JR Raphael

Hands on: The first things you notice about Sony's Xperia Z1S

January 08, 2014 1:00 PM EST

Sony Xperia Z1SWatch out, smartphone shoppers: Sony's got a new high-end player in the game.

Sony's Xperia Z1S made its debut at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas this week. The phone is set to launch on T-Mobile two weeks from today, on January 22.

I'll be living with the phone for the next several days and will put together a full review soon. In the meantime, I wanted to share some initial real-world impressions based on my first day with the device.

All right -- ready? Let's do this:

• First things first, the Xperia Z1S has some seriously sleek hardware. Its design is very much in line with Sony's other recent efforts, including the Z1 (the international model upon which the Z1S is based) and the Z Ultra (which was recently turned into a Google Play Edition phone). It's cool to see Sony finding its groove and establishing a distinctive look and feel all its own.

Sony Xperia Z1S• That look and feel is both striking and stylish, visually speaking -- but not exactly warm or comfortable from a tactile perspective. The device is all black, with glass on its front and back and a flat, squared-off shape. Looks awesome, feels awkward. 

• Oh yeah -- the Z1S is also waterproof. Okay, I didn't actually notice that during my first day with the device (I haven't had occasion to take it into the shower just yet), but it's another interesting touch that sets Sony's current crop of smartphones apart.

• One downside to the Z1S's design: It is an absolute smudge and lint magnet. The phone looks downright filthy every time I pull it out of my pocket. Gotta keep a small cloth (or non-pasta-sauce-stained portion of a sleeve) handy with this phone -- that's for damn sure. I guess Teen Vogue was right: Beauty really does take effort.

• Speaking of beauty, the Xperia Z1S's 5-in. 1080p LCD display is plenty easy on the eyes. Sony's got a lot of buzzwords for the screen -- it uses "intelligent Triluminos Display technology powered by X-Reality for mobile picture engine" that "creates a wide palette of rich natural colors reproducing 130% of the natural color gamut and contrast for an immersive viewing experience" (holy hell!) -- but beyond all the marketing mumbo-jumbo, what matters is that the display looks great.

I've been using mainly AMOLED displays lately, so in comparison, colors on the Z1S's panel do look a little dull to my eyes -- but that's a pretty common observation when comparing the two types of technology. I've also noticed that the phone's viewing angles are somewhat limited compared to other devices. But these are fairly nitpicky issues average consumers will never notice, let alone be troubled by; for most general purposes, the Z1S's screen is a stunner.

• No complaints whatsoever on performance thus far. The phone is quick 'n' snappy, just like it should be.

Sony Xperia Z1S UI• I'll get into the software much more in my full review, but for now, I'll say this: At a glance, Sony's take on Android appears to be fairly similar to the stock Google Android setup. The more you use it, though, you more you realize how much the company has tweaked the OS and tried to put its own stamp on the experience.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, of course, and in general, I'm finding I like Sony's UI much more than the heavy-handed efforts most other manufacturers are producing these days. But when it comes to UI modifications, I tend to question why a company did what it did -- whether its changes were made for specific reasons that actually add value to the user experience or whether they're change merely for the sake of change, made misguidedly in the name of "differentiation" (and often thus at the expense of user experience).

Based on my time with the phone so far, I'm starting to fear many of Sony's UI decisions fall into the latter category. But again, it's all relative; in and of itself, the software's pretty decent and actually quite usable. Feature-wise, there are a few interesting additions. And the fact that the phone uses the standard Android on-screen buttons is a definite plus.

Android Power TwitterThere's loads more to talk about with the Xperia Z1S -- the nitty-gritty of the software, the phone's battery life, and of course that impressive-sounding 20.7-megapixel custom Sony camera -- and rest assured: We'll get to all of that soon.

Stay tuned for my full real-world review.

UPDATE: Xperia Z1S deep-dive review: A stylish phone with power and panache