Sony Xperia XZ review: A turbo-charged, last-gen, flagship phone

Sony's newest new flagship is what it should have launched three months ago

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Sony Xperia XZ
  • Sony Xperia XZ
  • Sony Xperia XZ
  • Sony Xperia XZ
  • Expert Rating

    3.50 / 5

Pros

  • Great video camera
  • HD wireless audio
  • Waterproof

Cons

  • Last-gen phone
  • Still too many blurry camera shots
  • Battery struggles for one day
  • Chunky-looking

Bottom Line

The XZ feels like a turbo-charged version of its last-generation phones. It's not svelte and pretty like other flagships. And a comparable S7 costs $250 less nowadays.

Would you buy this?

Just over three months ago we slammed Sony’s latest flagship phone, the Xperia X Performance, for being one of the most disappointing products that Sony had made in years. It was such a mediocre effort (at a premium price) that even Sony’s own previous range outclassed it. No here’s the phone that should have launched then, the Sony Xperia XZ. How does it fare?

But first, despite a significant number of bad reviews for the X Performance, many people still bought one. However, we strongly suspect those people are going to have a WTF moment when they look at this and see it’s for sale for the same $999 price and that the model they recently bought has already dropped to around $750. At least their phones aren’t exploding.

[Related: Google Pixel XL full, in-depth smartphone review: The new best Android phone]

As for nomenclature, Sony insists that the Z series of phones ended with the Z5 and Z5 Premium from last year. This XZ is still part of the X Series even though the XZ looks more like the old Z models. Clear? Good…

Key specs

5.2in, 1080 x 1920, 424ppi IPS LCD display; 3,32GB RAM; Snapdragon 820 CPU plus Adreno 530 GPU, 23MP/13MP cameras, Android 6.0.1, 2,900mAh battery, Fingerprint reader, NanoSIM, MicroSD card slot, 146 x 72 x 8mm, 161g. Full specs here.

Design and Handling

We’re quite fond of the dark blue variant of the XZ but that’s partly because the black one doesn’t look particularly notable. Sony calls the shape it’s “loop” design which is a way of ignoring that it’s boxy with lightly-rounded corners. The screen is only 5.2-inches which is surprising thanks to the elongated chassis and the relatively-large bezels at the top and bottom. It’s not a small phone and doesn’t feel like it but it sits comfortably in the hand and isn't particularly slippery. All in all, it is a bit chunky though.

The SIM card slot (shared with microSD) sits at the top left of the chassis and doesn’t require a pin to open. On the right, the power button-cum-fingerprint reader sits half way down the chassis and below that is the volume rocker and below that a camera shutter button (useful if you’re shooting underwater). A USB-C charging port sits at the bottom and a headphone jack resides at the top.

The screen looks very colourful for an LCD-unit. It’s got a full HD resolution and the high pixel count makes it look very detailed – it’s even impressive when being used for VR as the screen-door effect is minimized.

The Snapdragon 820 processor has been around for a while now and still ensures that even the latest apps tick along nicely. There’s very little lag visible here. The Android OS is the latest version and while Sony has continued to keep its old bloatware away from you, it does throw out some useful tips and tricks when you use features for the first time.

We’re not fans of having the fingerprint reader at the bottom of the screen (we prefer it on the back), but Sony’s unique design of having it on the side also works well – it’s fast and generally accurate although sometimes it would throw some kind of tantrum and either refuse to unlock without a pattern being entered or tell us that we’d failed too many times already - just from holding it. This is only minor though.

Issues

We did have some issues, however. While Sony notes that it’s antennae are housed above and below the screen for greater effect, we found that it frequently held both a weaker 4G and WiFi signal that any other phone we’ve tested this year.

Despite a good WiFi infrastructure in my home, the XZ struggled to get any signal in some rooms.
Despite a good WiFi infrastructure in my home, the XZ struggled to get any signal in some rooms.

This wasn’t a deal breaker, but in some locations in our house, we literally couldn’t connect to the internet and that shouldn’t be happening.

Furthermore, the NFC chip is once again at the top of the screen to the front left. This means you can't see the screen when you tap (and subsequently follow any instructions) which is a design flaw that Sony has acknowledged but evidently not yet fixed.

Read more: ​Sony Xperia X Performance review: Sony’s most disappointing product in years

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