Sony Xperia XZ hands-on: back to awesomeness

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Sony Xperia XZ hands-on: back to awesomeness

Do you remember the Xperia X Performance – Sony's latest and greatest, Snapdragon 820-powered flagship launched just a few months ago? Well, forget about that guy, as the company is apparently ready to move on to a bigger and badder smartphone: the Xperia XZ. And you know what? That's a good thing. Because while the X Performance managed to undo some of the damage the Z5 did to Sony's own stature, it still left us wanting for an overall better, more refined handset. The Xperia XZ is the supposed solution, the phone that could finally allow us to consider Sony phones again.

Then again, this might have as well been our opening line for the last few Xperia flagships we've gotten our hands on.

So what makes this one different?


Sony Xperia XZ hands-on: back to awesomeness
Sony Xperia XZ hands-on: back to awesomeness
Sony Xperia XZ hands-on: back to awesomeness
Sony Xperia XZ hands-on: back to awesomeness
We got to spend some time with Sony's new flagship, and for what it's worth, the XZ feels like a substantially better smartphone than those that preceded it. Compared to the Z5 and X Performance, it comes across as way more thoughtful and mature. This phone is not a radical departure, and it doesn't need to be. It builds on Sony's already elegant exterior design, but adds a ton of refinement which helps make touching and holding the XZ a great thing to do. The Xperia XZ is a big phone, but Sony is not afraid of that – the strict rectangular shape with right angles remains a trademark feature of the line-up. We do not complain. It's a phone which looks undeniably classy and level-headed compared to most things out there. In a way, this familiar shape signifies that despite lack of much success in the mobile business, Sony is keeping its cool and staying true to its principles. We can't help but appreciate this.

The Sony Xperia XZ will be available in three colors – Forest Blue (aka dark blue), Mineral Black (black), and Platinum (bright gray), all of which look very nice. The handset has Gorilla Glass 4 covering the front, while most of the back is made of a special kind of aluminum alloy that Sony calls Alakeido. This Alkaleido aluminum, the manufacturer explains, has been specifically engineered to have better shine and depth properties. We are no experts on alloys and metals, but we have to say – this Alkaleido thing is a joy to touch and look at! It feels smooth and well-engineered, it's not necessarily as cold and rough as the metal on most phones out there, but rather has a slightly warmer, glossier aspect to it. For what it's worth, this new exterior — which also happens to be IP68 rated — feels different and new.


After scaling things down a bit with the X Performance and going with a 5" display, it looks like the company is ready to move up to a 5.2-incher again. And sprinkled across those 5.2 inches are no less than 2,073,600 pixels! Or, in other words – 1080 x 1920 px, making for an amazing pixel density of 424 pixels per inch.

Sony Xperia XZ hands-on: back to awesomeness

In case you're wondering, Sony is sticking with an IPS LCD display, which we're perfectly fine with. We only hope the colors will be much better balanced out of the box than they used to be with the previous two or three Xperias, which appeared way too bluish. The display looked more or less OK in person, but we'll need to spend more time with it and take some measurements in order to confirm anything on this front.

User experience

Sony Xperia XZ hands-on: back to awesomeness
Just like the X Performance, the Sony Xperia XZ is powered by the Snapdragon 820 chip. This is more than enough firepower for the phone to deliver an ultra-smooth user experience. Whether it succeeds in that, we'll have to wait for a finalized version of it and see. During our time with the XZ, though, it felt pretty brisk and fluid, so we're optimists.

The interface is mostly the standard Sony affair, but the company is looking to up its game a bit as far as design goes, to it's introducing UI color themes that match the exterior colors. Other than that, we can expect an Android experience that is mostly stock, with the usual Sony personalizations including circular icons and a number of exclusive apps, such as Xperia Tips, the purpose of which is to introduce users to all the bells and whistles in store with this phone. There's also going to be a new Smart Cleaner feature which is going to try and keep your Android phone running nice and smooth by automatically cleaning the cache of unused applications.


Sony Xperia XZ hands-on: back to awesomeness

Xperia phones have always had some pretty good cameras, but the XZ appears to be where Sony is getting really serious about imaging on its modern line-up. The main shooter on the Xperia XZ is a 23MP one, with the in-house produced IMX 300 sensor of 1/2.3" size and aperture of f/2.0. That all sounds awfully similar to what we had before, but it seems like the software algorithms is where it's at this time, with Sony promising improved dynamics and exposure handling, as well as a better, 5-axis software image stabilization to counter those shaky hands of ours!

In addition to the phase-detection autofocus that's already at play with Sony's finest, the company is now adding a new laser system for faster and more reliable focus. There's also a new RGB sensor for more accurate color balance.

With so much photography-centric goodness, we're already excited to see what this latest Sony imager is going to produce. Thankfully, the company will be letting consumers get creative with the XZ's camera, with an enhanced manual shooting mode that includes manual focus and shutter speed settings.

Preliminary camera samples
Preliminary camera samples
Preliminary camera samples


The 2900 mAh battery of the Xperia XZ supports Quick Charge 3.0, but the big story here are the new battery preservation techniques Sony is looking to employ. In order to keep the juicer inside the XZ in tip-top shape over the long term, with minimal losses to its capacity, an intelligent charging mechanism is going to significantly limit the charging speed of the handset once it reaches the 90% mark, but only in those times when the system knows you're usually not using your phone, like at night, for example. At the same time, it'll make sure that you have a phone with a battery meter that says '100%' by the time you wake up and are ready to begin your day. Obviously, it's a system that's going to adapt to your personal lifestyle, and we're curious to see how it's going to work in real life. Long story short, though, we really appreciate these efforts by Sony to try and preserve the battery's maximum capacity over the long term.


The Sony Xperia XZ is a big, bold, and beautiful phone. From the little time spent with it, we cannot be sure if it's going to live up to all the promises made by the manufacturer, but we know this: even if it doesn't turn out perfect, or is even compromised in some way, the Xperia XZ would still be a lovely, lovely phone. Not only does it have loads of character, but it comes across as substantially refined, to the point where it can actually adhere to the high standards Sony sets for itself.

Sony Xperia XZ hands-on: back to awesomeness
With a new, innovative styling and improved camera arsenal, not to mention intelligent battery preservation techniques and solid equipment across the board, with Snapdragon 820 SoC, IP 68 rating, quick charging and a powerful front camera, the Xperia XZ is shaping up as a real threat to the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S7, HTC 10, or LG G5.

Sony is eying an October release, which is a bit sad, as we'd have enjoyed an earlier, more aggressive launch, but on the other hand, this may be what's going to give the XZ an edge during the Holiday shopping season. When it comes to price, the company isn't ready to disclose specific figures yet, but has been pretty clear that we can expect flagship-level pricing, so we're assuming it'll be somewhere in the range of $650-$750.

If you think about it, the premium smartphone market has become quite the lonely place, with not that much of real competition except for two gigantic companies battling it out with their iPhones and Galaxies. It'd be sad if we lose Sony as one of the top-tier smartphone makers of the world, but you know what? We might not need to, because the Xperia XZ has gotten us hopeful. Hopeful that Sony can pull off a one-eighty and return with a bang!


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