Sony Xperia XZ Premium Smartphone Review
Premium by name, premium by nature
What is the Sony Xperia XZ Premium?The Xperia XZ Premium is Sony's latest super-sized smartphone and this time around, it has bunged in everything. A big, big screen – 5.5 inches – with an outlandishly high resolution. This is a 4K screen, and one that’s capable of displaying HDR to boot. There’s a powerful processor to cope with what the display demands, plenty of RAM and 64GB storage. Oh, and the 19-megpaixel camera can shoot slo-mo video at an eye-catching 960 frames per second. Even the fastest rivals can only manage slow speeds that max out at a quarter of that. So, could it be the phone that puts Sony Mobile back in the game?
DesignLast year’s flagship, the Xperia XZ, was a pretty premium device itself and it launched a new design language for the Sony phone range. This was a strikingly different take on the black oblong that is most smartphones. I mean it is oblong, obviously – this isn’t a throwback to one of those Nokia round phones that looked like it had been designed by a graduate from clown school – but it has flat ends and curved edges on the sides. You can even stand this phone on its end, which is handy for video calling, for instance.
Overall, the design works well, if you don’t mind the fact that the bezels, especially at the top and bottom of the display, are very wide. If you compare the XZ Premium to the LG G6 or Samsung Galaxy S8 with its wafer-thin screen edges, it stands out, and not in a good way.
Sony’s preference for its fingerprint sensor positioning is to place it in the power button on the right edge. This is a very successful placement. Personally, I prefer a front-facing sensor so you can unlock the phone without lifting it from your desk, say, but this is way better than fumbling for an out-of-sight sensor on the phone’s rear. This one is also fast and successful.
Where last year’s XZ had an aluminium back, this time Sony has plumped for glass. It’s tough glass – Gorilla Glass 5 – but the glossy finish means that tiny scratches are quickly visible and smudges are regular visitors. It does look good, though, in both the chic Deepsea Black finish and the lighter-coloured Luminous Chrome. The darker version is reflective, but the Chrome is an actual mirror.
The curved edges on the sides make it more comfortable to hold, a bit like the iPhone 7 Plus. This is a little thicker, though, and it’s a bit of a hand-stretcher so it is definitely worth taking for a test hold and before you buy.
One more thing about the design: this phone is slippier than a greased frog. If the surface you put it on is a fraction off perfectly level, it’ll slide off in seconds. I cannot tell you how many times this happened to me in the couple of weeks that I’ve been reviewing it. For all that, it’s a classy design that lives up to its Premium moniker.
We're glad Sony have stuck with a 16:9 screen and the XZ Premium is the first to support 4K HDR
DisplayThe display is one of the main ways phone makers seek to stand out. The iPhone changed everything when it upgraded the screen to what it called its Retina display with the iPhone 4 in 2010. And it hasn’t changed screen resolution since then, apart from the larger Plus phones with a 401 pixels per inch. This has meant other manufacturers have been able to grab attention with much higher-resolution displays.
This one is a 4K display, with 3840 x 2160 pixels which works out at 807 pixels per inch, only matched by Sony’s Xperia Z5 Premium from late 2015. And though there are other HDR-capable displays available (LG G6 and the Samsung Galaxy S8, for instance) this is the only 4K HDR screen on a mobile.
It’s also a 16:9 ratio screen, unlike the LG and Samsung flagships which have 18:9 or 18.5:9 displays. The advantage is that playing back 16:9 video fits this display perfectly.
Naturally this is not the ideal way to watch 4K content, of course. Though this screen is big for a phone and for your pocket, it’s tiny for UHD viewing. Plus, 4K takes a lot of storage space. A one-minute trailer for Life of Pi takes almost a third of a gigabyte, so you’re going to fill up the phone with a movie, assuming you can fit it on at all. When you look at 4K footage on this phone it looks amazing: rich, bright and astonishingly detailed in every corner. But it’s still only a 5.5-inch screen.
However where the display will really come to life is shooting your own 4K footage for playback on the phone mostly as a precursor to screening it on a full-size telly. That’s not to say there shouldn’t be 4K displays on mobile phones and it means that when you’re looking at a web page with tiny, tiny writing on it you can read every word, and super-high resolution screens can be beneficial when using a phone in a VR headset, for example, but it shouldn’t be thought of as a main 4K viewer.
CameraThe camera on a smartphone is of paramount importance these days. After all, GPS is standard and differentiated only by whether you choose Google Maps, Apple Maps or whatever. Some phones have exceptional audio speakers, others have tremendous battery life, and so on. But it’s the camera that takes centre stage – look no further than the iPhone 7 Plus, Huawei P10, Google Pixel and HTC U11, all of which have gone big on their snappers.
Sony has had great cameras for years, opting for sensors that featured 20 megapixels or more for a long time and leveraging off the fact that a lot of camera sensors in phones are Sony-manufactured. This time around, the resolution has dropped slightly to 19 megapixels though, as we know, it’s not all about the pixel number. These pixels are almost a fifth bigger than on the XZ, promising better low-light performance.
Sony has put a dedicated physical shutter button on the edge of the phone which is great. Press and hold when the phone is in standby and it’ll launch the camera, and quickly. Half press the button and it’ll focus, a full press shoots the shutter. There’s no optical image stabilisation on the Xperia XZ Premium, which is slightly surprising as so many rival flagships have that feature. Instead, of optical, there’s electronic image stabilisation. This is good, very good actually, and works in stills and video pretty well. But there’s no denying that electronic isn’t quite as good as optical when it comes to stabilisation.
However images are strong and the Predictive Focus capability is good. It means that if the camera spots a dog moving from top left to bottom right of the picture as it prepares to shoot, it’ll focus on where it thinks the animal will have reached by the time the trigger fires. It doesn’t always work but it’s a clever effect when it does. As well as Predictive Focus, there’s Predictive Capture, which starts shooting before you press the trigger so that if you miss the perfect moment, you’ll have up to three other frames to choose from.
The phone has a standout slo-mo feature, which shoots at 960 frames per second. Unsurprisingly, it can’t manage that rate at the full 4K resolution, dropping to 720p instead. The effect is amazing, though it can take a few attempts to get it right. You press record and then, when the action you want to slow down comes along, you press a special slo-mo button. The results are certainly spectacular when you do get them right, though decent lighting is important: indoors it all looks rather grainy. I can’t see that anyone will buy this phone just for a slo-mo feature, extravagantly good and great fun though it is. Still, if you like the phone it’s an excellent bonus.
Overall, the camera is good, but the lack of optical stabilisation and the absence of a depth-of-field effect or a dual lens set-up are slightly disappointing. There is the option of manual focus, which several smartphones offer, but the truth is that the camera in most phones, this one included, is designed to keep as much of the image sharp as possible and without the special image processing in the Portrait Mode on the iPhone 7 Plus, for instance, that attractive sharp subject, blurred background bokeh effect is very hard to achieve here.
Mind you, that 19-megapixel sensor is excellent and shots are bright and sharp in most situations. Shooting video at 4K resolution is successful though to use it you have to launch one of the smartphone camera’s apps, which is slightly peculiar. Still, the issues with earlier Xperia phones turning off during filming are gone, probably because the processor is so good, speaking of which…
The 19MP camera is good but missing a few features, although the super-slow motion is great fun
PerformanceNeedless to say, moving all those pixels around takes processing power and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chip is a real performer, on a par with the Samsung Galaxy S8. Which is what you’d expect from a phone of this price and prominence, of course. It has the latest version of Android software, 7.1.1 (Nougat), which also helps. In my pretty extensive tests the Xperia Xz Premium has proved to be nippy and responsive throughout. There is also plenty of RAM (4GB) to help things along, too.
Battery LifeThe processor helps with battery life, too and this phone really delivers on that score. It lasts a full day with ease, with pretty consistent usage. If it is going longer than you like then there’s a Stamina mode which turns off certain background functions to save juice, with a smart notification which can warn you if you’re likely to run out of power before you recharge again.
Sony introduced a battery care system with the Xperia XZ. This means that once the phone is charged to 90 per cent or a little over, it stops or slows charging until an hour or so before you normally unplug it – it learns this over a few days or more. It does this to help with the battery’s long-term life by slowing down the degradation that happens to all batteries over time.
InterfaceManufacturers can customise the Android operating system, of course, and Sony’s style of app shortcuts is smart and largely successful. Although these days the Settings and Camera app icons are looking a little tired. However overall we think that the demure and elegant look that Sony are going for works really well.
The Xperia XZ Premium is a powerful and great-looking phone with a lot to recommend it
- Powerful performance
- 4K HDR screen
- Attractive design
- Great Build quality
- Super-slo-mo is fun
- Camera missing a few features
Sony Xperia XZ Premium Smartphone ReviewThis is a powerful, great-looking phone and is a real performer into the bargain. It’s also probably the best smartphone display there is. I only say probably because the argument over whether anyone really needs a 4K resolution display at this size is somewhat moot. But it certainly looks great when playing back video and the high resolution means nothing is blurred. It’s also good that Sony, unlike Samsung and LG, has stuck with 16:9 ratio display for this handset.
The camera is good and the novelty extra, super-slow motion is great fun. Its design is pleasing and also distinctive enough to stand out in a crowded market place. Whether these features will be enough to stop prospective customers reaching for the latest Samsung instead is another matter, but the Sony Xperia XZ Premium has a lot to recommend it.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £649.00
Call and Signal Quality9
Email, Browsing, Calandar, Contacts8
App support and functionality7
Value for Money7
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