Sony Xperia XZ1 review

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IFA 2017 means new gadgets and you can count on Sony to bring some of them to the party. This year is no exception and there are three new Xperia phones to tempt you with. Here is our Sony Xperia XZ1 review.

Ever since Sony ditched its conventional naming system, most recently the Xperia Z5, Sony’s range needs some explaining. The XZ is now the top of the range, but this new model is no replacement for the XZ Premium. Instead, the XZ1 is the 12-month refresh for the XZ and is therefore a little further down the pecking order.

There’s also a new Xperia XZ1 Compact for those looking for a smaller phone with high-end specs. The “super middle class” has a new addition with the Xperia XA1 Plus.

See also: Sony Xperia XZ2 rumors

Sony Xperia XZ1 review - Sony Xperia XZ1 review

UK price and availability

The Sony Xperia XZ1 is available through Carphone Warehouse at £599. This makes it the first smartphone to come standard with Android Oreo.

We don’t see many phones around this price anymore, with the Galaxy Note 8 and iPhone X costing £900 or £1,000.

From that perspective the XZ1 is fairly cheap, but also bear in mind that phones like the OnePlus 5 and Honor 9 cost £449 and £379 respectively, which represents excellent value for money.

Check out the Sony Xperia XZ1 release date, price and specs for more details.

Design and build of the Sony Xperia XZ1

design and build

Over the years, Sony has developed a style of smartphone design that is instantly recognizable. Xperia devices have a distinctive character that helps somewhat in the crowded market.

The Xperia XZ1 certainly doesn’t deviate from what we’ve seen before. It’s a sequel to that, which has pros and cons.

We like the “Loop Surface” design, which includes a one-piece metal body and a Gorilla Glass 5 front. Overall the phone looks like its predecessor but with small tweaks, with the metal rear cover getting rid of the somewhat ugly stripe running along the XZ’s underside.

According to Sony, the optimized design is particularly strong and resistant to twisting and bending. It’s certainly solid and survived a small accidental drop onto a kitchen floor with no sign of damage. We dropped it because the device is a bit slippery.

As you’d expect, Sony continues to offer waterproofing, so the XZ1 is IP65/68 certified, allowing it to be fully submerged in fresh water. There’s also a fingerprint scanner neatly integrated into the power button on the side – impressive when the phone is just 7.4mm thick.

See how the Xperia XZ1 compares to the new iPhone 8.

Sony Xperia XZ1 fingerprint scanner

We did mention that there are downsides and that concerns the bezels. With the tiny bezels offered on the Samsung Galaxy S8 and LG G6, Sony’s screen-to-body ratio looks even worse than normal.

The XZ1 is quite a large device for a phone with a 5.2-inch screen, so the style looks dated and doesn’t exactly make it feel like a brand new device.

The Xperia XZ1 will be available in a range of colors including Black, Moonlit Blue, Venus Pink and Warm Silver.

Specifications and Hardware

While the design is fairly similar to last year’s model, the XZ1 has a number of upgrades in the hardware department to bring it up to date.

Screen

The screen stays at 5.2 inches, so it’s a smaller option compared to the XZ Premium. The resolution is also Full HD, which Sony is sticking with on most phones to extend battery life.

However, the XZ1’s display supports HDR (high dynamic range) for enhanced elements like color and contrast. It can look a bit overdone at times, but is generally well regarded.

The problem, as usual, is that you need to be watching HDR content to take advantage of the technology, and there’s still not much available. However, Sony said that Netflix HDR content will be available on the device at launch.

This comes on top of Amazon Prime Video, which was previously the only way to watch HDR content.

There’s nothing wrong with the screen at all, but phones like the Galaxy S8 and LG G6 make it look very dated. And you can get cheaper phones with decent displays like the OnePlus 5.

Sony Xperia XZ1 screen

Processor, memory and storage

A 12-month refresh wouldn’t really be a refresh without some new internal components, and the headline here is that the Xperia XZ1 is powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, the company’s flagship mobile platform.

That’s the same as the XZ Premium and other top-end phones like the all-new Samsung Galaxy Note 8 (in some markets). Sony offers one of the most affordable phones in the XZ1 and XZ1 Compact with the 835, but the OnePlus 5 is the sting in the rear here.

There’s 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, which is twice as much as its predecessor and in line with the XZ Premium. Sony offers reliably expandable storage in the form of a microSD card slot, so you can add more anyway.

In everyday use, the XZ1 feels fluid, as we’d expect from a high-end phone in 2017. However, on a few occasions it lagged quite a bit when using the new 3D Creator app.

Below you can see how the Xperia XZ1 fared in our benchmark tests compared to other phones.

Connectivity and Audio

Sony doesn’t go down the route Samsung is taking by adding features like a heart rate monitor and iris scanner. Instead, like HTC, it focuses on audio.

To that end, the Xperia XZ1 has front-firing stereo speakers with more sound pressure than any other phone Sony has made before it. It sounds really good and is as good if not better than budget Bluetooth speakers.

Other features include Hi-Res audio support, an LDAC, Qualcomm aptX Bluetooth and DSEE HX with DNC which essentially upscales compressed files like mp3 to give better quality.

There’s a headphone jack, of course, and Sony has even created some new headphones to complement the phone with harmonized colors.

So audio is a big plus for the Xperia XZ1 if that’s your thing.

Sony Xperia XZ1 camera

cameras

Photography remains a key area for Sony when it comes to selling phones and we’re happy to see the physical camera/shutter button live on.

The resolution may have dropped from 23Mp to 19Mp, but overall the camera is an improvement, as shown in the XZ Premium. Bigger pixels mean better low-light performance, for example.

What’s good to see is that the XZ1 gets features from the XZ Premium as well as some new features.

Users can enjoy the 960fps super slow motion mode without sacrificing the premium version. It’s the highest frame rate on any phone, but you can only record for a second at that rate, so certain things can be very difficult to capture the moment.

Other nice features include Predictive Capture, which takes a few photos before you press the button so you don’t miss an important moment, and Smile Shutter, which automatically captures when someone smiles.

The autofocus burst mode is perhaps the most impressive, as it can capture 10 photos per second while focusing on a moving subject. You can record for up to 10 seconds by simply holding the button and choosing which images you want to keep, or even create a short video clip from them.

Sony Xperia XZ1 camera review

However, one of the key new elements that Sony is screaming about is 3D scanning. There’s no technical hardware wizardry, but a pre-installed 3D Creator app means you can use the camera to scan things like human heads or inanimate objects.

You can then share these scans online, although users will need to view them on a web page rather than natively on social media sites like Facebook, set them as a live wallpaper, or even order them to be 3D printed from a third party .

It’s kind of impressive and can certainly be a bit of fun, but we can’t imagine anyone using it more than a few times just for laughs or pure intrigue.

Sony Xperia XZ1 low light camera review

Gimmicks aside, the camera is solid, as we’ve come to expect from Sony. It doesn’t have the appeal of a second lens and, unfortunately, no optical image stabilization either, but it can still take good quality photos and videos.

A 13-megapixel camera remains on the front for all those selfies, and it’s reliable too.

battery life

Following in Samsung’s footsteps with the Note 8, Sony has dropped the battery capacity for the Xperia XZ1 from 2900 to 2700 mAh.

Still, Sony promises all-day battery life for the life of the phone. Since there’s no wireless charging, you’ll have to make do with USB-C including Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0.

We can’t test the lifespan element of the Promise, but we found the battery life to be pretty solid during testing. The Xperia XZ1 lasts all day unless you’re pounding it with intense tasks like prolonged gaming.

software

Unlike the Note 8, the Xperia XZ1 will be one of the first phones to ship with Android Oreo pre-installed. It actually seems to be the first thing Google is launching even before the Pixel 2.

On the surface, there’s not much that differs from Nougat, and that’s partly because Oreo isn’t a major new version of the mobile operating system.

Oreo brings improvements and new features like faster startup times, autofill in logins, better battery life, and picture-in-picture for a different kind of multitasking.

Perhaps the bigger lure when it comes to software is Sony’s own apps like Walkman and PS4 Remote Play, which add value, especially for those with a PlayStation.

There are still too many pre-installed apps like a trio from Amazon, Kobo and AVG. These can be disabled but not uninstalled, which is a shame.

specifications

Sony Xperia XZ1: Specifications

  • Android 8.0 Oreo
  • 5.2 inch Full HD HDR display
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor
  • 4GB of memory
  • 64 GB memory, expandable via micro SD
  • USB-C
  • Bluetooth
  • NFC
  • Dual band 11ac WiFi
  • headphone jack
  • stereo speakers
  • 19 MP rear camera
  • 13 MP front camera
  • 2700mAh battery
  • 7.4mm
  • 156g
  • IP65/68
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