Sony has been the also-ran of the Android world for some time. Despite continuing to run with the big dogs at the top when it comes to the home entertainment and gaming console industry, they have yet to really nail the mobile market.
Sony have had some good devices, great devices and, well, they’ve had some shockers. Their Xperia Z3 is still spoken of longingly by Chris, and even their Z3 Tablet Compact is worth a look if you’re in the market for an 8” tablet. We did however find their Z5 phone range lacking across the board. Throughout the many highs and lows, Sony have kept at it though. This year Sony is putting the Xperia XZ Premium out there as their top of the line flagship.
How it stacks up to the rest of the phones out there in the market is the question, and the TL;DR version is: Quite well. Want a more in-depth look? Here we go.
Xperia XZ Premium Under the hood
Rather than head to market with last years ‘flavour of the month’ processor the Snapdragon 821 like LG, Sony held out for the Snapdragon 835. Qualcomm says the SD835 is faster and more power efficient and from my use, Sony made the absolute correct decision on this, the phone flys when using it.
The phone includes some features that on the surface seem ‘gimmicky’ like a 5.5” 4K resolution display, and a camera that can capture super slow-motion video up to 960 frames per second at 720p resolution.
Beyond the gimmicks, the phone is solidly packed with good hardware including 4GB of RAM, 64 GB of storage (with a microSD card slot).
Sony has thrown everything at the wall with the camera on the XZ Premium with a 19MP Exmor RS sensor with a 1.22μm pixel size that should allow for better low-light shots, placed behind an f/2.0 25mm wide-angle ‘G Lens’. On the front you get a 13MP Exmor RS sensor again behind an f/2.0 aperture lens but this time sans the ‘G Lens’ branding. In theory, that’s some powerful equipment.
There’s some interesting things Sony is doing with their camera in terms of super slow motion which is what really drew me to the XZ Premium – I`m a massive fan of Gavin and Dan from the Super Slow Mo Guys YouTube channel – so this was a good opportunity to check it out.
With the SD835 inside the XZ Premium you get all the bits and pieces you could want including dual-band Wi-Fi, the X16 LTE modem allowing up to 1Gbps downloads and Bluetooth 5.0. The SD835 can also support all manner of GPS but Sony have simply listed A-GNSS (GPS + GLONASS) but suffice to say the phone knows where it is as long as it can see the sky.
The front facing speakers above and below the screen are quite a nice, though a little small for any decent sound.
Powering all this is a 3,230mAh battery. It’s a slightly larger than some of the other 2017 flagship phones, and slightly smaller than others. As far as I’m concerned though the XZ Premium has exactly enough battery.
Sony is also putting charging smarts into the battery charging so as not to stress the battery – like another manufacturer who found out what stressing batteries can do last year. It does support Quick Charge 3.0 though, so you’ll also get fast top ups when you need them.
Xperia XZ Premium Is it a looker?
Sony have also continued to refine their familiar Xperia design. They’ve moved on from the rectangular prism of the Xperia series to something a little more refined this year. The design hasn’t strayed too far, but the phone is infinitely more comfortable to hold with curved sides and it’s a real looker with lots of glass everywhere.
The phone is a little wide when compared to this years flagships which are using the 18:9 aspect ratio, with Sony sticking to the tried and trusted 16:9. Nothing bad about this, just makes the phone feel a little wide after you’ve played with an S8 or G6.
As a whole, the phone feels very well put together. It’s all metal on the top and bottom, glass on front and back, but those nicely curved sides are plastic and I’m not at all upset by this. Plastic is far warmer to hold on a cold Canberra morning. There is a slight gap between the side panels and the top and bottom caps on the phone. It’s not noticeable when holding it in your hand but for the perfectionists out there it’s noticeable.
Sony has included metal buttons for the power (which is also a fingerprint scanner), camera and volume rocker giving it that extra premium flair. A side-by-side SIM/microSD card slot is on the right, while the microSD card is easy to get in and out, the SIM is still not great – thankfully you won’t need to change it much.
Sony has still got quite large bezels above and below the screen. I’m in the don’t really care camp when it comes to this. It has a nice symmetrical look when in landscape with the front facing speakers on either side of the display really making it look decent. I could do with less of the Sony logo below the top speaker though, but that’s me.
One design mark I do like about Sony phones is their marking of where the NFC chip on the rear of the phone is. The NFC target can sometimes be hard to find on new phones, but having an NFC logo smack bang in the middle just makes things easier.
The top and bottom of the phone are clean, with a simple USB-C port at the bottom and a 3.5mm jack at the top – yes, Sony is obviously not “brave” enough to remove it.
Sony’s design could do with a bit of a work over after this many years. It needs a little more pizazz, which could come next time around with a move to the 18:9 AR, but overall – apart from those bezels – the XZ Premium is a pretty good looking phone.
The major disappointment I have for the review is that I still have never had a Chrome coloured Xperia handset to review. The black is great, sophisticated even, but that Chrome is where it’s at for me. So, the ball is in your court for the next review Sony ;).
Xperia XZ Premium That 4K Display
One of the major talking points for the Xperia XZ Premium, as it was with the Xperia Z5, is the 4K display.
Sony makes stunning displays, and the XZ Premium keeps up the tradition. As is how Android works, the stock Android system simply displays 1080P content when running the phone, but will kick into the full 4K resolution when presenting compatible content.
Netflix, Stan, Google Play Movies (in the US only) and even YouTube are all offering 4K content these days. You can also play back 4K videos you capture on the camera as well.
As a bonus for XZ Premium owners, Netflix recently added HDR support for the phone when compatible shows are played, so that content looks even better…and all this content looks stunning.
Is 4K needed though? Probably not. And truth be told, you’re unlikely to be streaming much 4K content with the prices we pay for data on mobile in Australia these days. There’s also the space consideration – an hour of UHD content takes up about 7GB of space, luckily the phone has 64GB of storage and a microSD card slot included.
But 4K is just so nice when it’s available. But it doesn’t generally add a whole lot to the package even if it is nice.
What’s it sound like
There’s little to complain about when it comes to sound on the XZ Premium, you get decentish speakers embedded into those overly large bezels at the top and bottom of the display. They’re not going to blow your mind, but they put out a fair amount of clear sound, though as you’d expect with mobile phone speakers there’s more treble than bass.
Headphones are where it’s at with the XZ Premium. You get great sound from the phone whether it’s through Bluetooth headphones, or whether it’s connected through the 3.5mm headphone jack that’s still present on the phone – located at the top (not my preference) if you’re wondering. Sony has included both DSEE HX (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) and ClearAudio+ – though you can only use one or the other and for DSEE HX you’ll need a wired headphone.
DSEE HX was my preferred choice when it comes to quality audio, but with the majority of my listening done through Bluetooth earphones while exercising ClearAudio+ is very much acceptable.
Xperia XZ Premium What’s the Camera like?
When it comes to mobile camera sensors, Sony is THE name that manufacturers have to have. Their Exmor RS sensors are top of the line, but so far Sony has yet to really capitalise on their expertise in this field and convert their sensors into a mobile phone experience that’s actually ‘good’.
Don’t get me wrong, Sony has done wonders here getting the camera to a point where it’s fast and responsive. Unlike their previous models like the Z5 which was painfully slow to launch, the XZ Premium is fast and ready to take a shot in a relatively acceptable time.
You can launch the camera with a double press of the power button, or by holding the dedicated camera key down – or you know, just tap the camera icon. The dedicated camera key can take a little while to respond, but the double press of the power button is quite fast.
The XZ Premium can capture 19MP camera shots in 4:3 aspect ratio, but if you want the 16:9 AR you’ll have to drop to 17MP. You can also choose 4:3 or 16:9 AR in 12MP quality. The glass lens covering the 19MP Exmor Sensor is also likely helping get better visuals. It’s not the Carl Zeiss lenses you used to find on their digital cameras, but the ‘G Lens’ is pretty decent.
Camera quality is still not great with the XZ Premium. It takes good photos, not quite up with what I expect from a top tier phone, but they’re getting closer.
In well lit areas, as with most phone cameras you get a good shot, but if you take shots in low light, the slower camera shutter from the f/2.0 aperture tends to hinder things here. It’s not bad, it could be better but it’s very much above a number of other handsets on the market.
The selfie camera on the front was pretty decent, allowing me to get a good shot or two.
If there’s one thing I’d like to see Sony improve on their phones is the power of the flash – it’s weak. When using as a flash, or as torch (my main use for a flash), it’s just weak compared to other devices out there – no biggie, but please fix it Sony.
The UI is fairly standard as you’d come to expect. The shutter button is there and you can swipe between video, photo and manual modes very easily.
Video mode is where it gets a little bit interesting, there’s the usual 4K video capture – which for some reason you have to go select as an effect rather than as a shooting resolution in the video settings – which you find on all high end smartphones these days, and it’s really good quality.
What Sony is doing with the XZ Premium though introduces a new era in slow motion video for mobile which is infinitely more interesting though.
Super Slow Motion Video
Sony is doing some interesting stuff here with their super slow motion capture. The sensor in the XZ Premium has memory built-in to allow it to buffer video, capturing 960 frames per second at 720p resolution.
Using the super slow mo is super easy. In the video screen, a new icon appears next to the shutter button. Start recording your video, tap that super slow motion and you get super slow motion for 0.182 seconds before it drops back into normal video.
There’s good and bad here. When you’re taking a video of things happening around you like in the great demos that Sony put on at their launch event it’s great as you can see here:
However, when you want to get a ‘cool’ shot of something a little more close up, then it loses the effect and looks pixelated. This shot I took of a tattoo being done was done with the flash on in a brightly lit tattoo studio, but the end result wasn’t great.
The takeaway here is that it’s cool, but not quite there. Sony does have a slightly better slow-mo option coming next year with 1000fps @ 1080P resolution, and I really want to see what that can do.
Xperia XZ Premium Performance
There’s nothing to say here really, Sony nailed it, or at the very least Qualcomm has. The Snapdragon 835 coupled with 4GB of RAM makes the phone sing. There’s no lag, things just hum along nicely, I’ve not even needed to restart the phone.
The decision to include 64GB of internal storage as well as a microSD card capable of expanding memory up to a total of 320GB is just delightful.
You don’t get full access to that, with Android taking up about 13 or 14GB of space of the internal storage but coming from a 32GB Pixel it was a refreshing feeling having so much more space. That extra memory is filling slowly with 4K videos from the camera, and of course the occasional Netflix show – and a hell of a lot of games…for my son of course.
The one place I found issues with in terms of performance was the fingerprint scanner. In the Xperia XZ Premium you find the fingerprint scanner built into the power button on the side of the phone. Like a number of phones, you have to depress the power button to activate the scanner. Sometimes this leads to a disconnect on the phone with when you want to scan your fingerprint or just power the screen on.
I found the performance to be fast when it worked, but found it failing a little more often than I’d like. The fingerprint scanner also seemed to fail when my finger was wet, as well as during or after I’d been exercising – perhaps dehydrated skin affects it?
Connectivity wise, all the wireless connections (dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, NFC etc.) including Miracast compatibility, all work well as you’d expect these days. The included 4G connection is fast, though these days you expect this.
Also of note is that Playstation 4 owners get Remote Play allowing you to play PS4 games on your handset. It’s pretty cool, but not as cool as I found the built-in remote app for my Sony TV. After loading the Video app I was greeted with a prompt to add my Android TV Powered Bravia to the app which then gave me a full remote, including a compact remote in the notification pane – Very cool Sony.
Overall though, there’s more to like in the XZ Premium than dislike when it comes to performance. That Snapdragon 835 just tops off a finely tuned bit of kit from Sony.
Xperia XZ Premium Can I get through a full day of use on the battery?
Sony has included a 3,230mAh battery with the XZ Premium, it’s a little larger than the Galaxy S8 and HTC U11 which both have 3,000mAh batteries, but slightly smaller than the LG G6.
The key difference between most of those flagships and the XZ Premium is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor which seems to be working some black magic with the battery life, as Jason found with the HTC U11. So too am I finding some good news with the Sony Xperia XZ Premium.
When testing battery life of the Xperia XZ Premium it seems I finally met my match – I ran out of energy before the phone did.
That’s not light use either. I hammered this thing when doing battery life tests. I was seeing 6 hours of screen on time over 16-17 hours from a single charge on a regular basis.
It’s not just in battery life that Sony has also been fairly proactive with their Xperia range. With the Xperia XZ Premium you get ‘Qnovo Adaptive Charging’ which monitors the battery itself to ensure that it’s not ‘overworked’, scaling down the current if required to adapt when charging. This means charging the phone to 90%, then filling the last 10% just before you normally wake. Of course all that goes out the door when you’re a shift worker and insomniac, so there’s that but I still got those full day battery life, so I’m a happy little Vegemite here.
So, yes, you can get through a full day of use with the XZ Premium, and if you ever feel like you’re coming close to running out a brief top up from the charger will get you even further in a short period of time.
Xperia XZ Premium Software
Sony has delivered the latest version of Android on the XZ Premium. That of course means Android 7.1.1 and the latest security patch, or at least the 1st of August patch as of the time of writing. Sony has delivered the security patch within a day or two of Google releasing the patch to date and it’s refreshing to get that on a non-Pixel/Nexus device.
Sony installs their own apps for Video, Music and a number of other functions (everyone wants their own eco-system right?!). Xperia Actions – their Assistant – is pretty cool, but with the functions you get in Google Assistant (which showed up finally on the XZ Premium) I didn’t tend to use it much but for new users having the option to get some help transferring your data etc. over is very good.
Sony also tends to add on small parts to the launcher here and there modifying it only slightly where they feel improvements can be made – they’re not all good, but considering what other companies can do to Android it’s pretty good.
From my view, Sony has always had a relatively good relationship with Google and their view of what Android should look, and function like. Quick Settings are all stock, notifications handle like Nougat, you also get Google Now integrated from the home menu just swipe left, and even the folders on the homescreen look and act the same as stock Android.
The parts where Sony feels they can improve on Android are mostly things like the Widget/Wallpaper picker, as well as App Drawer, and the Settings menu.
From the Widget/Wallppaer Picker you can uninstall apps quickly and jump into wallpapers, widgets etc. it isn’t actually too bad, it’s just different. It’s also in here where Sony hides their theming engine away. You can find four default Xperia themes, or head to their store to choose a theme you like. You will also get notifications from the What’s New app when new movie themes etc. get released which feels a little pushy when they appear, but hey, Sony owns a movie studio and they want you to know it.
They’ve changed things in the App Drawer far more than anything I’d like. The App Drawer side-scrolls and like many others is ordered by Date, or Most Used instead of Name by default. You can change this of course, but it’s annoying if you don’t realise it. You can uninstall apps directly from the app drawer which is great when trying to free up unused apps, though the in-built Sony Smart tips will also automatically recommend this from time to time.
The Settings menu isn’t too bad considering what could be done. It’s a little more colourful than stock Android but that does make it easier to find some things. The search function included helps as well.
Your Quick Settings remain untouched, as do notifications – though there is a pain point for myself and a number of Sony Xperia owners when it comes to notifications, specifically those from Sony’s ‘What’s New’ app.
Sony’s What’s New app bombards you with tips or notifications of cheap/free apps, or new themes. While you can’t uninstall ‘What’s New’ you can switch off notifications for all but notifications for app updates, so at least that’s something.
There are two things that Sony has not included with the Xperia XZ Premium which I’d love – or am missing from having used them on other handsets: Double Tap to Wake and Night Mode.
A night mode, or blue light filter is something that has become very common on most handsets these days. The filter effectively removes blue light from the screen; blue light has been found to restrict your ability to fall asleep, so when reading at night before bed (as I do a lot on my phone) you want to limit your exposure. The XZ Premium doesn’t have this and it’s missed. You can of course do as I have and install a third-party app, but I would prefer the function baked in.
Double tap to wake. Ok, so it’s not a deal breaker but it’s definitely handy. It’s been great to have on a lot of my phones including LG handsets, older Sony Xperia devices and of course the Pixel. It’s something I use and it’s missed.
Sony does get overall props for a well executed Android interface. There’s improvements here and there, but there’s still some work to do., With an up to date OS, timely security updates and in all likelihood an update to Android O coming Sony is doing it right with the Xperia line as far as I’m concerned.
Xperia XZ Premium Should I buy the Xperia XZ Premium?
Let’s keep this short and sweet: Yes.
I’m in love with this phone. The design, the camera, the display, performance and even their Android implementation all make for a beautifully crafted handset that sets the Sony Xperia XZ Premium up amongst the best Android phones on the market today.
The phone is expensive, but not as expensive as some of its competitors and it has seen a bit of a price drop from the RRP of $1099 if you do some shopping around. The XZ Premium also has the distinction of being available from all the Australian carriers on contract.
When it comes to price though, you get a phenomenal piece of kit that you, or anyone you recommend it to will be happy with.
After a disappointing run with the Xperia Z5, the Xperia XZ Premium is finally a Sony phone I love and if you don’t at least try it out you’re doing yourself a disservice.
Ausdroid has been permitted to keep the Sony Xperia XZ Premium for long term review.