Review by Sunetra Chakravati,10/10/2016 10:02:57 AM
Look and feel
Ease of use
Audio prowess | Flawless fingerprint scanner | Impressive camera, mostly | Bright, beautiful screen
Still not great low light photography | Gets dirty quick | Weird unfinished design elements | Mediocre battery life
I loved the Xperia X though I was in the minority, with spec snobs turning their noses up at it before even powering it on. Using the device was a joy and I was a massive fan of the evolved OmniBalance design but ultimately it was difficult to understand and confusing – Sony insiders told me that the device wasn’t a flagship, but marketing material would lead you to believe differently.
And just when you thought the Z name was dead, Sony throws a curveball and brings it right back - and there’s no doubting the flagship pedigree of the new Sony Xperia XZ.
The familiar glass and metal construction of previous Xperia devices is back, with sharp edges making way for subtle, sexy curves. The Endless Loop design language is familiar of that seen in previous Nokia Lumia designs, and it looks very beautiful. There are some slight quirks, with my demo unit’s 3.5mm headphone jack protruding slightly from its casing, meaning it’s not sitting flush, and there’s weird lips at the top and bottom of the Gorilla Glass that I always seem to catch my fingers on. It looks and feels better than Samsung’s S7 Edge but doesn’t quite hit the design high of the Huawei P9.
The Xperia XZ is available in Forest Blue, Midnight Black and Platinum White. I have the Forest Blue which looks good, although grease and fingerprints will need constantly wiped off the back. The Platinum White is particularly stunning, especially with the ALKALEIDO metal used here. It catches the light spectacularly and the shine has more depth than an Adele piano ballad.
There’s the usual fingerprint scanner lying on the right side of the device, integrated in to the power button – and it’s wonderful. It’s an immeasurable improvement over the scanner seen in the Xperia X and even more accurate than the S7 edge or the Huawei P9. I was just amazed by its ability to pick up my fingerprint quickly through wet skin and chip-shop grease, something every other scanner I’ve used fails to do. It’s one of my favourite placements of a scanner too, sitting on par with the rear facing ones seen in devices from Huawei, Google and LG.
Back on the front of the device we have a Full HD Triluminos display measuring 5.2 inches. Once again Sony proves that you don’t need to go Quad HD to produce a great display. The display is great in bright sunlight and clever Bravia enhancements produce almost AMOLED levels of colour saturation. I’ve been using the Quad HD AMOLED equipped Moto X Force for the last 10 months and there’s not a huge difference in quality here.
Above and below the display are front firing speakers which aren’t overwhelming. I appreciate the inclusion of stereo speakers but they’re out of their depth against those seen on the HTC 10. A colleague commented on the tinny sound and I found volume levels lower than the pound after Brexit.
A press on the power button with your registered finger brings the Sony Xperia XZ to life. The bright display shows Sony’s light skin atop of Android 6.0.1. Sony’s take on Android is clean, with subtle enhancements around the OS which make it useful. I’m a huge fan of the customizable quick settings hidden away in the status bar and the ability to clear all open apps was one I missed while using other Android devices. Sony have promised Android 7.0 for the XZ, and their light and fluffy UX shouldn’t take too long to bake.
Performance is as expected from a 2016 flagship. Qualcomm provides the Snapdragon 820 SoC and Sony have paired it with 3GB of RAM to ensure a zippy experience. The XZ has 50% less RAM than the OnePus 3, a phone costing £210 less, but I found nothing more than the occasional stutter throughout my usage.
Battery life on the XZ isn’t going to blow your socks off, it’s just sufficient. You’ll easily get through a day of medium/heavy usage but as with most modern smartphones, you’re probably going to want to throw a spare charger in your bag. Sony claims to have included fast charging here but I had mixed results. On occasions the bundled quick charger pumped juice in to my phone with an astounding pace but other times it was weak and slow – possibly down to the Qnovo adaptive charging which has been inbuilt in recent Xperia devices. What really sets the XZ apart is the inclusion of Stamina and Ultra Stamina mode which shut off battery intensive features to keep you going for longer. It’s a real life saver during long trips when all I want to do is listen to Ellie Goulding and not use my phone intensively. Word of warning though, it throttles device performance to bare minimal, making for a painful experience.
Sony have always packed loads of top tech from their famed Walkman in their smartphones. There’s the DSEE HX mode which upscales compressed music files to deliver near Hi-Res audio. Listening to Dua Lipa through my Shure SE315’s was punchy and there is definitely a sparkle that I couldn’t hear before. Wired audio is a dream and there’s loads of settings to tinker with, an option you just don’t get with other phones.
There’s a real emphasis on photography capabilities with any Xperia device and the XZ is no different. Sony promised blur free photographs on the Xperia X with predictive hybrid autofocus, which tries to predict your movements and focus accordingly. It returns in the XZ but it’s now backed up with some impressive improvements.
Beneath the 23-megapixel sensor – yes the same one we’ve saw since the Xperia Z5 – there are a trio of dots. One is an LED flash but the other two are way more interesting. First up we have an RGBC-IR sensor which scans the scene and provides lifelike colour in shots, or that’s how it’s supposed to go. I took a snap of a beautiful central London flowerbed and the mix of reds and greens, already gleaming from the beaming sunlight, looked artificially saturated and bright - not natural like Sony claims this sensor is for. 30 seconds later however I found a small statue of Paddington Bear with foliage behind it and the XZ handled it exceptionally. The colours were incredibly lifelike, natural and vivid. The shot itself was packed with detail and it’s up there with the best shots I’ve ever taken on a smartphone.
The other dot – a laser autofocus – allows for super quick focussing no matter the lighting conditions although I find the tech on the XZ is lacking when compared to the Dual Pixel focussing tech on the Samsung S7. Low light is another area that the S7 leads the way and the XZ does nothing spectacular to try push ahead. Aperture size remains smaller than the S7, meaning less light is available for that sensor and my hopes for a good night time snap on the XZ faded as the lighting did.
Overall I found the XZ camera to be confusing but still something I’m really happy to have by my side should I need to take a snap.
In short, yes. It’s the best phone Sony have ever made. The screen is vivid and usable in bright sunlight, the fingerprint scanner is the best I’ve ever used and the camera, although tricky to get right, provides stunning results in the right conditions. Sony might have taken a rare step backwards in the design department but the monolithic slab is solidly constructed and not tacky – like some others in flashy gold or silver.
Sony Xperia XZ specifications
Operating System: Android™ 6.0.1 (Marshmallow)
Dimensions: 146 x 72 x 8.1 mm
Resolution: 1920 x 1280 pixels
Display: 5.2-inch Full HD display with curved glass
Processor: 64-bit octa-core Qualcomm® Snapdragon 820 processor; Adreno 530 GPU; 3GB RAM
Camera: 23-MP rear and 13-MP front cameras. 4K video capture
Memory: 32GB (Single SIM) and 64GB (Dual SIM) variants;
Expandable storage upto 256GB via MicroSD slot
Battery: 2,900 mAh lithium-ion battery
Fingerprint sensor:Yes (home button)
Misc: Qnovo Adaptive Charging and Qualcomm's Quick Charge; Forest Blue, Platinum and Mineral Black colour options; IP65/IP68; Corning® Gorilla® Glass; High-Resolution Audio