[nextpage title=”Introduction” ]
Product Type: Smartphone | Manufacturer: Sony | Price: From £649.99 | Where to buy: EE | [et_social_share]
The Sony Xperia XZ Premium is an excellent phone with flagship performance, although the dated design may not agree with some.
Sony has managed to turn around its mobile division after a combination of radical restructuring and favourable exchange rates. With the company finally achieving a net profit last year, it seems that the division won’t be going anywhere soon. Sometimes, firing enough employees to break even does have its benefits…
Ever since buying out Ericsson’s share, the company strategy has slowly shifted to a focus on premium devices, dropping cheaper handset lines. The majority of their devices now cost above £300, with the Premium standing tall as the ultimate flagship. Looking at the hardware, it almost seems like Sony has created a wish-list for the ultimate smartphone. Problem is, will it just turn out to be smoke and mirrors?
OS Android 7.1 Nougat (EMUI 5.1)
Processor Snapdragon 835
Screen 5.5 inch IPS LCD
Resolution 3840 x 2160 pixels (807 DPI)
Memory 4GB RAM
Internal Storage 64GB
External Storage microSD 256GB
Waterproofing IP68 certified dust/water protection. 30 minutes up to 1.5 meters.
Rear camera 19MP f/2.0
Front camera 13MP f/2.0
Video 4K 30FPS, 720p 960FPS
Connectivity WIFI a/b/g/n/ac, USB-C, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC
Cellular Speed CAT 16 LTE 1,000Mbit/s
Dimensions 156 x 77 x 7.9 mm
[nextpage title=”Design and Screen” ]
Design and Screen
Sony handsets have quite a familiar design which was started several years ago with the Z1 in 2013. Over the years, this had been refined with an increasingly reflective, monolithic appearance. The Sony Xperia XZ Premium doesn’t really change this and still reminds us of a shiny SCI-FI brutalist London housing estate. Make of that statement what you will…
Despite being fairly minimal in overall design, it’s still an eyesore that stands out like a sore thumb. The incredibly reflective Chrome finish and slab-like appearance make the device instantly recognisable, although the need to clean it quickly becomes bothersome. In fact, I don’t think we’ve ever used another device which seems to get dirty this quickly. While it’s possible to use the Sony Xperia XZ Premium as a mirror for checking your appearance, you’ll spend most of the time rubbing dust and grime away in an effort to keep it shining.
The flat, bulky design is also a misrepresentation to the overall dimensions of the device. At just 7.9mm thick, the Xperia XZ Premium isn’t really much chunkier than other handsets currently available but feels far thicker. This is due to Sony carrying on with its monolithic design while other manufacturers introduce subtle curves to give the illusion of slimmer handsets.
On the front we have a 5.5-inch panel flanked by a pair of large stereo speakers. These sound excellent and are a really nice addition, especially while watching media. A large amount of dead space at the top and bottom detracts from things a little bit, giving the device an unnecessary large appearance. If Sony could’ve stretched the panel to eat up extra room, like what we’ve seen with the Galaxy S8 and LG G6, this could’ve been a real looker.
On the sides, you’ll find a convenient flap which covers both the SIM card and microSD trays, plus power button and volume controls. The power button once again doubles as a fingerprint sensor, which is something of a unique feature for the Xperia series. We absolutely love the side-firing sensor and think it’s a great idea. A dedicated two-phase camera shutter button is a welcome addition and makes this more of a competent shooter overall. On the bottom is a USB-C jack which is just about the norm for all flagships, while a headphone jack can be found on the top.
The screen on the Sony Xperia XZ Premium is its centrepiece attraction and in most circumstances, complete overkill. Sporting a 5.5-inch IPS LCD panel with 3840 x 2160 resolution, this equates to a huge 807 pixels-per-inch. Considering the human eye is supposed to have difficulty discerning pixel densities above 300 PPI, this is a truly ludicrous figure.
The XZ Premium is not the first 4K device to hit the market; that accolade goes to the Z5 Premium. However, whereas the Z5 Premium could only display 4K video content through a dedicated media player app, the XZ Premium allows a bit more flexibility. YouTube and Netflix videos can now be viewed in native 4K resolution, which was not possible on the previous generation handset, although the user interface is still rendered in 1080p.
When viewing 4K content, there’s a definite difference over standard 1440p panels… but you’ll need to look really hard to see it. Overall panel quality is very good, with plenty of colour thanks to the Triluminous display technology. It’s not on the same level of vibrancy as an AMOLED panel, but it’s still a great display. Colour tone comes across very natural, with it being neither blue nor yellow. Brightness levels are also excellent, with enough power to make the device viewable in bright conditions.
[nextpage title=”Camera” ]
The rear camera on the Sony Xperia XZ Premium got us genuinely excited as, on paper at least, it carries plenty of new features not found on other handsets. Megapixel count is now a little lower at 19, though this has the added benefit of making individual pixels bigger and increasing low-light performance. Optical Image Stabilisation is still absent, although Sony has now introduced an enhanced version of Electronic Image Stabilisation which uses a gyroscope. The sensor itself incorporates technology carried across from their Alpha SLR series, including DRAM memory embedded directly into the sensor stack. What this means is that the camera can carry out a variety of predictive and slow-motion tasks which are usually technically impossible due to bandwidth limitations. The DRAM acts as an internal buffer, temporarily saving these files before they are written to the main memory within the device.
Putting these new features to the test, we encountered a few teething issues with the overall performance. Predictive capture kicks in rather randomly, sometimes capturing the things you want and other times completely missing the action. Slow-motion video is an incredible feature when the lighting is good, allowing up to 960FPS at HD resolution. When the lighting is bad, it’s pretty terrible and just comes across as a noisy mess. To get an effective slow-motion capture, you’re going to need bright outdoor conditions or a professional lighting rig. Anything else just won’t do the feature justice.
General image quality is also a bit of a let-down, with significant over-processing that contributes to noise. Comparing the Xperia XZ Premium alongside other devices such as the Galaxy S8 and HTC U11 reveals a lot of colour artefacts and unnecessary sharpening. This gives the image a grainy and rough appearance, while only really offering a small benefit for fine detail. We can’t tell if this is an intentional feature or not, as it has the side-effect of improving perceptual image quality on smaller screens. It’s definitely related to the software processing of the device, which could always be ironed out in a later firmware update. As it stands, this is a very good rear camera that falls slightly short of great.
Low-light photography on the other hand was quite impressive on the Xperia XZ Premium, with the larger pixels capturing more light than its predecessor. Noise was evident but more minimal than we expected, especially given how the software seems quite heavy on the post-processing. Even in pitch black conditions, it was able to capture objects that other phones couldn’t see, which is surprising.
The Sony camera application is still very disappointing, especially when you consider that this is supposed to be a photography focused handset. There’s far too much menu diving and key settings like ISO are still hidden behind closed doors, which is very odd. If you’re a manual mode user, it all feels very unintuitive and poorly designed.
The 13 megapixel front camera is excellent, with a strong f/2.0 aperture, wide 22mm lens and large pixels. Recording up to 1080p, it takes very good selfie pictures with bright colours and plenty of detail. Even in low lighting conditions, it manages to perform admirably well.
[nextpage title=”Performance and Software” ]
Performance and Software
Sporting a Snapdragon 835 and 4GB RAM, the Sony Xperia XZ Premium has more than enough power to compete with other current flagships. Browsing through the user interface was smooth with no real lag to speak of. Apps open quickly and multitasking is handled easily, with quick transitions between background applications.
The Snapdragon 835 has proved itself to be an impressive gaming companion and the Sony Xperia XZ Premium doesn’t disappoint. Entry-level titles such as Candy Crush run buttery smooth but never really do the 4K panel any justice. Asphalt Xtreme is the only title we’ve seen which supports these extra high DPI displays, so it was a good candidate for putting the handset through its paces. The game successfully detected the 4K display and opted for the extra high DPI setting. While we can’t say for certain if the game was making full use of the UHD panel, we can say that it ran extremely well. It wasn’t as smooth as the Samsung Galaxy S8+ or LG G6 but still remained very playable, with only slight slowdown. When you consider the amount of pixels that the Snapdragon 835 needs to render on this device, it’s pretty impressive.
CPU benchmarks for the device again fall slightly short of the Samsung Galaxy S8, although the Sony Xperia XZ remains one of the most powerful handsets currently available to buy. It scored 6,187 on the GeekBench 4 test, marginally losing out to big hitters such as the HTC U11 and Samsung Galaxy S8. AnTuTu results saw it narrowly miss the top 10, coming 13th in current list of most powerful handsets. With a score of 147,993, it falls behind handsets such as the OnePlus 3 and iPhone 7 in terms of overall performance.
Graphics performance was better, falling only slightly behind the Samsung Galaxy S8 but better than the LG G6, Huawei P10 and OnePlus 5. The Sony Xperia XZ Premium scored 3,055 on 3DMark and 1,434 on GFXBench, both of which put the handset very close to top position.
We think in this instance, benchmarks should be taken with a little bit of caution. The Sony Xperia XZ Premium uses a panel with far higher resolution than anything currently on the market. Naturally, this is going to make benchmarks take a slight hit in response to all of those pixels which the chipset needs to push.
The Sony Xperia XZ Premium runs Android 7.1.1 Nougat, the latest operating system currently available. The Xperia UI was never one of our favourites but has been improved this time, stripping things back in favour of a more stock experience. It seems to be based closely on the Google Launcher, with only a subtle difference in the app tray. For fans of the pure experience like ourselves, this is a huge plus and means that the handset feels more like a ‘true’ Android device.
In terms of bloatware, some media outlets have reported the Sony Xperia XZ Premium has a problem with pre-loaded apps. Our device didn’t seem to have that problem at all, offering just a handful of Sony apps and a few third-party junk apps hidden in the tray. Things such as the Xperia Lounge and What’s New applications offer a basic introduction for new users, offering app suggestions and relevant news. The PlayStation app makes a return, offering remote play on your device so long as you own a PS4 (and a fast data connection).
The Sony Xperia XZ Premium has a 3,230mAh battery, which is around 200mAh less than the Z5 Premium. That said, the increased power efficiency of the Snapdragon 835 should help the handset last much longer overall. Our 20% battery drain test using AnTuTu scored a massive 11,774, which is a truly excellent result. The device lasted 105 minutes before reaching 80% capacity, meaning you should expect roughly 8 hours and 45 minutes of on-screen time at 50% brightness. In real-world testing, we found things lasted a little less than that. The Xperia XZ Premium was capable of a full days charge during testing, occasionally breaking into the second day when things are kept frugal. Considering the number of pixels this handset has to power, it’s not a bad result. The Xperia Z5 Premium had a woeful battery life.
[nextpage title=”Conclusion” ]
Sony seems to have thrown everything but the kitchen sink into the Xperia XZ Premium, with the handset boasting a 4K HDR screen, strong performance and a decent camera to boot. If Sony had just modernised the design a little bit and focused on refining some of the features, this could’ve been the number one handset out there. That said, it’s still an excellent flagship which is up there with the best and a solid all-rounder.
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