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Sony

Review: Sony’s Xperia XZ Premium – bulky and overpriced niche smartphone

WATCH: Featuring a 4K LCD display and a new fingerprint reader, the Xperia XZ Premium is sure to excite tech geeks, but its size, design and poor battery life will turn away the everyday user

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 July, 2017, 6:48am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 July, 2017, 6:15pm

After years of losing money in the mobile division, Japanese electronics giant Sony finally found a way to stop the bleeding by significantly downsizing its mobile line and narrowing its scope to focus on just the premium markets, where devices sell for higher margins.

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Of course, merely not losing money is hardly a formula for success, and Sony’s smartphones remain mostly a niche product, with almost no market penetration in the US, Europe or China. Sony’s latest release, the Xperia XZ Premium, is not likely to turn the tide.

Design and hardware

Despite the entire industry trending towards sleek, curvy, small-bezelled phones, the Xperia XZ Premium opts for the absurdly large top and bottom bezels and a blocky, rectangular build. The chrome finish, on this mostly glass phone, is highly reflective, and light bounces off the chamfered top and bottom edge in a pleasing way.

Is the Xperia XZ Premium more comfortable to hold than a Samsung Galaxy S8 or LG G6? Heck no! The 195g weight is a wrist strainer, the hard corners dig into your palm, and the phone is harder to fit into a male trouser pocket than any other 2017 release so far. However, you almost have to respect Sony engineers for sticking to their guns and keeping its years-old “Omni-Balance” design language, despite trends and popular opinion.

Another deviation from the norm here is the location of the fingerprint reader. Every other phone either has it on the front, below the screen, or on the back, below the camera, but here it’s on the right side of the device. It looked quite awkward at first but after 30 minutes of use, I quite like the location. It’s easy to reach no matter which hand you hold the phone with, and the scanner accuracy is excellent.

The Xperia XZ Premium rocks a 4K (3840 x 2160 pixels) LCD display, which, from the specs alone, implies an insanely crisp screen. It has a PPI (pixel-per-inch) of 807, compared to the iPhone 7’s 326.

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But ultimately, that’s overkill. Steve Jobs once said the human eye can’t see pixels denser than 300 PPI and he’s probably right: I played 4K videos and examined hi-res photos on the Xperia XZ Premium’s 4K display side-by-side with a Xiaomi phone, with just a 1080p screen, and I couldn’t see the difference at all.

Software and features

This phone runs the latest version of Android (7.1), and Sony wisely left the software mostly untouched. There’s very little bloat to be found, save for a couple of Sony apps that you can’t uninstall. The device is IP68 water resistant, and a test dip into a bowl of water did not hinder performance one bit.

Performance and battery life

So the Xperia XZ Premium’s much-touted 4K resolution is mostly pointless, but the other stand-out feature, Super Slo-Mo, works as advertised, and is quite impressive. The mode allows you to shoot slow motion videos at a whopping 960 frames per second (fps). The iPhone 7, by comparison can only shoot slo-mo at 240fps. (The more fps, the slower a video can go without feeling choppy). You’ll need to shoot under bright conditions, as the mode doesn’t work in dim settings, and it can only record at 960fps for a couple seconds at a time, but this is a really fun and useful feature for recording sports or pets.

Outside of the video modes, the 19-megapixel camera here is slightly underwhelming. The shots produced are vibrant, but the f/2.0 aperture means shots do not capture light as well as other flagship phones. It’s not a bad camera per se, but shots with this phone will generally look inferior to photos taken with the Galaxy S8 or LG G6. The camera interface is also very confusing to use.

With a Snapdragon 835 processor running things, the phone works smoothly, though I wish there was more RAM than the 4GB included – background apps needed to refresh just a tad more often than other phones with 6GB.

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Battery life is less than desirable. In my week of testing, I averaged less than four hours of screen time per day, and the device never made it through an entire day (10am to 1am), usually hitting the five per cent battery mark at 8pm. If this phone had a less gaudy screen resolution, perhaps battery life would be better.

Conclusion

The Xperia XZ Premium is a good phone if you don’t mind the bulky size, but at HK$5,000, it is overpriced. For that same money, you can get a Samsung Galaxy S8, or the cheapest variant of the iPhone 7. You can also opt for the LG G6 or OnePlus 5 for a lot less. All four phones are more comfortable to use and better suited to everyday life. The Xperia XZ is for tech geeks or collectors (who tend to own multiple devices) and want a niche phone to play with.

Key specs:

Dimensions: 156mm x 77mm x 7.9mm

Weight: 195g

Display: 5.5 inch, 3840 x 2160 pixels (4K)

Battery: 3,230 mAh

OS version reviewed: Android 7.1

Processor: Snapdragon 835

Cameras: 19-megapixel f/2.0 rear, 13-megapixel f/2.0 front

Memory: 64GB ROM, 4GB RAM

Colours: Chrome, Black, Pink

Price: HK$5,000