Home Mobile devices Sony XZ Premium – everything you want in a flagship (review)

Sony XZ Premium – everything you want in a flagship (review)

Sony’s XZ Premium packs the latest Snapdragon 835 go-fast processor, a 5.5” Triluminous 4K, HDR10 screen, a great front and rear camera, and water resistance into its 2017 flagship – if you like Sony gear you will love this.

Sony XZP gorillaIt even looks like a Sony – the Japanese bling style is back with “luminous” chrome finish all over (yes you can check hair and makeup in this Gorilla Glass 5 finish), true front-firing stereo speakers, and that certain reassuring Sony build. It is a solid, not-so-little phone at 156 x 77 x 7.9 mm x 195g.

While other makers are duelling it out with dual cameras, 18:9 screens and more Sony has taken a relatively safe path using the best available tech to build what is on paper the best available phone – the whole is greater than the sum of the parts reflecting Sony’s long heritage in the smartphone business. It has even kept the 3.5mm audio jack.

Spoiler alert: If you like Sony gear and the Japanese heritage this is the one to strongly consider. Apik tenan!

Out of the box – Sony XZ Premium

You get

  • The smartphone
  • A 5V/1.5A charger (7.5W). The Quick Charge UCH12W is at extra cost
  • USB-A to USB-C cable
  • A set of stereo Sony buds with replacement ear tips. The Hi-Res MDR-NC750 are at extra cost

First impressions are this is a big phone – for comparison

  • 5.46” Sony XZ Premium 156 x 77 x 7.9 mm x 195g
  • 5” iPhone 7 Plus 158.2 x 77.9 x 7.3 mm x 188
  • 5” HTC U11 153.9 x 75.9 x 7.9 mm x 169g
  • 2”, 18:9, Samsung S8 Plus 159.5 x 73.4 x 8.1 mm x 173g

It is not to say the phone is too big but you need to consider “pocketability”. Didn’t the late Steve Jobs say anything over 4” was unnecessary?

 Sony XZP size

Second impressions — at least for the review unit — where the luminous chrome is very Bling. I immediately started putting my fingers all over it only to find that the oleophobic coating really did not work – you don’t have to try very hard to smudge this chrome wonder.

What is has that other flagships don’t (using the HTC U11 as a base)

  • 5mm audio jack
  • The 5.5” 4K, HDR10, Triluminous screen is amazingly good for an IPS LCD

What is missing? (what other flagships may have)

  • Wireless charging
  • AMOLED screen for Daydream VR
  • 18:9 screen ratio
  • The fingerprint reader is disabled in certain markets – not Australia
  • A Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 charger (it is compatible)

Specifications

 

Sony XZ Premium

Comments

Models

Available in single G8141 and dual sim G8142

Telcos are demanding single sim models

Screen

5.46” IPS LCD
True 4K, 3840 x 2160, 807 ppi;
Defaults to HD unless playing 4K content
HDR10 when showing HDR content
Gorilla Glass 5 front and back
Flat rectangle 16:9 glass
sRGB (138%), Standard and Super-vivid modes. X-reality for video playback
Small status LED
No Always on display
553 cd/m2
1238:1 contrast ratio

One of the better IPS screens.

Bright colours, dark blacks - user-definable colours.

This is one of the first with HDR10 so expect great shadow and highlight details.

The screen defaults to HD when not playing 4K content to preserve battery.

No always-on-display but has a notification LED.

Good contrast and brightness but high reflectivity washed out the screen in outdoor use.

STBR

68.4% screen to body ratio

This is a traditional 16:9 design with very large bezels top and bottom and on the sides – the Sony look.

Despite the huge bottom bezel, the forward/home/apps key are part of the screen reducing usable space.

IP rating

IP65/68
6 = complete protection against contact (dust tight).
5=low-pressure water jet sprays for at least 3 minutes.
8 = continuous immersion in water up to 1.5m for 30 minutes

The rating is IP65/68 which can mean two totally different waterproof levels. It mentions a “capless” USB-C port must be completely dry before charging. The only other orifices are the 3.5mm port and Sim port which presumably must be closed to achieve IP68.

Processor

Qualcomm 835
Eight-core (4x2.45 GHz & 4x1.9 GHz)
Adreno 540 GPU

The best you can get. In independent tests, it was among the fastest flagships, generally coming just under the Samsung GS8 Exynos chip.

RAM

Storage

microSD

4GB
64GB UFS (49GB free)
To 256GB, OTG to 2TB external devices

4GB makes it future-proof for Android releases.

OITG to 2TB tested and works

Camera

Rear

“Motion Eye”
19MP, 1/2.3” Exmor RS sensor, 1.22µm pixels
f/2.0 lens x8 digital zoom
Predictive Hybrid laser / phase detection / contrast Autofocus
Predictive capture
Mobile memory stacked
HDR photo
SteadyShot 5-axis electronic stabilisation
ISO to 12800/4000 photo/video
4K at 30fps recording h H.264 and 265
Super slo-mo 960 fps
Single LED flash
Dedicated shutter button

Used in Superior Auto mode it takes some of the best pictures I have seen. However, there are better low light cameras available.

 

 

 

 

No mechanical optical image stabilisation - only 3-axis EIS at 4K

5-azis at HD.

 

Slo-mo is harder to use to get the right shot

Camera

Front

13MP, 1/3.06” sensor
1.12µm pixels
autofocus
f/2.0, 22° wide-angle lens
ISO 6400/1600 photo/video
1080p @30fps video record
No screen or LED flash

No screen flash and was a poor low light performer.

But overall it took great selfies.

LTE/Bands

Cat 16 (1Gbps/150Mbps)
Bands: not stated but probably all
2 and 3CA (carrier aggregation)
4x4MIMO antenna
VoLTE
Wi-Fi Calling

There are no Australian carriers supporting Cat 16 so the best you will get is about 200Mbps

Comms

Wi-Fi AC dual band 2x2 MU-MIMO
Wi-Di, DLNA
Bluetooth 5, aptX, LDAC
NFC
GPS

75Mbps on 2.4GHz band.

468Mbps on 5GHz band from a D-Link AC5300 tri-band router.

The HTC U11 gets 866Mbps using what should be the same modem.

Other

Fingerprint in right side power button
USB 3.1 Gen 1, 5Gbps
PS4 Remote Play

Fast and accurate.

Sound

High-Resolution Audio aptX and LDAC
Active noise cancellation mic
S-Force front firing stereo speakers
ClearAudo+
EQ

Nice to see Hi-Res Audio creeping into flagships so why do they provide a basic set of ear buds? I know it is about cost.

Battery

3250mAh
Supplied charger is 5V/1.5A (7W).
You must buy a Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 charger 5V/2.5A, or 9V/1.7A or 12V/1.25A (12W).
No Wireless charge.
Qnovo Adaptive Charging.
Battery Care and Stamina mode for longer use.

Has a 72-hour theoretical endurance rating but in the real world its somewhere between 8-10 hours hard use and 18-20 typical use.

The standard charger takes over two hours.

Quick Charge delivers 42% in 30 minutes – an hour overall.

OS

Android 7.1.1
Google Assistant

A very light skin using all of the Google Apps – you really cannot escape using them.

Size

Weight

156 x 77 x 7.9 mm
195g

It is a big phone in comparison to the svelte Samsung S8 and feels wide in the hand.

Colours

Luminous Chrome
Deepsea Black

 

Performance

The XZ Premium has early firmware and, while good, it can only get better.

In GeekBench 4 multicore is scored 5837, less than the HTC U11 at 6125 and Samsung Galaxy S8 (835) at 6106. There is more tuning to do, but overall it is comparable to all other Qualcomm Snapdragon 835-equipped smartphones.

I could not fault it, it performed excellently with dozens of apps open, and never once felt hot to touch.

Wireless Broadband speeds on Telstra 4GX in the Sydney CBD were average at around 233 Mbps but there was one occasion where this skyrocketed to 350Mbps. Uploads were from 25-35Mbps.

Wi-Fi is puzzling. It has the same specs as the HTC U11 but generally only attained a fraction of the speed of the latter. It’s best was 468Mbps versus 866Mbps.

Sound

True stereo, matched, front firing speakers – nirvana. But in playing music and for hands-free use, while very clear, it lacked the punch and volume I was used to.

Audio quality output to an amp or over Bluetooth (LDAP) was fine with a little loss in the upper 15kHz to 20kHz range.

Sony XZP spks

Screen

You will not find a higher pixel per inch count anywhere – 807 is impressive. But the screen remains in HD 1920 x 1080 for all but 4K video playback.

Sony XZP tri

I tried a 4K video legally ripped into H.264 and it took about 10GB for a one hour show. Given mobile data is still expensive, I can only recommend loading it on board this way via say an external SSD or flash drive (the USB-C is Gen 1 – 5Gbps max). Watching 4K video sapped the battery – an hour’s use took 30% of the battery.

Choice of sRGB is useful for professionals who want to see real reproduction colours.

Camera

Sony makes many of the other brand's camera sensors and one could assume it could make the best camera for itself.

Sony XZP camera

Independent DxOMark tests have not been run yet, but to be sure it will come in somewhere between Samsung Galaxy S8 at 88, the Google Pixel at 89 and the newly crowned king – the HTC U11 at 90 out of 100.

The sensor has a RAM chip built in. This serves as an ultrafast buffer where the camera can temporary offload photos or video without the need to store everything in slower storage. This enables Predictive Capture and the 960 fps slo-mo.

It has a superior auto mode that constantly changes to suit scenes, vistas, and light conditions. It is a definite step up from the ZX Premium. It manages HDR auto as well.

Daylight, good even light: Sharp, detailed, accurate colour and little noise. It will autodetect if mounted on a tripod and allows for higher ISO or longer shutter speeds.

Early evening, muted light: The lens extracts maximum light and the shots are accurate.

Indoor, office lighting, 500 lumens: Great shots but a little flare on bright lights.

Indoor, low light: Loss of detail and more noise. However, with a tripod, the auto mode kicked in and changed ISO/Shutter speed and the shots were good.

Slo-mo: 960fps. capture for 1/5th of a second then stretches out across six playback seconds. It is very hard to capture the moment – still a gimmick.

Summary: The rear camera won’t beat DxOMark top scores, but it will be among the better cameras to date. I suspect Sony has some more work to do and the Superior Auto mode that shows lots of promise.

Selfies: Good but beautification mode seems to be always on.

Intelligence

Sony offers Xperia Actions that monitors the phone's usage and makes recommendations. It has extensive tips and screen help.

Smart Cleaner can be enabled by default and Qnovo will extend battery life.

Otherwise, it is Google Assistant if you want voice control.

Pros

  • Great screen when playing 4K, HDR content, otherwise it is HD.
  • Sony bling style – you will love it or hate it.
  • Clean Android skin with added value via apps.
  • Qualcomm 835 is awesome and is behind so many of the Sony features like aptX, dual image processing, etc.
  • Front-firing speakers.
  • Camera great on Superior Auto except in very low light – single LED flash needs more punch.

Cons

  • Way too large bezels – 68.4% STBR is just not acceptable any more.
  • Big bezels but back/home/apps keys take up screen space.
  • Fingerprint magnet – oleophobic coating or note.
  • Sony needs to work on turning its handset to the Qualcomm 835’s fullest ability.
  • Average speaker loudness.
  • Daylight visibility average.
  • No OIS – only EIS and not for all modes.
  • Not VR capable.
  • No Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 charger supplied.
  • It is a big, wide phone – make sure you are comfortable with it in your pocket.

Summary

It is a decent phone all round and it is a Sony – bling and all. It has heaps of performance, good camera, and good support.

At $1056 outright, it is within that band where you could consider the Samsung S8, LG G6, Huawei P10, Moto Z2 (coming) and the HTC U11 – all have different strengths, but Sony should be on your flagship shopping list. 

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!