• Paul Fingleton

Sony Xperia XZ1: Review

Is Sony Xperia XZ1 truly a richer experience?


We've had our hands on with the Sony Xperia XZ1 for a while now and have to say that we really like it.



Let's not forget that the Xperia XZ1 is, first and foremost, a phone. Yes, there are many features and bells and whistles for the handset, but as a device for making and receiving phone calls, how does it handle?


Really well, as it turns out. Call quality was crystal clear and reception never appeared to be a problem, even in areas that have provided problems for other handsets - such as the Lumia 950 or HTC One M9 that we reviewed previously.


Out of the box, the metallic case feels premium to the touch. Its cold aluminium feels solid and safe in the hand, not prone to slipping. The 5.2-inch, 1080p HDR screen provides a beautifully crisp viewing experience with rich colours and deep blacks on display.


The device is listed as IP65/68, meaning that it is water resistant and protected against dust, so don’t worry if you get caught in the rain or want to wash off dirt under the faucet water. Although be sure that all ports and attached covers are firmly closed. It is nice not to have to worry about standing waiting for a train or bus in the rain and taking the phone out to kill some time or see how long you have to wait for the next train to come along.


Yay for Buttons

Careful thought has gone into the layout of the buttons on the XZ1, when used with either right or left hand the volume rocker and power/unlock buttons are easily accessible.


We really loved that the power button also doubles as a convenient fingerprint scanner, one that is very quick to authenticate. There is no need to fumble around on the back of the phone trying to find the right spot or to enter a PIN. The scanner is located at a spot where you would normally place your finger when unlocking the phone.


A very welcome addition is that of a physical camera button, with proper two-stage button press, this allows the excellent camera on the XZ1 to make the phone a viable candidate to replace your old point and click camera.


The 19-megapixel rear camera with Sony's Motion Eye technology is excellent at taking pictures in most common scenarios, with very deep colours during various daylight conditions and a good performer in low light conditions. The macro performance of the camera is almost second-to-none.




Sony has really been working hard to have all of its departments work together and we can see their knowledge from camera tech coming to to fore in this handset with many smart shoot capabilities included in the handset - stabilisation and up to 960fps slow motion video (at 720p) or 4K video recording and burst / smart shooting to ensure that you get the best photo each time.


3D Scanning

Chief among the features touted by Sony for the Xperia XZ1 is the real-time 3D scanning capabilities. Using the camera rig built into the device, it can accurately create a 3D representation of your face, head, food or pretty much any object that tickles your fancy.

Beginning with a simple scan of the object, you further sweep across it to 'sculpt' the details further into the rough initial scan.

This is a neat feature and creates a surprisingly accurate image that you can view and rotate in real-time, place them into an Augmented Reality (AR) scene or even use as a live wallpaper for your home screen.


Power and Battery

Battery-wise, we have been able to comfortably complete an average day without worrying about running out of power. The Xperia Stamina Mode takes advantage of the battery management techniques to try ensure you have a full day with the phone, but we are sure that you would get at least a day and a half our of the 2700 mAh battery. At a push, two days would be a strong possibility, if you enabled the extreme power saving settings early.


Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 makes it easy to get back up and running, as you can get hours of power in just a few minutes charging.


Android 8.0 Oreo is the OS of choice for this phone and with the Snapdragon 835 processor and 4GB RAM inside, this handset is really nippy, playing all the latest games with nary a glitch.


There is a 'But'...

It is not all plain sailing for the Xperia XZ1, however, as there are some features that stand out for a flagship phone in late-2017 and not for the right reasons.


Above and below the screen there are two significant bezels. Twelve months ago we would not have mentioned anything about these, as they house the powerful speakers for the handset, but with several other manufacturers pushing bezel-less designs for their flagship phones, they just look out of place and mean that long-term use would require both hands for browsing or texting.


While presumably sacrificed to keep the device 7.4mm thin or to keep the battery Stamina in tip-top shape, wireless charging of any kind is absent. It's not vital, we know, but having used it on a smartphone from 2013 it is difficult to go back to tethered charging.

Summary

The Sony Xperia XZ1 has the performance and features that you would expect from a premium smartphone in 2017. The thoughtfulness in the design for comfort and ease of use in most common scenarios is obvious - the aluminium body feels sturdy and not prone to slipping.


Bezels top and bottom of the screen, while not enormous, seem to date the look of the phone.


Overall, for features and performance, we really liked the Sony Xperia XZ1 and we will be taking a look at the smaller brother, the Xperia XZ1 Compact to see how well Sony fit most of the same technology into a 4.6-inch handset.



We liked:

  • Fingerprint Sensor - placing this in the power button is a genius idea and positioning

  • Physical camera button - much better than on-screen button or improvising with the volume rocker and a viable alternative to a separate point-and-shoot camera.

  • Screen - rich, deep colours and dark blacks make images and videos on the screen really pop. 1080p is perfect for a 5.2-inch screen and saves battery power.

  • Call Quality - amazing, clear sound in all calls during our tests

  • Headphone socket - we commend Sony for "being brave" and having a physical headphone jack. The world hasn't gone fully wireless yet.

  • Photography - It's not just the camera button that makes it a great camera experience, the features and cleverness of the Camera experience with the Xperia XZ 1 makes it a treat to use as a camera.


We disliked

  • Bezels - it's getting picky, but other major manufacturers (Samsung, Xiaomi, Apple) have phones without bezels and they make the XZ1 look somehow dated.

  • Wireless Charging - perhaps contradicting that "the world hasn't gone fully wireless yet", wireless charging is so useful that it's absence is an unwelcome surprise.


Special mention:

3D Scan - while we are interested to see where this technology can go, the resultant scans are amazingly quick to create and very detailed and they can be 3D printed or imported into any 3D modelling application, we couldn't yet see a killer reason for this feature but would be interested to see where it develops from here.


The Sony Xperia XZ1 currently retails for €699 (SIM free) and is available from Sony Mobile and from €99 on Eir or Three, depending on your monthly contract.

Disclaimer: We were provided with a review handset by Sony which we used as our daily driver for the duration of the review period.

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