What was supposed to be a fresh start for Sony with the new Xperia X series didn’t pan out very well. Middling camera performance paired with high retail prices were just two reasons why these smartphones didn’t make quite an impact; this was especially true for the Xperia X, which has since received a price cut in Malaysia.
Then Sony unveiled a brand new flagship device: the Xperia XZ. In comparison to the Xperia X, it’s quite a breath of fresh air. It’s not priced as exorbitantly as the X, it’s packed with a new camera system, and it’s the first proper flagship from Sony in Malaysia we’ve seen in a while. However, can the Xperia XZ bring back the glory days of the Xperia Z3?
Design & First Impressions
You’ll either love or hate the design of the Xperia XZ. From a distance, there’s no denying that the XZ looks…dated. This can be attributed to the sharp corners and squarish shape of the smartphone, which will not be to everyone’s liking. Personally, I am worryingly neutral on the Xperia XZ’s design, although I do wish the top and bottom bezels were shorter; there’s just too much wasted space.
Once I’ve held the Xperia XZ in my hands, however, it’s a completely different story. Sure, it’s not as thin or as sleek-looking as other smartphones, but it’s a comfortable device to hold. The rounded sides and overall grippiness of the polycarbonate frame definitely felt good to hold.
Much like the fingerprint sensor on the Xperia X, the Xperia XZ’s side fingerprint sensor – which also doubles as the power button – is very quick; it’s a drastic improvement over the one found on the Xperia Z5 Premium. However, I really don’t like how squishy the button is: there’s barely any tactile feedback. The fact that the button is recessed into the frame of the phone makes it that much more difficult to press.
There’s also the odd positioning of the volume rocker and camera button. While I like how the Xperia XZ has a dedicated shutter button, I can’t help but to think that it can be implemented in a more inconspicuous way: the volume rocker and camera button are raised quite prominently, and as a result, I sometimes accidentally press on these buttons while typing with the phone.
Although it’s not exactly a feature only Sony smartphones have nowadays, I really love the fact that the Xperia XZ is water-resistant. I don’t have to be overly cautious of keeping the device away from any liquids, and if something does happen to the device – say, if I spilled something on it – I can just rinse it off. It’s a reassuring feeling, and honestly, this is something every flagship smartphone should have (I’m looking at you, Google Pixel).
It goes without saying that the design of the Xperia XZ could use some work, but as is always the case with Sony smartphones, it’s really a comfortable device to use for long periods of time. There’s still some Sony charm in the Xperia XZ, but whether or not it can hold its own against other highly capable flagship smartphones is an entirely different question.
The Xperia XZ is very much a high-end flagship smartphone. It has a capable Snapdragon 820 processor – which lends to a very pleasant user experience – expandable storage, as well as a much more reasonable price tag in comparison to the Sony Xperia X. However, there are a few areas where the Xperia XZ is lacking, such as its 3GB of RAM and rather average 2,900mAh battery.
Sony smartphones always had an upper hand in the software department, and the same remains true for the Xperia XZ. Thanks to the capable Snapdragon 820 processor and the lightweight nature of Sony’s Android skin, the overall user experience of the XZ is definitely pleasant.
In comparison to stock Android, the Xperia XZ also has an app drawer, not to mention native Android 6.0 Marshmallow features such as Now on Tap. While there are quite a bit of bloatware on the XZ, they are in no way intrusive: they’ll only activate if I launch the respective apps, much like how it was on the Xperia X.
As pleasant as Sony’s Android skin was to use, I did notice a particularly odd behaviour: the YouTube app doesn’t work well on the Xperia XZ. If I were to view videos in 1080p, the app would be unresponsive after some time: the audio continues to play, but the video itself would freeze up. This is especially an issue if I try to play 60fps videos on the app. With such a powerful processor powering the XZ, I can’t quite wrap my fingers around what’s causing this to happen.
Regardless, the software experience of the Xperia XZ was certainly good, except for the odd issue with the YouTube app. Chances are, this issue may be fixed in future updates.
Although most – if not all – Sony smartphones ship with smaller than average battery capacities, the overall battery life of these devices is actually not bad. Unfortunately, the same does not apply to the Xperia XZ.
Packed with only a 2,900mAh battery, I did not expect much from the Xperia XZ, and I was right to think so: the device’s battery life was…decent. On average, I was getting around four hours of screen on time. While this isn’t bad by any stretch of the word, it’s not great either.
I also tested the charging time of the Xperia XZ. With the charger that came with the phone, I only managed to get about…23% of battery life within 30 minutes of charging. Considering the fact that the XZ only has a 2,900mAh battery, this charging speed is pretty disappointing.
Although the Xperia XZ only features a 5.2-inch 1080p display, it looks great; I was particularly impressed with the panel’s black level, which is plenty impressive for an LCD display. On top of that, the display is also bright and vibrant. While a higher resolution display would’ve been nice, the battery life of the XZ – which isn’t great to begin with – will definitely suffer.
I love the fact that the Xperia XZ has a front-facing stereo speakers setup, but I was surprised by how soft the speakers are. At maximum volume, the XZ is definitely not as loud as, say, the Nexus 6P‘s stereo speakers. That being said, there weren’t any noticeable buzzing or crackling when I crank up the volume of the speakers.
This is one area the Xperia XZ is supposed to excel at. Equipped with a 23MP camera complete with an RGBC-IR white balance sensor – which will supposedly improve colour accuracy – can the XZ deliver a truly impressive shooting experience?
Honestly, the Xperia XZ has a pretty great camera. It launches quick enough with a long press of the camera shutter button, the autofocus speeds are good, and the shooting experience is decent as well. Although the camera gets slightly sluggish in less than ideal lighting – as well as some noise – the end results are good.
However, Sony’s aggressive post-processing is definitely one of the main weaknesses of the Xperia XZ’s camera. Images taken with the device look fine when zoomed out, but once you zoom in, you can definitely see some loss of detail and artifacts. Other than that, the camera also stutters quite a bit when tracking objects with its Predictive Hybrid Autofocus feature.
While the camera performance of the Xperia XZ is definitely above average and is quite pleasant to use, it’s still not as good as class leaders like the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge and the new iPhone 7. It is disheartening to see Sony pushing the XZ’s camera capabilities, and yet its real-life performance is still hampered by over aggressive post-processing – something that has plagued the Xperia phones for years.
In comparison to the Xperia X, the Xperia XZ’s RM2,699 price tag makes a lot more sense. However, it’s also priced equally to one of the best smartphones money can buy now: the Samsung Galaxy S7.
Also retailing at RM2,699, the Galaxy S7 has a few advantages over the Xperia XZ. These include a much sharper – but a tad smaller – 5.1-inch 1440p Super AMOLED display, more premium look and feel thanks to the glass and metal construction, a slightly bigger 3,000mAh battery, and of course, a superior 12MP dual-pixel camera. However, the S7 also has half the storage of the XZ, which has 64GB of internal storage.
On the more affordable side of things, there’s also the Huawei P9, which has a capable dual-camera setup. Although many see the “Leica-certified” cameras as a gimmick when the P9 was initially unveiled, it’s definitely a great performer; I’d say the P9 has better camera performance over the XZ too.
The Huawei P9 also edges the Xperia XZ in a few areas, including an arguably sleeker design, a slightly bigger 3,000mAh battery, as well as a much lower retail price of RM2,099; that’s RM600 less than the Xperia XZ. To be fair, the XZ also has double the storage of the P9 at 64GB, not to mention a more powerful Snapdragon 820 processor and IP65/IP68 rating.
If you’re looking for something even more affordable, the OnePlus 3 is a great alternative. With a much more affordable RM1,888 price tag – that’s RM811 less than the XZ’s asking price – the OnePlus 3 has the same Snapdragon 820 processor and 64GB of internal storage as the XZ, more RAM at 6GB, bigger 3,000mAh battery, as well as a superior software experience (personally, at least).
But, the OnePlus 3 doesn’t offer expandable storage like the Xperia XZ; it also doesn’t have any form of water resistance, which really gives the XZ an advantage.
The Sony Xperia XZ is…perplexing. On one hand, it’s not a bad phone, but on the other hand, it’s not excellent either, which really got me thinking: where does Sony go from here?
We all know Sony is capable of manufacturing amazing camera sensors. After all, many other smartphone manufacturers source their camera sensors from the Japanese company, so the question is: why can’t Sony match – or even exceed – its competitors’ camera performance?
Unfortunately, only Sony can answer that question. As it is, the Xperia XZ is an “okay” smartphone: it’s not bad, but it’s not amazing either. Those who have a soft spot for Sony will definitely be happy with the XZ, and I personally enjoyed using Sony’s best offering yet – though I found myself not thinking twice when I had to return to my Nexus 6P.
Is it the best Android smartphone money can buy now? For me, that would be a no. The Xperia XZ is a valiant effort, but really, just fix the camera software already.