LAS VEGAS — Sony made something of a splash last year with the waterproof Xperia Z, the company's first big time phone since dropping the Ericsson brand. Now Sony is going deeper (in more ways than one) with the Xperia Z1S smartphone that it announced Monday at the Consumer Electronics Show. My first look vibe on the new device is very positive, with the caveat that I haven't had a chance to test out the battery, one of the things Sony got dinged for with last year's model.
Like its predecessor, Sony's latest flagship phone is waterproof, now down to a depth (in fresh water) of 4.9 feet for up to a half hour. The older model was rated at 3 feet. And with a physical camera key, you can capture stills and videos of the fishes you see while you're submerged.
OK, so I wasn't able to swim with the fishes, but I did take the phone in the shower, with no ill effects.
In fact, I was able to navigate the 5-inch Full HD touch-screen while in the warm water, at least when the drops and splashes on the screen let me see what I was doing. Sony says the phone incorporates wet-finger tracking technology to ensure that it behaves when either the screen or your fingers are wet.
You will have to make sure the USB and microSD connectors are properly sealed, but you don't have to worry about the exposed headphone jack because it is protected with an inner seal.
The design sticks to recent Sony conventions: an attractive solidly built black slab that at 5.71 ounces is a bit on the hefty side. This feels like a premium phone all the way, even if the display itself struck me as a tad washed out.
Inside is a state-of-the-art Qualcomm quad-core processor — some felt the processor on the older model was underpowered. You can expand the 32GB of supplied memory by adding an optional microSD card.
While the phone grabs your attention for being waterproof, it boasts a number of cool camera tricks. One that I like is called "background refocus" — an effect borrowed, Sony says, from DSLRs that enable you to focus on an object of a scene while blurring the background.
Another called "Info-eye" lets you search for information about whatever it is you are shooting. When I took a picture of a wine bottle label, for example, the phone searched for and brought up a rating for the wine along with suggested foods that might nicely complement what you are drinking.
Shoot a business card and the captured information can be saved to directly to your contacts. The phone can also search for data on the landmarks, books, QR codes, bar codes and text that you shoot.
I suspect your kids will appreciate the funny or goofy AR (augmented reality) virtual characters you can add to a scene — surrounding a playful picture of Junior with dinosaurs or butterflies, for example.
As with other smartphones, the Sony camera has a burst feature, which in this case can capture 61 images in two seconds (and capture an image a second before or after you press the shutter).
You can also broadcast what's happening via Facebook using the "Social live" feature within the camera.
The phone has a 20.7-megapixel camera and 8X digital zoom.
Sony includes a built-in companion app for the PlayStation 4 console — so you can use the Xperia for a "second-screen" experience with supported games.
For now the Xperia runs Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean) rather than the latest KitKat version. An upgrade will presumably happen at some point.
The device will be sold by T-Mobile, Sony's exclusive U.S. partner. T-Mobile is taking pre-orders on Jan. 13. You can get it with nothing down, and 24 equal monthly device payments of $22. It hits stores on Jan. 22.
Judging on my first impression, it will definitely be worth considering.
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