It’s not too often that a phone comes along with just about every spec or feature you can think of included but the Sony XZ Premium pretty much has.
In truth, most Android flagships for the last number of years have felt like something was missing or there was at least some compromise like a missing microSD slot or a battery that stood no chance of lasting the day.
From its 4K HDR display (yes 4K!), 19MP rear camera and 13MP front camera, high-end processor and waterproof construction the XZ Premium certainly doesn’t leave you feeling like something is missing.
Sony has been kind enough to send us an XZ Premium to review and I’ve spent the last week or so using it as my daily driver.
If it wasn’t for the rounded edges the phone would be a rectangular block of glass. Those curves at the sides make the phone very comfortable in hand and that’s a good thing as it’s a pretty big phone.
The phone measures 156 x 77 x 7.9 mm but weighs just 191 grammes. Some people when they pick this up will feel like they are holding a small tablet but if you are used to larger phones it slots right in and, for someone like me who usually uses and iPhone 7 Plus, it feels nearly identical in hand.
The XZ Premium sports Corning’s Gorilla Glass 5 all around. We’ve reviewed a number of Sony phones down through the years and one of their Achilles heels was always how easy the phone was to scratch. Not something you want from your shiny new phone! Thankfully this phone seems bullet proof. I have carried around for two weeks with no case or cover and there isn’t a scratch to be seen so well done Sony.
The right-hand side of the phone has a cover over slots for the SIM and memory cards. The top of the phone has a headphone jack and microphone while the bottom of the phone hosts a USB type C port for charging and data transfer.
Like any major shift, some people are going to be unhappy that USB type C is used here but as someone who has several MacBooks sitting around the place, I was delighted to see it included. It is annoying at first when you have to buy some new cables but it is the future and is incredibly powerful compared to previous iterations.
The vision of us being able to connect and charge all of our equipment with one cable is getting closer and it’s worth the short-term pain to move forward.
The right-hand side of the phone is a little busier with a volume rocker, a power key with a built-in fingerprint scanner and a dedicated camera button closer to the bottom.
The fingerprint scanner is quick and works well but having it placed where it is is kind of limiting, especially if you usually hold a phone in your left hand.
The dedicated camera button is excellent and I love seeing this included in Android phones. If you press and hold the key it wakes the phone in camera mode and with a bit of practice, you can have it ready to go as you are taking the phone out of your pocket which hopefully means you’ll miss less of those important snaps.
Something I found quite annoying about the camera button though is if you want to record video in 4K you have to unlock the phone. Needless to say you forget this, try to switch to 4K while holding the phone now in landscape, only for it to throw up an unlock warning which means you fumble the phone back around to portrait, unlock it, pick 4K again and hope you did it all in enough time that you didn’t miss your shot. It should be easier.
While the phone feels great in hand, the Gorilla glass is very slippy. When I took it out of the box first I actually thought there was some sort of coating on it but there’s not. It’s just really slippy. If you get the phone wet or it’s been raining or your hands are wet you need to be really careful. I’ve gotten used to wrapping my fingers around it a certain way so it can’t get out of my hands but every time I go to take a picture in landscape mode it makes me a little nervous.
The front of the phone has the front facing camera and dual speakers for a stereo experience when you’re watching videos. The back of the phone is only interrupted by the camera and flash combination at the top.
The XZ Premium runs Android 7.1.1 with Sony’s own overlay on top. In fairness, the overlay is fairly unintrusive and the UI flies along with no noticeable lags are stutters.
Sony bundles a number of their own apps for video, photos, music and so on and still bundle third party apps such as Amazon, Spotify and Kobo which you have no choice but to accept, but at least you now disable these apps.
The home screens are pretty close to stock and you can enable Google Assistant so it’s available to the far left. The App drawer includes a “recommended” section which encourages you to install new apps but other than that things don’t stray too far from stock.
There’s nothing really out of the ordinary here but that in itself is a good thing. The UI is clean and fast and that’s exactly what you want!
So to the XZ Premium’s real party trick. It’s the first phone to come with a 4K HDR display and it’s pretty fantastic.
Do we need 4K displays on a smartphone? No.
Does it look bloody good having one? Yes. Oh Yes.
If you have a 4K TV at home you’ll know the difference between 1080p and 4K instantly. It’s not some quantum leap forward but there is a level of detail with 4K video which makes it instantly identifiable and it’s no different here on the smaller screen.
You often hear people speak of phone screen sizes and the distance you hold it from your eyes being a reason for not needing 4K screens on a phone but I can tell you after using the XZ Premium for the last while, that’s not the case.
The screen is absolutely fantastic. So much so that it makes everything else seem a little crap now.
If you’ve never watched 4K content and you’re coming from a phone which has something like a 720p screen, this is going to seem like quite a jump.
I’ve shown clips to several non “tech” people and the general reaction has been “wow”. Even YouTube clips, which usually do a good job of butchering quality, look great. I came into this review with an open mind but half expecting to write about how 4K on a phone was a bit of a gimmick, but anyone who thinks that, should spend a little time with the XZ Premium and see exactly what is achievable. With the right content, it is worth all of the sacrifices that come with it.
“Sacrifices?” I hear you say. There are some. Beyond the fact that 4K content on a mobile is still difficult to come by, and 4K HDR content even more so, the phone gets hot when you are watching it and the battery takes a hammering. During our tests, we saw anything from 35 to 45% per hour battery use and at times the phone felt very hot. We streamed some 4K HDR content to the phone over a local network and in general, it all worked very well but you can’t push so many pixels and not expect there to be a trade-off.
Interestingly, when you use the 4K app for recording video it warns you that the app may shut down if the phone gets too hot. Now in some ways, I admire the honesty but in other ways, it kind of says why not sort out the overheating issues? With that said, the phone didn’t heat up at all while we were recording video, only when we watched it.
While it may seem like I am pointing out a negative, I don’t really see it that way. Watching 4K content consumes a lot of resources and many laptops still can’t do it. Sit back and enjoy the view but just appreciate that it will take its toll.
Overall the display is fantastic. Colours are vivid, and combined with the high-resolution, images look great.
Sony has always included great cameras in their flagship phones and the XZ Premium is no different. The rear camera comes in a 19MP which will be far in excess of what most people carry in their pocket.
The camera has an Intelligent Auto setting which is seen on all Sony cameras and a manual mode. There is also a Video mode and then an option to use some apps for things like 4K capture and AR effects.
After using the phone for a little while now, my first observation would be that the camera is capable of capturing some stunning stills but the Intelligent Auto setting isn’t great and you will either need to make manual adjustments when capturing or do some post production work to get your images looking great.
The Intelligent Auto setting is just too slow to react for me and in many cases, it didn’t adjust at all. When the background and foreground lighting levels are close together, details get lost and everything seems a little dull. You can adjust this to a degree by swapping to manual where you have access to things like shutter speed and white balance but if you want to take an image in a hurry this isn’t a great user experience.
When you get the right mix of settings though the results are fantastic and it’s easily one of the best smartphone cameras we’ve reviewed.
Results with video are broadly in line with images. The phone is capable of shooting 4K video as well as 60fps 1080p. Accessing the 4K capture is a little cumbersome as you have to launch a 4K app which is embedded in the normal camera app.
Light conditions have a big impact on the quality of the video you can capture. This is possibly down to the camera app and a third party app may do better but we wanted to review it as it came out of the box as the vast majority of people will use it this way.
You can see in the samples below at the start of the clip, we had a rare moment of sunshine while we reviewed the phone, and the results are great but equally, during the dull grey days, details started to get lost. In the right conditions and with the right settings it works well.
1080p is pretty similar but the 60fps shots are noticeably smoother. You can see the results here:
What isn’t great though is wind noise. None of the shots in either of the clips above was shot when it was windy. The noise is being created from the phone panning into a light breeze but in the majority of the shots, it was quite calm. Other manufacturers have pretty much eliminated this low-level wind noise so hopefully, it’s something Sony can alleviate with a software update but we’ll have to wait and see.
The XZ Premium can shoot slow motion clips at an amazing 960fps. That’s around 4 times more frames per second than every other smartphone. I’m not sure this is a feature that the average consumer will get much use out of but it is certainly fun attempting to capture shots and watching the results.
I’m not going to pretend I was even half as good at capturing slow motion content as the content that was captured in the clip below but it is possible with a bit of practice to capture the moment a child kicks a ball for example with the facial expressions and the ball deformation evident in the results. Most people love looking at the results and especially kids so it’s a nice feature to have and maybe the more adventurous among us will find a more dedicated purpose for it.
Speaking of features the kids will love, the AR effects available while using the camera are cool and have been improved on previous versions. There are 6 different effects installed out of the box such as dinosaurs and a fairy tale theme but there are now also other ones available to download and install.
It’s a novelty but it’s fun and works quite well.
The XZ Premium comes with a non-replaceable 3230 mAh battery and is charged via the USB type C port.
The phone comes with Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 but in honesty, it felt like it took the same amount of time to charge as any other phone. Like most smartphones these days, an hour charging does a lot and your distance from a power outlet causes less anxiety. During normal use browsing sending and receiving emails and social media notifications the battery last a full day and some without issue. As we pointed out above though, the only real hit to that is 4K content.
Sony includes a number of pieces of software to help keep your battery healthy by preventing overcharging or to last longer by disabling non-essential features when you are getting closer to 0%.
For the size of the screen and the amount of pixels that have to be shifted, the battery generally lasts well and the fact that the battery is unremovable doesn’t cause concern.
Hi-res Audio and Dual Speakers
Another unique feature of the phone is its support for DSEE HX High Res Audio and Digital Noise Cancellation once paired with compatible/ suitable headphones.
Sony is utilising their experience with audio here to include a feature that is usually reserved for stand-alone players and audiophiles will be happy to see this making its way to smartphones.
Like everything, the quality of the audio file and the quality of the equipment you are using to listen to it will make or break this feature. If you are someone who listens to high res audio regularly the XZ Premium may mean you can leave your dedicated player at home and just use your phone but I think in most cases what the inclusion of this will do is encourage people to purchase better quality headphones and far better quality tracks to take advantage.
The XZ Premium has dual front facing speakers on the front of the phone which is becoming more of the norm these days. Sony calls this “S-Force Front Surround”. When you hold a device so close to your face, the two speakers on the phone do have some isolation of each other so you pick up side to side movements in a clip quite well but it lacks the punch to be able to create virtual surround sound.
Nonetheless, as smartphone speakers go, the XZ Premium does a good job. The volume is probably the loudest we’ve heard from any phone and audio quality is perfectly acceptable in smartphone terms.
The phone is IP68 rated so is water and dust proof. If you get caught out in a shower or drop the phone in the pool it will be no issue at all.
The phone comes with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage.
The microSD slot can take a card of up to 256GB in size.
The front camera is 13MP and better quality than the rear camera on most phones!
1Gbps Download speeds and 150 Mbps upload speeds are achievable with the XZ Premium (theoretically!)
The USB type C 3.1 connection on the phone offers data transfer speeds of up to 5Gbps
4K availability – Even with TVs this is still an issue. 4K Blu Rays are becoming more mainstream now but that’s not an option for a smartphone. Right now the main choices are YouTube (which doesn’t offer the best quality 4K by any means) and Amazon Prime Video. Netflix is late to the party so other than the two options above you’ll have to feed the phone with 4K content you sourced yourself.
The XZ Premium does an awful lot of things right. Not only that, it pushes the boundaries of what is available from a smartphone. In some cases, it’s only incremental steps but it raises the bar and that forces other manufacturers to do the same.
The 4K screen will generate plenty of discussion but for me it is fantastic and a welcome addition. I don’t really care if it consumes more energy. I’ll happily charge my phone more often. There’s something special about 4K content on such a small screen that close to your eyes.
The phone is water and dust proof and the Gorilla Glass means it’s pretty tough to scratch too so the phone should last well.
The High Res Audio and dual front facing speakers mean the phone has all bases covered for media consumption.
While the camera is a high resolution and capable of capturing some stunning images and video, it’s a little let down by the poor Intelligent Auto mode and detail loss in dull conditions. It’s not the device I’d reach for if I wanted to take a quick snap of the kids but if you have a second to frame the shot and make some adjustments to the settings it’s pretty amazing.
I think there are a lot of people out there who will “get” this phone and understand what it’s capable of delivering. It’s a flagship phone with a large screen so it won’t be for everyone but for those who see the benefits of 4K on the go, like listening to good quality audio and understand what the manual settings on a camera are for, this is the phone for them.
Parts of Android and Sony’s overlay still seem a little cartoonish but the phone is pretty much lag free and handles nearly all tasks easily.
I guess the best measure of approval is the fact that over the time I have been reviewing this phone, anytime I have wanted to listen to music, watch a YouTube clip or a TV series on Netflix I have reached straight for the XZ Premium. If only it wasn’t so slippy!
The Sony XZ Premium is available now from most of the Network operators and is available SIM free for €749.
Check out this link for more details.