Sony’s flagship smartphone for 2017, the Xperia XZ Premium , is a bit of a mixed bag.
There are some amazing features like the super-slow-motion video capture or the extremely detailed 5.5-inch 4K capable screen, or the fact it’s waterproof. But the phone is let down by its awkward design.
The robust, squared-off Xperia XZ feels out of place in a year of expertly crafted phones like the Samsung Galaxy S8 and the OnePlus 5 .
However, nobody can accuse Sony of not giving people their money’s worth. The £650 Xperia ZX Premium is packed with the top-of-the-range specs and components its name would suggest. But the question is – how many people will really use them?
Sony has created a very different phone from the others that are available at the moment. And that’s both a good and a bad thing. Read on to find out why.
Turning its back on the rounded corners favoured by the likes of Google’s Pixel or Apple’s iPhone, Sony has opted for a rectangular design with sharp corners. Although the top and bottom bezels aren’t that big, the square design makes them look bigger than they should.
The Xperia XZ Premium has been coated in Gorilla Glass front and back – which means that whether you go for the Chrome or the Black colour, you’re effectively looking in a mirror. A mirror that quickly attracts smudges and fingerprints.
It’s also incredibly slippy and almost impossible to use one-handed. More than once, the phone slipped right out of my hand as I tried to reach across the 5.5-inch screen with my thumb. Putting a case on it is one solution, but then you risk making an already large phone even larger.
If there is a silver lining it’s that the 195g Xperia XZ Premium feels like it could take a real battering and still survive. As with previous Xperia models it’s IP68 waterproof – meaning it’ll survive being dunked in up to 1.5m of water for at least 30 minutes. It also repeals dust and grit – although that shiny glass back could attract a few small scratches.
The power button – which doubles as a fingerprint sensor – is located along the right side of the phone next to the volume rocker. The left side is reserved for the microSD and SIM slots. On top of the phone is a 3.5mm headphone jack and the on the bottom is a USB Type-C charging port.
While it’s commendable to see Sony trying something different with smartphone design, there are too many annoyances. Squared off edges and a reflective glass finish look great inside a pristine display case but out in the real world we need grip-able matte textures with a much smaller footprint for those with smaller hands.
Sony is good at screens. Its Bravia TVs are some of the best in the business and the skills have obviously been brought to bear on the 5.5-inch, 3,840 x 2,160 Xperia XZ Premium display. It’s the first phone screen capable of displaying 4K, HDR (high dynamic range) content.
The thing is, how many of us actually sit down on a regular basis to take in Attenborough’s latest on a smartphone screen?
And, more to the point, when you’re not specifically viewing 4K content, the screen sets itself to just upscale the Android OS at 1080p, because if it was running at 4K all the time it would destroy the battery life. So, wouldn’t it have been preferable to have a 1080p screen and for Sony to have knocked £50 or £60 off the price?
All that being said, having a 5.5-inch screen with an 807 pixel-per-inch display is an impressive technical achievement and because the aspect ratio is 16:9, you don’t get the black letterbox bars on any videos.
If the screen is the Xperia XZ’s opening jab, then its camera is the knockout punch. Fitted with a 19MP rear-facing camera, it offers a f/2.0 aperture, laser autofocus, electronic image stabilisation and all the bells and whistles for capturing a range of different photographs.
Other phones like the OnePlus 5 may have gone for the two-lens approach but Sony instead bakes in some impressive software features, the most impressive of which is the ability to capture super slow motion at 960fps – a league above the standard 240fps available on other handsets.
Object tracking helps to anchor videos, and there’s also the option to shoot slow-mo at 120fps and add motion effects in afterwards.All of which leads to some pretty creative videos and, if you’re a budding YouTuber or regularly making Snapchat Stories, you’re going to love it.
Here’s how we got on with the Xperia XZ Premium’s slo-mo settings:
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Needless to say, the still pictures and the selfie shots are also brilliant. You can tinker as much as you want with the white balance, ISO or shutter speed or just leave it to the auto settings. The aperture means it captures decent snaps in low-light and there’s an LED flash to help out if needed.
All in all, the camera is probably the best reason to buy the Xperia XZ Premium.
Specs and battery
As I mentioned earlier, Sony hasn’t skimped on the technology inside the Xperia XZ. There’s the latest Snapdragon 835 processor and Adreno graphics, the equivelent to any other flagship smartphone. You can also beef up the 64GB native storage with up to 256GB via the microSD card.
It runs the latest version of Google’s Android OS with Sony’s own skin on top. There are a couple of pre-packaged apps but none that really get in the way. And, as expected, the phone’s interface is fast and fluid.
A single charge of the 3230mAh battery will comfortably see you through 14 to 18 hours depending on usage. And as with most flagship smartphones, charging speed has been dramatically improved. Even if you run into trouble, you can fire up the “Stamina” mode which disables all non-essential apps to prolong battery life
The harsh truth is that unless you’re buying a phone exclusively to record and watch your own 4K videos, there are better choices than the Xperia XZ Premium . Technically the phone stands on a level with the iPhone 7 or Google’s Pixel, but the design lets it down.
It doesn’t impress in the same way as the Galaxy S8’s design and gimmicks, nor does it offer as good value as the OnePlus 5 .
Sony has shown it still has the technical chops to make a killer phone, it just needs to change its design strategy and give us something a little bit more ergonomic.