Sony Xperia XZ review: If it’s cameras you want, it’s cameras you get

24 Oct 2016

Sony Xperia XZ. All images: Luke Maxwell

Sony’s new Xperia XZ is the company’s latest attempt to win over the premium Android smartphone market. Does its camera carry enough weight?

Sony’s latest flagship smartphone, the Xperia XZ, takes everything that was good about the Compact and stretches it out.

Priced at around €700, its main competitors are the likes of Apple’s iPhone 7, Samsung’s Galaxy S6 Edge+ and the OnePlus Three. It stands up pretty well to all of them.

Sony Xperia XZ

Let’s lead with the Xperia XZ’s strengths which, by and large, lie within Sony’s general smartphone strengths: camera and battery.

Armed with a 23MP rear camera, f/2.0, phase detection and laser autofocus, it performs excellently. The likes of touch focus, face detection and a nice panorama tool add to this.

An early indication of photo quality, though hardly an emphatic assurance, is that of image file size. Coming in near enough the 4MB range per photo, these are big.

The zoom is superior to previous Sony devices and, with a 13 MP front-facing camera, it’s clear what Sony’s selling point is.

Sony Xperia XZ

Filming video is excellent, too. Among its cooler features is a time-shift video setting. This allows users to film something and then, retrospectively, choose which part of the video they want slowed down.

Sadly, this is a video mode you have to decide on in the first place, which means that immediate point-and-record impulse videos won’t have the feature. But it’s pretty cool.

Watching video is good, too, despite the relatively low level of resolution on the Xperia XZ. With a 5.2in 1080x1920p display, it falls short of the Samsung S6 Edge+, which has 1440x2560p. Although, the smaller display doesn’t cost the Xperia XZ much at all.

Sony Xperia XZ

With regard to battery life, clever use of a Sony is probably still the best way to make a smartphone last. When we tested it, you got a good 36 hours of decent use out of the phone before it was fully drained.

The battery is the same size as in the Z5 and does a fine job but, if full-screen brightness, constant browsing and full notifications is your buzz, then the Xperia XZ (much like any of its rivals), won’t last very long.

Operating on Marshmallow at the moment, Sony has already said the Xperia XZ will work on Nougat in a few months, though when exactly is anyone’s guess.

The design of the phone is similar to its predecessors, most notably the Compact, itself an excellent mid-range smartphone. The XZ is a larger version but, unlike the OnePlus, Apple, Samsung or even Huawei rivals in the premium end of the market, it is a bit blocky.

Some people might not like that, though it feels far more durable to me, so it’s a winner. It survived one particularly butter-fingered drop on the first day, without a scratch on it.

Sony Xperia XZ

The Sony Xperia XZ comes with either 32GB or 64GB of memory, with additional storage available with MicroSD cards. This is an absolute must for Sony if it’s sticking to its camera-led smartphone policy as, with storage eaten up by even short videos, additional memory is very important.

The sound works pretty well, with the speakers at the base of the display and a 3.5mm jack (hallelujah) at the top.

Other ports include space for your sim card and a USB-C charge port, utilising the latest quick-charge capabilities.

One flaw I noticed was the auto-rotate, something that sticks on the Xperia XZ as much as on any other phone. Somehow, despite this technology being some of the oldest in the smartphone market, manufacturers still struggle to make it truly adaptive.

A bigger flaw, though, is the lack of FM radio, fast becoming extinct in smartphones at the premium level. Sony was one of the few manufacturers left flying this flag but now, if the Xperia XZ is anything to go by, we’re left with purely internet-backed radio from here on out.

Sony Xperia XZ

The final flaw of note is the sound of the speaker on the phone which – although better than, say, the HTC One range – doesn’t seem as loud as the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+.

On the whole, though, the Sony Xperia XZ is a very good phone with fine features across most of its offering. If FM radios are not for you, then there’s not much else wrong here. They are for me, though, so just a 4/5.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic