Sony has not exactly been hitting sixes with every flagship smartphone launch. The Xperia Z3+ was plagued with heating issues, while the Xperia Z5 just managed to keep its head up with last year's flagships. The one thing that Sony smartphones were known for (since the Sony Ericsson days) was image quality and these days, even that does not seem to be working in their favour. Add to this Sony's overly complicated camera interface. I have a lot of complaints about Sony's previous flagships, so does the new and improved Xperia XZ attempt to resolve any of them? Let's find out!
Build and Design: 7 / 10
The Sony Xperia XZ comes in Forest Blue, Mineral Black and Platinum. We received the Forest Blue option for review and it does impress at first glance. The XZ is the biggest design refresh we have seen from Sony's smartphone range so far and is a long stretch from what we saw with the Z series (Z3+, Z5 etc.).
Sony being Sony, it also focuses on design. And this time around the Japanese giant has gone with what it calls the 'loop surface' design philosophy. It consists of curved glass, rounded edges that not just looks balanced, but unlike most other smartphone flagships (that have gone on a diet) feels just right when held in the hand.
Upon opening the box, I noticed how the unit somehow did not match my expectations. No it was not scratched, but it's just that the finish on the frame did not seem right. Soon enough I figured out why and it can be summarised in just one word, plastic.
Yes, this premium smartphone, priced at Rs 51,990, comes with a plastic frame. How did I know? Well, it feels warm, while the back that is made of metal feels cold. With that said, the only metal surface on the smartphone is its back that's made of high purity ALKALEIDO metal.
Features: 7.5 / 10
The Sony Xperia XZ is supposed to pack in flagship features and to an extent it does. There's that beautiful Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixel) IPS Triluminos display, that's covered in Corning's Gorilla Glass 4 with curved edges on the left and the right sides. Inside there is an up to date 64-bit, Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 (MSM8996) chipset clocked at 2.15GHz that is paired with 3GB RAM and 64GB of internal storage that is expandable up to 256GB via the hybrid SIM slot.
Coming to the cameras, there's Sony's 23MP sensor from the Xperia X but its packs in Triple image sensing technology, with the imaging sensor, a Laser AF sensor and a RGBC-IR sensor that is supposed to deliver perfect images in any light, colour or motion scenario. The front facing unit is quite a handful with a 13MP sensor and an f/2.0 aperture. The 23MP sensor is paired with a 24mm lens while the front-facing camera is paired with a 22mm lens.
There's a fingerprint reader on the right side, embedded in the home button and USB Type C port that sits at the bottom for charging and data transfers. The smartphone features fast charging (Quick Charge 3.0) but Sony did not provide us with one in the package.
Coming to communications, the smartphone features everything under the sun. You get a dual nano SIM set up with support for GSM, UMTS, HSPA+, 3G, 4G LTE, GPRS, EDGE, with support for LTE (4G) Cat 9, VoLTE, ViLTE, VoWiFi as well. There's the usual Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC and an FM radio and the smartphone is powered by a 2,900 mAh battery.
Display: 8.5 / 10
The Sony Xperia XZ features a Triluminos Full HD IPS display. At 5.2-inches it delivers a pixel density of 424ppi which is pretty good by today's flagship standards. The highlight here is Sony's Triluminos technology paired with its X-Reality Engine.
When the both come together you get images with a punch and deep black levels that are really hard to explain. They are not as accurate (or dull) as the one on the new iPhone 7 Plus, and not as saturated as the AMOLED unit on the OnePlus 3. Think of the XZ as the middle ground, the one that gets it right.
The X-Reality engine turned on, results in some beautiful and well saturated images. These may be slightly over saturated, but thanks to the deep blacks, the images look bright and pleasing without going overboard with the colour.
Text is sharp and I had no problems reading the display in an office, in the dark, in direct sunlight or in this case, even underwater in a pool. The software even lets you tweak the white balance levels to your liking. We did a blind test out here in the office and the everyone loved how crisp the images looked on the XZ's display and even how well it displayed black and white photographs.
There is however a noticeable pink tinge and this is visible when you view the display at an angle.
Software: 7 / 10
This is the same old Sony UX out here, which we saw on the Xperia Z5. There are a bunch of new icons, and the software does feel like its slowing down the hardware. Part of this could be blamed on Sony's decision to go with 3GB RAM.
I use a OnePlus 3 as an Android alternative because my primary device is an iPhone 6s. Having used the OnePlus 3 it is easy to point out the difference in overall speed and point out how the Sony's bloat kind of makes even the mighty Snapdragon 820 struggle at times, leading to couple of stutters while scrolling or delay in opening apps and games at times. All in all, Sony's UX combined with Android 6.0 Marshmallow on board is not exactly a buttery smooth experience even compared to the LG G5. In short, there's something wrong somewhere apart from the 3GB RAM problem.
Old habits die hard, and even though the design has changed drastically, the usual Sony bloatware persists. As always, most of these apps could not be uninstalled either and simply had to be disabled to keep my app drawer clutter free.
Performance: 7.5 / 10
If you have never used an LG G5 or OnePlus 3, the performance of this flagship smartphone will not disappoint you. As mentioned in the software section, the bloated software combined with 3GB of RAM seems to slowdown the XZ.
There are the occasional stutters, but as I mentioned earlier, many would be 'OK' with such performance. The heating problems have not exactly disappeared as the smartphone did warm up while playing graphically demanding games, but it did not get hot enough to force me keep the smartphone down.
When using the camera app, to click photographs, the smartphone did not heat up indoors. Use it outdoors in sunlight and it gets hot very quickly. Shooting videos in non-air conditioned environments will see the temperature rise, but the smartphone takes about three and half minutes of video before its shuts down the camera app (Full HD 60fps).
A two and a half minutes of shooting video, and the smartphone popped up messaging stating that some functions like Face detection, Auto scene recognition and Object tracking have been deactivated. It is a bit surprising as my year old iPhone 6s pulled off 4K video without heating up. Indeed Sony's heat-related problems are to do with its overloaded image processing algorithms. Looks like things haven't changed indeed.
Games ran just about fine and at high texture settings. However, the games did take a bit longer to load than your usual flagship. Call quality was top notch the same can be said about the audio quality while listening to music, thanks to Sony ClearAudi0+ audio settings. What did disappoint (and was expected to) were the dual front facing speakers. They produce rich sound quality, but were simply too soft to be used to listen to music indoors, forget listening to music and games outdoors.
Camera: 7 / 10
The camera's interface is typically Sony, like it has been for eons. In short it's confusing. Coming from an iPhone 6s or even the OnePlus 3, the interface is confusing for a variety of reasons. There is the feature set which is totally dependent on the resolution selected.
Want a scene mode in 23MP resolution, you cannot have it. Want the much talked about EIS in video shooting mode, nope can't do as it is only available for some video modes. Want scene mode selection in video? You will not get it in Full HD 60fps or 4K but only in 30fps. Need Intelligent Steady Shot (there's Standard one as well) for video? Well, its only available in Full HD 30fps. I mean really... why give so many options when half of them don't work in every mode?
Shooting photos with the Sony Xperia XZ all depends if you are lucky. If the camera app and its various algorithms along with the alignment of the stars happen to be right, you can get a good shot with low noise. Else its just going to be a average one.
Yes it's mostly a hit or a miss situation here. This was unexpected as my expectations were sky high keeping Sony's tall advertising claims of blur free photos in mind. Also with the Xperia Z3+ and Xperia Z5, camera performance was one area where both excelled. More so this is the first time that Sony has used a triple sensor setup for locking focus and obtaining accurate colour information from the scene with an IR sensor.
The camera was quick to focus, but it simply would not deliver blur free photos that Sony promised. Even clicking photographs of food at 3PM in the afternoon in the shade, on a beach (there plenty of ambient light), led to blurry images. And my food was not even running away or in motion!
Coming to image quality, it was not what I expected it to be. Gone are the days when others would look up to Sony for its camera capabilities. Now you are left with not so flagship image quality. The images looked fine, colour saturation was a hit and a miss with some photos showing accurate colour with others showcasing abnormal saturation. But there were plenty of blown highlights. Zooming into either 8MP images or 23MP images in Superior Auto mode shows plenty of blotched details. These apply to images shot in both daylight and low light. Blurred details aside, the images even in good light looked flat and lacked depth. Many times I had to shoot multiple times just to get a shot right, which with the Superior Auto mode is not something you expect in such a high priced phone.
To give you a better idea, the OnePlus 3 costs less and produced noise free and blur free images (in part thanks to OIS).
Come to think of it Sony sensors are mighty capable, as has been ably demonstrated by the Google Pixel XL which gave some wonderful images. So to see Sony smartphones themselves delivering such image quality is surprising. Sony really needs to push out relevant updates to ensure its 23MP sensor doesn't continue giving inconsistent performance.
Two areas that I did appreciate is the front-facing 13MP camera and the its underwater shooting capabilities. Thanks to its wide angle set up, it delivered some good looking selfies even under harsh lighting conditions. Shooting underwater was hassle free and all one need to do is use the dedicated shutter key. The images shot looked quite impressive.
Video did impress (both 60fps Full HD and 4K), but this was provided it worked as the camera app kept shutting down often as mentioned in the Performance section of this review.
Battery Life: 7.5 / 10
While standby times still do not match the Apple iPhone 7 Plus, it did last really long using Sony's Stamina Mode. While it is no miracle that the smartphone did last a good 7 hours and 42 minutes in the standard mode, it still falls short of smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge (10+ hours), the OnePlus 3 (9+ hours), the Lenovo Z2 Plus (10+ hours) and many more.
In short, while Stamina comes to the rescue, performance does take a slight hit and with a smaller 2,900 mAh battery in the standard mode, it does fall a bit short of the current flagships.
Verdict and Price in India
If there's one word to summarise the Sony Xperia XZ, it would have to be 'compromise'. In almost every category above, there's always something to point out, things that this smartphone does not get right. From the plastic in the build, to average camera, to the laggy interface, there are one too many of them. The camera shut-down issue, for instance, has been plaguing the Xperia flagships since the last three generations, which is just not good.
With a fresh new design language and a bold new name (which includes the new 'X' and the previous 'Z'), I expected the innards on the new flagship to showcase at least a bit of change (if not too much). Sadly, this was not the case and while the 23MP sensor does not stand up to the imaging quality delivered by the competition (even below its price bracket), the smartphone as a whole is an indicator that Sony should just shut shop and let go of the smartphone business if it plans to deliver something similar in its next flagship.
Sony fans can go with this one. But everyone else just steer clear!