Sony has been in the smartphone market for quite some time now, putting out flagship models in the hopes of staying relevant in an already crowded market. The company’s latest offering is the stylish Xperia XZ, which was revealed a few months ago. I’ve been playing around with it for the past month as my primary phone, and while it certainly is an impressive gadget, there are still a number of quirks that need to be ironed out.
Build quality & design
Design is something Sony clearly values, and this can be seen in most of the Xperia lineup through the years. The Xperia XZ follows in this tradition as well, coming in three very distinct colors of Forest Blue, Mineral Black and Platinum. I received the Forest Blue version, which was certainly a refreshing change from the rather ordinary smartphone colors I’ve seen recently.
The phone itself has a slightly rounded design near the edges, presumable to make it more comfortable to grip. The Xperia XZ features a metal back for a somewhat premium look, however the surrounding frame is disappointingly only made from plastic. While the metal back does make for a standout look, it also attracts as many fingerprints as a glossy plastic backing would.
At the top you’ve got a 3.5mm headphone jack, with a USB-C charging port at the bottom of the phone. In the middle of the right side you have a power button with built-in fingerprint reader, and just below that is the volume rocker. At the very bottom you’ve got a dedicated button to launch the camera or take photos, which is something that I’ve come to love and wish other Android phones would feature. The volume rocker is a bit of a peculiar one this time around – its position towards the bottom means that you’re going to need some pretty flexible thumbs if you want to adjust the volume when holding the phone in one hand. There’s also quite a large bezel at the top and bottom of the phone’s screen, but it doesn’t seem too out of place with the phone’s design, so it’s something we’re willing to overlook.
Round the back you have one of the Xperia XZ’s most talked about feature – the rear camera. This time around Sony has packed not just one sensor, but three sensors into its camera, which they say makes for a superb smartphone camera. There’s also the front-facing wide-angle camera for selfies, both of which we’ll look at later on in the review. The Xperia XZ comes with 32GB of storage (single-SIM version), as well as 64GB (dual-SIM).
Here’s where things start to get interesting. The Xperia XZ comes with 3GB of RAM and a Snapdragon 820 processor, which you’d think would be just fine to run pretty much any app you like. For the most part, this is true – launching apps is a breeze, and flipping between things is fairly quick and painless. That is of course, until you start running an alarming number of apps in the background – the phone slowly but surely starts to grind to a halt, so much so that the screen itself can become unresponsive until you switch the screen off and on again, and then clear some background apps. So it’s a good idea to keep an eye on what’s running in the background every now and then, as the Xperia XZ seems to want to impress you with its power, but even that has its limits. But if you keep your apps in check, you’ll love running things on the Xperia XZ.
There are also occasional software hiccups that seem to creep up from time to time. For example one of the things I seemed to experience was switching between Instagram and the stock camera app. If I was trying to capture an image using Instagram and then launched the camera app without closing Instagram, I’d get a black screen instead. Hopefully these are minor glitches that can be eliminated in a future software update.
One unfortunate issue that I did have with the Xperia XZ is solely down to the fact that we live in the Middle East. I was at a weekend brunch enjoying some sunshine with my friends, snapping some pictures and spots of video as well. After a while the camera app stopped working, and said that the phone was overheating, despite the phone being in my pocket previously and not sitting on the table in the sunshine. The sunlight here can be almost unforgiving at times, so like most smartphones the Xperia XZ will warn you when things are getting a bit too toasty to handle. Outside of shooting things in bright sunlight, the phone doesn’t overheat or feel warm, which is a relief.
UI and Apps
The Xperia XZ runs a fairly fuss-free version of Android, but sadly it’s not the latest version of Android. There’s no word on when Android 7.0 is coming to the Xperia XZ, but hopefully Sony is working to push the update out to its phones as quickly as possible.
There are however, plenty of apps that come installed on the Xperia XZ – from AVG antivirus, to official Sony apps, there’s a little bit too much to digest when you first boot up the Xperia XZ. I spent a good twenty minutes going through the running apps to either disable or uninstall them, even before I could actually start using the phone.
Screen and Camera
People often ask me if we’re going to see 4K screens on smartphones, and I usually respond by rolling my eyes in amusement. There’s no point trying to cram 4K quality into a tiny screen, so I’m more than happy with the Xperia XZ’s 5.2” Full HD screen. It’s certainly very bright and crisp, and both text and multimedia look great on it. The Xperia XZ will furiously adjust screen brightness automatically depending on light levels, so you’ve got nothing to worry about even when you’re wandering into bright sunlight.
The camera on the Xperia XZ is something that Sony has been proudly showing off at any given opportunity, and with good reason. This time around three individual sensors work together to produce some absolutely incredible photos. Here’s a photo that I took from a rooftop building and posted to Twitter a few weeks ago:
Almost every other person commented to ask what phone I had taken that photo with, a true testament to just how good your photos can look with the Xperia XZ.
There’s also plenty of improvement with low-light photography, something that many smartphones have plenty of issues capturing properly. While the Xperia XZ does take some visibly better photos in dim lighting, there are occasional times when it just can’t seem to capture a photo without blurring a subject slightly, so it’s a good idea to keep the Flash on if you want crisper photos. There are a number of additional modes that you can install to further improve the camera, such as 4K recording and even slow-motion video. The front-facing camera is also great for group photos, and even allows you to take a selfie simply by raising your hand. At first I just looked at this as a gimmick and never thought I’d actually use it, but the more photos I started taking, the more I started using this feature when taking photos with my friends.
Sound quality on the Xperia XZ is decent – there’s plenty of volume, but a slightly lacking bass makes it much better to listen using headphones.
The Xperia XZ has a 2,900mAh battery, and Sony has implemented something called Adaptive Charging in order to prolong battery life. The Xperia XZ monitors at what times you usually leave your phone plugged in to charge, and will regulate the charging so that it only charges to around 90%, before trickle-charging it to 100% just before you usually unplug it. It’s a cool idea, but also depends on you having a sort of regular charging cycle. If you change your charging times too frequently, then you won’t see much benefit from this feature. The Xperia XZ also features Stamina modes as seen in previous models, which extends battery life when you’re low on power by shutting down unneeded apps and reducing processor performance until you can recharge.
Out of the box, the battery life on the Xperia XZ is only going to last you for a few hours, and that’s fine. It’s a combination of the phone and Android getting to know your charging habits, so by the end of the first week of use you should see normal battery levels. On a full charge the Xperia XZ got to around 30% of battery life by about 9pm, and that’s with listening to music, plenty of Instagram usage, and snapping some photos.
The one thing that I am slightly frustrated about is that the Xperia XZ uses a USB-C connector for charging, which isn’t as mainstream yet. As a result I found myself with a dying phone on two separate occasions, simply because I didn’t have my charging cable with me and nearly everyone I asked nearby didn’t have a USB-C charging cable. Obviously this will change as more manufacturers adopt the USB-C port, but carrying around a charging cable may be the price you have to pay for being an early adopter.
While there are some software bugs peppered through the Xperia XZ, at its heart it is still a great phone with a superior camera that is worth boasting about. I’m hoping that Android 7.0 comes to it soon enough to address some of the bugs, but until then you can still confidently use the Xperia XZ as a very competent phone.