Sony Xperia XZ full review
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Announced during IFA 2016 in Berlin, Sony’s Xperia XZ is the latest flagship smartphone to enter the 2016 market, boasting impressive tech, especially in the camera department - but how does it compare to the likes of Samsung’s Galaxy S7, or the HTC 10? Here's our Sony Xperia XZ review. See also: Best phone 2016.
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Sony's range of smartphone is quite possibly more confusing than ever, but it's partly because it's in a transition period. It's leaving the flagship Z range behind – as well as the other letters such as E, M and C – in favour of the new X line which will cover all sizes and budgets.
With no numbers in use, it's hard to tell where X handsets sit in the range. For example, there's the XA, X Compact, regular X and X Performance. It's not overly clear from the names what kind of phone you're getting. What we do know for sure is that the XZ is the new flagship phone, notable by the inclusion of the letter Z and Sony's 'our new crown jewel' description.
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Sony Xperia XZ review: Price
Following its reveal at IFA 2016 last month, the Xperia XZ is now available to buy in the UK and if you head to Sony's official store you'll find the Xperia XZ price is £549. However, you can get it for a little cheaper - £539 – at retailers including Amazon, Carphone Warehouse and Clove.
That said, there are more affordable options in the Android world including Samsung's Galaxy S7, the LG G5 and the HTC 10. These rival flagships are all 2016 models but have dropped in price after being on the market for a few months.
You might also want to consider the older Xperia Z5 which is the XZ's predecessor in a way. This is available for under £400 and offers similar specs.
Sony Xperia XZ review: Design and build
The Sony Xperia XZ is a nice-looking smartphone, if a little samey; Sony smartphones seem to follow a similar angular design aesthetic, which is great if you like the design, but not so much if it doesn't please your eye.
The XZ houses a 5.2in display encased in a metal body which is notably curvier than with previous Xperia smartphones. Sony calls this Loop Surface, and is designed to make the phone appear seamless whilst making it more comfortable to hold at the same time. Although you can definitely see lines where materials meet (the small strip at the bottom on the rear seems unnecessary), the phone does feel nicer in the hand compared to the Xperia Z5.
It’s a bit of a shame to see that Sony hasn't done much to cut down on the bezels here so the Xperia XZ is quite big for a phone with a 5.2in screen. It's mainly at the top and bottom where there's a lot of nothing, although we appreciate that it does offer front facing stereo speakers.
The rear of the Xperia XZ is made from a high purity 'alkaleido' metal, which provides the smartphone with a rather unique and shiny finish - albeit a slippery one, so be aware. While the shimmer is generally understated, when the back catches the light it lights up with a gorgeous hue, and we’re a fan of all three variants - Forest Blue, Mineral Black and Platinum, with Forest Blue winning our top pick. It’s nice to see a company veer away from the standard silver, grey and gold variants.
It's hard not to compare the new device with the Z5 which is both thinner and lighter (7.3mm and 154g). Sadly, the XZ is 8.1mm and 161g so it's not the most slender of flagships.
Although most of the other recent X series phones from Sony don't have the waterproofing the firm is known for, the Xperia XZ does. We're glad Sony has decided to keep this feature for the flagship model, especially with Apple adding it to the iPhone 7. It's IP68 rated so can be fully submerged in up to 1.5m of water for up to 30 minutes. Despite the rating, Sony's small print says not to put it completely under water and not to expose it to the sea, salt water, chlorinated water or drinks.
Sony Xperia XZ review: Features and spec
Although the Xperia XZ comes a year on from the Z5, much of the spec sheet is similar to the older device.
For starters, the screen is still 5.2in and Full HD which is no different to the 2014 Xperia Z2. It seems strange that Sony has made a 4K smartphone but not jumped to Quad HD. While the screen is perfectly good (extremely bright, crisp and vibrant), it's just nothing to get excited about – the resolution does have an advantage when it comes to battery life, though. We would have liked to see a similar edge-to-edge feature as seen on the Xperia XA which costs less than half the price.
When it comes to the engine room, it's good to see the high-end Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor running the show. However, things remain at 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, though, which is the same since the Xperia Z3+.
If 32GB isn’t enough for all your mobile needs (and to be honest, with the XZ camera we wouldn’t be surprised) you’ll be happy to know that you can extend the storage by a whopping 256GB via the Micro-SD card slot.
Much of this is adequate, expected even, from a high-end smartphone but is it enough to get consumers' blood pumping?
We'd like a Quad HD screen and more RAM but there are some things on a phone which really don't need changing. The fingerprint scanner, innovatively hidden within the power button, is one of those things and we're glad it's stuck around – it's easily one of the best. Specs such as dual-band 11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS and NFC are all pretty standard now. The latter is on the front of the phone now instead of the back.
As with previous phones, Sony is a good choice for music lovers and not just because of the decent Walkman app. iPhone 7 haters will be pleased to hear there is a headphone jack and the XZ supports 24-bit/192kHz audio playback, an LDAC and has front facing stereo speakers.
Following the general trend, Sony has opted for the new reversible USB-C port for the XZ. It features a 2900mAh battery with 'Qnovo Adaptive Charging' technology, which Sony claims will help to extend the battery life of the smartphone, and fast charging.
As mentioned earlier, the Full HD screen means that the phone doesn't use as much power than some rivals. We've not got a battery benchmark at the moment as the one we were using has been removed from Geekbench 4. In real life, though, the Xperia XZ is a top-notch performer in this area and most users will get a couple of days from it without using Stamina mode.
he Xperia XZ is arguably all about the cameras – an area where the firm likes to stand out. Sony is well known for fitting advanced camera tech into its flagship phones and the Xperia ZX is no different.
On the surface, it's the same as the Xperia Z5 with a 23Mp sensor, f/2.0 aperture, 24mm lens, phase detection autofocus and an LED flash. We also love that Sony continues to offer a dedicated camera/shutter button on the side, but what's new here is a triple image sensing technology.
The technology is comprised of three sensors - an imaging sensor for movement, a laser autofocus sensor for measuring distance and an RGBC-IR sensor for accurate colour reproduction. It might not be a huge upgrade from the Z5 but these sensors help to take accurate, in-focus shots extremely quickly, which we can vouch for during our time with the smartphone.
Once again the quality is very high indeed, but It's worth noting that the camera will shoot in 8Mp 16:9 by default so you'll need to head into the setting if you want the full 23Mp at 4:3. You can see the difference below - click to view full size.
As you'd expect from a flagship smartphone, the XZ can shoot 4K video at 30fps but there's no optical image stabilisation which is a shame. A bigger upgrade is found at the front with a 13Mp camera which benefits from a 22mm wide-angle lens.
Sony Xperia XZ review: Software and apps
In terms of software, the Sony Xperia XZ runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow, which is slightly surprising considering that Android N has been recently released. While we know the XZ will get the 7.0 Nougat Android update, we don't know exactly when.
Along with other Android manufacturers, the software interface is closer to stock Android than before, although you get Sony's widgets and apps – most of which we think are valuable additions.
The lack of customisation means you get a Nexus-like experience with the notification menu and recent apps displayed as Google has designed them. It's nice that you can rearrange the quick settings and Google Now is a swipe away from the main home screen which is also beneficial.
Sony has made a few tweaks though, including its own lockscreen, settings menu and an extra panel in the app draw for suggested and recommended apps. As with previous Xperia phones, PlayStation users can benefit from PS Remote Play which allows you to play games from the console on the phone.
There are quite a few pre-installed apps like Facebook, Spotify, Lookout and Amazon Shopping, but you can uninstall these – along with some of Sony's such as Xperia Lounge, Lifelog and Playstation – if you wish.
New features include Xperia Tips provides 'non-intrusive, contextual tips to enhance your experience' and while this will be useful for beginners we found them a bit annoying. The XZ also has a 'smart cleaner' which, like the Nextbit Robin, will deactivate apps you don't use.
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Sony Xperia XZ: Specs
- 5.2in Full HD triluminous display
- Bluetooth 4.2
- Snapdragon 820 processor
- 3GB RAM
- 32GB storage, expandable by up to 256GB via Micro-SD
- 2900 mAh battery
- 23Mp rear-facing camera
- 13Mp front-facing camera
- Android 6.0 Marshmallow