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Sony Xperia XZ1 Review: Actually, This Is Quite Nice

Sony has somewhat of  problem with Mobile, it’s not that their devices suck, they’re actually quite nice, but there is always something that is off, something that is just that little too off to recommend, and that doesn’t seem to be changing with the Xperia XZ1, Sadly, but this is closer than I think Sony has ever gotten before.

*UPDATE* We have ammended this Review with comments on network and Radio performance as somehow It was deleted. (26/10/17)

Disclaimer: Vodafone PR has sent this XZ1 to us for review, due to connectivity problems on my end, this review has taken about a week longer than expected, giving me just about 3 weeks with the Xperia XZ1. The views are my own and no one aside from other MTT editors are reviewing this content before it goes live. No money has changed hands between either company, this is my own thoughts.

Sony has a bit of an issue with naming, its flagships was the Z line since about 2013, then last year they switched to X instead, then earlier this year they merged and we got the XZ and XZ Premium, and now, we have the XZ1 and XZ1 Compact, this is a tad confusing to even someone paying attention to this market, so I don’t blame you for being confused. So what is the Xperia XZ1? Well, aside from the screen resolution, this is the Flagship for Sony. pretty much the same internals from the XZ Premium, with a smaller 1080p Display is what we’ve got here, and honestly, it works really, really well.

Sony Xperia XZ1 Review

Speeds and feeds

  • 5.2” 1920x1080p IPS Screen with triluminos technology
  • HDR10 Support Native
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
  • 4GB LPDDR4 RAM
  • 64gb eMMC (256gb microSD support)
  • 2700mAh Lithium-Polymer Battery
  • USB-C USB 3.1 Gen1
  • Side mounted fingerprint Scanner (N.A model is disabled)
  • 19mp MotionEye Camera.
    • F2.0 Lens
    • 1/2.3” Sensor
    • 1.22µ Pixel size
    • 1080p 60
    • 2160p 30/24fps
    • 720p 960fps (Super slow-mo)

For a more in depth spec list, head on over to GSMArena here

Hardware

Sony Xperia XZ1 Review

This is the current and most refined version of Sony’s Omnibalance design that Sony introduced in 2013 with the original Xperia Z, and whilst there are serious drawbacks to continuously using the same design, on the upside, you get to refine it further and further, and the Xperia XZ1 feels really nice in the hand. The curves at the sides wrap around perfectly to the hand, the centre of gravity is low enough so that holding it in one hand doesn’t feel unwieldy, but also not like it’ll slide out the bottom of your hand because the weight is all there.

Dimensions wise, the XZ1 comes in at 148mm tall, 73.4mm wide an 7.3mm thick (or thin) and weighing in at 155g, now the astute amongst you might think that 148mm tall is, well, tall for a 5.2” screen, and you’re right, because if we come to the front, we see the XZ1 has the signature Sony forehead and chin. Now some might say that the bezels are excused by the inclusion of dual stereo speakers, but I disagree. The Google Pixel 2 XL has dual stereo speakers and the bezels above and below the screen are at least half the size of the ones on the XZ1, this is just poor design on Sony’s part. If the Sony logo on front was removed, the Notification LED, Earpiece, Ambient light and proximity sensors and front facing camera could all be aligned and the bezels shrunk by between 30-50%, and seeing as there is nothing below the screen other than the lower speaker, this could be done too.

Sony Xperia XZ1 Review

Would I have preferred the new, cool, hip (do people still say hip?) 2:1 (or 18:9) screen? Sure. I like the taller but narrow screens, and I actually think that the 2:1 screen would fit into this chassis quite well with the adjustments I said above, but alas, sony went with 16:9 for reasons unbeknownst to me. Talking about the actual screen it’s… Okay. It’s an IPS panel and 1080p is more than enough resolution In my eyes, the problem comes when you power the screen on. It’s not a bad screen, but in the normal mode it just looks a little washed out and bland, so one would think that going into the settings and enabling the super vivid mode would help? And… kinda? I’ve started to call it Faux-LED (Faux OLED) it punches the colours up, but it also increases the sharpness and it looks like it is trying to emulate an OLED display, but it just isn’t possible. For the 10 of you that care, there is also a factory calibrated sRGB mode which I have heard from people I trust is really quite accurate, but next to a punchy OLED it’s just a little meh.

What’s weird about this is, that when a supported application, such as Netflix trips the HDR button, the XZ1 display is really damn nice, but it for some reason can’t be on all the time, I assume it wears out some other components quicker, and pushing all that extra metadata must be brutal on the SoC and the battery. But the moral of the story is, not a bad screen, but everything else is better, sadly.

Sony Xperia XZ1 Review

Switching over to the right-hand side of the XZ1 we have the antenna band, the volume rocker, the fingerprint scanner and power button combo, and below that, a rarity in this world, a two-stage camera button. Sont had a bit of a brain fart with the Z5 and the X series last year and placed the volume button under the power button and it just made it really hard to adjust, luckily, they’ve put it back where it belongs this year and they’re actually quite tactile. What isn’t tactile though, is the power button. It has almost no travel whatsoever, and in the same vein also manages to feel mushy, I don’t know how Sony has managed to mess it up that bad, but they have. The actual fingerprint scanner though? Well I’ll talk about that in the Misc section, later on.

Sony Xperia XZ1 Review

The Left hand side has nothing but the NanoSIM slot and the MicroSD slot and another Antenna band, nice and simple. The tray is… interesting, the MicroSD card tray is attached to the flap on the outside, remove the flap remove the MicroSD slot, but the SIM tray is separate, and it’s really hard to remove, but once you do, as soon as you dislodge the SIM tray, the phone reboots, it’s odd behaviour that I have seen before, but it doesn’t make it any less annoying.

Top and bottom are simple, the top has the increasingly rare 3.5mm audio jack and the secondary noise-cancelling microphone, flipping round to the bottom, you swap the 3.5mm audio jack for the USB-C port, nice and simple. On the back we have the 19mp MotionEye Camera, it’s slew of sensors and the Xperia Logo, a nice and simple design, and it’s one that I really appreciate, it takes restraint to be this minimal, and I like it.

Sony Xperia XZ1 Review

The XZ1 is an all metal chassis apart from the glass front and the plastic caps for radio strength, everything you touch is metal or glass for the most part, and it feels great, apart from the angles. The sides are curved, and are easy to hold, but the top and bottom are flat and the bottom corners dig into the palm, and this is a niggle, but it’s there.

Software

Sony has done something pretty great with the XZ1, they’ve shipped it with Oreo, the newest version (as of writing) of Android, and tried to have as light of a touch as possible, and I love it. It’s security patches aren’t quite up to date, as of writing my XZ1 has the August 5th security patch, 2 months behind, although security patches are smaller and easier to send out, I’d rather have 7.1.2 and the up to date security patch at this moment in time with all the security breaches we’ve seen lately, I need to see commitment from OEMs that they care about customer safety and privacy.

Sony has, for the last few years had one of the lighter touches of a skin, and whilst I feel like it could do with a little bit of an interface upgrade, I don’t hate this as much as Samsung’s UI (the artist formerly known as TouchWiz) or HTC’s Sense, but I’d still take Stock, Google’s take, Motorola’s take, or even OnePlus’ over this.

Sony has one of the lighter skins, and in this sense I’m talking about the resources it uses, the XZ1 is fast, like really fast, which is partly due to the Snapdragon 835 from Qualcomm, but raw horsepower only gets you so far,you need software to go hand in hand with it, and Sony has done well here, the only time I felt the XZ1 was slow was when the camera was open and had been for a while, which is annoying, but understandable.

Battery

This is where you’d expect me to bash Sony for including a 2700mAh battery, which is what I expected to do, after seeing it at IFA in Berlin this year, but I’m not sure what Magic Sony is doing, but this 2700mAh battery is really good, and there doesn’t seem to be any detrimental aspects to this, they aren’t instantly closing apps as soon as you went into another one, bluetooth and wifi aren’t flaky with the screen off, everything works as it should, it just lasts stupid long on a comparatively small battery. I’m not sure if I should thank Sony or Qualcomm for this, but I think it’s great.

Qualcomm also has the QuickCharge brand, and the XZ1 uses QuickCharge 3. I’m not that upset about it not using QuickCharge 4, because honestly, the XZ1 charges fast enough, it’s not Huawei SuperCharge or OnePlus Dash Charge fast, but it’s pretty damn great, but the XZ1 also has something else, called Qnovo adaptive charging, which actually slows down the charge rate over night on a long charge to not fast charge the battery when it doesn’t need to, which prolongs the life of the battery in the cell, it takes a few days to work out your charging habits, but once it does, this is pretty neat, good job Sony.

Performance

It’s fast, like really fast. This is partly due to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, because that is a beastly chip, the 10nm chip using 8 semi-custom cores and the new Adreno 540 GPU. Qualcomm has worked hard on this, and the delta between this and the 820/821 is larger than I would have thought, so good on them for that. But I also have to give props to Sony for tightening up its software and getting rid of stuff that doesn’t need to be there, doesn’t bog it down with a load of bloatware etc, good job to you too, Sony.

I’m not too big on benchmarks, but i’ll post the screenshots of the couple I did whilst reviewing the XZ1, as always, take these with a grain of salt, they’re synthetic benchmarks and they don’t always accurately represent using a device.

Camera

I kinda feel bad for Sony, they have some of the best mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras on the market, they produce fantastic images, take great video and people love them. Well it’s obvious the same team doesn’t work on the mobile photography side, because the camera is just alright, there is no wow factor to it, colours look a tad flat, shutter lag is decent, but shot to shot time is too damn high, and even after locking in focus or exposure, sometimes it’ll just change itself back again, utterly insane.

Sony Xperia XZ1 Review

Still photos are okay, they’ve got a decent amount of sharpness, exposure is generally alright, but nothing pops out. Literally any other flagship phone this year blows away what Sony is doing here, which is nuts, as Sony makes the sensors that go in most of their competitor’s phones! The Post-processing on the XZ1 is way better than any Sony phone previously (though, you know, that’s a low bar) but a Galaxy S8, LG G6, HTC U11, Google Pixel, Huawei P10 etc they all take superior photos, and they all take them with less hassle, they just point and click, and the Sony is far from that most of the time.

Here are some Samples of the XZ1 camera and you can see for yourself.

See, it’s not bad, but they don’t have much wow factor. The selfie camera also suffers from a similar issue, it’s just meh, it’s very soft and a lot of processing is done, especially on skin tones, they look unnatural and weird and it just looks like it’s a poor quality sensor, which I doubt it is, but sony’s processing doesn’t do it any favours.

Where there starts to be, at least some wow factor is in video, the headlining feature of the camera on the XZ1 is the 960fps slow motion video capture. Now let’s get a few things out of the way first.

  • It’s 720p
  • It looks very low bitrate
  • You need a tonne of light
  • It’s not always in 960fps mode

Let’s go over those points. The 960fps mode on the XZ1 is limited to a 720p resolution, which in and of itself is not bad, but the video that comes off of it is some ofthe worst looking 720p footage i’ve ever seen, it’s very compressed and looks incredibly low bitrate, and is kind of shocking. The light aspect, trust me on this, do it outside during the peak of the day and it’ll look fine, any other lighting it’ll look like it’s candlelight in the 1860’s, light capture drops off dramatically, and even though you can see it, the camera will struggle.

Lastly, t’s not always in 960fps mode, and what do I mean by that. Well, if you go into the camera, open up the video mode and click the slow-mo button, it’ll start taking 720p video, but it isn’t until you hit a secondary shutter within the UI does 960fps mode get turned on, it’s not a “set it and forget it” setting, you need to actively be watching and waiting, and some of the things i wanted to try, I wasn’t able to do, as my reactions weren’t fast enough. My only successful Super slow-mo test was coming back from a meeting on a train I shot out of the window, and I’ve embedded it below.

 

See, pretty damn cool. Normal video capture on the XZ1 is just as unimpressive as the stills are. Which means it’s not bad, but most other flagships will take better video with less input and meddling from you.

Connectivity and Radios

The XZ1 supplied to me was a Vodafone UK unit. It came with a provisioned SIM card and I was able to test the Vodafone network through central London and down in the Southeast in Hastings. Vodafone actually saved my bacon here, as during this review, my broadband was decommissioned and took almost 3 weeks to get reinstated, so I was using the XZ1 and the Vodafone SIM card in it a lot more than I usually would. My Findings on this front is that, unlike some other Sony phones, the XZ1 actually has a terrific radio setup, and where I live (the Southeast of the UK) The Vodafone network is admirable as well. Being a Snapdragon835 device, the XZ1 has the Snapdragon X16 modem, giving it up to gigabit class LTE-A, sadly at this moment in time, I wasn’t able to test it as I do not believe Vodafone has a service to utilise that (yet). the X16 is, a Cat.16 LTE modem with 4×4 MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output) with 4CC Carrier Aggregation and 256-QAM, all that technobabble means that the modem inside of the XZ1 is going to be ahead of what your carrier can support for a while, so don’t worry, you’re going to be fine.

 

Calls on the XZ1 and on the Vodafone network were, well they were just okay, people told me I sounded a tad quiet, and on my end that was true too, aside from that niggle though, I never had a single dropped call, no interference at all, and aside fromit being a tad queit, the XZ1 was good at making phone calls. weirdly though, the quietness didn’t extend to VOIP calls, so Whatsapp voice, Facebook Messenger voice calls or Telegram calls where all perfectly loud, which leads me to believe that either those applications are overdriving the earpiece, or Sony is underdriving it to keep it’s longevity up, I cannot explain for sure, as I do not know, but that is the hunch I am going with.

Misc

So, looking at the miscellany, mainly this means the fingerprint scanner, the USB-C port, the speakers. Starting with the Speakers, because I have the least to say on them, they’re okay. Unlike previous Sony phones, which sounded nice, but were very quiet, these actually get decently loud, but I would still prefer them to get a good bit 25% louder than they currently do, they sound fine, Bass and mids are there but not extraordinary, the main thing is I can actually hear them this time, which is something that cannot always be said about Sony phone speakers.

Next is the fingerprint scanner, this is a total crapshoot. The Scanner actually isn’t bad. I cannot find out who makes it, which is odd, but the scanner works well with my right thumb and also my left index finger, being a lefty I was hesitant at how the scanning would work, as previous Sony phones where, shall we say, less than impressive, but I don’t think I’ve had a single misread on the Xperia XZ1, which is pretty awesome. The issues come with N.A support. N.A is North America, and N.A doesn’t get a fingerprint scanner, for whatever reason, the actual Hardware is still there, and flashing a UK or Euro firmware onto it will enable it, but Sony isn’t allowed to ship fingerprint scanner enabled devices in the US and it is utterly insane.

The USB-C port on the XZ1 is interesting because not only is it a Type-C port that can also handle audio (some aren’t set up for it) but also because it is USB3.1 Gen1, or 5gbps USB, which is awesome, a downside though, the XZ1 compact, the smaller version, is nerfed with only USB2.0 speeds, or the USB standard that is 10x slower, that is rough and I can’t understand why it needed to be nerfed.

Conclusion

So this is what you’ve all been waiting for, should you buy the XZ1? Well, I’m really not sure. The XZ1 isn’t a bad phone, but like I said at the beginning, every Sony phone has something that’s just a little too off to recommend it, in the first few phones it was their terrible screens, the next few was the speakers, over all of them though the camera has just been a bit meh, on the XZ1 though, the screen is quite nice, but so is everything else at this point. The speakers are finally loud enough, but honestly, so is everything else for the most part, and companies like Apple and HTC have even started to use the earpiece as a tweeter and use the bottom firing speaker as a sub of sorts, and the Camera, whilst it’s definitely improved over the previous ones, it is not even in the same league as the rest of this year’s phones.

Sony Xperia XZ1 Review

Then we have price, the XZ1 is expensive, on Amazon, the ZX1 is £599, the Galaxy S8 on Amazon is £523, and on the S8 you get a better screen,camera, build, accessory support, wireless charging all for about £75 less, unless you really really hate samsung, the S8 is the better buy. The LG G6 is an even better deal a £399, for £200 less you get a nicer screen, better build, better cameras, sure the battery isn’t as good and it’s got an older processor, but £200 is a lot.

The Xperia XZ1 is a really nice phone, surprisingly nice, but unless you look at it in a vacuum, you have to know that there are better phones for less or equivalent money, and that’s why I have to say that unless you’re a diehard Sony fan, you should probably look elsewhere.

Sony Xperia XZ1

£599
Sony Xperia XZ1
8.2

Build Quality

9/10

Design

9/10

Performance

10/10

Camera

8/10

Value

6/10

Pros

  • Super Slow-motion is cool
  • Qnovo slow charging is a nice addition
  • Wicked fast
  • Stupid good battery life for Battery Capacity
  • Android Oreo Out of the box

Cons

  • Camera is only okay
  • Screen is behind the pack
  • Expensive
  • Super-Slow motion is tricky to use
  • Did I mention it's expensive?

About Domenico Lamberti

Technology has been a big part of my life for years, whether it be ripping the family computer apart to see how it worked, playing with the new phones that Dad brought home from work. Senior Reviewer for MTT.

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