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The only reason you will buy this phone is if you are a Sony fan boy. When it comes to audio, camera and overall performance, there are better phones available for the same price point. The OnePlus 3 is a cheaper option, which feels more fluid, but has a simpler camera. If you are looking to pick up a flagship, you can consider the iPhone 7, Google Pixel and even the Samsung Galaxy S7.
It feels like such a long time ago that I was recommending the Xperia Z3 Compact to someone looking for a small, but powerful smartphone with great overall features. It was the phone to recommend if someone wanted Nexus-like performance with a great camera and didn’t mind not having a stock Android UI.
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Today we have with us the Xperia XZ. The smartphone is priced around 50k and is competing with the Google Pixel, iPhone 7, Samsung Galaxy S7, LG G5, HTC 10 and other flagship smartphones. On paper, it has some impressive specifications, especially when you consider the camera specs. So, is the Xperia XZ a worthy Android smartphone or are you better off considering the competition?
Build and Design
Even from afar you can recognise the fact that the XZ is an Xperia device. It has peculiar rectangular form factor that we have seen from the days of the Xperia Z2. The unit we are reviewing is silver (Sony calls it Platinum) in colour, but it is available in Mineral Black and Forest Blue. The front of the smartphone is symmetrical, with the forehead and chin looking so similar that I held the phone upside down a few times.
The back of the phone is simple, shiny and elegant. However, this phone won't turn heads, but it's a well built device, which you'll know only when you have it in your hands. The camera and LED flash are at the top left corner of the back, but overall, it's a clean and simple design.
Coming back to the front, the smartphone has two front facing speakers. To the left of the phone rests a flap, which holds either two SIM cards or one SIM card and a microSD card. The right has the fingerprint sensor cum home button, volume rocker and the shutter button.
If you're coming from another smartphone, you may not like the placement of the volume rocker. It rests below the fingerprint sensor/home button. Usually, most phones keep them the other way around. The location of the shutter button is fine for taking pictures.
Coming to the fingerprint sensor, the placement on the right is a good touch and I like it. The smartphone unlocks almost instantly, the minute I press the button. If you don’t want to unlock the phone and just bring about the lock screen to see your notifications or the time, you can double tap the display to wake it up. This feature has become second nature for me ever since the OnePlus One became my primary smartphone.
At the bottom we have the USB-C port and the top houses the soon to be endangered headphones jack.
The worst part about the build and design of the Xperia XZ is the fact that the smartphone is very slippery. Two out of five times when I remove the phone from my pocket, I made a fool of myself by nearly dropping it and struggling to get a grip. It made for good entertainment for those around me, though.
Overall, the phone is good looking with its industrial design. Ergonomically however, I don’t like the placement of the volume rocker and the need to put a case on the device to add grip defeats the purpose of its good looks.
Display and UI
Kicking things off with the display, it is bright. Really bright. 794 lux bright, to be precise. That's brighter than the iPhone, Under harsh sunlight, you can still view the display, so long as the brightness is pumped up! The viewing angles are great too. Coming to the color reproduction, you have 2 image enhancement options – X-Reality for Mobile and Super Vivid. Switching to X-reality makes images sharper and clearer, giving them a more natural tone. Super vivid, on the other hand, makes everything very vivid and vibrant. You also have the ability to control the white balance, so you can tweak colours according to your preference. There is a very slight shift in colours when viewing from some angles, but not worth complaining about.
"It is bright. Really bright. 794 lux bright, to be precise"
If there is one stand out feature of the Xpera XZ, it has to be the display. I have watched a bunch of YouTube videos, Netflix and played some games on it and the colours pop. It is just a 1080p panel and even though a lot of people çomplain that this 'flagship' device doesn’t have a QHD display, it's OK. The display gets the job done, really well. The lower resolution allows Sony to churn out higher frame rates on gaming, and optimise battery life a little bit. Sure, if you want to nitpick, you can see rough edges when you zoom into text and you will only see this if you compare it with a QHD display. To the untrained eye, it won't make a difference.
Moving to the UI, the Xperia XZ is running on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow straight out-of-the-box skinned with Sony’s own UI. One thing that stands out immediately is the app drawer. Stock Android abandoned the horizontal app pages in favour of vertical scrolls. It’s a small thing, but you will notice it if you like the scroll better than the pages. For me, I prefer to search rather than run through the app catalogue. You can also rearrange the apps in the app drawer as per your preference, which is a nice touch. On the far left of the apps listing page you have a suggested apps section, which as its name suggests, lists your frequently used apps and recommends apps from the Play Store based on your usage behavior.
The smartphone also comes pre-loaded with apps such as PlayStation, Movie Creator, Sketch, Sony Live TV and more. Sony live TV has a lot of free and paid content for you to consume.
Overall, the display of the smartphone is functional, works well and is a treat to work with. I don’t have any big complaints with the UI. It is at par with the UI available on Samsung, LG and HTC devices.
Performance and Gaming
From the get go, the Xperia XZ is fast, very fast. Apps load quickly, games respond to quick changes in controls, and switching between apps is a breeze. Having said that, it isn’t as fluid as an iPhone 7 or the Pixel XL smartphone. If you navigate the UI, quickly open and close a bunch of apps, or launch the camera from the home screen, you will notice how the Xperia XZ lags behind the other two mentioned devices. The iPhone 7 Plus is the fastest here and the Pixel is slightly ahead of the Xperia XZ. Put simply, it looks like the Pixel responds quicker to the touch than the Xperia XZ. If software and reaction to touch inputs can be optimised, then the Xperia XZ has the potential to stand tall with the Pixel when the response time is compared. At the moment, though, it's nowhere close.
"At the moment, though, it's nowhere close to flagship performance"
Here is a look at how the Xperia XZ compares with other flagship devices with respect to benchmarks.
Coming to gaming, the device works quite well. We played a bunch of graphically heavy games such as Asphalt 8, Modern Combat and Injustice and there was no drop in frames or any noticeable stutter. The games ran perfectly smooth, however, load times were higher than some flagships.
Though Xperia XZ boasts stereo sound output and it is disappointing. At full volume the audio is just about audible, which is a real shame considering the device has 2 speakers. The stereo effects are present with respect to channel shift but the overall volume is poor when watching videos on YouTube and Netflix.
The quality of the voice from the earpiece is good. At full volume there is some audio leak and in a quiet room you don’t need to switch to the speaker if you want to keep the phone slightly away from your ear. From the speaker too the audio output is good but isn’t as loud as we have seen on other phones like the OnePlus 3 or the iPhone 7.
The camera on the Xperia XZ is good, but its far from the best. The auto mode is unreliable. Sometimes the details are really good and at others the phone struggles to maintain details. Overall, when it comes to consistency in image quality and overall image quality, the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus and the Pixel XL are better.
"The camera on the Xperia XZ is good, but its far from the best"
The camera on the Xperia XZ takes in a lot of light which is good for low light and in regular situations means that the images look oversaturated resulting in sometimes really good images and other times really bad ones. The reason the colours look so nice is because of the RGB IR filter but like I said, this isn’t consistent throughout all the images.
Overall the camera is good but it isn’t up there with the best. The inconsistency in performance is surprising since some of the best smartphone cameras sport a Sony sensor.
Coming to video recording, the Xperia XZ can shoot video in 4K, but the 4K mode isn’t in the video resolution menu. It is a separate option. We shot a video in 4K on the smartphone and after about 4 and a half minutes of recording, the phone got pretty hot reaching a maximum temperature of 42.6 degrees. After 6 minutes and 56 seconds of recording the cameras shut down on its own as the phone got too hot. This is a bummer if you are one looking to shoot long 4K videos using the smartphone.
In the PC Mark battery test the smartphone lasted for 7.1 hours, which is average. In real world use, you will need to get your hands on a charger by the end of the day. With about 15 minutes of gaming, 20 minutes of YouTube video viewing some social networking and a bunch of calls and messages, the phone was ready to die at about 6PM. My day begins at 9AM. I have seen smartphones like the OnePlus 3 sport slightly better battery life.
The only reason you will buy this phone is if you are a Sony fanboy or you want a smartphone with a really good display. When it comes to audio, camera and overall performance, there are better phones available for the same price point. If you don’t mind compromising on the camera a little bit, then you can even consider the OnePlus 3, which is cheaper, but feels faster. If you're looking to pick up a flagship smartphone, you can consider the iPhone 7, Google Pixel and even the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge as great options in this price.