Sony Xperia XZ Premium review: A true premium experience

Alex Kidman 30 June 2017

Quick Verdict
Sony's Xperia XZ Premium is a powerful, slightly chunky take on a 2017 premium smartphone. There are a few design oddities, and slow motion isn't the only photography benefit, but this is otherwise a sterling handset if you're after a premium experience.

Strengths

  • Delightful 4K display
  • Powerful processor
  • Solid battery life
  • 960fps slow motion is lots of fun
  • Water resistance
  • CAT 16 connectivity

Could be better

  • Terrible SIM/microSD card slot
  • Slow motion is fiddly to use
  • Bulky design


Sony sells the Xperia XZ Premium on the back of its amazing slow-motion ability, but there's a lot more to this premium handset.

Sony's fortunes in the mobile space have been interesting to watch over the past couple of years, because despite bringing out solid handsets, it's been a long while since it's had a genuinely exciting device with features that weren't, in some way or another, just catching up to the best in the industry.

At Mobile World Congress this year, however, Sony fired a definitive shot in the smartphone war, announcing the Sony Xperia XZ Premium. This was a handset with all the trimmings and then some, and was intended to be its flagship phone for 2017 against the likes of the LG G6 and the (at that point unannounced) Samsung Galaxy S8. We know Sony can make good phones, but can it make a truly great phone?

Design

The Xperia XZ Premium's design is on the stern, conservative side, with the same rounded edges and design motif as previous Xperia phones. It's meant to be evocative of the company's Bravia televisions, and while I can see where they're pitching with that, the effect won't be to everybody's taste.

In Australia Sony will offer the Xperia XZ Premium in black and silver finishes. I tested with the black model, and it is, to my eye, the better looking of the two, with the silver model a serious fingerprint magnet that will also degrade visually a little more after any kind of scratch or bump.

The Xperia XZ Premium is also quite large for a 5.5 inch display phone, thanks to large top and bottom bezels around its display screen. It measures in at 156x77x7.9 mm, which is chunky for a modern premium smartphone.

Buy the Sony Xperia XZ Premium from Amazon AU

With a gorgeous 4K display and a powerhouse processor, the Sony Xperia XZ Premium is more than just another high-end handset.

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Sony can't rest on the issue of having a fingerprint sensor to accommodate, because that's wrapped around the right hand side as it has been for many previous Xperia generations. It's just big, seemingly for the sake of being big. By way of comparison, you can fit an entire Galaxy S8 over the top of the Xperia XZ Premium and still see parts of the Sony phone peeking over the top.

Sony places the volume, fingerprint sensor and a dedicated camera shutter button on the right hand side. Precious few handsets offer a dedicated shutter button these days, and while you can get many of the same effects with a volume button, I find it very welcome.

Less welcome is Sony's arrangement of the SIM card and microSD card slots on the left hand side of the handset. They rest under a small plastic flap in separate plastic enclosures. The nanoSIM slot is fiddly to use, but the plastic microSD card slot on the Xperia XZ has to be the worst example of its type I have ever hit. It's very light, very fragile, and wobbles when you remove it from the side of the phone.

XperiaXZPremiumSIMTray_738

You're probably not going to swap cards out with the same frequency that I do, but every time you do, you're going to worry that it will snap and you'll lose the ability to add storage at all. It's a terrible piece of design, and I have no idea why Sony hasn't adopted the strategy that pretty much everyone else does by placing both parts inside a simple metal or at least more robust plastic tray.

The Xperia XZ Premium's calling card in design terms is the inclusion of the quite exquisite 4K-capable display screen. It's genuinely industry leading, bright and clear, and when and if you can get 4K content to run on it, quite engaging to watch. That's a trickier prospect than you might imagine though, because 4K content is still somewhat thin on the ground.

Netflix and Amazon Prime Video both offer 4K content compatible with the Xperia XZ Premium, but the streaming rates required will either require a dedicated and fast home NBN connection or a very fat wallet to cover all those excess mobile data usage charges. At this stage, 4K is more about future proofing and sharper photo viewing than content.

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Camera

Sony has form in the camera space, largely because it's the manufacturer behind the camera arrays used by a wide variety of competing smartphones. It's often boasted about how much it keeps its best technologies for its own phones first, although this hasn't always borne real fruit.

The Xperia XZ Premium features a rear 19 MP f/2.0 sensor and front facing 13 MP f/2.0 sensor, which in a straight number fight isn't that impressive. Where Sony makes it interesting for the rear camera is with what it's calling the "Motion Eye" camera, which enables the Xperia XZ Premium's party trick, namely 960fps slow motion video. It does this by binding in a substantial quantity of RAM into the sensor array of the camera, in effect creating a buffer space for it to capture images at a rapid enough rate to manage that 960 frame per second rate.

There are some pretty stark limitations to this approach, however, as it can't even manage that capture for an entire second. Indeed, you can only capture for around 1/5th of a second, which the Xperia XZ Premium then stretches out across six real playback seconds.

When the super slow motion works, it's a great effect that can give you a new appreciation for the way the world works, although actual capture is a somewhat tricky prospect. You can capture either a single 1/5th of a second capture without context, or shoot at regular 720p rates and hit an onscreen button to then grab a section of video at the 960fps rate.

You do lose audio over that section, because it would be stretched out quite unnaturally, but the trickier aspect is actually picking the right moment to capture. I've found that it's generally best to tap the button right after you might think the ideal moment would be, because in that mode there's clearly a tiny bit of pre-buffering happening. Hit it right on time, and you'll often end up with the split second before your subject sneezed, dropped flowers or otherwise moved.

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Slow motion isn't the only camera trick up the Xperia XZ Premium's sleeve. It also offers what Sony calls Predictive Capture, which is meant to automatically take four shots around when you hit the shutter button if fast motion is detected. Multi-frame capture is nothing new in the smartphone space, and again when Predictive Capture works it can be great for ensuring smiling rather than frowning subjects, but it's very twitchy as to whether it properly initiate the mode in the first place.

The really good news here is that the Xperia XZ Premium offers a great camera experience across the board, with decent low light performance for a premium smartphone camera and a variety of capture modes to engage your creative juices. Sony hasn't opted for a dual camera array to offer even more flexibility and that feels like something of a missed opportunity against competitors such as the Huawei P10 Plus, LG G6 or Apple iPhone 7, but this is still a superb camera phone.

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Performance

Sony was technically the first big name smartphone manufacturer to formally attach Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 SoC to its phone range, beating out Samsung and HTC in terms of announcements, if not actual retail availability.

Here in Australia we didn't get the Snapdragon 835 version of the Galaxy S8 here, so our first taste of what the Snapdragon 835 could manage was via the generally excellent HTC U11. Given what it was capable of, my hopes were high that the Xperia XZ Premium could bring serious quality, and it did not disappoint. It's a fast phone, even with Sony's own UI optimisations on top of Android 7.1.1 in both an anecdotal sense, and in competitive benchmarks.

Here's how the Xperia XZ Premium fared using Geekbench 4's CPU tests:

HandsetGeekbench 4 CPU Single Core (higher is better)Geekbench 4 CPU Multi Core (higher is better)
Samsung Galaxy S8+20206690
Samsung Galaxy S819896628
Huawei P10 Plus18636544
HTC U1119196362
Sony Xperia XZ Premium19086324
Huawei Mate 919256068
Apple iPhone 7 Plus33745649
Huawei 1019225633
Apple iPhone 734525599
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge13595333
Samsung Galaxy S713784718
LG G618104228
Apple iPhone SE24494171

The Xperia XZ Premium isn't king of the hill, not that benchmarks tell the whole story, but it's a very solid competitor, and this is backed up with its 3D performance. Here's how it compared using 3DMark's Ice Storm Unlimited test:

Handset3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited Result
HTC U1140239
Sony Xperia XZ Premium40086
Apple iPhone 7 Plus37956
Apple iPhone 737717
HTC U Ultra29968
LG G529597
Apple iPhone SE29276
Samsung Galaxy S728903
Huawei P10 Plus28491
Google Pixel XL28458
Samsung Galaxy S828409
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge28402
LG G628344
Samsung Galaxy S8+28120

Again, it's ever so slightly pipped by the HTC U11, but only fractionally, with considerably better results than the Samsung Galaxy S8 or Galaxy S8+.

While many Android makers have tended towards very light launcher touches with their handsets, Sony still insists on loading up its phones with its own default apps for photos, music and even a distinct separate app discovery service. Thankfully you can ignore them, and you do get inbuilt PlayStation 4 streaming ability if that takes your fancy.

On the connectivity front, like the HTC U11 and the Samsung Galaxy S8, the Sony Xperia XZ Premium is Cat16 capable, which means it's technically capable of up to 1Gbps download speeds. Those are lab tested conditions, but even in the real world in metropolitan areas where Telstra's network permitted it, I was able to peak over 100Mbps with regularity, which is no mean feat.

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Battery life

When I first went hands-on with the Xperia XZ Premium at Mobile World Congress, a key concern was battery life. Combining the Snapdragon 835's raw power along with a 4K screen makes for a really nice experience, but not one that was all that likely to sip at its power. Sony's had a rocky track record with delivering phones that can last all day under even a reasonable load, but the Xperia XZ Premium bucks that trend. In anecdotal use it's an easy all-day phone for most uses, and this was backed up in benchmarks. Here's how the Xperia XZ Premium compares using Geekbench 3's older battery test.

HandsetGeekbench 3 Battery Test DurationGeekbench 3 Battery Score
Galaxy S8+14:55:308955
Sony Xperia XZ Premium12:06:407266
BlackBerry KEYone12:05:00DNF
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge11:55:007150
Samsung Galaxy S811:47:507078
HTC U1111:42:407026
Apple iPhone 7 Plus11:11:206713
Huawei P10 Plus10:39:506218
Samsung Galaxy S710:01:206013
Huawei P109:31:305523
Google Pixel XL9:14:205543
LG G69:09:305495
Huawei Mate 99:00:305330
Sony Xperia XZ8:24:205042
Apple iPhone 77:50:104701

A battery benchmark won't tell you absolutely everything about a phone's overall battery performance, but it's a good indicative step of what to expect. What you can expect out of the Xperia XZ Premium is solid battery life.

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Verdict

2017 has been a fascinating year for premium smartphones. In previous years we could easily point to a single phone at a point in time and call it the "best" phone you could get, with only a little variance throughout the year. Flagships tended to hold their position, in other words.

This year, however, has been ripe with some truly stunning premium handsets, making that kind of declaration very difficult. The Sony Xperia XZ Premium isn't perfect, but then no phone truly is, but it's very much deserving of consideration if you're in the space for a premium handset, because it combines all the parts that you'd want in a 2017 flagship in a very appealing way. My primary quibble with it is that terrible microSD card tray, and that's something that many users might not ever notice. It's easily in the top five handsets of the year, and maybe at the top depending on your preferences when it comes to matters such as hand feel and weight.

The Xperia XZ Premium is available to buy outright in Australia for $1099, or on contract from a variety of carriers. You can see the plan pricing for the Xperia XZ Premium below:

Specifications

Product Name
Sony Xperia XZ Premium
Display
5.5in
Resolution
3,840 x 2,160
ppi
806ppi
Software
Android 7.1.1
Storage
64GB
RAM
4GB
Battery
3230mAh
Front camera
13MP
Rear camera
19MP
Processor
Snapdragon 835
Size
140.7 x156 x 77 x 7.9 mm
Weight
195g

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