What are the Sony Xperia XZ and Xperia X Compact?
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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 Review
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.
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