Sony Xperia XZ review: A turbo-charged, last-gen, flagship phone

Sony's newest new flagship is what it should have launched three months ago

Sony Xperia XZ
  • Sony Xperia XZ
  • Sony Xperia XZ
  • Sony Xperia XZ
  • Expert Rating

    3.50 / 5

Pros

  • Great video camera
  • HD wireless audio
  • Waterproof

Cons

  • Last-gen phone
  • Still too many blurry camera shots
  • Battery struggles for one day
  • Chunky-looking

Bottom Line

The XZ feels like a turbo-charged version of its last-generation phones. It's not svelte and pretty like other flagships. And a comparable S7 costs $250 less nowadays.

Would you buy this?

Camera

The high-resolution cameras are the same as the X Performance but are now enhanced by 5-axis optical stabilisation, additional image processing and laser focusing. Once again, 2160p (4K) video can be captured (it requires special cooling components which weren't present in the last Xperia X models) although it seems the early software in our review model wouldn't let us go beyond Full HD at 60fps [Edit: 4K recording is actually done in one of Sony's camera apps and not by selecting an option in the camera settings].

Read more: Showdown: Sony Xperia Z1 Compact vs Apple iPhone 5S

On a well-lit, sunny day we expect colours to be more vibrant than this. But the flatness here was seen through most of our shots.
On a well-lit, sunny day we expect colours to be more vibrant than this. But the flatness here was seen through most of our shots.

Sony makes a big point about its laser focus and how fast and accurate it is. It certainly acts fast and with minimal shutter lag, but it’s still not instant. Furthermore, it’s not particularly accurate either. The fast camera meant we could take many pictures – often of wriggling kids – but a disappointing number ended up being blurry whether through poor motion compensation or poor focus.

Too few low-light pictures came out sharp or in focus.
Too few low-light pictures came out sharp or in focus.

Low light performance is better than much on the market but still some way off the Samsung S7 and new iPhone 7.

When she stopped jumping around (outside in good light) we got a great shot. The rest were very blurry.
When she stopped jumping around (outside in good light) we got a great shot. The rest were very blurry.

Detail at 23-megapixels in good light and with a motionless subject is very impressive. Colours could be good but in challenging lighting could also be flat. It’s capable of great things but mainly in optimal conditions.

Outdoors, in good light, detail and colours were good. However, dark areas were a bit too dark. We did have some issues with the dynamic range of this camera.
Outdoors, in good light, detail and colours were good. However, dark areas were a bit too dark. We did have some issues with the dynamic range of this camera.
The XZ is capable of some very detailed portraits.
The XZ is capable of some very detailed portraits.
The angle of the high-resolution selfie camera won't be to everyone's tastes but is, again, highly detailed.
The angle of the high-resolution selfie camera won't be to everyone's tastes but is, again, highly detailed.

One place where the camera quality, OIS and laser focusing really comes into its own is with video. It was smooth when walking, fast to focus, crisp and clear and even the audio sounded good.

Battery life

The 2,900mAh battery isn’t overly generous in a phone this size. After a day of rather-intensive use, including a bit of gaming and VR it wanted to move into low-power mode by the late afternoon. We’re confident it would last a full day ordinarily.

Read more: We compared the speakers of a Pixel XL and an iPhone 7

Sony’s focus with the battery is to extend the lifespan through intelligent charging. The phone will charge quickly to 90% and then stay there until, for example, a few minutes before you wake up and need the 100%. It learns your behaviour over the first month of use. By not keeping it at 100% battery life is extended. Sony says it should last for two years without significant degradation which would be impressive.

Other features

As with previous models, the XZ is compatible with PS4 remote play - you can hook up a PS4 remote and use the phone as a screen. We found lag was minimal, but it will be an issue if you’re a competitive beat’em up, shoot’em up or Fifa player. For most games it’s fine though.

Also still present is Sony’s 24-bit audio Bluetooth LDAC system which offers very high quality to good-quality wireless headphones.

It’s also IP68 certified meaning it can withstand water (and dust) ingress at 1.5m for up to 30 minutes.

Conclusion

There’s a lot to like here, but the XZ is not an unqualified success. In many ways this feels like a last-generation phone but with some latest components bolted on to them. The camera has been turbo-charged rather than overhauled to make low-light improvements for example. Also, file transfer is comparatively slow compared with competitors.

It’s not a built-from-the-ground up innovative device designed to wow people that we’ve come to expect from premium phones. In many ways it’s an upgraded Xperia Z but with effort-levels stemming from the disappointing, recent X series.

The main problem here is that Samsung’s comparable S7 is still on the market and can be had for $250 less. The camera is arguably better (if not as high resolution) as is the screen. It too is IP68 certified. Unless you need features like the high-quality wireless music LDAC or the PS4 compatibility, the Samsung is the better buy.

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Read more on these topics: sony, mobile phones, Phones, samsung, mobile phone
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