Introduction, key features and design
The Sony Xperia XZ may be the brand’s fourth flagship in the last two years, but it’s been a whole year since it released the Xperia Z5 to critical acclaim at IFA 2015.
In the meantime Sony has released the Xperia X, which we believed to be its latest flagship handset at the time – but it wasn’t. The Xperia XZ is that phone.
The Xperia Z line is now dead. Every Sony phone will now be part of the Xperia X line, whether it’s a budget, mid-range or high-end device, and will sit under the top-dog Xperia XZ – at least until we see the Xperia XZ 2.
It’s the best of the best of Sony’s mobile tech in one full package. It features all the highlights of Sony phones we’ve seen the past, put into a melting pot and blended to create something familiar, yet different.
If this was an iPhone, it would be an S iteration. There are small improvements to the design, camera and battery tech – but there’s no big, headline feature or major difference when you compare it to the Xperia Z5.
On the iPhone 7, for example, the headline feature was the introduction of a water-resistant build – but Sony has been there and done that, waterproofing its flagships since the Xperia Z back in 2012.
Instead it’s a reworking of the highlights from the last few years – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Sony Xperia XZ price and release date
- Now out in the US, October 6 in the UK
- It’s not cheap at $699.99 (£549, about AU$939)
- Free £150 pair of Sony headphones if you pre-order in the UK
Sony’s Xperia XZ is now ready for those in the US while those in the UK have to wait until October 6.
It’s a flagship price at $699.99 (£549, about AU$939) which is similar to what the Xperia Z5 cost last year. In the US, that makes the Xperia XZ more expensive than the 32GB version of the iPhone 7, while in the UK it’s a little bit cheaper than Apple’s flagship.
Pricing for Australia is set to be announced within the coming weeks.
If you pre-order now in the UK you’ll get a free pair of Sony XB950BT headphones, which would usually cost £150. There’s no word on whether this deal will be available in the US or Australia before the Xperia XZ is released.
- Return of the useful water-resistant design
- Great fingerprint scanner, but not for every market
- Play PS4 games on your Xperia XZ screen
Like Samsung’s, and now Apple’s, flagship handsets, the Xperia XZ is water-resistant. That means you’ll be able to take your phone into the shower without having to worry about the internals getting frazzled from water seeping in, or get away with dropping it in the sink.
This is a feature Sony has had on its flagship line for quite some time now. The Xperia XZ is IP68 water- and dust-resistant, so you can safely immerse it up to depths of one meter, although Sony advises against keeping it submerged for long periods of time.
Dust-resistance, meanwhile, ensures that if you take your phone to the beach sand isn’t going to get jammed in the sockets and ports.
This is impressive, considering that both the 3.5mm headphone jack and the USB-C slot at the bottom of the phone are open; despite it being a feature of Sony flagship phones for quite some time, the waterproof design is still something worth shouting about.
For most markets, Sony has included a fingerprint scanner on the side of the phone to make easy to unlock, yet secure. However, buyers in the US don’t get the scanner.
When TechRadar asked Sony’s Senior Director of Marketing why this was, he told us: “It was a business decision we needed to make in order to transition [in the US] from the carrier market to the unlocked market.”
That answer isn’t entirely clear, and it’s a big shame that customers in the US won’t get this security tech included on their Xperia XZ.
The scanner is built into the power button on the right-hand side of the phone, and is in a great position for your thumb when unlocking your device.
The fingerprint scanner works quickly as soon as you hit the button. The position can be a little irritating if your phone is sat on a desk and you just want to turn it on though.
For those situations you can just use the on screen unlock pattern or pin, so it’s not a major issue.
Those who are left handed may also find it a little more difficult and will need to register a different finger to get the benefit of unlocking it in the hand.
There’s a 5.2-inch screen on the Xperia XZ, which may feel a little large for those with smaller hands. This is an average size screen for flagship smartphones right now, but you should note you’ll likely need to use both hands to reach all the edges.
In terms of resolution, unlike competition from Samsung and HTC, the Xperia XZ is still only Full HD.
The screen is bright and looks good though – it’s not 2K, but that’s likely not a deal breaker or a reason to not buy the Xperia XZ. If you want to experience VR with your phone, it may not be the best choice as it only offers 424 pixels-per-inch compared to 534ppi on the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.
PS4 Remote Play is a big bonus if you’re into your gaming too. If you have Sony’s home gaming console you’ll be able to play games on your Xperia XZ over the same Wi-Fi network your console is on – handy if someone else is watching the TV.
The only issue here is that the screen on the Xperia XZ is a little too small for playing games on a regular basis – for that we’d recommend picking up an Xperia Z4 Tablet with its 2K 10-inch screen.
You’ll also need to make sure your Wi-Fi connection is up to handling PS4 Remote Play.
- New high-end material on the back
- Fits comfortably in the hand
- No durable corners as on the Xperia Z5 range
If you’ve used a Sony phone before, you’ll recognize much of the design language that you’ll find on the Xperia XZ.
There’s a new kind of metal material on the back of the phone, which Sony calls ALKALEIDO, although you won’t notice anything radically different about it – to the touch it feels much the same as the metal on previous Sony handsets.
It does feel premium, though, and it looks better than the glass on early Xperia Z-line handsets. But be warned: it may be a new kind of material, but the Xperia XZ will still pick up your greasy fingerprints.
The boxy design is still here, but it comes with slightly rounded-off edges, which enable the phone to sit in your hand comfortably. Out of all the Sony phones we’ve reviewed that feature a 5-inch-plus screen, this one feels the easiest to hold.
The top and bottom edges of the phone are flattened off, giving the Xperia XZ a look you won’t find on other flagships. It reminds us of the Obi Worldphone MV1, but it’s done with a high-end, premium feel which the Obi didn’t have. Apart from enabling you to stand your phone up, though, this doesn’t really offer much.
On the top is a 3.5mm headphone jack (take note if you’re a disgruntled iPhone fan) – it’s in a good place for plugging in headphones when your phone’s in your pocket.
There’s a USB-C slot on the bottom of the phone, while on the left-hand side is the slot for the microSD and SIM cards.
The volume rocker is in a strange position, two-thirds of the way down the right-hand spine – it’s not a natural placement for your fingers to reach it quickly if music is blaring out of the phone and you need to turn it down.
Below this is a camera button, which enables you to snap shots without touching the screen. This will come in useful if you use the camera a lot, and it’s something you don’t get on many other flagship phones.
A feature we do miss here is the reinforced corners from the Xperia Z5, designed to absorb the impact if the phone is dropped – their omission leaves us a little concerned that this phone won’t be able to take as much of a beating.
In short, the Xperia XZ is the best-looking phone the company has created, and the most comfortable to hold – but the differences are all quite minimal.
What’s it like to use?
Interface, reliability and compatibility
- Android 6 Marshmallow software, Android 7 coming soon
- Looks a touch more like stock Android
- Still a lot of bloatware
Sony is in the process of making its own Xperia user interface look and feel a little bit more like Google’s stock Android platform. Compared to previous Sony phones, the interface on the Xperia XZ looks a little smoother than the normal Xperia UI, and that’s a step most Android fans will appreciate.
That said, there is still a heavy overlay from Sony – for example, all your main apps, such as Messages, Phone and Contacts, are designed with Sony’s own look.
Sony has also included a number of its own apps, including PlayStation, Xperia Lounge and Movie Creator. The best Sony-made app, PS4 Remote Play, is missing though, so you’ll have to download it from the Google Play Store.
There’s a touch of bloatware too, in the form of Amazon, Kobo and AVG apps, but these can be deleted if you particularly dislike them, or need the space.
The Xperia XZ runs Android 6 Marshmallow out of the box. It’s a shame Sony didn’t see fit to include the latest Android 7 software here, but Sony confirmed to TechRadar that this will come to the Xperia XZ eventually – Sony is one of the best Android manufacturers for keeping its phones up to date.
The Xperia XZ didn’t crash under any usage scenarios during our review period – it seems to be a fully reliable phone, unlike the Xperia Z5 proved to be. Playing games such as Real Racing 3 and Reigns proved that the XZ is well capable of handling high-end gaming – more about that later.
There were a few occasions when apps loaded slowly, but so far we haven’t had any significant problems with the XZ.
Movies, music and gaming
- Weaker speaker setup than we would like
- 32GB of storage, 256GB microSD support
- Strong processor setup for gaming
The Sony Xperia XZ’s Full HD screen is bright and quite large, making this a great choice if you’re looking for a phone to watch a lot of movies and TV on.
Sony has included its Movies application for playing movies and videos, and this provides a TV programming schedule too. Google Play Movies and TV is also on the phone.
The speakers on the Xperia XZ are okay, but they’re not improved upon from previous phones. Although the stereo effect can be good when you’re watching films, we did struggle to hear the phone sometimes when playing audio.
The top volume does feel a little stunted compared to some other flagship phones. It’s certainly not as loud as the Galaxy S7 or the HTC 10.
Sony has included its own Audio app, which enables you to integrate Spotify streaming. It’s more likely you’ll use the normal Spotify or Google Play Music apps though, and both of these are included on the Xperia XZ out of the box.
You may find storage a bit of an issue – the Xperia XZ comes with 32GB as standard and there’s no larger-capacity model, and it’s not too hard to fill up 32GB given that Android takes up 10GB before you add any apps, music or movies.
But it shouldn’t be too much of an issue with 256GB of microSD space available – if you’re going to pack this phone full of media, just be sure to get yourself a large microSD card.
We’ll talk more about gaming in the following section – but the Xperia XZ will be able to handle any games you want to play on it. We experimented with all types of games, including Pokemon Go, Reigns and Real Racing 3, and none of them stuttered.
Plus there’s the added benefit of PS4 Remote Play, which is a major bonus for anyone who owns both Sony’s ultimate home gaming console and an Xperia smartphone – and this is one of the few phones you can currently use for Remote Play.
Specs and benchmark performance
- Top of the range Snapdragon 820 processor
- 3GB of RAM, much like previous Sony phones
- Reliable performance – among the best
Sony’s Xperia XZ can keep pace with any other phone you’d be tempted to buy right now, and will do everything you need it to do without complaint.
It features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chipset – which is one of the best on the market right now – working in tandem with 3GB of RAM. You may see some phones with 4GB or 6GB of RAM on board, but 3GB does the job nicely here.
We’ve already touched on gaming performance, and no apps crashed during our time with the phone either – that happened fairly often with the Xperia Z5 and Xperia Z5 Premium.
The phone also never heated up to a troubling degree, something else that was an issue with the Xperia Z5 – that phone got hot whenever we put the processor through a tough workout, so it’s good to see Sony has sorted the issue for its latest release.
Battery life and camera
- Same size battery as Xperia Z5
- Performs just as well as the Sony Xperia Z5 too
Battery life on the Xperia XZ isn’t going to blow your mind, but it’s going to last you through the average day – as long as any other flagship phone in 2016 – and most users will be happy with that.
The Xperia Z5 series phones weren’t the best in terms battery life, but they weren’t the worst either – and it’s a similar story here.
By the end of the day it generally had between 10% and 30% of its charge left – one night it was bedtime before we got the 30% battery notification, although you won’t have that much juice left at such a late hour if you’re going to be intensively using your phone.
For when you’re away from the charger, there’s Sony’s Stamina power-saving mode. This disables background data and GPS when the screen is off, as well as image enhancement and vibrations.
If you’re waiting on an important phone call you can always use the Ultra Stamina mode – this only allows access to the phone and basic apps such as contacts, messages and camera.
Sony has included its own fast-charging tech in the Xperia XZ, so it won’t take too long to charge up when you need it to either.
The Xperia XZ can also learn when and for how long you charge your phone – the aim here is to ensure your phone isn’t being pummeled with lots of charge when it’s not needed.
For example, if you charge your phone overnight and you wake up at 7AM, your XZ will charge up to 90%, then cut off charging until around 6:50AM, then finish off the charge in the last few minutes before you wake up.
Sony wants to help you optimize battery performance over the lifetime of the phone, and this will help – it’s a welcome feature if you’re planning on hanging on to your XZ for a few years.
We put the Xperia XZ through the TechRadar battery test – running a 90-minute clip with the screen at maximum brightness and accounts syncing over Wi-Fi in the background – and it had 74% left at the end. That makes sense, as the Xperia Z5, which has the same 2900mAh cell, completed the test with 75% remaining.
Compared to the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, with its 3600mAh battery, that’s quite poor – the S7 Edge only dropped 14% of its battery in the same test. And it’s especially poor when you consider that the Xperia XZ only has a Full HD screen, and not a 2K display.
The Xperia XZ won’t stun you with its battery life, then, but it will see you through a day of moderate use, and will hopefully last longer over time than the Xperia Z5 and many other Android phones.
- Huge 23MP sensor, but same as many recent Sony phones
- Seriously impressive laser autofocus for moving shots
- Improved 13MP selfie shooter
Sony is pushing the camera as the headline feature of the Xperia XZ – but you wouldn’t be blamed for wondering what’s new here when looking at the spec list.
The Xperia XZ comes with a 23MP rear camera, which is the same size sensor we’ve seen before, and has a maximum aperture of f/2.0 and an LED flash – again, specs we’ve seen before.
The only real highlight comes in the form of laser autofocus, which works in tandem with the predictive hybrid autofocus of previous Sony phones.
Sony is positioning this as the phone to go for if you like to take action shots and other snaps of moving subjects. The marketing for the Xperia XZ features images of dogs jumping in the air, so we tried to recreate those shots with TechRadar’s Home Ents writer Jon Porter…
And the Xperia XZ delivers. All the shots like this that we took showed minimum blur. If you examine the photo above, you can make out every element of the shot clearly apart from the right foot.
We’ve never used a phone with autofocus this fast and accurate.
In terms of regular photography, you’re going to get some great-looking shots out of the Xperia XZ using the auto mode.
It won’t give you as vibrant an image as the iPhone 7, or as sharp a shot as the Galaxy S7. Some shots we took appeared a little washed-out in the background, but the autofocus knew what object we wanted to focus on.
According to Sony, white balance accuracy has been improved on the Xperia XZ. While it wasn’t particularly noticeable when taking photos on the phone, comparing images to ones shot on the Xperia Z5 on a computer screen revealed that color fidelity on the Xperia XZ has improved by quite some way.
Then there are the manual mode options on the Xperia XZ. If you’re willing to delve into these settings and experiment, you can enjoy some of the best mobile photography possible on the Xperia XZ.
Sony’s camera also features optical image stabilization, and records video in 4K. We found video quality to be impressive, but 4K is of limited use considering the screen on this device is only Full HD.
You could move the video files across to your 4K TV for viewing at full resolution, but remember these files are going to be huge, and will take up a lot of room on your phone.
Selfie shooting is improved on the Xperia XZ too. There’s a 13MP front-facing camera here, which rivals some of the more impressive Chinese handsets designed to let you indulge your narcissistic tendencies.
The sensor delivered fantastic images in our testing, with sharp detail and bright colors. There’s also a new ‘wave to capture’ mode, which enables you to balance your phone on a wall or other surface, then step and take a photo without having to touch a button.
You can capture Full HD video on the front-facing camera too, meaning that video calls will look as good as you’ll ever need them to.
This is certainly one of the best phones you can buy for selfies right now – the level of detail impressed us, and it’ll impress your social media acquaintances too.
Verdict and competition
The Xperia XZ doesn’t represent a revolutionary step from Sony. Rather it’s a repackaging of the highlights we’ve seen in previous Xperia handsets, with a refined design and a few more tweaks to keep up with the competition.
It would have been nice to see a 2K display on the Xperia XZ, but Sony knows best what its batteries are capable of, and has stuck to Full HD.
The design tweaks give the XZ a more premium feel phone than previous high-end Xperias, and it seems that Sony may have finally nailed what a flagship phone should look and feel like.
Who’s this for?
If you currently have an Xperia Z5, there isn’t much reason to upgrade here. It’s fairly similar to last year’s Sony flagship, and there’s no compelling headline feature to turn your head.
If, however, you currently own an Xperia Z3+ or an older Sony phone, and like the way it looks and works, this is the phone to go for as an upgrade. The Xperia X and Xperia X Compact offer up premium spec, but the Xperia XZ is by far the best of the bunch.
And if you’re using an older Android phone from another brand, the Xperia XZ could be a great choice as well. The Android competition right now is tough – as you’ll see in the Competition section below – but the Xperia XZ holds its own against some of the best phones you can buy right now.
The real highlights of the Xperia XZ come in the form of the new and improved design – with waterproofing, yet again – as well as little tweaks to the camera.
New autofocus technology on the Xperia XZ allows you to get some phenomenal moving shots with the rear shooter on the back of the phone and it’s incredible what Sony has been able to achieve with its 23MP sensor.
With a top of the range speedy processor, 3GB of RAM and improved software the Xperia XZ will allow you to do whatever you want on your phone with ease.
Should you buy it?
You should buy the Xperia XZ if you’re upgrading from an older Sony phone and want the best package the brand currently offers. It doesn’t have the high-end screen spec you’d get on the Samsung Galaxy S7.
If you live in the US, the Xperia XZ won’t come with a fingerprint sensor either and that’s something you’d expect to get on an expensive flagship phone.
The Xperia XZ is a great phone, just be warned – there isn’t that much that’s new in the Xperia XZ and it is pricey. If you were to go out and buy a Xperia Z5 you would get most of what’s here, but just not in such a full package.
That said, the Xperia XZ is a complete-package flagship phone that we’ve wanted from Sony for quite some time.
- If you’re considering the Sony Xperia XZ, here are the other phones you might want to consider, both from Sony and rival brands…
Apple’s iPhone 7 looks similar to the iPhone 6S, but it’s still a decent upgrade. You won’t have a headphone jack, but you will have iOS – and if you’re already invested in Apple’s brand you may not want to look much further for your next flagship phone.
- Read our review of the iPhone 7
Sony Xperia Z5
If you like the look of the Sony Xperia XZ, be sure to check out the Xperia Z5 as well. Apart from tweaks to the design, the differences between the XZ and Z5 are quite minimal, and the older phone is cheaper.
You won’t get the improvements to the camera, but if that’s not your must-have feature then the Xperia Z5 is a fantastic smartphone.
- Read our review of the Sony Xperia Z5
Samsung Galaxy S7
We gave the Samsung Galaxy S7 five stars when it was originally reviewed in March this year; it’s a fantastic smartphone, and the one to beat in the Android space. The Xperia XZ doesn’t come with the S7’s 2K display, or as strong battery life, so if those features are important to you then Samsung’s flagship is worth a closer look.
- Read our review of the Samsung Galaxy S7
Want something a little different to the Sony design? The HTC 10 may be your bag. The latest flagship from HTC comes with amazing audio, and better battery life than the Xperia XZ. The camera isn’t as good – there’s no laser autofocus here – but it’s still a great smartphone that compares well to Sony’s best.
- Read our review of the HTC 10
This review was written with a final sample of the Xperia XZ, but there may be some minor software changes before the phone is released. We’ll be sure to note any differences once we use the new version of the phone.
First reviewed September 2016
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