Sony Xperia XZ review: Premium style at an affordable price

Alex Kidman 18 October 2016

XperiaXZ_front_450

The Xperia XZ is Sony’s best phone to date, and an attractively priced competitor in the premium space as well.

Sony’s X series strategy has been a curious one to say the least. The X series phones were announced at Mobile World Congress in the same timeframe as Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and LG’s G5, but with availability tracked for some months after the conference. When the XA, X and X Performance arrived, only the Xperia XA really stood out as a solid budget/mid-range competitor, with both the Xperia X and Xperia X Performance leaving us wanting just a little more in the premium spaces they occupied.

It didn’t take Sony long to add more to the X series with the Xperia X Compact (yet to launch in Australia) and the Xperia XZ, designated as the new flagship of the line. In a year that’s seen some seriously impressive premium handsets, will the third time be the charm for Sony?

XperiaXZ_Side_450

Upsides: Why you’d want the Sony Xperia XZ

  • Great design: There’s really only so much you can do with slabs of metal and glass to differentiate yourself. Sony’s Xperia design used to tend towards the boxy, but the smooth sides of the Xperia XZ, and especially the clean black and forest blue finishes are real eye catchers. Combine that with a weighting that leads you to think the Xperia XZ will be more heavy than it actually is, and what you end up with a phone that looks spectacular and is comfortable in the hand or pocket. 2016 has seen some stunning looking handsets, but in sheer design attractiveness, Sony’s leading the pack right now. Yes, even over the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus.
  • Good battery life: The Xperia XZ’s 2900mAh battery is limited by the size of its frame, so expecting the same battery life you’d get out of phablet-sized phone like the iPhone 7 Plus or Huawei Mate 8 is unlikely. Still, for a Snapdragon 820 battery-chewing processor, the Xperia XZ does a decent job keeping itself going throughout an average use day. You couldn’t quite stretch it to a full two-day run unless you were very conservative with your usage or enabled its low power stamina or ultra stamina modes, but it’s easily capable of a day’s heavy usage. Here’s how the Xperia XZ compared against a range of premium handsets using Geekbench 3’s older battery test:
    HandsetGeekbench 3 Battery Test DurationGeekbench 3 Battery Score
    Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge11:55:007150
    Huawei Mate 811:14:406659
    Apple iPhone 7 Plus11:11:206713
    Samsung Galaxy Note711:02:206623
    Sony Xperia X10:40:406406
    Samsung Galaxy S710:01:206013
    Motorola Moto X Force9:46:503914
    Motorola Moto 4G Plus9:44:103977
    Samsung Galaxy Note 59:18:005580
    Huawei P98:26:304948
    Sony Xperia XZ8:24:205042
    Apple iPhone 6S Plus7:48:104681
    LG G57:36:104561
    HTC 106:54:304145
    Sony Xperia X Performance6:46:514068
  • Aggressive price point: The Xperia XZ is coming to market at $999 outright, which is both below that psychological $1000 price barrier, but also markedly cheaper than most other premium handsets right now. Given the fierce battles in the Android space on pricing, we’d expect even better bargains to emerge.
  • Water resistance: Sony’s been the one manufacturer to keep water resistance on its phones throughout, although it’s a feature much-hyped by both Apple and Samsung. The Xperia XZ continues this trend with an IP65/68 rating, which means it’s not your phone for Abyss-style trench diving, but perfectly suitable for accidental dips into water.
  • Fast, crisp focus for photos: The Xperia XZ’s five-axis stabilised lens can, in the right conditions, provide some very quick and accurate photos, with an app that includes full manual control as well as a variety of fun creative modes for those who are happy to let the phone do the tinkering for them. Low light performance was a little less consistent, but then most mobile cameras struggle in those kinds of conditions.XperiaXZ_Back_450

    Downsides: Why you might not want the Sony Xperia XZ

    • Decent, but not great performance: The Xperia XZ sports the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor as most of this year’s Android flagships, but it seems that Sony’s hasn’t entirely fine-tuned it for performance. Here’s how it stacked up against other flagships in Geekbench 4’s CPU tests:
      HandsetGeekbench 4 CPU Single Core (higher is better)Geekbench 4 CPU Multi Core (higher is better)
      Apple iPhone 7 Plus33745649
      Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge13595333
      Samsung Galaxy S713784718
      Apple iPhone SE24494171
      Apple iPhone 6s24654052
      Sony Xperia XZ16363604
      Google Nexus 6P12933594
      Motorola Moto X Force13523581
      Sony Xperia X11222626
      Motorola Moto G Play5221334

      The story is much the same with 3DMark’s Ice Storm Unlimited:

      Handset3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited Result
      Apple iPhone 7 Plus37956
      LG G529597
      Apple iPhone SE29276
      Samsung Galaxy S728903
      Samsung Note728646
      Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge28402
      Apple iPhone 6s28171
      HTC 1027392
      Sony Xperia XZ26279
      Sony Xperia X Performance26125

      Now, these aren’t bad figures, and they’re worth weighing against the general Xperia XZ experience. We’d expect decent performance out of the Snapdragon 820, and the Xperia XZ generally delivered that. Still, anyone buying a premium handset has the right to expect premium performance, and while the Xperia XZ has a certain amount of grunt, it’s worth noting that other handsets manage to eke out just a bit more.

    • No Forest Blue on contract: We tested with the seriously good looking Forest Blue variant of the Xperia XZ. As noted above it’s a great looking phone, but if you want one, you’ll have to buy it outright. Telstra has the exclusive on the Xperia XZ, and it’s only going to offer it in Black. The black model is still a good looking phone, but a little choice would be nice if you can’t stump up the outright price.
    • Plastic SIM/microSD card tray: The Xperia XZ has a highly attractive metal body, but the SIM and microSD card tray are flexible plastic. If you don’t change the storage or SIM out often this won’t be an issue, but if you do it’s a concern on durability grounds alone. Competitor devices have nice solid metal trays, and Sony’s choice here feels cheap by comparison.
    • USB C still isn't widespread: The Xperia XZ joins the family of Android phones using USB for charging and data transfer. That’s great for high speed transfers and it also supports Qualcomm’s fast charging to boot, but the compatibility question still rears its head. Micro USB chargers still outnumber USB C by a significant margin, so you’ll need to carefully plan your charging sessions for the Xperia XZ. This is improving with the growing number of USB C devices, but there’s still some way to go before it’s common.

    Who is it best suited for? What are my other options?

    The Xperia XZ is easily the best overall smartphone Sony’s produced this year, and that $999 price point is quite aggressive in comparative terms.

    That being said, it still somewhat feels to us like Sony’s got all the parts to make a really killer smartphone but something’s holding them back. Last year’s Xperia Z5 Premium had a 4K display, but Sony’s stuck with just 1080P for the supposedly superior XZ. Battery life is decent given its frame size, but there are alternatives that seem to eke out just a little more, and the same is true for the common processor architecture. Possibly Sony’s aware of this and that’s why it’s priced the Xperia XZ the way it has. The design is lush and the essential experience is very good indeed, and that’s a good argument for any premium handset really.

    Your alternatives in this space and under the $1000 price point will all tend to be slightly older handsets that have now seen price reductions, such as LG’s modular G5, the HTC 10 or the newer Motorola Moto Z.

    Where can I get it?

    Sony sells the Xperia XZ in Black or Forest Blue outright through its web store for $999.

    If you don’t want an outright phone, it’s an exclusive to Telstra, where it’s offered on a range of 24 month plans.

    Sony Xperia XZ: Specifications

    SonyXperia XZ
    OSAndroid 6.0
    Screen size5.2in
    Resolution1920x1080
    Storage32GB
    Weight161g
    ProcessorSnapdragon 820
    Rear camera23MP
    Front camera13MP
    Battery2900mAh

     

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