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You Probably Won’t Buy Sony’s Amazing Waterproof Phone

Posted on Feb 5, 2014

By Peter Z. Scheer


There are only two phone brands of any consequence in America: Apple and Samsung. This has a lot to do with marketing, and also buyer loyalty. It’s a shame, since there are plenty of compelling devices that offer good reasons not to buy either an iPhone or a Galaxy S4. Yet for whatever reason, consumers have met genuine innovation with disinterest.

The best, most recent example is the Moto X. This is a phone produced with the combined genius of Motorola and Google and just about every reviewer gushes over it. Sales have been disappointing, and Google is trying to unload Motorola Mobility at a great financial loss.

Likewise, HTC continues to lose money, despite catching eyes with the HTC One, a phone that rivals the iPhone for build quality and exceeds its retina display with a brilliant screen that is almost addictive to look at.

One exception to this rule may be Google, which makes its own Nexus line of phones and tablets. The latest phone, the Nexus 5, is selling well, Google claims. But not too well, the company must hope, since it doesn’t want to upset its hardware partners that make phones using Google’s Android operating system. This is probably another reason why Google wants to sell Motorola. The company makes Nexus phones for developers and to prod other Android manufacturers in a particular direction, and it sells them cheap, but it’s intentionally not a blockbuster business.


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Enter Sony. The once-indomitable pioneer of portable electronics is actually selling phones around the world, no small achievement since dissolving its partnership with Swedish communications firm Ericsson produced initially meager results. Now Sony wants in on the lucrative U.S. market, which is utterly dominated by just two companies. To get there, it has brought out a new American version of its international flagship Xperia Z1, which until now was available in the United States only unlocked and at high cost. Called the Z1S, the device is essentially the same, but you can get it only on T-Mobile and it has a plastic belt around the sides instead of aluminum.

That said, the Z1S feels like a quality product in the hand, and it keeps the hallmark features that make it a potential game-changer. Those are a waterproofing treatment that works fully submerged in the shallow end of a pool, and a 20.7 megapixel camera. There are numerous features besides—too many, in fact—but more on that later.

First, let’s talk about size. If the iPhone is too small (and it is), then the Xperia Z1S is too big. It’s a giant, with a thick bezel around the screen and a heft that makes flipping it around in the hand something of a wrist-sprainer. It will squeeze into the pocket on men’s jeans, but only just, and pulling it in and out requires some extra physical maneuvering. In Sony’s defense, this is entirely in keeping with phone trends, with devices getting larger and larger. Also, Sony announced a new compact edition of the Z1, with all the same benefits and a better screen, to boot, but there’s no word as of this posting on when, if ever, that device will come to these shores. Thanks to that compact version, however, we know that the Z1S’ girth is not the cost of waterproofing.

Some people love big phones, particularly because of their big and brilliant screens. Those people will be disappointed in the Z1S, which has a terrible display when compared with the competition. It’s simply weird, since one of Sony’s talking points is that it has brought all of its display know-how from making wonderful televisions to bear on the phone. It has rather the opposite of the desired effect, and I am now wondering whether Sony makes wonderful televisions at all.

Those defects aside, you have to respect a phone that can literally take a bath. Why do we need waterproof phones? Two scenarios leap to mind. Inclement weather is an obvious one. For those living in places where it rains or snows with any frequency, the Xperia Z1S is a godsend. It even has a sensitive enough screen to be used with regular gloves on (no need to buy special texting mittens). This is without any ruggedization, the gross rubber bulk that used to accompany all-weather devices. There are flaps around the charging, SD card and SIM ports, but the audio jack is open, accessible and also waterproof. For about $20 on Amazon, you can buy a charging cradle and never have to worry about prying open the charging flap, if that minor inconvenience troubles you.

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