Sony Xperia XZ and X Compact Smartphone Review
Do Sony's new phones have the X factor?
What are the Sony Xperia XZ and Xperia X Compact?These are Sony’s latest smartphones, one for those who prefer a larger handset, one for smaller mitts. The Xperia XZ has a 5.2in display, the X Compact a 4.6in one. And at a time when phones are bigger than ever, it’s refreshing to see a company like Sony ensuring that people who fancy something a little more pocketable aren’t being left out, or offered a noticeably poorer option.
DesignThe XZ and X Compact share a similar design language: Sony logo above the screen, wide microphone below, glossy back. Logo apart, these could be almost any phone, right? What makes the design distinctive is the edging. The base and top are entirely flat but the sides have rounded edges, so they fit the hand better even at the larger size model. Both are well-proportioned so they are very comfortable to hold. One consequence of all this is the phones stand happily on their bases (though less so on the top edge). This is useful if you want to make video calls or take photos using the self-timer, for instance.
There’s no Home button on front or back – Sony favours putting that in the power button on the right edge. This also manages to contain the fingerprint sensor you’ll need to unlock the home screen securely. However, since these are Android handsets you can wake the screen by tapping it twice, if you want to see the time without picking the phone up, say. Sony has introduced neat colours here, especially on the XZ which has a classy, deep blue shade (Forest Blue, for some reason) while the smaller phone opts for what the company calls Mist blue. It’s a very pale powder blue.
The X Compact is slightly thicker from front to back than the XZ and it feels chunkier because the other dimensions are smaller than the XZ, but neither phone is fat. Both phones feel and look good, though the XZ certainly feels more premium, not least because the metallic back is more classy than the more plasticky Compact. The XZ does show fingerprints more readily than the smaller phone. The metallic finish is attractive and uses something Sony calls Alkaleido, a trademarked name for a version of aluminium.
The screens on both phones approach the edges of the phone but neither has the edge-to-edge display of the earlier Xperia XA. The larger handset has Full HD resolution, and looks crisp, sharp and very vivid without quite being oversaturated. Another change from earlier Sony phones comes with the charger, which we’ll come on to in more depth later. These phones have USB-C connectors so a) they can charge your phone FAST! and b) none of your old charging cables will be of any further use. Both phones – and this is an increasingly rare feature – have a dedicated hardware camera button. It’s on the right edge.
There’s another difference between the two and it’s an important one: the XZ is waterproof, or water-resistant as the company is now calling it, but the X Compact is not. This is a shame as water-resistance was Sony’s consistent calling card pretty much before anyone else’s and the company hasn’t just restricted it to the top-end models. Once you’ve tried a waterproof phone or more importantly, have dropped it in water and it’s survived, you quickly come round to the idea that all gadgets should have this feature. The ingress protection rating for the XZ only is IP68, that’s as dust-resistant as it comes and water-resistant enough to survive submersion in 1.5 metres of water for up to half an hour.
CameraThe phone’s rear camera has been a real strong point for Sony since it introduced a 20.7MP sensor with the Xperia Z1, when it was megapixels ahead of nearly all its rivals except one model from Nokia. It bumped the resolution further with the Xperia Z5 to 23MP. Of course, high pixel count isn’t an entirely reliable guide to excellence, but 23MP is the state of play here, too, on both sizes of phone.
While the smaller phone has the same size sensor, the XZ has more features, including the headline extra of laser autofocus, a first on a Sony phone, though found on a couple of rivals’ machines. This works in tandem with a feature called predictive hybrid autofocus which basically guesses that if a fast-moving object heading to the right and towards you while it’s focusing, it’ll be just a bit to the right and a bit nearer when the shutter actually fires and it focuses accordingly. In practice, it works tremendously, with super-fast focusing in normal light without having to bust out of automatic shooting mode.
Like several other recent flagship phones, the Xperia XZ can shoot video at 4K resolution, and without the phone overheating which dogged one earlier model, the Z3+. Of course, to see the benefit of such shooting you’ll need to play it back on a 4K-capable TV or monitor as this is not a 4K screen, though Sony has made one of those in the past, the Z5 Premium.
Sony says the reason its camera, and for that matter the display, are so good is because it draws on the expertise of the company’s photography and TV divisions. Whatever, the results are impressive.
A standout on both phones, but especially the XZ, is the speed of response. There is absolutely no shutter lag in brighter light, and precious little in lower light. Much of this is down to the super-fast laser autofocus presumably.Sony has stressed that this means you can take pictures of leaping animals without missing the leap, for instance. My canine subject was reluctant about actually jumping but afforded several instances where her fast moving was captured well.
The XZ camera is impressive, putting it in the same top rank as the iPhone 7 Plus, HTC 10 and Samsung Galaxy S7 edge. I think those three just outrank the Sony, but this is still very strong. The X Compact camera is less wonderful, not least because there’s no laser involved, but Sony’s manipulation of those 23 megapixels at least makes for a detailed, rich photograph, especially in comfortably-lit situations.
The front cameras on the phones differ, with Sony plumping for a reasonable but far from outstanding 5MP model on the X Compact but a very decent 13MP front snapper on the Xperia XZ which takes tremendous selfies, if that’s your thing. Since both these phones stand on their base, on a flat surface at least, you might be glad of the palm detection feature for self-portraits. Hold your palm to face the camera and you’ll initiate a timer. Useful.
Operation of both cameras is pleasingly intuitive. Pressing the camera button while the phone is in standby launches the camera after a little under 2 seconds, though of course you can also press the camera icon onscreen. Then you swipe up or down to change between front and back cameras.
Then move left and right to choose between Manual, Superior Auto or video options. Or with one more swipe you reach camera apps. These are Sony special features such as AR effect which puts special effects such as stout fairies (I’d say they look more like leprechauns) or dinosaurs onto surfaces in the background or hats and masks on to your face if you’re using the front camera. More for kids than adults, sure, but quite fun. It’s also in these apps that you’ll find sweep panorama, time shift video and 4K video. You can add more from the Google Play Store such as Sony’s own Background Defocus app (free).
PerformanceAlthough this is a brand new phone, it comes with an earlier edition of Android, Marshmallow. It’s 6.01 though Sony says it will be upgraded to Nougat in due course. Proof again that the Android ecosystem can be a fragmented place and that it takes time for companies other than Google to tweak the software to get it up to date.
Still, this is a highly competent, good-looking version of Android, with details such as app icons clearly Sony-designed: mostly circles with occasional elements busting out of them like the camera which has a rectangular camera block behind a whacking great camera lens pic.
Sony also has a range of its own apps, which some users may feel add up to unwanted bloatware. These include Lifelog which teams obvious things like activity tracking to less obvious ones, like goal-setting. There’s also a PlayStation app, the Xperia Lounge with offers, news and giveaways of tickets and other goodies to explore.There’s a weird but admittedly tiny niggle. When you swipe the screen to unlock, you swipe up but the screen animation moves leftwards to unlock. It makes more sense when you’ve set up that fingerprint sensor in the power button on the right edge as it looks like it’s opening up in the proper direction then. The fingerprint sensor is very successful, working quickly and reliably unless your fingers are wet.
The XZ and X Compact are solid performers proving slick and speedy in use. Games play well, video is smooth and apps open instantly. Both phones come with 32GB of capacity but you can add storage through the microSD card slot.
BatterySony has often made battery life more of a priority than some rivals, boasting, or at least claiming, two-day life. Even if that was an exaggeration, both phones here are pretty darn good. The truth with nearly all phones is that you still need to charge overnight, so whether it’ll manage one day and a minute or one day and 12 hours is slightly academic. But it’s not bad. More interesting is Sony’s emphasis on the lifespan of the battery. It’s not an unfamiliar experience that a phone which when brand new lasts well, has less stamina when it gets older. Like all of us, really.
Sony has introduced a system which only partly charges the cell, up to 90 per cent and finishes the charging up to 100 per cent at the last minute. The idea is it’ll notice that you habitually rise at 7AM so does that last 10 per cent charging some time after 6AM. All very well until you have a sudden change of timetable. But it’s a great idea to think beyond today and consider longer-term needs. If it works as Sony says, it should add months to the useful lifespan of the cell.
- Fast, impressive camera, especially XZ
- Chic design
- Water-resistance (on XZ only)
- Nimble performer
- Strong battery life
- Clever long-term charging system
- No water resistance on Compact
- Lots of Sony apps pre-installed
- Not yet latest Android version
Sony Xperia XZ and X Compact Smartphone ReviewIt’s tough making a flagship phone stand out from rivals these days. Samsung chose a radically different design for its edge and Note phones, Apple chose two cameras for greater photographic versatility. Here, Sony has gone a little way to addressing both these features. The design is a bigger change than Apple has instituted this year and the camera, though still just the one sensor, is clearly a very important element in the phone. Here, the snapper is fast and responsive, with a good laser autofocus in the XZ and Sony’s regular high-count sensor in both phones.
There’s also very strong, smooth performance so you’re never left dawdling while the processor struggles to keep up, whether you’re using the phone for games or other demanding apps. The phone’s compatibility with Sony PlayStation as a remote control will appeal to gamers, too. But there’s also the excellent battery life, counted both in terms of hours between charges and lifetime of the battery. This is inventive thinking from a company which has made phone stamina its concern for longer than rivals and more successfully.
The phones are not cheap, with the Xperia XZ selling for £540 without a contract. However this puts it at a lower price point than the iPhone 7, upcoming Pixel Phone by Google and HTC 10. It’s even a little cheaper than last year’s Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+. The smaller X Compact costs £360, the same level as the Apple iPhone SE. That pricing seems to reflect pretty exactly the phones’ value. These are great phones, but not quite beating their rivals’ strengths. If you like the design or value the great, responsive camera (especially on the bigger version) the new Xperia handsets have a lot to offer and save you a little compared to most other flagships available.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £549.00
Call and Signal Quality9
Email, Browsing, Calandar, Contacts8
App support and functionality8
Value for Money9
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.