“The Sony Xperia XZ1 might not look like a 2017 flagship, but it surely performs like one”
My first Android smartphone was a collaboration between Sony and Ericsson dubbed the Xperia Mini Pro, and it was a fantastic device back in the day. The smartphone brought the goodness of a full-sized QWERTY keyboard to the Android platform when the entire industry was ditching buttons in favour of more screen real-estate. Fast forward a few years and the scenery hasn’t changed a whole lot. Sony is still doing things its own way and even though the entire industry is going bezel-free, Sony’s latest flagship, the Xperia XZ1, comes with thick bezels on the top and the bottom of the display.
Now, to be clear, the Xperia XZ1 is every bit a flagship as say, the OnePlus 5 (review) or the Nokia 8 (review) when it boils down to the specs, but does it bring enough unique features to the table to justify a Rs 10K price hike? I aim to answer that question and much more in this review. Stay with me.
Specs at a glance
|Resolution||Full HD (1080 x 1920 pixels)|
|CPU||Quad core, 2.45 GHz + Quad core, 1.9 GHz, Snapdragon 835|
|Internal memory||64 GB|
|External memory||Up to 256 GB|
|Capacity||2700 mAH, Li-ion, Non removable|
|Primary camera||19 MP|
|Secondary camera||13 MP|
|Network support||Dual SIM 4G|
|Other options||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS|
|Operating system||Android 8.0 Oreo|
Design and Display
Let’s get the obvious out of the way – the Sony Xperia XZ1 does not look like a flagship smartphone from 2017. Matter of fact, you probably won’t be able to tell the smartphone from some of the brand’s other offerings solely because the company hasn’t changed its design language in what feels like ages. Sony has yet again stuck with the boxy Omnibalance design language which the company feels gives the phone symmetry. Unfortunately, what the company achieves in uniformity, it loses out in giving the smartphone a captivating design. Facts apart, design is subjective and your ideal smartphone might differ from someone else’s. Personally, I quite enjoyed the look of the Sony Xperia XZ1 and got accustomed to the handset’s boxy build very easily. Sure, it’s not as eye-catchy as say the Samsung Galaxy Note8 (review) but at least the XZ1 saved me the trouble of having to carry it wrapped in a protective case at all times.
Moreover, while the design bears a strong resemblance to its predecessors, that’s not to say that it’s a carbon copy and the company has introduced some subtle changes in the XZ1’s design. For starters, gone is the three-piece construction from last year’s XZs and the XZ1 now boasts a unibody metal design. The smartphone still gets the loop-design treatment from last year however, this time around, the company has extended it to the top and bottom sections of the phone as well. Naturally, the XZ1 can no longer stand straight on a flat surface which is a bummer since I quite enjoyed balancing the XZs and often asked my friends if their phone could do that.
The use of the all-metal build has some other side benefits too. For instance, the back panel of the XZ1 rarely attracted fingerprints. Furthermore, the device feels a lot more durable than other glass-back offerings and Sony has even managed to cap the weight of the unit to 156g, making it comfortable to carry in your pockets. With that said, while the rounded sides do give the smartphone a snug fit in the hand, it also makes the phone slippery. The edges of the smartphone protrude outwards ever so slightly and take my word for it, you don’t want the XZ1 to slip from your hand and land on its face. You shouldn’t however, fear if the XZ1 slips from your hand into a puddle of water as the smartphone comes with IP68 certification preventing elements like dust and water from damaging the phone.
The button and port placement of the smartphone is pretty standard, but there are a few things I’d like to touch upon here. Firstly, being a Sony smartphone, the XZ1 ships with a dedicated shutter key for the camera and boy is it convenient. I was able to snag some embarrassing shots of my coworkers thanks to the quick access to the camera. Secondly, the hybrid SIM card slot can be accessed without the use of a paper clip or a SIM ejector tool, which is fantastic. On the flip side, while the tray for the secondary SIM card and microSD card can be pulled out easily, the slot for the primary SIM card will require you to pry it out with a sharp tool. Moreover, removing and inserting the SIM card tray will restart the Xperia XZ1 every time, even if the SIM cards haven’t been changed… which is rather annoying.
Lastly, you get a fingerprint sensor embedded in the power button towards the right side of the smartphone. I personally feel that the position of the fingerprint sensor is excellent since my thumb automatically aligns with it when I pick grip the smartphone. I have no complaints with the sensor’s accuracy either, though unlike most smartphones, the sensor on the Xperia XZ1 requires you to press the home button to unlock the phone. Interestingly, the sensor is always on, as I could authenticate transactions by just placing my thumb on it so it looks like Sony has made it so that you don’t accidentally unlock the smartphone when it’s in your pocket.
It’s not just the design of the smartphone which differentiates itself from the herd of flagships in the market. The display on the XZ1 is also not something you’d otherwise see on a flagship. The smartphone ships with a relatively smaller 5.2-inch full HD TRILUMINOS display which comes with the X-reality engine. The company claims that the engine reduces the overall screen noise and enhances textures. In practice, the XZ1’s display reproduces vibrant images and crisp text. The colour contrast is great and I found the display to be on par with certain AMOLED panels too. Sunlight legibility is spot on and the viewing angles are excellent. Moreover, the icing on the cake is that the display is HDR ready and therefore, you can binge watch your favourite series from Amazon Prime with extra clarity and vivid details.
All in all, the build quality and the in-hand feel of the XZ1 is top notch, but there are only subtle differences between the Xperia XZ1’s design language and the company’s other offerings from yesteryears. This makes it difficult for the flagship to stand out within Sony Mobile, let alone the rest of the competition.
See those pretty Bokeh shots on your timeline every now and then? Well, you won’t be able to snag those with the Sony Xperia XZ1. Not conforming to the industry standards, the company has decided to not equip its latest flagship with dual cameras on the back, which means that you’ll be somewhat limited with the type of shots you can take. On the flip side, the smartphone does come bundled with some software features unique to the Sony brand which make shooting images from it a lot of fun.
Spec-wise, the Sony Xperia XZ1 is equipped with a 19MP rear-facing Motion Eye camera which comes with a f/2.0 aperture. Upfront, the handset gets a 13MP f/2.0 lens. The company has stuck with its tried and tested memory-stacked Exmor RS sensors and the images are run through the brand’s BIONZ image processing engine. On paper, the hardware is definitely top notch, and the software backing it is no slouch either. The smartphone comes with what the company calls predictive capture, which when enabled, clicks three images moments before you press the shutter button. The predictive capture works as a failsafe on the off chance your hand is moving or you are shooting a moving object. Thus, you’ll be less likely to end up with a blurry shot with the feature enabled. Now, before I give you my impressions of the smartphone’s camera, let’s take a closer look at the camera UI.
If you’re a newbie who’s just stepping into photography, then you’ll greatly appreciate the camera UI of Sony smartphones. By default, the smartphone stays in Superior Auto mode, which basically makes all the decisions for you. The camera automatically adjusts the exposure, ISO and even toggles HDR depending upon the environment or the subject you’re shooting in. If you want a bit more control, swiping to the left brings up the manual mode. The viewfinder has been positioned at the very bottom and the option to toggle between the front facing and the rear camera can be found at the top.
As far as the image quality is concerned, the Sony Xperia XZ1 is more than capable of clicking some stunning shots under broad daylight. There’s plenty of sharpness and the colour reproduction while punchy, isn’t overwhelming. Macros turn out great too and the smartphone blurs the background of the subject in close-up shots really well. Unfortunately, the low-light performance of the XZ1 isn’t the best and the lack of a bigger aperture clearly shows in the results. More often than not, images turn out grainy and the built-in flash does little to capture more details from the shots.
The scenery remains unchanged when you fire up the front-facing shooter too. The smartphone’s front camera clicks some really detailed portraits when there’s sufficient sunlight but the results go for a toss when you’re shooting in an environment with limited light.
One of the USP’s of the Sony Xperia XZ1 is that the smartphone comes with a feature called 3D Creator app, which lets you create 3D scans of someone’s face. The app can also be used to scan other objects in 3D and lets you print the 3D model by pairing the smartphone to a 3D printer. Now, while the feature is unique and it does have some applications, I didn’t find much use for it. Moreover, the sculpting process is tedious as well and you’ll need to be in a well-lit environment for the thing to even work properly.
Performance and Software
Spec-wise, the Sony Xperia XZ1 has all the makings of a true flagship. The device is powered by the industry-leading Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor which works in tandem with 4GB of RAM. Naturally, the Sony Xperia XZ1 performs like a champ. Apps load quick, animations are swift and the gaming performance is incredible. Having used the smartphone for almost ten days, I can confidently say that the device is second to none when it comes to raw performance and if that’s all you care about, then the Xperia XZ1 will not disappoint you. Unfortunately, while the hardware is certainly on par with what the competition is offering, the Xperia XZ1 suffers from poor thermal dissipation, much like this year’s XZs. So much so, that the back of the smartphone heats up even if you click a couple of pictures in one go. Thankfully, I didn’t notice any thermal throttling take place and therefore, whether you’re gaming or just shooting videos in 4K, applications will function as they should.
Sony has always been a pioneer in the music industry and even today, the company is making advancements in audio. The XZ1 is a testament to that as not only does the smartphone ship with a stereo speaker setup upfront, but the phone also comes with Hi-res audio certification. What this means for you, the end user is that the music relayed through a pair of decent earphones will sound much better on the XZ1 than some other smartphone which doesn’t ship with support for Hi-res audio. Coming back to the stereo speaker setup, the XZ1 makes for a great movie-watching experience since the sound from the smartphone is projected directly towards your face. Moreover, the placement of the speakers makes it so that there is a smaller chance of muffling the sound with your fingers.
Software-wise, the Sony Xperia XZ1 has a huge edge over the competition as it is one of the first phones in the world to ship with Android Oreo out of the box. Therefore, features which are unique to Android Oreo such as the PiP mode will work on the Xperia XZ1. Moreover, even though the XZ1 boots a custom skin, it is relatively light and besides a refreshed app drawer, offers a near-stock Android experience with little to no bloatware on board. Suffice it to say, if you want a flagship which runs the latest version of Android, the Xperia XZ1 is currently one of your best bets, along with the new Google Pixel 2 and 2 XL (first impressions).
Much like most other smartphones in the market, the Xperia XZ1 will last you a day on medium usage, but you will have to top-up the smartphone by bed time. During my testing, the XZ1 managed to average out around four hours of screen on time which involved browsing through social medias, texting constantly on WhatsApp, playing Clash Royale for about thirty minutes and listening to music. With that said, the battery life will take a nasty dip if you click a lot of photos or use intensive tasks like GPS navigation.
The Sony Xperia XZ1 is a solid flagship which gets most of the core elements right. The handset ships with a stunning HDR ready display, comes with front-firing speakers which offer undeniably crisp sound, has the fastest mobile processor and offers decent battery life as well. That said, the likes of Samsung’s Galaxy S8 (review) or the Google Pixel 2 XL sport bezel-less designs and fare similar if not better in other departments. Furthermore, smartphones like the OnePlus 5 and the Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 (review) can offer you more bang for your buck for significantly less. Therefore, in conclusion, the XZ1 is a competent flagship, but you’d need to be a die-hard Sony fan to buy one.
Editor’s rating: 3.5 / 5
- Sturdy design
- Good performer
- Front-firing speakers and Hi-res audio support
- Android Oreo out-of-the-box
- Looks archaic in comparison to other flagships
- No dual-cameras on the back
- Heating issues