What is a ‘premium’ smartphone? A spec machine: something packing top-of-the-line hardware, featuring a refreshing design, and of course, placed on the higher side when it comes to price, is something you can call a premium smartphone. Over the years, Sony has failed to make a splash with its high-end Android smartphones. But the company’s latest flagship smartphone, the Xperia XZ Premium, has all the ingredients to change the company’s fortunes.
The Sony Xperia XZ Premium is the world’s first smartphone to feature a 4K HDR display. In India, it is also the first smartphone to be powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC. It’s not just about the chipset and display, Sony is also focusing on the design elements and camera. Priced at Rs 59,990, the Xperia XZ Premium is placed in the same price bracket as the Google Pixel XL, Samsung Galaxy S8, LG G6, Apple iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. Specifications apart, does the Xperia XZ Premium have anything to justify its ‘premium’ price tag? Let’s find out.
Sony Xperia XZ Premium – Design and Build
With the Xperia XZ last year, Sony introduced its ‘Loop’ design with smooth rounded edges. The same was continued with the Xperia XZs, and is now on the Xperia XZ Premium as well. However, there are minor differences here. While the Xperia XZ and Xperia XZs featured back made from Alkaleido metal, the XZ Premium now has a glass back with Corning Gorilla Glass 5 protection. Also, the top and bottom edges are now made from metal and have diamond cut chamfered edges.
The front is dominated by the 5.5-inch display with thick bezels on the top and bottom. The screen is covered with a 2.5D curved glass with Corning Gorilla Glass 5 protection. You have the front-facing camera, earpiece (which also doubles as a stereo speaker) and ambient light sensor above the display, whereas the primary speaker is placed below the display. ALSO READ: LG G6 review: The flagship smartphone that you deserved, a year ago!
Along the left edge, you have the hybrid dual-SIM card slot. Unlike other smartphones, you don’t need a SIM card eject tool to remove the SIM card. This time around, Sony has added a slightly different type of slot – the primary SIM card tray is placed separately, and a little flimsy too. The secondary is the usual hybrid tray, allowing you to either use a nano-SIM card or a microSD card.
The right edge has the volume rocker, followed by the power / sleep button, which also doubles as a fingerprint scanner. To unlock, you need to first wake the smartphone after which it scans the fingerprint. During my usage, I did come across times where I had to scan the fingerprint for a couple of times to make it work, but it didn’t happen too often. The right edge also has a physical camera shutter release button, making it easier to quickly wake the camera from sleep mode and click photos.
Along the top, you have the 3.5mm audio jack, whereas the USB Type-C port is placed at the bottom. Turn to the back and you have the camera module on the top-left and the auto-focus and LED module placed besides it. The ring around the camera lens has a nice concentric circle pattern, and the back also has a mirror finish to it, both adding to its aesthetics. ALSO READ: Samsung Galaxy S8 camera review: A closer look at the front and rear camera on the newest flagship out there
Now, the overall design of the Sony Xperia XZ Premium is good – it has everything that you would expect from a flagship smartphone. However, the width and length is slightly longer and broader for a smartphone that houses a 5.5-inch display. The LG G6 and the Samsung Galaxy S8, even after packing larger displays are compact, making them easier to operate with one hand. Also, the glass back design makes the smartphone a bit slippery, so you need to handle it with care. And yes, the front and back glass is also a fingerprint magnet, meaning you’ll end up wiping those smudges off too often.
Sony Xperia XZ Premium – Specifications
Talking about specifications, the smartphone is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 octa-core SoC – four custom Kryo cores clocked at 2.45GHz + four custom Kryo cores clocked at 1.9GHz. The chipset is built on 10nm fabrication which helps to offer the required power and the efficiency as well. Qualcomm has also worked to ensure that the thermal levels are at minimum, even when running intense applications.
The chipset comes with the Adreno 540 GPU, 4GB of RAM and 64GB on-board storage. On the battery front, Sony has armed the Xperia XZ Premium with a 3,230mAh battery along with stamina mode, which the company claims to offer all-day long battery. It also features support for Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 fast charging technology, which is a little disappointing as the Snapdragon 835 can support Quick Charge 4.0.
On the connectivity front, you get 4G with VoLTE HD voice calling support, NFC, Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5.0, and GPS. In the software department, the Xperia XZ Premium runs on Android 7.1.1 Nougat, with a layer of Sony’s custom UI on top. The smartphone also comes with IP68 certification for water and dust resistance.
Sony Xperia XZ Premium – 4K HDR Display
Among the three important highlights of the Xperia XZ Premium, the first one is the 5.5-inch 4K HDR display. The Xperia Z5 Premium launched in 2015 was the first smartphone to feature a 4K display running at a resolution of 2160x3840pixels, along with an insane pixel density of over 800ppi. The Xperia XZ Premium is also equipped with the same display, but this time around, you also get support for HDR through the HDR10 format, allowing you to watch movies and TV shows on Amazon Prime Video and Netflix with better contrast and color clarity. It is also the first and only smartphone that can playback YouTube videos in 4K resolution, whereas others are capped at 2K.
No doubt, the display is gorgeous – it’s bright, offers good viewing angles, text and icons look razor sharp, and details are unmatched compared to other high-end smartphones. The color reproduction is vibrant, thanks to Sony’s Triluminos display technology and Bravia X-Reality engine. But then, things here get a little subjective too. I like colors that look a bit punchy, but in this case, they look too gaudy and oversaturated. You can tweak color saturation under display settings, but it still doesn’t help much. However, those who like punchy colors will appreciate the display.
But do we really need a 4K display on a smartphone?
The simple answer is NO. Well, don’t get me wrong – it’s good to see technological advancements. Sony has been one of the market leaders in display technology, and it has done a commendable job in bringing the technology to a small 5.5-inch screen. That being said; it is also true that our naked eye can’t always figure out the difference between an HD display, full HD and 4K display.
Secondly, we still don’t have enough 4K HDR content to consume. On Amazon Prime Video, only Man in the High Castle and Mozart in the Jungle are two shows that are offered in HDR format, and that too not in India. Also, to stream and download such content, you will need a good internet connection with plenty of data to spare. Overall, it’s good to have a future-proof display technology on a smartphone, but for now there’s barely any practical use for it.
Sony Xperia XZ Premium – Software and UI
The Xperia XZ Premium runs Android 7.1.1 Nougat out-of-the-box, with a layer of Sony’s custom UI on top. A simple swipe from left to right brings up Google Now, just like on the Nexus and Pixel smartphones. Swiping down anywhere on the home screen brings quick search box where you can quickly search for an. The bottom half shows recommended apps that you can install from the Play Store. ALSO READ: Sony Xperia XZ Review
Now, while the interface is clean and easy to use with no fancy add-ons, I do have a problem with bloatware apps that come pre-installed with the smartphone. There is an app called ‘What’s New’ – which lets you discover and download games and apps. The annoying part? It keeps on sending out push notifications for the same, at least once in a day.
You also get Sony’s Lifelog which uses onboard sensors to log details such as number of steps taken, calories burned, distance walked, screen on time, for how long you use web browser, listen to music, watch videos and more. The app works best when using Sony’s fitness band or Sony smartwatch.
Other apps include Movie Creator, Sketch, PlayStation, AVG Protection, Xperia Lounge and more. Sadly, you cannot uninstall these apps, and the only thing you can do is disable them. It would have been nice if Sony had allowed uninstalling unnecessary apps, thus allowing to save some space too.
Sony Xperia XZ Premium – Performance
Now, coming to the second highlight – the chipset. The Xperia XZ Premium is the first smartphone in India to be powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 octa-core SoC. Built on the 10nm fabrication process, the chipset brings a lot of improvements over last year’s Snapdragon 820 and 821 SoCs in terms of power, performance, battery efficiency and thermal levels too. The combination of the Snapdragon 835 SoC, 4GB of RAM and Adreno 540GPU ensure things run butter smooth. Even with multiple apps running in background, switching between apps is pretty smooth.
Gaming performance is good too, be it playing casual games like Temple Run or Fruit Ninja. Even graphics intense games such as Modern Combat 5 and Asphalt 8: Airborne run without any hiccups. One of the major issues with most smartphones is that the back of the device gets quite warm after playing games continuously for about 10 minutes, but the same isn’t the case with the Xperia XZ Premium. Even after 15 minutes of gaming, the phone just gets slightly warm, which is a good improvement, thanks to Snapdragon 835 Soc.
One of the other key highlights of Sony smartphones is the audio chops, and the Xperia XZ Premium doesn’t disappoint in this department either. The smartphone supports playback of Hi-Res audio files in FLAC and ALAC formats. And it can also upscale the compressed music files to offer better sounding audio, which sort of works to an extent.
Sony has also included several equalizer presets such as ClearAudio+, S-Force front surround, dynamic normalizer, clear bass and others. The audio output is pretty loud and detailed, both on earphones and on the stereo speakers. What’s more, Sony has also included the LDAC codec for Hi-Res audio output when listening to music on Bluetooth headphones. Sadly, I couldn’t test it due to lack of LDAC equipped headphones.
Sony Xperia XZ Premium – ‘Motion Eye’ Camera
Now, coming to the third highlight of the Xperia XZ Premium, the 19-megapixel rear camera with ‘Motion Eye’ technology that lets you record 960fps slow-motion videos. The camera has a 25mm lens, f/2.0 aperture, Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS) and 5-axis stabilization. Sony has also included predictive phase detection and predictive capture which captures photos one second before you press the shutter. It then offers a burst of four photos to choose from, and it works well too.
The camera app is straight forward and easy to use. By default, it starts with Superior Auto mode, 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. Soon after pressing the dedicated camera shutter button, the app takes about a second to load. Also, from the moment you click the shutter button it takes about a second to save the clicked photo to save in the camera roll. It could have been faster, but I assume the post processing is taking a bit of time.
Talking about the photo quality, Sony seems to have worked hard to ensure that camera on the Xperia XZ Premium is on par with offerings from the competition. Photos shot in daylight look good, with enough details. Close-up shots look crisp and detailed with good depth of field effects. The sensor is also able to capture accurate color details. Even the good dynamic range of outdoor shots is good. I just have one complaint though; the size of photos is pretty large, going up to 8MB per photo. So make sure you get a good microSD card with at least 32GB / 64GB storage if you are going to use the camera often. Below are a few camera samples shot on the Xperia XZ Premium.
Low-light performance of the Xperia XZ Premium is also good. I clicked some photos in low-light conditions and the camera didn’t disappoint me. Some amount of grain is slightly visible though. However, instead of f/2.0 aperture, I wish Sony had used a slightly larger aperture on the Xperia XZ Premium. The Samsung Galaxy S8 comes with f/1.7 aperture, whereas the iPhone 7 comes with f/1.8 aperture, which helps those phones capture slightly better pictures. Below are some of the low-light camera samples shot on the Xperia XZ Premium. ALSO READ: Sony Xperia XZs Review: Can this premium camera phone win back customers for Sony?
Up front, you get a 13-megapixel camera for selfies and video calling. The camera also supports auto-focus, letting you take blur free photos. I did click some photos outdoors and indoors, and they turned out to be pretty good.
Below are some selfies captured on the Xperia XZ Premium’s front-facing camera, both indoors and outdoors.
One of the best things about the Xperia XZ Premium is that it is water resistant with IP68 certification. I took the phone in a Jacuzzi and inside the swimming pool, and it works without any hiccups. Photos shot underwater in a pool look good too. Look at the sample below.
Now, let’s talk about slow motion videos. While continuous slow motion video recording on some smartphones is capped at 240fps, Sony has taken a notch further with 960fps. It is similar to what we have already seen on the Xperia XZs that we reviewed earlier. However, it is important to note that due to the high processing that it required, the smartphone only lets you capture a burst of videos in slow motion. You need to get used to it, as 960fps slow motion capture is a little tricky, mostly because you cannot predict when the best moment will come. But one thing is for sure, the slow-motion capture can turn any video into an interesting one.
The Xperia XZ Premium also supports 4K video recording at 30fps. One of the major issues I had with the Xperia Z3, Xperia Z3+, and Xperia XZ Premium was that the phone used to get very warm and the camera app would shut down, even after two minutes of video recording. However, after all these years, Sony seems to have finally fixed the thermal issue on the Xperia XZ Premium, and even after 15 minutes of 4K video recording, the smartphone didn’t get too warm. The 4K videos offer good quality audio and details, and there is nothing to complaint about.
Sony Xperia XZ Premium – Battery Life
Even though the Xperia XZ Premium sports a 4K display and packs a powerful chipset, the 3,230mAh battery easily lasts through the day. The Quick Charge 3.0 helps to fully charge the battery from 0-100 percent in under two hours. My typical usage includes social media throughout the day, three email accounts in sync, occasional Slack conversations, and either watching videos or surfing the web during my daily commute. With all this, I could easily get a day worth battery life, with screen-on-time of close to four hours. ALSO READ: Samsung Galaxy S8 review: A combination of beauty, beast and near-perfection!
Sony’s ‘Stamina Mode’ further helps to slightly prolong the battery life by a few hours. It does this by reducing the performance – including underclocking the chipset, turning off the animations, and more. And then there is the ‘Ultra Stamina Mode’ which turns off all the unnecessary services, and all you get is camera, phone, messages, clock, music and album. As mobile data, Wi-Fi and other services are turned off, it prolongs the battery life by up to two days or more.
It’s been a while, but Sony has once again built a worthy smartphone that ticks all the right boxes. Right from the front-and-back glass design and mirror-like finish, to 4K HDR display, Snapdragon 835 SoC to a capable 19-megapixel camera with ‘Motion Eye’ technology, the Xperia XZ Premium has it all. Performance-wise too, the smartphone doesn’t disappoint.
Sure, being billed as a ‘Premium’ smartphone, the pricing is also on the higher side, and its performance does help justify that. By far, the Xperia XZ Premium is Sony’s best flagship smartphone that we’ve seen in years.
Now, despite having a powerful smartphone on hand, it is going to be a litmus test for Sony to convince smartphone buyers, especially when you have options such as the Google Pixel and Pixel XL, Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+, the iPhone 7 Plus and LG G6 for it to compete against. With the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ setting the bar high for flagship smartphones, it will be interesting to see how the Xperia XZ Premium fares over the course of time, and whether its key features help it stand out.