panel in actual usage, with its near over-saturated colours, high contrast ratio and pleasantly sharp viewing angles. Colours are often not the most accurate, something which is more pronounced when you switch alternatively between Sony's custom user interface and the Chrome browser for instance. Most users wouldn't mind the extra punch though. There's an option to manually correct colour temperature -- which works just fine -- in case you're not impressed.
-- The Xperia XZs is powered by a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor (clocked at 2.15GHz) coupled with 4 gigs of RAM and 64GB of internal memory which is further expandable by up to 256GB via a microSD card slot. The dual-SIM Xperia XZs runs Android 7.1.1 Nougat-based Xperia UI and supports 4G LTE (VoLTE-ready). Sony has, for the better, been able to well optimise the software with the hardware in the phone. It actually feels much faster and more fluid than last year's Marshmallow-based Xperia XZ. It does have a slight tendency to get warm occasionally, and gets a little too hot especially while playing graphical games for longer periods or while recording 4K or streaming 1080p videos. It is also fairly quick to cool down.
-- The Xperia XZs, much like the Xperia XZ, boasts of front-firing stereo speakers which get really loud and punchy with little or no distortion at peak volume. It's again one area where the phone really stands out.
-- Phone calls made with the phone are of excellent quality and we did not encounter any odd call drop issues with our review unit. The phone supports dual-SIM, 4G LTE (VoLTE-ready), USB Type-C (v 2.0) and NFC connectivity options.
-- The Xperia XZs, like the Xperia XZ, is also backed by a 2,900 mAh battery. Battery life is good. In our battery benchmark, we subjected the device to an hour of 1080p video playback, half an hour of GPU-intensive gaming, 45 minutes of basic games, phone calls (to the tune of one hour), some music streaming and YouTube video playback along with web browsing, and we were able to get almost 14 hours out of the device. Not the best, but, no slouch either. Still, Sony could have upped the battery capacity to maybe a 3,000mAh this time round.
-- The Xperia XZs uses intelligent charging to prevent battery decline, according to the company. It learns your charging patterns and adapts to them, resulting in up to twice the battery lifespan, it claims. It also supports Qualcomm's Quick Charge 3.0. It ships with a Quick Charger UCH-12 in the box which is claimed to charge the phone by up to 60 per cent in 45 minutes.
The Xperia XZs, come to think of it, is what last year's Xperia XZ should have been in the first place. Really, it feels like, there's nothing wrong with it. And, so much to love especially its straight out of the future camera hardware. True that it's trial and error, but, you can't deny the fact that it's so much fun. No other smartphone in the world can capture a crazy 960 fps slow-mo video clip right now and probably no other smartphone would ever will.
It's the rest of the world, I am afraid, that Sony would have trouble convincing. On the one side, the Xperia XZs has future-proof camera hardware, on the other it comes with a dated design, a 1080p screen, dated processor and a too small for comfort battery. It may have a good design, a good screen, good all-round performance and good battery life, but, when you have phones like the LG G6, the Samsung Galaxy S8 (and the upcoming iPhone 8) at very similar price point, the good will simply not be good enough.