Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Sony Xperia XZ Review


Sony has been pumping out flagships like they were going out of fashion. The Xperia Z was announced at CES 2013, less than four years ago. Since then the Japanese giant has managed to release the Z1, Z2, Z3, Z3+, Z4, Z5 and Z5 Premium flagships, before ditching the Z line and moving to the X series, with the X, X Performance and XZ. By my count that's eleven range toppers, or close to three a year.

About eighteen months ago the company claimed it was going to slow down releases of its devices and rationalise its range. Clearly just words.

So the XZ is top of the Xperia line for the moment. Although with CES 2017 imminent that may not be the case by tomorrow morning. For a phone that launched in September, that's a short life at the top of the tree.

Best get things moving then.

The XZ sports the Snapdragon 820, 3GB RAM and 32GB of storage. There's USB-C, but 2.0 only, with no display out support, and micro SD support up to 256GB. There's a new industrial design, which maintains the overall look of its predecessors whilst adding a new 'Loop' design that looks and feels good in the hand. It's a big phone, but for its 5.2" screen not excessively so.

That screen retains Sony's favoured 1080p resolution, as well as a number of Sony's display technologies, Bravia, X-Reality engine, etc. The upshot is that the display is bright and sharp. It stands comparison with the higher resolution QuadHD screens, unless you're viewing through a microscope that is.

On the front is a wide angle 13mp camera for selfies. It produces some impressive results, even in low light. Shame Sony didn't decide to use it for the rear camera too, because that's a train wreck. For starters, Sony sets 8mp as the default camera mode, even though its new sensor supports 23mp. It also skipped OIS again. Then it completely screws the compression of photos into JPGs, especially in low light. On previous Xperias that would have been less of a problem, because you could have shot in RAW mode and bypass Sony's software shortcomings. Not any more. Sony has removed the RAW format option.

The last hardware item of note is the power button mounted fingerprint sensor. Its fast - as fast as any other sensor I've used, iOS or Android. It's position on the side turns out to be the perfect place for unlocking a smartphone, far better than either front or rear mounted sensors.

Somewhere else where Sony has turned convention on its head is the positioning of the NFC chip. On the front of the XZ to the left of the selfie camera, and marked with a sticker when unpacked. Its inherently a better place for the sensor than the rear of the phone. In my experience its use for payments has been 100% successful, a significantly better performance than either the iPhone or Samsung's Galaxy devices, none of which have hit the spot first time every time.

The Xperia XZ still manages to win the dust / water ingress protection wars, at least by meeting higher IP standards than Samsung or Apple,  even if it now offers little more than its rivals in guaranteeing that performance.

The Xperia XZ comes with Android Marshmallow, but the first thing that happens when you boot it is the arrival of Android Nougat - 7.0 version in this case, with 7.1 to follow shortly. Sony has been quick off the mark in getting Nougat onto its newest devices, something to be applauded.

Sony packs a few of its Android staples onto the device - Lifelog, a health and life tracking app; a news reader, TrackID music identification service, PlayStation, What's New and Xperia Lounge apps.

Sony has once again delivered a great handset, the Xperia XZ looks and feels great, performs well and is reasonably well priced compared to its flagship peers. Unfortunately Sony has made a complete pig's ear of the rear facing camera. Its a great Android handset in all other respects and if Sony fixes the camera performance in a future update (and restores RAW image capture) I'd recommend it as a result of its impressive performance across the board.

As it stands though, Android buyers should probably stick with Samsung and everyone else should stick with an iPhone.

For Sony enthusiasts though (at least the one's who can accept the limited camera performance), this is a impressive upgrade over the Z5 and Xperia Performance and not badly priced either. If you can ignore the imminent arrival of yet another updated Xperia flagship, this is a reasonable choice.

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