Sony has been struggling in the smartphone market as of late. Earlier this year, the company announced the end of the ‘Z’ series and unveiled three new smartphones, the Xperia X, Xperia X Performance and Xperia XA.
The new X series was supposed to start a new era for Sony Mobile, one which focused more on software optimisation rather than just hardware specs. To everyones surprise though, Sony brought back the ‘Z’ brand name with its latest flagship smartphone, the Sony Xperia XZ.
The Xperia XZ is by far the most beautiful phone Sony has ever produced and comes with some powerful hardware to boot. But is it enough to resuscitate Sony Mobile’s dwindling fortunes and compete with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Apple iPhone 7? Let’s find out!
Design: Simply gorgeous
The Sony Xperia XZ, as mentioned in the introduction looks simply gorgeous. Sony smartphones have followed the same design language for quite some years now, and the Xperia XZ, while not a radical shift, is the best interpretation of Sony’s design ethos yet.
The back is made from what Sony claims is high purity ALKALEIDO metal, with a slightly curved 2.5D glass on the front. This is huge step up from the all glass backs of previous Sony flagships, and the metal back feels truly premium in the hand.
There are a few plastic panels in the mix, on the sides and on top, but they don’t detract from the overall splendid fit and finish of the smartphone. The phone features what Sony is calling a “loop” design. The sides are rounded and slightly taper on the front and back, which lends itself nicely to the in hand feel of the device.
The Xperia XZ truly feels like the culmination of years of Sony’s smartphone designs and looks and feels absolutely superb. The only sore point in an otherwise stunning design are the huge top and bottom bezels, which look just out of place in today’s smartphone world.
The device needs to be held in the hand to truly get a grip of its immaculate design. Photos simply don’t do the device justice. It feels incredible in hand and unlike certain smartphones these days (*cough*Moto Z*cough*), actually feels like it was designed to be held in a human hand.
The device has a certain heft to it which makes it feel incredibly solid, like the Nokia Lumia of old.
Ergonomics: Almost perfect
There are no physical buttons on the front. On top of the display resides one of the dual speakers(that doubles up as an earpiece), the proximity sensor and the ambient light sensor. Below the display we only find the second of the (surprisingly loud and clear) stereo speakers. Like past Sony flagships, the fingerprint sensor is embedded within the power button and is a delight to use. It is a marked improvement, in terms of both speed and accuracy over the Xperia X and the Xperia Z5. The location is also brilliant and makes me wonder why other manufacturers don’t adopt the same.
Alongside the fingerprint sensor, we find the oddly located volume button and the rare but appreciated physical camera button. The left side is bare apart from the Sim/Micro SD card tray.
Display: Bright and punchy
The Xperia XZ bucks the trend of cramming in QuadHD displays in flagship smartphones and makes do with a 1080p LCD display. It comes with Sony’s trademark ‘Vivid Mode’ and ‘X Reality Engine’ for colors that truly pop.
Seriously, you will not find any other LCD display that is as vibrant as the one on the Xperia XZ. The display ‘pops’ almost as much as an AMOLED panel. The lack of a QuadHD display might be a downer for some, especially if you are interested in using the device for use with a VR headset. However, a 1080p display strikes the perfect compromise between battery life and usability. There is a reason why the largest selling smartphone in the world, the iPhone still uses a 1080p panel.
Pixel density aside, the display is a delight to use with punchy colors, great viewing angles and adequate brightness levels. Most will find little to complain with the display of the Xperia XZ, which continues Sony’s legacy of making superb LCD panels.
Hardware/Performance: Beautifully optimised
The Xperia XZ’s spec sheet reads similar to most flagships of 2016 – the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 SoC, 64GB of internal storage, 3GB of RAM and USB Type C for charging and data transfer.
The Snapdragon 820 is a quad-core CPU with two high-performance cores clocked at 2.15GHz and two low-power cores clocked at 1.6GHz. This is a massive upgrade over the Snapdragon 625 found in the Xperia X and the Snapdragon 810 found in the Xperia Z5.
The 820 contains Kyro cores as compared to the Cortex A-57’s in the 810, which account for the dramatic increase in both power and efficiency. The 820 is an extremely capable CPU which will be more than enough to carry you through to 2018.
As with most Xperia flagships, the XZ is also waterproof, with a rating of IP68. This means don’t need to have a heart attack every time your phone gets exposed to water during rains or if you drop it in the pool by accident.
On blind specs alone, one might frown at the 3GB of RAM in the Xperia XZ in a day and age where competition like the OnePlus 3T is coming with 6GB of RAM. However, Sony has done an absolutely tremendous job with the hardware-software optimisation of the Xperia XZ and the lack of RAM is never felt.
The smartphone flies through day to day tasks like web browsing, social media use and taking the occasional selfie. The XZ is a true testament of the fact that packing in more and more powerful hardware is not necessarily the way forward for smartphones.
The Xperia XZ flies through even the most intensive use case scenarios with ease, handling hardcore games and video editing like a champ. What lets the phone down though is the fact that it overheats quite a bit, with temperatures rising to uncomfortable levels while shooting 4K video and playing games like Dead Trigger 2.
If you plan on buying the smartphone for gaming, you should definitely consider the Xperia XZ. It handles most casual games and A level smartphone titles easily, with very few frame drops and judders.
Software: Best Android skin out there
Just like Apple, Sony has worked hard on optimising its Android skin. The animations and transitions are buttery smooth and there is genuinely little or no lag.
All the Android 7.0 Nougat goodies are included such as split window support and the redesigned notification tray. Sony has also added a new pane to the left of the horizontally scrolling app drawer, which shows you your most used apps, allows you to search for applications and also displays recommended apps.
Just like stock Android, the leftmost home screen panel is now Google Now by default.
Battery Life: Respectable
The Xperia XZ comes with a 2,900mAh battery which is just about average in today’s day and age. Sony claims the smartphone provides 2-day battery life which is just not true. A day, a day and a half if you use it conservatively is a more accurate estimate.
Camera: A pleasant surprise
The XZ comes with an all new 23MP camera unit on the back which has a 24mm wide angle lens, an aperture of f/2, phase detection auto-focus and an LED flash. What sets the XZ apart from the crowd is what Sony calls a triple image sensing technology.
There are three sensors in the Xperia XZ – a laser auto-focus sensor for measuring distance, an RGBC-IR sensor for accurate color reproduction and an imaging sensor for movement. All these together help the device take crisp, detailed and in-focus shots lightning fast.
The focusing speeds are genuinely staggering, one of the best I have seen in an Android smartphone to date. In well lit situations, the images produced are crisp, vivid and full of detail. The image sensing technologies really help in capturing fast moving objects as well as locking in focus in even the most difficult scenarios.
Price/Verdict: The smartphone Sony was destined to make
The Xperia XZ is available in India for around Rs 48,000 and comes in three color variants, namely Mineral Black, Forest Blue and the shade our review unit came in, Platinum.
To put it very simply, the Xperia XZ is the best smartphone Sony has ever made. It has a gorgeous , sleek and svelte design that feels incredible in the hand, a vivid display, superb cameras, optimised software which is very close to stock Android and great performance.
The only question that comes to one’s mind when evaluating the Xperia XZ is that is all of this enough? What does the Xperia XZ have in its arsenal to differentiate itself from the competition?
Sadly, the answer to the question is not much. It is a brilliant flagship smartphone, but the fact of the matter is it competes in a segment which has truly brilliant smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S7 and the iPhone 7.
That does not take away anything from the Xperia XZ. It truly is the smartphone Sony was destined to make and is the best Sony smartphone ever. I truly recommend you to consider this whilst buying a flagship smartphone. It might surprise you with how good it really is.