Sony Xperia XZ Review: Sony’s latest 2016 flagship phone is a beast, packing a sexed-up camera with new low-light features inside a sleek, water-resistant body. But is the Xperia XZ a serious rival for the Galaxy S7, OnePlus 3 and other awesome Androids? Here’s our full review.
So far in 2016, Sony’s smartphones have been rather restrained. The likes of the Xperia X didn’t boast the very latest processor tech, while trimming back other typical Sony features like water resistance. And while rivals such as the Galaxy S7 and HTC 10 boast super-sharp Quad HD screens, Sony stuck with a Full HD panel on its higher-end smartphones.
The idea is to give consumers what they most wanted: a sh*t-hot camera, decent battery life and so on, while trimming the fat to save on cost.
However, the new Xperia XZ flagship sees Sony back in premium mobile territory. You get an updated camera with some clever optical image stabilisation, a powerful Snapdragon processor, full water resistance and the usual awesome Sony features. But is the Xperia XZ a worthy purchase, over tough competition from other 2016 flagships?
Read next: Xperia XZ vs the world: Comparisons with the best phones of 2016
Sony Xperia XZ Review: Design
While the Xperia X and Xperia XA were 5-inch handsets, Sony has bumped the Xperia XZ up to a full 5.2-inches. And while it’s not quite as palm-filling as the likes of the mighty OnePlus 3, the Xperia XZ almost sports the same dimensions as the 5.5-inch Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge. That means you’ll likely struggle to use it one-handed.
As long as that doesn’t bug you, there’s plenty to love about the look and feel of the latest Xperia. Once again it’s unmistakably a Sony phone, with an unapologetic rectangular design that’s made comfortable to handle thanks to the rounded edging.
Sony has used a new Alkaleido metallic material for the Xperia XZ, which to be honest doesn’t feel any different to the metal finish of previous Sony phones. The matte surfacing looks neat and sleek and hides scuffs well, although our review sample did pick up some tiny scratches during our week of use. You might want to invest in a case to keep it looking pristine.
Sony’s trademark water resistance makes a welcome return, so you can once again check your Tweets in the shower, with no ill effects.
You slip your SIM card and memory card into a mini tray on the left edge of the phone, which is sealed up with a pull-out flap. No pokey pin devices necessary. Over on the other edge you get a power button which doubles as a fingerprint sensor, slightly indented to the surface. Beneath that is a volume rocker and physical shutter button. On the bottom edge you have the charging port, while up top you’ll find the headphone jack.
Overall it’s a tidy little design that might not smash any of Sony’s trends, but certainly ticks the ‘ooh, looks nice’ box.
Take a closer look at the Xperia XZ’s design in our Xperia XZ unboxing.
Sony Xperia XZ Review: Screen and media
Like previous Sony flagships, the Xperia XZ crams in a good-sized 5.2-inch Full HD screen. If you’ve owned any other recent Sony mobiles like the Xperia Z5, you’ll know what to expect. You might not get super-sharp Quad HD visuals, like you do on the Galaxy S7 or HTC 10, but photos and video still looks pleasingly crisp; good luck picking out any individual pixels.
By default, Sony’s X-Reality image enhancement is activated which helps to artificially sharpen and clean up any visuals. However, you can also switch to the Super Vivid mode at any time, which makes for punchy colour reproduction. In this mode, the Xperia XZ rivals Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and the OnePlus 3 for in-your-face, super-rich hues.
Sadly there’s no quick-access ‘night mode’ like you get on rivals such as the iPhone 7 and OnePlus 3. On those phones, a tap of this feature filters blue light to produce warmer, easier-on-the-eye images. The Xperia XZ allows you to mess around with white balance, but it’s more of a ballache to get the desired effect.
When it comes to audio quality, however, the Xperia XZ once again excels. You get built-in audio boost features which can bring compressed tracks to life, as well as the usual support for Hi-Res music tracks. And when paired with a good pair of headphones, you’ll enjoy some really kick-arse tunes.
If you want to carry around a massive media collection, then good news. The built-in 32 or 64GB of storage space can be quickly and easily expanded using a microSD memory card.
Sony Xperia XZ Review: Features and OS
The Xperia XZ offers up the same user experience as previous Xperia X series handsets, which is okey dokey as far as we’re concerned. Sony’s unified design bleeds through the desktops, with punchy colours that match your chosen handset’s hue. And while Android hasn’t been fiddled with too much, Sony has added a fair few cool features of its own – including a comprehensive interactive guide for noobs.
Check out our Sony Xperia XZ tips and tricks feature for more info.
Security isn’t an issue with the XZ either. You once again get a responsive and accurate fingerprint sensor built into the power button, which is conveniently mounted on the right edge of the phone – no stretching your thumb to below the screen every time. It’s one of the fastest sensors around, rivalling the scanner on the OnePlus 3 and HTC 10 for fastest unlocking.
Sony Xperia XZ Review: Performance and battery life
While the Xperia X settled for a mid-range Snapdragon processor, the XZ rightly sports Qualcomm’s super-powered Snapdragon 820 chipset, backed by 3GB of RAM.
Everyday performance is silky smooth, with no stutter or lag as you zip through menus and load up apps. You can also comfortably play the latest fast-paced games with a perfect frame rate.
However, Sony still hasn’t reinstated its Small Apps feature, which previously allowed you to run two apps side-by-side. This was a handy way of multi-tasking on the move, so it’s sad to see it bite the dust.
Battery life is respectable, with the Xperia XZ offering over a day of use per charge. It can’t quite hit the day and a half we enjoyed on the OnePlus 3, but it’s certainly a match for most other Android flagships like the Galaxy S7. The phone charges quickly too via the Type-C USB port, and you can comfortably get through a lengthy commute after just five minutes at the plug.
Hopefully the Xperia XZ’s battery should retain its performance over time too. The phone can learn your charging habits and adapt to prevent overcharging, which is one of the main causes of cell damage.
Sony Xperia XZ Review: Cameras
Although the Xperia XZ once again sports a 23-megapixel camera like the already-released Xperia X, that camera tech has been boosted to improve low light performance. A new laser-guided autofocus helps to latch onto your subject in the dark. And Sony’s smart five-axis image stabilisation counters hand shakes and other unwanted motion, to prevent blurry snaps.
Check out our full Xperia XZ camera review, where we compare to the best snappers of 2016 so far: the Galaxy S7 and the iPhone 7.
Sony Xperia XZ Review: Verdict
Sony’s Xperia XZ isn’t revolutionary, but it is a very good flagship that boasts some of the best mobile camera tech around. Media fans will enjoy the crisp, colourful screen and excellent audio support, while the solid battery life and performance makes the XZ a respectable all-rounder.
Check back soon for our full Xperia XZ video review.