Sony Xperia XZ review: Premium style at an affordable price
- Great design
- Good battery life
- Aggressive price point
- Water resistance
- Fast, crisp focus for photos
Could be better
- Decent, but not great performance
- No Forest Blue on contract
- Plastic SIM/microSD card tray
- USB C still isn't widespread
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.
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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?
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:
Handset Geekbench 3 Battery Test Duration Geekbench 3 Battery Score Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 11:55:00 7150 Huawei Mate 8 11:14:40 6659 Apple iPhone 7 Plus 11:11:20 6713 Samsung Galaxy Note7 11:02:20 6623 Sony Xperia X 10:40:40 6406 Samsung Galaxy S7 10:01:20 6013 Motorola Moto X Force 9:46:50 3914 Motorola Moto 4G Plus 9:44:10 3977 Samsung Galaxy Note 5 9:18:00 5580 Huawei P9 8:26:30 4948 Sony Xperia XZ 8:24:20 5042 Apple iPhone 6S Plus 7:48:10 4681 LG G5 7:36:10 4561 HTC 10 6:54:30 4145 Sony Xperia X Performance 6:46:51 4068
- 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.
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:
Handset Geekbench 4 CPU Single Core (higher is better) Geekbench 4 CPU Multi Core (higher is better) Apple iPhone 7 Plus 3374 5649 Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 1359 5333 Samsung Galaxy S7 1378 4718 Apple iPhone SE 2449 4171 Apple iPhone 6s 2465 4052 Sony Xperia XZ 1636 3604 Google Nexus 6P 1293 3594 Motorola Moto X Force 1352 3581 Sony Xperia X 1122 2626 Motorola Moto G Play 522 1334
The story is much the same with 3DMark’s Ice Storm Unlimited:
Handset 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited Result Apple iPhone 7 Plus 37956 LG G5 29597 Apple iPhone SE 29276 Samsung Galaxy S7 28903 Samsung Note7 28646 Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 28402 Apple iPhone 6s 28171 HTC 10 27392 Sony Xperia XZ 26279 Sony Xperia X Performance 26125
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.
Sony Xperia XZ Specifications