Sony has been facing a reducing market share with its Android smartphone business for the past few years, especially after the growth of Chinese rivals such as LeEco, Xiaomi and OnePlus. Earlier this year, Sony killed its Xperia Z line and replaced it with the new X-series smartphones. The company has also reduced its presence in the affordable and mid-range segments, and as of now, Sony depends on its high-end range to maintain its presence in the market.
The company recently launched the Xperia XZ, which is priced at Rs 51,990. With a premium price tag, the smartphone will compete with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S7, the HTC 10 and the LG G5, all of which are easily available in the market at under Rs 45,000. There are also other Chinese rivals such as the OnePlus 3, the Xiaomi Mi 5 and the LeEco Le Max2 that are priced at nearly half the price of the Xperia XZ. I have reviewed the Xperia Z2 and the Xperia Z3 in the past and wasn’t quite impressed with those smartphones. And in one way, the Xperia XZ could be considered as the successor to last year’s Xperia Z5 as it brings some needed hardware upgrades along with a new and refreshing design. But does the Xperia XZ have in it to keep Sony’s flag fluttering? Continue reading my review to find out.
Sony Xperia XZ Design
Design has always been one of Sony’s strong points, especially for its flagship smartphones, and the new Xperia XZ is no exception. Sony has switched from ‘OmniBalance’ to the new ‘loop’ design, and has used a combination of materials to manufacture the device. The front is dominated by the 5.2-inch display with 2.5D curved glass and slim bezels on the sides. You have equally thick bezels above and below the display, but it keeps the design in sync. Above the display, you have the front camera, earpiece and sensors, and a speaker at the bottom. When listening to music or watching videos, the earpiece also doubles up as a secondary speaker, just like we have seen in the Apple iPhone 7.
Turn to the back, and you have an all metal plate made of Alkaleido, a proprietary material produced by Sony, along with the camera, laser auto-focus module and LED flash. The frame is made from smooth plastic with rounded edges that also offer a good grip on the phone.
On the right side, you have the power / sleep button placed at the center. The button is easily accessible and it comes embedded with the fingerprint sensor for biometric authentication. While it does help Sony save some space at the front and back, I found the scanner to be quite inaccurate. There had been moments where I had been struggling to unlock the smartphone using my fingerprint and finally had to resort to using the security pin.
Just below the power button, you have the awkwardly placed volume rocker and a dedicated camera shutter button, which is something we frequently see on Sony smartphones. Accessing the volume buttons is very inconvenient, and even after using the phone for a week, I still haven’t got used to it. The 3.5mm audio jack is placed on the top, whereas the USB Type-C port is placed at the bottom.
On the left side, you have the hybrid SIM card tray that can accept two nano-SIM cards or one nano-SIM card and a microSD card. It has a plastic flap which makes it easy to remove without using a SIM ejector tool, and also keeps water and dust from entering the insides of the phone. However, the only bothersome part is if you pull out the slot while the phone is on, the phone reboots a few times until it properly latches onto the mobile network.
Sony Xperia XZ Specifications
The smartphone sports a 5.2-inch full-HD (1080p) Triluminos screen with pixel density of 424ppi. It is covered with 2.5D curved glass on top and Corning Gorilla Glass 4 for protection. Sony has used an IPS LCD panel which is pretty bright, and offers good legibility under direct sunlight. Viewing angles are good, black levels are deep and whites are quite bright too. Text is razor sharp, whereas colors are a bit too gaudy, especially the reds. Under display settings, there is an option to turn on X-Reality mode for sharper, natural looking colors, and a super-vivid mode for vibrant colors. Sadly, even after turning off the image enhancements, the colors still look gaudy. Additionally, a lot of more affordable competitors offer 1440×2560-pixel screens, which has me a bit disappointed at Sony’s choice of a full-HD screen, especially considering the price.
The Xperia XZ is powered by Qualcomm’s 64-bit Snapdragon 820 quad-core SoC paired with 3GB of RAM and Adreno 530 GPU. There is 64GB of onboard storage, you also get a microSD card slot up to 256GB for further expansion. One of the key highlights of the Xperia XZ is its 23-megapixel primary camera with predictive hybrid auto-focus, 24mm wide-angle G Lens, software based 5-axis stabilization and 4K video recording capabilities. For selfie lovers there is a 13-megapixel camera with f/2.0 aperture, and wide-angle photography capability.
Connectivity options on the smartphone include 4G LTE with support for VoLTE HD voice calling on one SIM, and 3G on second SIM, Bluetooth 4.2 LE, GPS and Wi-Fi 802. To keep things ticking, Sony has included a 2,900mAh battery with Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0. Sadly, my review unit didn’t come with the charger, so I couldn’t test how long it takes to charge the device with the charger that comes with the phone and whether it supports Quick Charge 3.0.
The Xperia XZ is offered in three color variants – mineral black, platinum and forest blue. The smartphone is also IP68 certified for water and dust resistance, which means that you can submerge it under 1.5 meter water for up to 30 minutes without it affecting the functioning of the phone (provided you’ve shut off the flaps and secured the water-resistance features).
Sony Xperia XZ Software
The smartphone runs on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with Sony’s custom UI running on top. The interface is the same as the one we’ve seen on the Xperia Z5. Swiping from left to right on the homescreen brings up Google Now, a small swipe downwards on the homescreen brings up the quick search box to look for an app. Here, the top half shows you apps that you’ve recently used, whereas the bottom half shows recommended apps that you can download and install from the Play Store.
Sony has loaded some bloatware apps such as SonyLIV, Xperia Lounge, PlayStation, Movie Creator, Sketch and What’s New among others. You also get Facebook, Midnight Pool, AVG Protection, Asphalt Nitro, Modern Combat 5 and Swiftkey Keyboard pre-installed. Sadly, you can’t uninstall them.
Sony Xperia XZ Performance
The combination of the Snapdragon 820 SoC and 3GB of RAM offers the required power to handle daily tasks. During my one week of using the phone, I didn’t encounter any lag when switching between apps or any type of app crashes. The interface is smooth, and the smartphone can handle ordinary tasks such as phone calls, web browsing and social media with ease. I didn’t notice any stuttering while playing casual games such as Subway Surfers or Temple Run, or even when playing graphics hungry games such as Asphalt 8: Airborne. The phone did get slightly warm after prolonged gaming sessions, but that didn’t hinder its performance.
As always, Sony has also focused on audio chops and the Xperia XZ comes with support for Hi-Res audio files in FLAC and ALAC formats. It can also upscale the compressed music files to offer better sounding audio. It also includes several equalizer presets such as ClearAudio+, S-Force front surround, dynamic normalizer, clear bass and others. On a decent pair of headphones, the audio output is pretty detailed, and you can even customize the listening experience with equalizers to suit your preferences. Sadly, I’m not impressed with the front stereo speakers as they aren’t loud enough. In fact, the output is lower than on some phones that only have a single speaker.
Sony Xperia XZ Camera
Sony has always highlighted the camera prowess of its smartphones, and it continues to do so with the Xperia XZ as well. The company makes some really good camera sensors that are used in popular smartphones such as HTC 10, Google Pixel and Pixel XL, OnePlus 3, iPhone 6s and iPhone 7 to name a few, and they all produce excellent results too. Despite that, Sony hasn’t really managed to get the camera right on its smartphones.
The camera app is straightforward and very easy to navigate. By default the resolution is set to 8-megapixel. For higher resolution, you’ll have to manually change it from the settings – you can choose 23-megapixels in 4:3 aspect ratio or 20-megapixel in 16:9 aspect ratio. The app starts with Superior Auto mode by default, and a manual mode is also present that lets you tweak the shutter speed from 1/4000 to 1 second, adjust exposure settings, focus and auto-white balance.
On pressing the dedicated camera shutter button, the app takes about a couple of seconds to start. Also, when you click photos, it takes about two to three seconds to save the photos to the camera roll. But that could be because photos I shot were of 20-megapixel resolution in 16:9 aspect ratio, and each photo is about 6-8MB is size.
Now, while the smartphone comes with predictive hybrid auto-focus technology, I noticed that it takes about two to three seconds to get the subject in focus. But even after that, most of the photos turn out to be a little blurry. Just to get the scene right, I had to click a single photo for multiple times, which otherwise is quite snappy even on devices that are less than half the price of the XZ. When I’m paying around Rs 50,000 for a smartphone, it’s a bit of a disappointment when this happens. It is also a little baffling why Sony didn’t go for optical image stabilization when camera was supposed to be one of the Xperia XZ’s USP.
[Click to see camera samples shot on the Sony Xperia XZ]
Photos shot in broad daylight turned out to be really good, and the sensor is able to capture accurate colors. However, at 100 percent crop, the missing details and graininess is easily visible. Close-up shots look detailed and the ones shot indoors with ample light look decent, but as the sun goes down, things go south. The dip in photo quality is clearly visible, even without zooming in. The sample photos that I shot at night had focusing issues and weren’t quite as sharp as Sony has been touting in its promotional campaigns.
The camera app also has Augmented Reality (AR) mode where you can add overlays over your photos and it’s pretty interesting to play around with. However, after using the mode for about two minutes, the phone tends to get warm at the back, and the camera app shuts down on its own due to thermal throttling by the phone. You’ll have to give it about a couple of minutes to cool down before you can use again, and this is an issue that has been known to occur with Sony smartphones.
The heating issue also occurs when you’re recording videos. At full-HD (1080p) resolution (30fps), I was able to record a video for about five minutes before the camera app shut down. At full-HD (60fps), it couldn’t go past 44 seconds, and at 4K (30fps) resolution, I could record a two-minute footage. What’s surprising here is that I had previously faced the exact same issue on Xperia Z2 and Z3, and after all these years, Sony still doesn’t seem to have figured out a way to get those thermal levels lower. Competitors such as LG G5, HTC 10, OnePlus 3, Samsung Galaxy S7 and Xiaomi Mi 5 also offer full-HD and 4K video recording capabilities, but they don’t suffer from such thermal issues.
The 13-megapixel selfie camera is capable of capturing some good photos in broad daylight and under well-lit conditions. Indoor selfies looked average and some amount of noise is visible too. Overall, I’m not too impressed with the camera on the Xperia XZ.
Sony Xperia XZ Battery
The Xperia XZ packs a 2,900mAh battery which lasts through the day with moderate to heavy usage. I’ve been using it with Reliance Jio only for mobile data, and secondary Vodafone connection for calls and messaging. Switching between mobile data and Wi-Fi, along with Bluetooth being always on and connected to my smartwatch, I was able to get screen-on-time of 4 hours and 10 minutes. My typical usage includes streaming music over Bluetooth for roughly two hours, an hour’s worth phone calls, some gaming for about 20 minutes, social networking and web browsing while commuting – which is typically around two hours.
Sony also has a ‘Stamina Mode’ to prolong the battery life by reducing the performance, which underclocks the processor and turns off animations, among others. After turning on the mode, I did notice some negligible amount of lag throughout the UI, but it helped me get a little more battery life, with screen-on-time slightly exceeding 4 hours and 30 minutes.
Overall, the Sony Xperia XZ looks a little out of place compared to its competitors. For instance, you get the similar hardware and additional RAM (6GB on the OnePlus 3) for almost half the price. The LG G5, the HTC 10 and the Samsung Galaxy S7 were all launched around Rs 50,000 bracket, and have already seen some price cuts, bringing them to the Rs 40,000-45,000 price bracket and making them more affordable than the Sony Xperia XZ.
The Xperia XZ has a good display, powerful hardware, refreshing design and offers good performance. The battery life is also worth talking about, but the smartphone falls short in one key department – the camera. This is particularly disappointing, because Sony has been marketing its predictive hybrid auto-focus to capture detailed and blur-free photos. I really cannot recommend the Xperia XZ at this price range, when there are a lot of better alternatives out there. If you’re spending around Rs 50,000, I’d recommend the Galaxy S7 edge, and at a slightly lower budget, the Galaxy S7 or the HTC 10 could be better choices