Sony unveils the Xperia XZ1: Same old looks, wild new features
Sony's IFA 2017 smartphone lineup is a bit crowded by industry standards: where most manufacturers would be okay with showing off a single flagship and calling it a day, Sony once again said "oh hell no" and dropped three new smartphones instead: the best-in-line XZ1, its smaller variant XZ1 Compact, and the mid-range XA1 Plus.
But being the mainstream flagship, the former is definitely the most interesting out of the three. Though this is most definitely not what most people's first impressions would be — the XZ1 is a derivative both in name and in design, which is a problem Sony has been criticized for many times in the past.
But first impressions never really tell the full story, and this being Sony's next major flagship means the company has decked it out with some pretty sweet features right under the surface. So without further ado, let's dive right into them:
Design and display
Xperia XZ1 is an entirely new device. When compared to last year's XZ, the differences are almost laughably minute — a slightly moved button here, a rotated sensor array there — which is a tad disappointing, as past smartphone generations of the company have had much more variance in terms of design.
But if we move past that and take a look at the XZ1 on its own, it starts looking considerably more interesting: in the year of the shrinking bezel Sony took a risk and released a device that not only bucks the trend, but also laughs right in its face.
On the front of the XZ1 you'll find a 5.2-inch, Full HD screen — the same as the XZ — but with the XZ Premium's support for HDR added on top. Above and below the screen sits a pair of stereo speakers, which Sony promises will deliver 50% higher sound pressure over the XZ.
Unlike past Sony devices, the rear panel and the sides are no longer separate parts, but are instead composed of a single, almost unbroken slab of aluminum. Placed at the top left is the device's camera (with the same camera bump present in the XZs and XZ Premium), while the top center plays host to an array consisting of all the camera-related sensors, the LED flash, and the NFC coil.
Little is new along the sides of the XZ1, though there is one addition: the (pretty cool-looking, actually) rectangular antenna lines. The right side contains the volume rocker, the two-step camera shutter (something few manufacturers include nowadays), and the classic Sony power button slash fingerprint scanner. Though if you live in the United States the scanner will most probably be non-functional, as has been the case for years now.
Keeping the device almost the same certainly has its positives, and one of them is the welcome non-omission of the 3.5 mm headphone jack, which can be found on the top of the XZ1. On the bottom you'll find the USB-C connector which is placed just slightly off-center — so make sure not to look at it too much if you're the kind of person to be irked by small design inconsistencies like this.
And lastly, Sony seems quite proud of the fact the XZ1 is both thinner and lighter than its predecessor — though this does come with its drawbacks. Namely, the battery capacity has been reduced to just 2,700 mAh. And lastly, the phone has water resistance rating of IP68.
Slow Motion Camera and 3D object scanning
If you've seen the Xperia XZs or the XZ Premium's fancy MotionEye cameras in action, you already know the whole story with the XZ1's rear shooter as well. That is because the hardware is literally the same: a 19 MP sensor with the ability to take 960 fps slow-motion video, and no optical stabilization (Sony's SteadyShot technology is strictly software-based).
But while the hardware has been kept identical, in classic Sony fashion the software side offers one major yet quite offbeat new feature: 3D scanning. That is, with the XZ1 you'll be able to use your smartphone to capture three-dimensional objects in less than 60 seconds by waling around them while keeping the camera pointed at them. It will come in four distinct modes: Face Scan, Head Scan, Food Scan (quick, somebody build a 3D Instagram clone!), and Free Form.
And while it remains to be seen how well the feature works in real life (the AR apps Sony puts in all of its devices are notoriously terrible), the idea sounds quite interesting. Proposed use cases right now include AR effects, uploading to social media, and using them for stickers and wallpapers, though the company is looking into ways to integrate it into video games, and using them for 3D printing purposes.
The Snapdragon 835 may be old news by now, but it's still the best-in-line processor from Qualcomm — so it's good news that it has made its way into the XZ1. Alongside it you'll find 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of expandable storage, as well as the aforementioned 2,700 mAh battery.
The latter is quite disappointing on paper, as last year's XZ was rated at 2,900 mAh instead, though the Snapdragon 835's reduced power consumption could, in theory, be enough to make this a non-issue.
Android Oreo right out of the box!
Here's some great news: the Xperia XZ1 will ship with the latest Android 8.0 Oreo right out of the box, making it the first phone officially confirmed to do so. And since this is Sony, expect to see a minimal amount of bloatware on top of that — great news for people who want to experience the latest Android experience as undiluted as possible, but don't care for Google's Pixel series.
Price and release date
Sony isn't particularly well-known for its speedy smartphone releases: the XZ Premium, for example, was unveiled in February but hit the shelves in June. But it seems this mistake won't be repeated this fall: Sony says that the Xperia XZ1 will launch on September 19.
The phone will come in four different color options: Warm Silver, Moonlit Blue, Venus Pink, and Black. In the United States, it will cost you $699, which is a pretty good price by Sony standards, and is also technically lower than the Galaxy S8.