Sony and their Xperia handsets have been around for a long time now. I remember back in the day when the Xperia was a handset to behold. Over time, Samsung, Apple and now Huawei have taken all the attention away from the like of the Xperia. The Xperia XZ1 was released at the back end of 2017 as Sony’s flagship handset and was one of the first to come packed with Android Oreo 8.0 so it has potential there to challenge for consumer attention. How does it stack up? Let’s find out…
Let’s get the bad out of the way first shall we? The bad is also the very first thing you will notice when you unbox the phone. The Xperia XZ1 is Sony’s flagship but looking at it the handset just doesn’t scream “flagship”. Sony continues to insist on using the same tired, rectangular, bezel heavy design that they have used for years. The sharp edges and clean rectangular design may have worked years ago but in this day and age where manufacturers are finally embracing near bezel-less or all-screen designs, Sony needs to set out of 2014 and embrace modern design philosophy. Let’s hope that their 2018 flagship devices finally manage to bring them up to date because the XZ1 looks tired and old, something that is hardly an attractive sell when you are browsing in-store for that sweet new smartphone to make your friends jealous.
Thankfully the tech inside the XZ1 is anything but old. The Xperia XZ1 features a Snapdragon 835 processor, 4GB RAM, 19MP rear camera and a Full HD that supports HDR. All of that runs on Android Oreo 8.0 which is as smooth an Android experience as you can get. You’ll find the usual suspects on the XZ1 – on the left is the SIM tray and a MicroSD slot for expandable memory (something that is less common now). On the right you’ll find the volume rocker, a button for accessing the camera and the power button that also doubles as the fingerprint sensor. You needn’t worry about getting dust or water on the phone either because it is IP65/68 certified so it will survive a brief swim in water.
The front-facing speakers use what Sony is calling S-Force surround technology which Sony say put out 50% more sound than the XZ, I didn’t use the XZ so I can’t confirm nor deny that but I can say that the sound is very good. Being front facing it means that unlike rear speakers on say, an iPhone, sound isn’t muffled by your hand.
Moving onto the screen itself, Sony is one of the few manufacturers that have stuck with the Full HD screen on their flagship. With rivals sporting QHD screens or Sony’s very own XZ Premium sporting a 4K screen it is curious that Sony have opted to stick with the Full HD Screen. Things do improve though with support for HDR which create a more vivid, bright and vibrant screen. I’ll argue with anything that trys to say HDR doesn’t add much to viewing experience. HDR provides a wider colour gamut than your stock standard Full hd (or UHD) screen for that matter so you’ll get a perceived increase in detail when HDR is involved thanks to a greater colour representation on the screen.
Enough of my nerdgasms over HDR. The real test for any phone is how it performs when being used. Anyone who’s ever read my reviews (so probably just myself, my Wife and my Mum) will know that I don’t do those benchmark tests or that run a video on a loop all day BS. In real-life you aren’t playing the same video over and over for hours on end until your phone goes dead (well unless you are addicted to YouTube) so that test is pointless. In my opinion the real test comes from real use and that is always how I always review a phone. I put aside my disdain at the design and made good use of the XZ1 as my day to day phone. I’m a heavy user so all day I’m checking and replying to emails, browsing the web, making txt’s and phone calls and doing my few share of Facebooking, Twittering, YouTubing and listening to music to and from work. When I’m reviewing a phone I also swallow my pride and play the odd mobile game just to check out the battery drain.
In day-to-day use the XZ1 performed well. It’s a speedy enough phone that is on par with the other big boys in the market. Android 8.0 makes for a slick experience with fast load times and good response when switching between apps. When it comes to battery life the XZ1 is not a world beater but certainly not the worst in the pack either. The average user will get a full day of use out of the phone but you will be reaching for that charger by the time you hit bed. I found myself reaching for the charger around the time I was ready to home for the day, so around 5pm so I needed to make use of the charger at work. Something that isn’t uncommon for me when I’m reviewing phones but there are phones with better battery life out there. Don’t get me wrong, for most people the battery life will be perfectly adequate and it is far from the worst battery out there!\
The XZ1 also features 3D scanning which is a fun mode to play around with. There is a 3D creator app built-in that will use the rear camera to take a 3D model of pretty much anything you point the camera at. It works quickly too, rendering in less than 60 seconds. It’s the sort of tool that you’d use to create a cool wallpaper or show off on social media but otherwise it isn’t going to be something you’ll reach for everyday; it’s more of a novelty app but it definitely kept my daughter entertained!
The last big thing we need to talk about is the camera. Arguably the most important feature on any phone today because we absolutely NEED to take the best pics and selfies for social media. I’m not a huge selfie taker, if you’ve seen a pic of me (look at my bio at the bottom of this review) you’ll probably understand why, but I do enjoy taking a good picture. My 6 year old daughter doesn’t take after her old man at all and is gorgeous so I appreciate a good camera that can take a beautiful timeless pic of her. The portrait mode on the iPhone is still the best camera for close-ups I’ve used and the XZ doesn’t beat it let’s be clear about that. The XZ1 does take good close-ups and daylight pictures though thanks to its 19MP, five axis image stabilising, f/2.0 rear camera. No dual camera here, just a single lens but it performs well. Sony has predictive phase detection for autofocus so you can take burst shots and maintain clear focus. In daylight images are crisp and clear and don’t suffer from over saturation (unless you mess with too many settings). In low-light however, the XZ1 struggles to hit its straps and can lead to a noisy image that falls short of some rival cameras in low-light. Stick to daytime though and you’re onto a winner. On the front the 13MP selfie camera does a fair job and picks up good detail, although I didn’t use it too much since selfies aren’t my thing.
All-in-all the Xperia XZ1 is decent handset from Sony. It may look like its at least 5 years old but inside that tired, bezel-heavy design is some good tech that provides for slick operation on a screen that isn’t as good as it could have been but is vibrant nonetheless thanks to the use of HDR. The XZ1 is the sort of handset that almost feels like an end of an era handset from Sony. A phone that embraces the era of big bezels and fuses it with fantastic tech, I just get the feeling that in 2018 at World Mobile Congress we are going to truly see Sony show off a modern, inspiring flagship.