4 min read

Review: Sony Xperia XZ, Android contender

The Sony Xperia XZ is a solid high-end Android phone with an excellent camera and great sound.

Sony Xperia XZ at a glance

For: Great camera, High-definition audio, Water resistance, Clean software
Against: Generic design
Maybe: Chunky performance
Verdict: Solid Android contender, gets important things right
Price: NZ$1100
Website: Sony Xperia XZ

While Sony’s Xperia XZ is late to the 2016 smartphone party it gets a lot of things right. The phone isn’t as pretty as the Samsung Galaxy S7 or the Apple iPhone 7 but the Xperia XZ has enough of its own charms to keep Sony fans from switching brands.

Sony has always emphasised the cameras on its phones. The company made great digital cameras long before Steve Jobs stood on a stage with the first iPhone. That tradition is alive in the Xperia XZ. It packs a superb 23-megapixel rear camera. The camera draws on Sony’s experience and pulls technology from other parts of the business.

Triple sensor camera

The Xperia XZ has the same 23-megapixel paper specification as last year’s Xperia Z5. But, the XZ camera comes with what Sony calls its triple sensor technology.

The first sensor is the main 23-megapixel sensor with built-in phase detection for auto-focus. Next to this is a laser range-finder that measures the distance to the main subject in the image. Knowing the distance helps the camera calculate AF speed and accuracy.

An RCBC-IR sensor measures colour values in the image. That helps to tune the white balance in the picture. Sony’s autofocus is predictive and can track moving subjects. There is also five-axis stabilisation.

The Xperia XZ uses Sony’s G lens which has a 24mm focal length and an F2.0 aperture. The phone camera can handle 4K resolution video, but you need to use one of the included apps to do this. When it comes to taking selfies or videoconferencing, the front camera has a 13-megapixel sensor with an F2.0 aperture. It can handle 1080p video.

A lot of camera technology

On paper the camera specification is impressive. In practice the Xperia XZ gets mixed results. Some of this is down to how you use the phone.

Although Sony automates everything, there are times when you need to override these settings. That requires a degree of fiddling that you wouldn’t find on, say, a digital SLR.

Sony’s laser focus is impressive. It is fast and accurate, yet if you shoot pictures of fast-moving objects you can still end up with blurring. The Xperia XZ does a great job with low-light conditions. This is important for journalists who often need to snap images in poor light.

Comparing camera results between phones is never easy. On balance the results are not always as good as you’d get from an Apple iPhone 7. Nor are they up to the standard of the Samsung Galaxy S7.

What you always get from the Xperia is incredible levels of detail without artifacts. And the camera is excellent with capturing colours.

The camera’s dynamic range isn’t always as impressive. But then that’s often a weak spot even with expensive digital SLRs. When it comes to shooting video, the Sony Xperia XZ is on a par with the best that Apple and Samsung can offer. At least in the limited testing done so far.

In practice the camera doesn’t always live up to the paper specification. And it isn’t consistent. At times the Xperia XZ manages detail and clarity that you couldn’t find on any other phone camera.

HD audio

Away from cameras, Sony’s other strength is audio. The Xperia XZ doesn’t disappoint in that department. It can play HD audio and lossless .flac files.

The phone’s stereo speakers pump out more volume than you might expect from a small device. The sound tends towards the treble end and there’s not much bass.

Headphones are another story. The sound is excellent.

As an added bonus, Sony offers a compatible noise cancelling headset. If you listen to a lot of music, this might be enough to get you over the line when making a buying decision.

Performance good, but…

Inside the case is a Snapdragon 820 processor, 3GB of RAM and 32GB internal storage. This is the standard specification for a high-end 2016 Android phone. It is nothing to sniff at. Yet the phone arrives at the tail-end of the year up to nine months after other phones with similar hardware. It’ll be more than enough for the near future, but could soon  look dated.

Battery life is another traditional Sony strength. Like other phones with a similar specification, you can expect a day from a single battery charge.

The 2,900mAh battery has a touch more capacity than other recent phones. But the hardware is more demanding.

Sony has a Stamina mode for when you want to cut back on the battery drain. There’s an Ultra Stamina mode when you want to push it futher again. You will notice the performance drops while these are in use.

Without conducting scientific tests, it feels as if the Xperia XZ lasts longer than a Galaxy S7.

Should you buy the Xperia XZ?

With a list price of NZ$1100, Sony is asking a premium price for the Xperia XZ. It’s lovely, yet people willing to pay that much may find another $100 and buy the better-equipped Samsung Galaxy S7. Or, you might choose to save a few hundred and buy the Huawei P9.

Sony has most things right with the Xperia XZ, but the phone market remains as competitive as ever. You’d need to be a Sony fan, need its photography features or want HD audio to choose the Xperia XZ over the Galaxy S7.