Sony Xperia XZ Premium review

MWC 2017 saw the introduction of many 2017 flagship smartphones from manufacturers including Sony. While you might still be pining after the Xperia Z6, you might want to let that go and get to know the new Xperia XZ Premium. 

With less than a year between the launch of the standard Xperia XZ and XZ Premium, there is some debate as to whether it’s a second-generation smartphone or whether it’s just a slightly higher specced version, like the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. Whether you want to call it the second-generation model or not is up to you, but the XZ Premium is the firm’s new flagship smartphone for 2017. 

Price and Availability

The Sony Xperia XZ Premium is available to order from Carphone Warehouse at £649 SIM-free, or on contracts starting at £39 per month following a 2 June 2017 launch. This puts the Xperia XZ Premium in line with other 2017 flagship smartphones including the Samsung Galaxy S8 and the LG G6.

Design and build

The XZ Premium is a bigger version of the XZ with improved specs. Like other Sony smartphones, the XZ Premium boasts a similar ‘Loop Surface’ design which aims to mimic a seamless tube of glass.

It’s not quite as seamless as Sony would have you believe – there’s still a small seam between the display and the body, and between the sides and top of the device – but it’s not big enough to be noticeable most of the time.

The main thing is the very rounded sides that feel comfortable in the palm of our hand, an important factor when discussing a 5.5in smartphone. We’re also big fans of the beveled metal top and bottom, which further adds to the premium look of the smartphone.

As if it makes any difference, the phone is a tiny 0.2mm thinner at 7.9mm but is a fair amount heavier at 195g when compared to the standard XZ - this is mainly due to a larger screen and bigger battery, which might be a trade-off you’re fine with.

The XZ Premium is also IP68 rated like many previous Sony phones, a necessary step to compete with rival water-resistant smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S8 and iPhone 7. Speaking of the iPhone 7, we can confirm that the XZ Premium does include a 3.5mm headphone jack. Hooray!

Sony has decided, quite literally to mirror, the style of the Z5 Premium. Both colour options, Deepsea Black and Luminous Chrome, are highly reflective and can get grubby quite quickly. We think the mirror finish looks absolutely stunning and it helps the smartphone stand out from a sea of metallic smartphones, but only when it’s completely smudge free (and unless you carry a microfiber cloth with you, that won’t be often!).

For those that aren’t a fan of Deepsea Black or Luminous Chrome, Sony has also announced a pink version of the premium smartphone.

Beside the dedicated Camera button on the side of the XZ Premium is the power button. It’s slightly dented in compared to the rest of the edge of the smartphone, making it easy to locate by touch, and hides a secret: a fingerprint scanner. That’s right, you’ll unlock your smartphone at the same time as you turn on the display. It’s quick and accurate, although the setup of the fingerprint scanner was a little bit fiddley for our liking.

Specs and Hardware

So, now we know that the Sony Xperia XZ Premium is a gorgeous high-end smartphone, what does it offer under the hood? Let’s start with the display.

Display

One of the main features the XZ Premium borrows from the Z5 Premium is the large 5.5in screen with a 4K resolution. That means the device is bigger than the standard XZ, but is a worthy trade in our opinion. The 4K display is gorgeous: it’s bright, vibrant (thanks to Sony’s triluminos technology) and has an eye-melting pixel density of 807ppi, providing incredible detail unmatched by most other high-end smartphones – and that’s not all either.

The Sony Xperia XZ Premium supports 4K HDR like many modern TVs and lends technology from Sony’s own Bravia range. Sony says HDR provides better colour, contrast and detail, something that we can vouch for after spending time with the smartphone. However, there’s a catch: you can only take advantage of HDR with selected titles on Amazon Prime Video like The Grand Tour and The Man in the High Castle.

If anything, we found the Xperia XZ Premium’s display to be a little too over the top at times due to the intense colours displayed, although that’s more of a personal issue and Sony does provide different display options for those that prefer something a little more subtle.

Battery life and connectivity

Despite rumours of Qualcomm’s latest chip being reserved for the Samsung Galaxy S8, Sony has put it inside the Xperia XZ Premium alongside 4GB of RAM and an Adreno 540 GPU. The Snapdragon 835 uses a 10nm process and offers better performance and battery life when compared to the previous generation – and it provides a noticeable difference.

The XZ Premium is extremely responsive in use; there’s no lag when opening and switching between apps, playing power-hungry games and accessing the camera. In fact, even when we tried our best to make the smartphone lag, it wasn’t possible.

There’s also noticeable improvements to battery life, as the XZ Premium lasted all day with standard use during our testing, including tasks like talking on the phone, texting, browsing social media, playing games and taking photos.

The built-in battery estimates suggest the non-removable 3230mAh battery should last around 2-3 days on a single charge, and while that wasn’t the case, it can quite easily break the 24-hour barrier.

It’s good to see 64GB of storage as standard on the XZ Premium, and Sony continues to offer a Micro-SD card slot so you can add up to 256GB of additional storage.

Plenty of specs from its predecessor remain including the fingerprint scanner built into the home button on the side of the smartphone, USB-C (now v3.1), NFC and Bluetooth 4.2.

Performance and benchmark results

According to our Geekbench 4 benchmark results, performance is very much the same as that of the Galaxy S8, which isn't entirely surprising as they both use the same chipset.

In fact, the Xperia scored a little higher in both the multi-core component (6475 vs 6106) and in the single-core test (1923 vs 1915), although the difference in performance is so small that it wouldn’t be noticeable for most. Generally speaking, the Xperia XZ is one of the most powerful smartphones on the market at the moment – at least according to benchmarks.

Along with Geekbench 4, we also ran a series of GFXBench tests to test the graphical power of the smartphone. Rather impressively, it seems the Xperia XZ Premium is also marginally better in this department than the Galaxy S8. It scored higher not only in Car Chase (25fps vs 21fps) but Manhattan 3.1 too (42fps vs 40fps), and matched the 60fps of T-Rex.

Last but not least, we ran JetStream, a benchmark that tests the speed of the smartphone’s built-in browser. In the case of the Sony Xperia XZ, that’s Google Chrome. It managed a respectable 62.8, beating the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus at 56.5, although it can't compete with the iPhone 7 Plus's 168.7.

Cameras and photography

It’s the camera that Sony is really pushing here, aside from the gorgeous 4K HDR screen. The resolution has dropped to 19Mp, but the firm has some interesting innovations here in what it calls the ‘Motion Eye’ camera that generally produces incredibly detailed images and videos, although it does have its strengths and weaknesses.

You might be surprised that even though the resolution has dropped, pixels are 19 percent larger compared to the standard XZ. This means that low-light photography on the XZ Premium is improved compared to the standard model, although we found that images taken in dark environments (like at sunset) looked noisy in places. The overall image quality isn’t bad, but it struggles to capture the finer details in low light.

Where the Xperia XZ Premium’s camera does perform is with regards to its dynamic range. As you can see from the below photo, the XZ Premium can easily pick up details in the shadows of the bag, as well as the areas lit by bright sunlight, without being over- or under-exposed.

It’s a similar story with macro photography – the XZ Premium can produce great macro shots with perfect focus thanks to predictive phase detection and laser autofocus. Take a look at the below image of a daisy chain; the flowers are sharp and detailed, and you can even make out the pink specs on some of the petals. The hardware-enabled bokeh effect provides clean lines that help define fore- and background.

Another handy feature of the XZ Premium is predictive capture. Essentially, the smartphone can detect motion and takes up to four photos before you’ve even hit the shutter button – perfect for group shots and photos taken of fast-moving objects.

It doesn’t always get triggered, but we’ve found it to be extremely helpful when it does. Simply tap and hold the display to swipe between the different shots, choose your favourite and discard the rest to save precious storage.

Oh, and the XZ Premium also features a dedicated camera button that performs in a similar way to that of a digital camera. This means that you can half-press the button to focus before taking the photo, providing a more natural and comfortable photo-taking experience than most other 2017 flagships.

Of course, the flagship feature of the XZ Premium’s camera is its’ slow-mo capabilities.

The XZ Premium is the world’s first phone to offer super slow motion video at a whopping 960fps. Although the effect is pretty spectacular, it’s not like with the iPhone 7 where you record the whole video at a high frame rate and select the period of slow-mo afterwards. That is an option, but the slo-mo video will be capped at 120fps, half of what is possible on the iPhone 7.  

In fact, the XZ Premium can only record at 960fps for around a second and has to be triggered by an on-screen, so timing it right is extremely difficult and we failed to get it ‘right’ on more than one occasion.

As you can see from the below video sample, there’s a noticeable change in the quality of the video when shooting in slow-mo, as videos are noisy even when shot in perfect lighting conditions. It’s technically impressive and we’re sure that some people will get full use out of it, but we think it’s a bit of a gimmick.

Aside from the ability to shoot in slow-mo, the Xperia XZ Premium offers the ability to shoot in 1080p at either 30- or 60fps, and 4K at 30fps. Oddly, Sony decided against offering the 4K recording option alongside the 1080p and 720p options in the Video mode of the Camera app, and instead made it its own 'mode' alongside AR filters, meaning some users may not be aware of the capability. While we're not sure why it's hidden away, but at least you can view back your 4K videos at native 4K right?

The front camera remains at 13Mp with an f/2 aperture and 22mm wide-angle lens for great selfie shots and video calls. Images taken are crisp, clear and surprisingly detailed for a front-facing camera.

There’s not much in the way of distortion around the edges of the camera either, a concern when opting for a wide-angle lens. Like many other Android smartphones, it also has a built-in beauty filter that helps improve the look of your face by removing blemishes, wrinkles and other imperfections.

Software and Apps

The Sony Xperia XZ Premium ships with Android 7.1.1 Nougat, although it’s not a vanilla implementation – it features Sony’s own UI, something featured on a fraction of Android smartphones compared to those that launched a few years ago. However, unlike many of the other Android UIs, we’re a fan of the tweaks and features that Sony has brought to the OS.

First up is Lifelog – it’s an app that can measure almost everything about your day-to-day life, from how long you spend walking and travelling to how long you spend using WhatsApp or Snapchat every day. It may have limited use for some, but it’s an easy way to get an overview of your habits and could help you cut down on unhelpful hobbies (like gaming) and concentrate more on exercising.

There’s also the addition of PS4 Remote Play, an app exclusive to Sony smartphones. With the PS4 Remote Play app, users can game on their PS4s from anywhere with a decent internet connection. You can connect a DualShock 4 controller to the smartphone using Bluetooth, or you can use the optional on-screen controls (although it’s not recommended for hardcore gaming sessions!).

There are a range of other, smaller changes to Android that die-hard users will pick up on, while some are immediately noticeable. The app launcher scrolls horizontally instead of vertically, which admittedly did take some getting used to.

Sony Xperia XZ Premium: Specs

  • 5.5in 4K HDR Triluminous display
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor
  • 4GB RAM
  • 64GB storage, expandable via Micro-SD
  • USB-C
  • Bluetooth 4.2
  • NFC
  • Dual-band 11ac Wi-Fi
  • 3230 mAh battery
  • 19Mp Motion Eye rear-facing camera
  • 13Mp front-facing camera
  • Android 7.0 Nougat
  • 7.9mm
  • 195g
  • IP68
  • 5.5in 4K HDR Triluminous display
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor
  • 4GB RAM
  • 64GB storage, expandable via Micro-SD
  • USB-C
  • Bluetooth 4.2
  • NFC
  • Dual-band 11ac Wi-Fi
  • 3230 mAh battery
  • 19Mp Motion Eye rear-facing camera
  • 13Mp front-facing camera
  • Android 7.0 Nougat
  • 7.9mm
  • 195g
  • IP68

SHOULD I BUY SONY XPERIA XZ PREMIUM?

The Sony Xperia XZ Premium is a stunning smartphone, both in terms of design and performance. The mirror-like look isn’t for everyone due to the appearance of smudges, but it helps provide an elegant, high-end look.

The 4K HDR display is one-of-a-kind, bright and vibrant, and shows off snaps taken by the impressive Motion Eye camera perfectly. The camera itself can handle almost anything you can throw at it, although performance does slip in low-lit conditions and the super slow-mo video mode takes some practice.

If you’re looking for a gorgeous high-end smartphone with a huge focus on display and cameras with above average battery life, the Sony Xperia XZ Premium is a solid option.

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