There’s a lot to be said about Sony’s Xperia XZ Premium. However, one accusation that can be thrown out right away is the idea that Sony didn’t try to compete.
Sure, after fifteen years the Xperia brand has never quite caught on. Regardless, both Samsung and Apple have taken major hits to their brands over the last twelve months, maybe now is the right time for Sony to pitch its tent. With the Xperia XZ Premium, Sony make their boldest gamble yet to be taken as a serious player in the space.
Boasting a 5.5-inch HDR-ready 4K display, Snapdragon 835 processor and 19-megapixel camera – the XZ Premium takes the featureset of last year’s XZ to a new extreme. Memory-wise, it’s packing 4GB of RAM and 64GB of on-board storage. What’s more, it’s got a hefty 3230mAh battery and arrives ready-to-go with Android Nougat preinstalled.
On paper, it’s a solid package. In practice, the reality of everyday use sees the device stay abreast of the expectations its spec-sheet inspires. The device loads applications blisteringly fast and can multitask without any significant build up in heat.
While actual convenience of being able to watch 4K video on your phone is debatable, it proves to be a welcome addition. Images looked consistently clear and brightly coloured. It’s a shame that the Xperia XZ Premium’s built-in speakers don’t shore up nearly as well. Sony have thrown in a pair of reasonably-good noise-cancelling earphones to make up the difference but they still stand out as a weakness.
Unfortunately, once the dust settles and initial lustre begins to fade, it becomes pretty clear that the XZ Premium doesn’t quite have what it takes to compete with what 2017 has to offer. On a technical level, Sony’s latest holds up as the best smartphone they’ve ever built. Unfortunately, the design side of it is a hodgepodge of hits and misses.
First up: the reflective metal build. The XZ Premium brings new meaning the concept of the “shiny new smartphone.” Like HTC’s recent U series of smartphones, the surface of the device is so reflective it basically doubles as a mirror.
Aesthetically, you’ll either go for this or you won’t. For me, it never really came together. However, on a more important and practical level, this design leaves the Xperia XZ Premium extra vulnerable to both smudges and scratches. Out of the box, it impresses – but don’t expect that polish to last. All told, It took less than a week to lose its spark.
When it comes to form factor, the XZ Premium feels a little too boxy for comfort. It’s nice enough to look at but, after a while, it feels a little uncomfortable to hold. Still, Sony have built this thing to last. It’s certified IP65/68 and coated in Corning Gorilla Glass 5.
In English, this means it comes waterproofing, dustproof, dirtproof, shockproof and sandproof. We only dropped the Xperia XZ Premium once during out time with it but it handled it with aplomb. Even if the XZ Premium’s hyper-reflective surface isn’t your thing, it’s hard not to respect a product that’s solid enough to take a hit.
The one other design element that works in the favour of the Xperia XZ Premium is the fingerprint sensor. Rather than stick this on the front or back, as per the usual, Sony have integrated the fingerprint sensor into the power/sleep button on the right side of the device.
Even if the form-factor of the devices is a long way from perfect, I came away really impressed by this decign choice. It’s a small touch but it works surprisingly well. It allowed me to pick up, turn on and unlock the device in one single seamless manoeuvre.
Finally, there’s the camera. While it sits a few rungs lower in DxO mark than others when it comes to quality, it earns a few points for speed. The Xperia XZ Premium leverages a memory-stacked Exmor RS, Sony G lens and BIONZ image processor to make the most of its 23-megapixel rear-camera. It’s capable of shooting video in either 2160p at 30fps or at 1080p at up to double that. Sony have further sweetened the deal by throwing in support for slow motion at a staggering 960 frames per second.
Combined with the Motion Eye and Predictive Capture technology, the XZ Premium comes ready to spring into action and start recording footage from the moment it detects movement. This admittedly-neat feature promises to make the Xperia XZ a more tantalizing option for those who hate missing “that perfect shot” by seconds. While you only get about an extra second to film, it’s an extra second that could definitely count for a lot.
If we rewind the clock a year or two, the Xperia XZ Premium’s shortcomings aren’t too egregious. However, stacked up against the Samsung Galaxy S8, HTC U 11 or LG G6, they leave the device standing out like a sore thumb. At the high-end of the market, aesthetics count for a lot – and the Xperia XZ Premium misses the mark. With that in mind, it’s hard to recommend it without reservations.
It’s clear Sony know how to build a solid machine on a technical level. And if that nitty-gritty stuff is all you care about, the Xperia XZ Premium might fit the bill. However, for the asking price, you want something that looks, feels and holds its own against the competition. Sony’s latest doesn’t live up to that ideal. It goes big but it doesn’t take home the top prize.
The Xperia XZ Premium is available both through carriers (Optus, Vodafone, Virgin) and retailer JB Hi-Fi at an RRP of $1099. It’s also available at a discounted price of $1056 through Telstra.