Review

Sony Xperia XZ Review: When Good Enough is No Longer Enough

by: - Last updated on: November 4th, 2016

Back in February this year, Sony had launched the Xperia X and Xperia X Performance at MWC 2016 but were quick to bring in their successor and hence we have the Xperia XZ! In fact, we thought that the Xperia XZ is what the Xperia X Performance should have been. Yes, Sony kicked out the Z to replace it with X in the moniker but now has them both together. With many different things that Sony is trying to change to make an impact on their dipping sales numbers, the price is certainly not dipping – $700 in the US and something that is shooting north of 40K INR here in India. With Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and cousins doing well but LG’s G5 and HTC’s 10 struggling, is Sony’s Xperia XZ any different? How does it compare to its own predecessor? Does it justify the high price tag in a market ruled by flagship killers like the OnePlus 3? We used the XZ for more than 3 weeks and here is our in-depth review of Sony’s iconic flagship that dreams of a crown that it once wore.

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While the naming of the Xperia phones can be confusing, the design is ever so identical. The boxy hunk is aiming for more symmetry no matter where you look at it from. As good as this sounds, for a phone with a display size of 5.2-inch, the XZ has a rather big forehead and chin. We compared it to some 5.5-inch phones such as the OnePlus 3 and the Moto Z Play, and the XZ is really as tall as them. While that sounds bad, the phone is now less “pokey” at its edges thanks to the subtle curves on its top and bottom. While the design gave us mixed feelings, the hand-feel is certainly more assuring than most of the phones out there – sturdy, robust, well built are the words that spring out of our minds and if we were to put this in a phrase, “battle-tank like” it is, worth 161 gms with 8.1mm thickness!

But wait, that battle-tank like feel is slightly dented by the presence of pure plastic buttons – the power button that doubles as a fingerprint scanner, the volume rockers, and the dedicated camera key – all of them are made of plastic. But the rest of the phone has glass and metal that seamlessly flow into each other. While we hate, so hate the volume rockers placed at the bottom of the right side and we can never ever get used to it, the dedicated camera button is such a blessing. The volume rockers redeem themselves by allowing for zooming in and out while you’re using the camera. The USB Type-C port sits pretty at the bottom while the 3.5mm jack is placed on the top. The front has the sensors including NFC and a 13MP camera, while the back has a 23MP camera with dual tone LED flash and hardware for laser auto-focus. The speakers are stereo on the front top and bottom.

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With most of the flagships carrying a QHD screen, Sony is content enough with a Full HD 5.2-inch screen that packs in 424 pixels per inch. One might argue that this is a step that folks at OnePlus and others have followed to go lighter on the processor and battery, but in time when VR is gaining fast adoption, futuristic minded customers might see this as a deal-breaker. On the brighter side, though, the phone has excellent viewing angles and outdoor visibility and the colors pop up to deliver a delight as you use the phone, so is the sublime touch response.
That entire package you read about comes with an IP68 certification that gives the XZ protection from water and dust. Given few incidents where Sony had to pay a heavy price in the past, the company makes it very clear that you cannot carry it with you while you’re swimming or for underwater photography or bury it under a sand castle while at the beach.

While the build and design may not be state of the art, the interiors are – well almost. Powering the XZ from under the hood is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 SoC clocked at 2.15GHz accompanied by Adreno 530 GPU and 3GB of RAM. 64GB of internal memory is available and this can be expanded via microSD slot, a try that also supports dual sim cards which can run on 4G. So how’s the performance? The XZ runs off a slimmed version of its custom OS built on Android Marshmallow but Sony is hell bent on pushing a good number of apps out of the box. Some of them are Sony apps such as movie maker while others such as AVG scanner and few games such as Mortal Combat 5. Thankfully, you can disable these apps if you don’t use them. While the overall experience witnessed no issues, it doesn’t feel as snappy as the other phones that are powered by the Snapdragon 820 and this is where we strongly feel Sony should’ve thrown in at least 4GB of RAM, given the asking price for the phone. Games of all sorts did well and there were no overheating issues encountered. Thanks to the dual firing front speakers, multimedia and gaming are immersive but the volume though could’ve been few notches high at its maximum (color us spoilt by what we’ve been used to from Moto X Style and Nexus 6P). The overall software though is closer to Android than what Sony used to have before, with minimum additions such as few themes, battery saving options that work so well, enhanced storage monitoring, apps clearing and other useful additions.

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If it’s a Sony phone, the camera has to have a good share of focus and Xperia XZ follows suit. Coming with a 23MP f/2.0 aperture rear camera, it has PDAF, a 5 axis image stabilization, Sony’s latest laser auto-focus hardware and an RGBC IR that nails down white balance regardless of the lighting condition. The overall performance of the camera with stills and videos is certainly above average. While there is a 5-axis image stabilization, it only kicks on for macro shots while for the rest of the time it’s the 3-axis stabilization you’d have to be happy with. And do remember that this is all EIS. While the camera is a tad too slow to launch, locking the focus is commendable and so is the processing, as long as you’re shooting in daylight where the HDR mode kicks in handy when the XZ blows up the image a bit with the sun in the background (check out the samples for yourself!). But as the lights go down, the processing speed and exposure handling ability goes weaker by few notches but thankfully the noise in the images are kept well at control.

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The camera app is standard Sony with tons of options such as panorama, motion blur, AR effect and so on. You can also shoot in 4K, the output of which is quite decent as well. The 13MP front shooter too does a good job. While the overall performance of the camera is very good, it still falls short of posing any challenge to the likes of Samsung S7 or the LG G5. If you’re shooting in low light, you better have super still hands!

The Xperia XZ comes with a 2900 mAh battery that supports Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 and can charge up fully in around 80-90 minutes via the USB Type-C port. At best, the battery performance is above average that can take you through a full day if you’re mindful of your usage. Go heavy and crazy, you’d have to top it up by early evening to keep you going until the end of the night. We managed to get the screen on times of 3 to 4.5 hours on varied patterns. We have to admit the battery-saving modes are super efficient if you’re stuck in a situation to keep your phone alive with no option to top it up for some time.

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The Sony Xperia XZ is a good all round phone. IP68 certification, sturdy design and decent performance across all departments including telephony (yes, calling is important aye!). A few years back, all of this would be mostly exclusive to champion flagships that come at the price of XZ. But in today’s world, it’s very imperative that flagships stand out. ‘Good enough’ isn’t good enough anymore. Flagships are a representation of the innovative factor of each company and very strangely we see how the consumers have started expecting everything high at a very affordable price thanks to the players like OnePlus (OnePlus 3), LeEco (Pro 3), ZTE (Axon 7), Alcatel (Idol) and the list goes on. These phones have started becoming officially available in countries like the US where otherwise buyers would’ve gone through the pain of importing. So Sony has nothing new with the XZ apart from upgrading the interiors which may not entice many and it is very hard to draw attention when that is the case, especially with a high asking price. Well yes, if you’re a Sony fan, and a diehard at that, you may go ahead and get this!

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  1. Quite a few people criticize it for “only” 3gb of RAM rather than 4. This is patently absurd. 1GB of unused RAM is 1GM of RAM wasted. 3 is more than enough for the foreseeable future, even more so considering Google and most app makers are trying to skim down RAM usage with their software.

    1. Yes the Xperia XZ does well with the 3GB RAM and that is what we’ve also stated. But start pounding more load on it, you will for sure notice the drop in performance – and this observations is not restricted to ours but some of our contacts who’ve actually bought the device and reported it. Having said that, if the OS could be optimized more it may help but given the fact that Xperia’s UI is not a stock Android one such as the ones that Moto or OnePlus phones come with, it may not be able to give that butter smooth performance that these give. It all depends on one’s usage patterns and the kind of apps one uses. And we always speak from our experiences off the testing we do!

      1. What smartphone app or combination of apps requires more than 3GB of RAM to run crisply and smoothly? I can’t think of any period but certainly non the average consumer uses. At this stage 4GB of RAM is at very least 1GB of RAM completely wasted and therefore, utterly useless.

        1. We are not talking about a single app but there are tons of users out there (am one of them!) who can be considered as power users. They do heavy multi-tasking which may include – playing a high end game with high graphics setting (such as Asphalt 8 / Extreme), then switch to watching some videos and come back to gaming then move to mails and do periscope and then go crazy on Instagram and FB and come back to gaming. In these cases, higher RAM capacities help to keep the apps running in the background else they may restart.

          And we never said 3GB of RAM in Xperia is insufficient. Its all about how companies optimize their software and Apple is the best example of how well softwares run with the RAM capacities they have.

          1. “Asphalt 8” and “Extreme” run slowly or poorly in some other way with 3GB of RAM? I don’t play games on the smartphone but everything else you describe is nothing for 3GB of RAM. One could argue that 3GB is a waste for that though I would concede there could be times when it runs a little slow or jumpy with 2GB.
            You did criticize the fact that it had “only” 3GB of RAM as opposed to 4GB but my contention is that an insistence on having 4GB of RAM in a smartphone is like people who have over 8GB of RAM in their desktops. For the moment it’s good on paper only. Though at least for such a desktop one may use it for many years but a smartphone battery won’t last close to that long.

  2. THE xz is probably the best android phone right now, here in the UK is has been highly praised, better built then the s7 and cheaper then the apple Samsung s7, and HTC. This article was written quite poor I have xz and it’s a beast in performance when compared to my Samsung s7, it’s actually better then my s7 in every way. HAVING 3gb ram is more then efficient and doesn’t effect the performance, the screen is super sharp and realistic, not over saturated like Samsung displays. Why compare the cheap Chinese phones when they good value but don’t have the same quality or support. Ignore this journalist he clearly shows his bias toward Sony.

    1. Is this a case of Alice in Wonderland? Mr Singh, which dreamland are you from? The XZ is better than Galaxy S7? ROFL! The review rightfully points out that 3GB RAM is enough for most day to day tasks, but push the XZ a bit more and you’ll see it stuttering. Being a power user with 100+ apps and high end games, I am repenting going for the XZ just because of my blind Xperia love. The phone feels super cheap with the plastic sides and exaggerated bezels. Funny that you are trying to camouflage all its deficiencies and instead calling the journalist biased. Get well soon.

      1. 100+ apps are you robot? 90% off the world wouldn’t have 100+ apps , you got some social issues? bet you most people could evan install more then 15 /20 apps. If you play that many games you would use a gaming PC or PS4. XZ Feels cheap s7? it has glass back and front, something they stole from Sony with z3 design. XZ has metal back reinforced with metal frame. Wake up? 100+ apps? , you probably don’t even have a job, because your downloading so many apps. Samsung in Europe is declining due to there exploding batterys and non original designs. You talk about bezels IPhone 6/7 Samsung s6? Did you miss seeing the bezels on them phones?

        1. If you are “assuming” that 90% of the world would install just 10-20 apps, we suggest you do some research. There are many reasons why people buy flagship phones and one of the top reasons is that they come with powerful hardware which can be used for gaming, photography, multimedia consumption and such. And if one has a high end hardware at their disposal, chances are more that they’d install tons of games. And if its used for productivity (folks who have JOBs) there are atleast 6 apps that folks install for their official emails, audio and video conferences.

          You may be speaking off your personal usage but when a review is done we test the device for usage patterns that cover most majority of the user categories. And it is only fair we report our findings for heavy usage as well as there are CONSIDERABLE number of such users.

          You may be a huge fan of bezels but go out and do a quick survey to see how many like them. Suggest you google by “Mi Max” and you’d know how much of an attention its drawn ALL around the world. If people love big fat bezels, this wouldn’t be the case.

          Just to remind you again – The Xperia XZ is no slouch and in we never mentioned its a bad performer, in fact its a good all round performer! But do this – use the Samsung S7, LG G5, OnePlus 3 and Xperia XZ all in parallel and you’d know the difference we went thru which qualifies us to report what we did, which is a fair judgement also reported by actual users as well as reputed media across the world.

          Fun fact for you : I’ve been a long time Sony and Xperia user myself and a fan too of what they’ve been doing. But that doesn’t mean I wont do a fair assessment of the phone :) Just so you know its not an anti-Sony guy who wrote this.

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