If you haven’t observed already, the year 2016 owes it to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels… the ones willing to take the risk to push the human race forward. Ok, a lot of that was (conveniently) borrowed from Apple, but hey, don’t blame me, things have been such this year. Tech companies, ranging from Google, LG, HTC, Motorola to Xiaomi have all gone the extra mile to innovate. Some made it to the other end of the tunnel, some did not. Then there was Sony. The Japanese tech major, was for the greater part of the year, trying to make up its mind whether it should, or should not kill its flagship Z line up.
While technically Sony is done with the Z-series, the company recently took a U-turn of sorts when it launched the Xperia XZ. The XZ looks like a mashup of the Xperia X Performance and the Xperia Z5 as far as naming and paper specs are concerned. And yet, it is a completely new smartphone. It looks different and it feels very different. Different can be good sometimes. But, the problem is, being good isn’t good enough
Design and build quality
The Xperia XZ is like an assorted box of different build materials. There’s Corning Gorilla Glass 4 on the front, Alkaleido metal on the rear and plastic on the sides. For those of you wondering, what in the world is Alkaleido…well, it’s a fancier form of aluminum that comes with a subtle matte finish and what Sony calls, a feeling of depth. There is some plastic on the lower end of the back as well. Even the physical buttons are all made of plastic and so is the rectangular flap that conceals the dual hybrid SIM card slot. Did someone say, too much plastic? Yes, there’s lots of it to be honest. But, Sony has done a good job in disguising it all the way through so the XZ looks like one compact unit.
Sony is known to bring subtle changes to its trademark OmniBalance design scheme every generation. So is the case with the Xperia XZ. Lately, the company has also started appreciating the beauty of curves. While the Xperia Z5 was in-your-face boxy, the Xperia X family of phones brought in subtle curves that were hard to tell with the naked eye. With the XZ, Sony has brought in some more curves. Don’t mind me, it’s still largely as flat as a pancake, but the XZ comes with something called as a loop surface, which ensures the sharp corners are a lot less out-there and a lot more fluid and pleasing to the eyes. The sides sort of blend into the metal and glass seamlessly, giving the phone a very smart and sophisticated look and feel. But I have to admit, the XZ (especially the mineral black version) looks like the kind of phone you’d expect BlackBerry to make, when it was still making them, that is.
Whatever be the case, the XZ is undeniably the best looking phone that Sony has ever built. Is it the best looking flagship smartphone though, is very subjective, and should be left to the buyer’s discretion. To me it is. It’s not as flashy as the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge , or tacky as the LG G5 , heck it’s not even as chunky (and chamfered) as the HTC 10 . It’s got everything in just the right proportion making it one (if not the best) of the best looking premium phones that money can buy right now. And before I forget, the XZ is also IP68 certified for dust and water resistance for over 1.5 meter and up to 30 minutes.
It is not without its faults though. While the Alkaleido metal looks really nice, especially in the way it reflects light in different ways when viewed from different angles, it is highly susceptible to fingerprints and smudge. It is also very prone to scratches. The phone is also missing out on bumper corners seen in previous Z phones that helped them bear accidental drops. Although Sony’s flagship phone is as thick and as light as the Galaxy S7 and the LG G5, its wide chunky bezels (still) kind of play spoilsport.
The phone has an oblong and deep-seated fingerprint scanner on the right edge, much like it was in the Xperia Z5. It’s gotten faster and surprisingly accurate over time, but it will take some time getting used to nonetheless.
Remember the super gimmicky Xperia Z5 Premium, the world’s first phone toting a surreal 4K screen? Sure, it had trouble deciding whether to 4K or not to 4K most of the time, but 3840×2160 pixels on a 5.5-inch screen, hot damn! Which brings us to the ironical Xperia XZ, a 5.2-inch phone with a mere 1080p IPS LCD display. That’s roughly 424ppi, a bare minimum that a phone of its scale can muster in 2016. Almost every flagship phone at its price point has gotten a 2K treatment, at this point of time. Sony, the brains behind the Z5 Premium however, couldn’t care less. 1080p is all that you’ll be getting here, like it or not.
The Xperia XZ is undeniably the best looking phone that Sony has ever built. It’s not as flashy as the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, or tacky as the LG G5, but it’s got everything in just the right proportion
Now that we have numbers out of the way, let’s quickly jump to how the screen actually works. It’s quite good actually. Feels like an AMOLED panel, with its near over-saturated colours, high contrast ratio and pleasantly sharp viewing angles. Colours are often not the most accurate, something which is more pronounced when you switch alternatively between Sony’s custom user interface and the Chrome browser for instance. It seems like Sony’s custom skin is putting in a little extra to pop those colours. Switching to Chrome shows its true colours. Most users wouldn’t mind the extra punch though. There’s an option to manually correct colour temperature — which works just fine — in case you’re not impressed.
The XZ may not show you the most accurate colours, but its peak brightness levels will definitely surprise you. The screen of the XZ can get very bright, and when combined with its excellent viewing angles, the XZ easily becomes one of the most sought after phones as far as outdoor legibility is concerned.
The XZ runs Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow-based Xperia UI and will be “upgradable to Android N in coming months,” according to Sony. Sony’s Xperia UI (along with HTC’s Sense) was probably one of the very few third-party Android UIs that got it right in fewer attempts, than say Samsung’s TouchWiz or LG’s UX. Over time, it has however, joined the race of UIs (mostly coming from China) that focus quite a great deal on visual aesthetics. It has also caught the penchant for a whole lot of unwanted apps or bloat, which is a reverse of what HTC is doing off-late. Even Samsung is trying hard to cut the flab for crying out loud. The fact that you can’t uninstall — and only disable — majority of this bloat in the case of the XZ makes matters worse.
Still, it’s remarkable how the Xperia UI doesn’t end up huffing, puffing and losing its breath by the end of the day in-spite of all that bloat and glitzy icon sets. That’s because Sony got most of it right already, it has been building upon it ever since, one step at a time. That’s the same reason why telling an Xperia UI based on Lollipop from an Xperia based on Marshmallow takes no genius. You’re instantly at home. The drop down notification panel and the apps overview window are characteristic Google-style (which is nice) and customisation options in the form of themes are always a plus.
Sony’s fancy battery saving modes and smart cleaner that works silently under the hood to clear the cache of apps that you haven’t used in a while are valuable additions. At the same time, Sony has ditched its small apps menu that let you use app shortcuts that opened up as mini windows on the home screen for quick access. I really don’t know why. Hey, it was quite useful even more so since Xperia UI still doesn’t have multi-window support.
Performance and battery life
Like the Xperia X Performance, the Xperia XZ also comes with a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor (clocked at 2.15GHz) coupled with 3 gigs of RAM and 64GB of internal memory which is further expandable by up to 256GB via microSD card slot. Everything, save the RAM specifics, seem to indicate that we are dealing with a high-end phone here, in case you had not noticed already. Sadly, the XZ does not feel so high-end in actual usage and it’s got nothing to do with its relatively lower RAM count. Of course, some more of it would have been useful, but that’s not a major deciding factor here.
The XZ looks really good, has a good display, neat software, good performance, decent cameras, good battery life, good sounding stereo speakers and water-resistant body. But there’s at least one phone out there that does each of this slightly better
The XZ can handle (most of) everything you throw at it without breaking a sweat and playing games (basic as well as graphical) on it is (mostly) a pleasurable experience but it doesn’t feel as fast, and graphics (in games) don’t pop the way they do in a phone like the Galaxy S7 Edge, or even the HTC 10. Heck even the OnePlus 3, that costs half as much feels faster. I am not even bringing the iPhone 7 (or the Google Pixel XL) into the picture here. Navigating between home screens and switching between apps is fast — I did not encounter any random app crashes during my time with the device — but the experience is not as fluid as it is in either of the aforementioned phones. Maybe it’s got something to do with the way Sony has optimised the hardware with the software inside the phone.
The XZ also tends to get warm occasionally, and gets a little too hot especially while playing graphical games for longer periods or while recording 4K or streaming 1080p videos. It is also fairly quick to cool down.
The Xperia XZ boasts of front-firing stereo speakers which get really loud and punchy with little or no distortion at peak volume. It’s one area where the phone really stands out. In fact, next to the HTC 10, it’s rocking the best in-class speakers in its price range. Phone calls made with the phone are of excellent quality and we did not encounter any odd call drop issues with our review unit. The phone supports dualSIM, 4G LTE (VoLTE-ready), USB Type-C (v 2.0) and NFC connectivity options.
The XZ is backed by a 2,900 mAh battery. Battery life is good. In our battery benchmark, we subjected the device to an hour of 1080p video playback, half an hour of GPU-intensive gaming, 45 minutes of basic games, phone calls (to the tune of one hour), some music streaming and YouTube video playback along with web browsing, and we were able to get almost 14 hours out of the device.
The XZ supports what Sony calls as adaptive charging. “The Xperia XZ uses intelligent charging to prevent battery decline. It learns your charging patterns and adapts to them, resulting in up to twice the battery lifespan,” claims the company. Essentially, the phone charges quickly to up to 90 per cent — when kept on charging overnight — and thereafter it slows down the process. Over time, it learns your sleeping pattern and the approximate time when you’re likely to pull the phone off. It would then quickly charge (to 100 per cent) at around the same time once it’s fine-tuned with the cycle. Adaptive charging can be disabled from settings. The phone also ships with a Quick Charger UCH12 in the box which is claimed to offer up to 5.5 hours of normal usage with just 10 minutes of charging, according to Sony.
The XZ carries forward the same 23-megapixel Sony built custom IMX300 (f/2.0) sensor like the one found in the Z5 and the X Performance. The company has added a few more gimmicks to it – triple image sensing and 5-axis video stabilization – atop the usual which make some really interesting paper specs. There’s laser autofocus for quick focus, RGBC-IR (RedGreenBlueClear-InfraRed) sensing to adjust white balance especially in low light, single LED flash, 4K video recording but no optical image stabilisation. As fancy as it may sound, the results are what you can call a mixed bag. For one, the XZ’s ridiculously wide angled lens makes macro-photography an almost no-show and even when it does manage to take bokeh shots, the results are not as pleasing as you’d get from a Galaxy S7 Edge or the iPhone 7. Although the camera is pretty quick to focus with passable shutter speed, much like the Z5, the algorithm on-board is marred by a slight delay in processing and saving pictures after you’ve clicked them. Also, the Xperia XZ feels a lot slower than the Galaxy S7, HTC 10 or the LG G5 over all.
As for image quality, photos clicked with the XZ are a mixed bag with mostly well-to-do results in good lighting. The Xperia XZ is able to hold and retain plausible dynamic range with little or no metering issues. The dedicated RGBC sensor meanwhile, helps achieve more detail in artificial and low light, but often produces washed out and cold colours by default. Also, the level of noise increases as the intensity of light decreases.
The front 13-megapixel (f/2.0) camera, however, will be a boon for selfie lovers. The wide angles lens on-board ensures it can cover a larger area while still managing to retain lots of detail and mostly accurate colours even in tricky light situations.
Should you buy it?
Come to think of it, the Xperia XZ is not so much a successor to the Xperia X Performance as it is to last year’s Z5. The Z5 was good, but competitors took the better of it. The same fate awaits the Xperia XZ as well. The XZ is so good, it’s a shame that it can’t be your first choice when you’re out to buy a high-end phone in the market.
Frankly speaking, the XZ is what the X Performance should have been. Thankfully, the latter did not make it to India, so Sony can, at least enjoy the moral ground that it did not overwhelm prospective buyers with too many flagship phones, which is clearly not the case if you’re in the West.
The XZ looks really good, has a good display, neat software, good performance, decent cameras, good battery life, good sounding stereo speakers and water-resistant body. But there’s at least one phone out there that does each of this slightly better. Then there is the OnePlus 3. At Rs 51,990 the Xperia XZ is yet another Sony phone, meant strictly for the fans. It’s good. Sadly, being good isn’t good enough anymore.
Sony Xperia XZ####7/10
- Good stuff
- Very bright screen
- Stereo speakers
- Clicks good photos in good light
- Good battery life
- Bad stuff
- Unwanted apps
- Button placement & quality questionable
- Software needs more polish