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Review: Sony Xperia XZ – a great camera, but little else improved

Hot on the heels of the releases of the Xperia X, X Performance, XA and XA Ultra this summer, Sony has added two more models to the series – the XZ and X Compact – which makes one wonder how these six new phones differ functionally from one another. While the Japanese brand is not likely to win over loyal Apple users any time soon, existing Xperia fans might be tempted to upgrade for just one thing: the XZ’s powerful camera.

Design and hardware

It’s hard to tell the difference between the Xperia XZ and, say, the X Performance as they share the same form factor. On closer examination, the XZ is more angular but with round and smooth corners. A piece of glass with slightly curved edges covers the front, while its back is made out of what Sony calls “alkaleido metal”, which has a matt quality. The unit feels solid and good in the hand.

The minimalist design is in line with the look of the entire Xperia series, with the dual SIM and memory card slot on the left; and the on/off switch (with fingerprint sensor), volume rockers and camera button all on the right. There is a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top and a USB Type-C port for fast charging at the bottom. The 13-megapixel front camera, sensor and notification light all sit on the top bezel.

For some reason the company insists on having a bezel below the screen that does practically nothing. Both Samsung and Apple make use of that space to house the home key and for other touch-based commands. Sony, instead, pushes those into the lower part of the 5.2-inch screen. Not a deal breaker but not a smart decision either.

Features

The selling point of the XZ is its 23-megapixel main/rear camera. Technicalities aside – the Exmor RS image sensor for mobile, the G Lens, Sony’s Bionz image processing and five-axis image stabilisation – what all that means is you can take sharp, focused, well-balanced images quickly in daylight as well as at night.

We compare photos and videos taken by the XZ and the Z5 Compact (which was one of the best camera phones from 2015) with the same default settings and under the same conditions and the differences are apparent. Images taken by the XZ are sharper, have better contrast (overall, colours are more solid if only slightly darker) and white balance stays consistent. Both the Z5 Compact and XZ perform well in poorly lit environments but the latter produces images that are more pronounced.

Likewise with videos, the XZ offers more depth and details: in the demonstration video below you can see the sunlight and reflection on the water more clearly than the video taken by the Z5 Compact. Buildings in the distance also appear clearer.

The built-in stabiliser ensures your videos are smooth and without the jitters. Unlike the X Compact, this model is water resistant.

Performance and battery life

The XZ runs on Android 6.0.1 and uses the Snapdragon 820 processor, so operation is fast and smooth (as it should be) without heating up the phone too much. It is definitely a step up from last year’s Z5 series, which has the 810 processor and turns the phone into a hand warmer after just 10-15 minutes of use. Battery (2900 mAh ) life is good; one charge can comfortably last a full day, with plenty of photo and video captures and some basic social media apps running in the background. Power lasts even longer if the “stamina” mode is on.

Conclusion

If you already have one of the top-end Xperia models, it’s hard to justify an upgrade so soon, especially when the design, build and specifications are so similar (if not identical). But if you have an “old” Z5 series, then the XZ is tempting, especially if you want a phone with a superb camera. However, it doesn’t come cheap and, who knows, a new series of Sony phones may well be just around the corner.

Price: HK$5,698

Dimensions: 146mm x 72mm x 8.1mm

Weight: 161g

Screen size: 5.2 inches

Screen resolution: Full HD 1080p

Battery: 2900 mAh (non-removable)

OS: Android Marshmallow 6.0.1

Processor: Snapdragon 820

Cameras: 23 megapixels (rear), 13 megapixels (front)

Memory: 32GB or 64GB (expandable storage)

Colours: blue, black and platinum