Sony Xperia XZ Premium Review
I’ve always had a soft spot for Sony. My first TV as a boy was a hand-me-down Trinitron CRT (like this) of indeterminate age from my grandparents. It had twisty knobs to tune in and was old enough that the channel buttons were marked BBC 1 through 8. It got me through an unhealthy amount of hours playing Goldeneye.
Who knows how old it was when I gave it away years ago, but something tells me it’s still working. Somewhere… From televisions to cameras and film, plus of course mobile, the Sony brand always reminds me of a certain unassailable quality.
Of course that’s how branding is supposed to work; creating a warm fuzzy feeling which translates to loyalty. Sony are, like any other global manufacturer, capable of mistakes and duds. Yet overall the brand continues to shine strongly across several product categories.
That shine has been slowly wearing off the mobile range for some time though. Yet it’s not for lack of trying. Sony Mobile’s last few generations of phones have all been very powerful and well built. They just can’t seem to crack the nut that is Samsung and Apple’s stranglehold on western consumer sales.
If you’re looking for a new flagship smartphone, the Sony Xperia XZ Premium should be near the top of your list. Whether it is or not may depend on how much of that old Sony brand loyalty still shines on you.
Xperia XZ Premium Video Review
[TO BE ADDED]
Sony Xperia XZ Premium Specifications
You can’t call a phone ‘Premium’ without top-end specifications and Sony don’t disappoint here. The quick run-down follows:
- Android 7 (Nougat)
- 5.5” true 4K (3840 x 2160) HDR display with Corning Gorilla Glass 5
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 / 4GB RAM
64GB storage & SD card support
- 3,230 mAh battery with Quick Charge 3.0 & STAMINA mode
- IP65/68 water- and dust-resistant
- 19 MP main camera / 13 MP front-facing camera
- Bluetooth 5.0 / USB Type-C / Fingerprint sensor
- Hi-Res audio support / PS4 remote play
That’s a lot of phone and we’ll go through the main points in more depth below. The standout specification though is the screen.
And what a screen it is. This isn’t the first 4K smartphone – Sony’s own Z5 Premium did this a year ago – although arguably the timing is much better for it now.
Improvements to screen technology have resulted in the most recent display moniker – HDR (High Dynamic Range). Always on the bleeding edge of screen technology, Sony have incorporated this. So what we have here is the first ever true 4K (3840 x 2160) HDR display on a smartphone.
What’s it like? In two words: very impressive. The curated content the phone ships with looks jaw-droppingly good.
What about other content though? Sony’s native apps (Album & Movie) will display in 4K if content requires it. This includes your own videos shot with the XZ Premium’s camera. It’s still a little tough to find 4K content for mobile in the wild however.
YouTube doesn’t currently offer 4K streams to mobile, only providing display options to 1080p. Sony tell me YouTube support is TBC. I expect it requires work on YouTube’s side to code 4K for mobile streams.
I didn’t see the Ultra HD row on the Netflix app either. Again I expect this will come, but will require a conversation between Sony, other manufacturers and Netflix as 4K for mobile becomes more mainstream.
Amazon Prime Video is supported, however there’s only minimal content. Most of this is movies, much of which are behind a further paywall.
So to really see the quality I needed to get some 4K clips and play them through the native video player. A few downloads from Videezy to the rescue and I was happy.
Sony’s work here is impressive. If you have loyalty to Sony then it’s likely centred around their displays. The XZ Premium is a justification for Sony faithful.
As a comparison I ran a test video side by side against a Galaxy S7 probably the direct competitor for screen quality. The Sony provided a far more natural colour palette, plus it seemed to deliver much finer detail, better picking out contrasts in subjects such as gravel paths, ripples on flowing water and foliage.
Sony continue to set themselves apart from the competition with their mobile imaging. Other manufacturers have stepped back the megapixel count in favour of larger sensors, pixels and wider apertures.
Sony opt for the best of both worlds. The 19 megapixel count is a touch lower than other recent Xperias but still far higher than other brands. Next to this we have an f/2.0 aperture, 1/2.3″ sensor and 1.22 micron pixels.
These raw module specifications would suggest the Xperia XZ Premium sits slightly behind Apple, Samsung and Google (especially for low light). We do though have to account for Sony’s excellent image processing.
This is where relative expectations and personal preference come in to play. However Sony’s algorithms work, there’s no denying they result in images that don’t ‘pop’ quite as much the brands above. Yet as has to be stated in every Sony review, the results are far more natural.
The ‘cinematic’ quality achieved by other smartphone cameras isn’t natural. It might be well suited to the Instagram generation, however in my opinion, Sony is generally the better choice for those after accurate representation. You can always play around with pre- or post-capture filters.
Maybe I’m getting old but surely the default position in photography should be accuracy, adjusted by controlling light and editing, not cameras that artificially boost colours and produce contrasts that were never truly there.
Sony’s newest camera gimmick is a super slow-motion 960 fps camera. This comes into effect as a video tool and also adds a predictive shooting element for stills.
The experience of shooting 960 fps video? A mixed bag. It certainly works, creating incredibly slow imagery with decent detail. As you might expect, the speed does introduce significant grain and artefacts into the image though.
Also the feature is activated separately to standard video. So at this time you can’t record normal video and ‘activate’ the 960 fps for a time during recording. You have to physically stop recording and then restart recording in the new mode.
The start/stop buttons on the interface are close enough to make switching quick, however it’s not quite the integration I’d hoped for. You might want to edit these clips together, which with a gap wouldn’t really be possible to do seamlessly.
Finally the feature only records a quick one second burst. This translates to about 6 seconds of super slow playback. If you plan on capturing 960 fps action, you’ll need to be absolutely spot on with timing the moment you want recorded.
I would have loved to take extended 960 fps footage or integrate with standard recording. Perhaps Sony will add these features with updates.
Other camera features
When using the (default) Superior Auto shooting mode, Predictive Capture appears in the settings, on by default. With this system, the camera continuously buffers images for about 1 second. Should you take a picture of a subject moving suitably fast, a message will appear to say a predictive shot was taken. When you review this, the option to choose the best image is provided.
It’s a neat trick. With it on by default rather than hidden in settings, most users will end up using it too.
The option to switch HDR on/off is only available in manual mode. From this I assume it is constantly active in Superior Auto.
Fairly standard on higher end devices, the Xperia XZ Premium has 4K recording. As with all Sony handsets this is activated as an ‘app within an app’, rather than just changing the video resolution up from 1080p. It sits alongside other features such as Panorama and YouTube Live.
Of course whatever you record in 4K on the XZ Premium can be viewed back natively.
If you want to upload to YouTube or another service directly from mobile, this allows you to check the content for any glitches or errors, without having to first go through a compatible monitor.
It’s pretty much impossible to fault the XZ Premium for standard performance.
I think we’re a couple of cycles into the plateau of power in smartphones now. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 will run pretty much anything you throw at it without issue. Advances in Android’s resource management have also improved the baseline performance for a lot of phones.
The Sony Xperia XZ Premium will be running Android 7.1.1 at launch. The early Sony build I’m using for this review is at this point release too. Sony have incorporated the Android 7 split-screen feature as well.
Power users will be more than happy here. The only time you’ll be getting the phone to chug or heat up would be during intensive 3D games or extended periods of 4K recording. The same could be said of any top end Android device.
Battery life is acceptable but not exceptional. A full charge got me through most of a work day unless I was using the camera extensively. As the 4K screen isn’t active unless you’re playing back 4K content, then it’s not a power drain all the time. Power users will probably still want to make adjustments to display settings. At least the phone charges back up quickly!
The handset did seem to lose a bit more battery in standby than I’d expect. Again the software I’m running isn’t final though. So I can’t say if this will be tweaked come the phone’s actual launch in June.
Sony utilise Qnovo adaptive charging. This system checks on the battery during charging. Temperature and pressure are measured throughout. As a result, the system will regularly adjust current levels to ensure the battery isn’t overworked. Combined with Sony’s Battery Care settings, fast charging is balanced against the natural degradation of the cell’s capacity.
Sony’s usual additions make a return to the Xperia XZ Premium. This includes PlayStation integration via Remote Play and STAMINA battery management. The Lifelog app is available for those interested in fitness tracking.
Something small I find also find useful with Sony is how they stick closely to stock Android’s Settings layout. As mobile OS’ have grown, none have been particularly good at letting users find all the options. I do find other manufacturer’s attempts to reinvent the wheel frustrating though. Like Moto, Sony keep to the basic Android layout, adding their extras in logical places.
Rounding off the already impressive specifications is an IP rating, which is now almost standard for premium handsets. It’s worth remembering that Sony were doing this years before the trend caught on. Additionally there are powerful dual speakers which kick out some decent volume and distort at the louder settings.
Sony continue to include a dedicated two-stage camera button too, which I always enjoy using. Being able to control the focus with this really does improve the feeling when taking a shot.
The fingerprint sensor is side mounted into the power button. No position is perfect yet this sits at just the right point for your thumb (if you’re right-handed). Lefties may have to learn to pick this up with the other hand to best use the sensor.
Audio aficionados will also welcome the inclusion of High-Resolution Audio. Again Sony have included support for this in their last few phones but it’s worth mentioning again. Those with the appropriate content, streams and headphones can indulge here.
It’s frustrating to say that this is more of the same from Sony. There’s nothing at all to dislike about the XZ Premium, however there’s also nothing here to really excite me. The key selling points – the admittedly brilliant screen and Motion Eye camera – somewhat remind me of the ‘spec-race’ other brands mostly let go of a couple of cycles ago.
Also the phone launches in June. By this time, the world will have been playing with both the Galaxy S8 and LG G6 for over a month.
In terms of raw specifications, the Xperia XZ Premium certainly holds its own against both phones. I can also see a certain type of customer opting for Sony’s traditional no-nonsense styling. Yet nothing makes me go WOW when I look at it.
Sure the screen is commandingly beautiful, however you need to get up close and personal for it to win you over. Anyone who turns up at the XZ Premium’s door will undoubtedly have fun, but when it comes to getting people to come over and play in the first place, Sony’s shindig just doesn’t look as inviting as the guys across the street.
In the end this all comes down to the brand loyalty I mentioned back at the start. My past experience with Sony will always draw me to their products and I wouldn’t be unhappy to own this or any other high end Sony smartphone.
The solid construction and air of quality that Sony remains known for is present here. Yet I know there are alternatives. When competitors create similarly solid machines and push the boundaries of aesthetics, Sony look a tad dated.
The Sony Xperia XZ Premium is an excellent phone. I just wish it had bothered to dress up for the party.