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Hands-on Sony Xperia XZ Review: Sony’s best cameraphone yet?

Sony’s all-new feature-packed flagship phone, the Xperia XZ, has officially launched in Europe, bringing a host of improvements over Sony’s other X-Series mobiles. Here’s our hands-on Xperia XZ review from IFA 2016, including an in-depth look at the new camera tech.

Sony’s X-Series smartphone range has quickly expanded in 2016, and now it’s a family of five with the arrival of the new Xperia XZ flagship mobile. The Xperia XZ is the most premium phone of the group, packing Sony’s best camera tech to date as well as some impressive specs. But is it a serious rival to the best Android phones of 2016, such as Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and the OnePlus 3?

Here’s our full hands-on Xperia XZ review.

Hands-on Sony Xperia XZ Review: Specs

Phone name Sony Xperia XZ
Screen size 5.2-inches
Screen resolution 1920×1080 Full HD
Weight 161g
Water resistant? Yes
Fingerprint sensor? Yes
Processor Snapdragon 820
Memory 3GB
Storage 32/64GB
MicroSD? Yes
Battery 2900mAh
Rear camera 23-megapixel
Front camera 13-megapixel

Hands-on Sony Xperia XZ Review: Design

The Xperia XZ is made from a new metallic material known as Alkaleido, which boasts an impressive natural brightness and purity, according to Sony. We didn’t notice a massive difference between the XZ and the Xperia X when we got our hands on Sony’s new phone, but the XZ certainly feels rugged and solidly put-together.

You get slightly more rounded edges compared with the Xperia X, which helps the Xperia XZ to comfortably fit your palm. The bigger screen and quite chunky bezels above and below the screen mean it isn’t super-easy to use one-handed, but we just about managed to pull down the notifications tab and flick around the Android Marshmallow menus without resorting to a second mitt.

Sony has brought back that reassuring water-resistant design for the XZ, something missing from the Xperia X. So like the Xperia X Performance before it, you can once again browse your emails in the bath or take a selfie in the shower.

Read next: Sony Xperia XZ vs Xperia X, what’s the difference?

Sony’s unified design is back in action too, offering a consistent colouring and style from the box and hardware through to the Xperia XZ’s software. The Xperia XZ’s signature colour is dark blue, similar to one of the best colour choices from last year’s Xperia Z5. However, the phone is also available in black and ‘platinum’ (silver) colours here in the UK.

Besides the change in design materials and the rest, it’s basically business as usual. Sony’s favoured rectangular frame makes the Xperia XZ instantly familiar, while you once again have a brilliantly responsive fingerprint sensor built into the edge-mounted power button. And you can slip your SIM card into the dinky drawer, hidden beneath a flap on the phone’s left edge.

Hands-on Sony Xperia XZ Review: Screen and media

We’re not surprised that Sony has stuck with a Full HD display for the Xperia XZ, rather than bumping up to a Quad HD screen. Most premium rivals such as the HTC 10, LG G5 and Galaxy S7 may go with a Quad HD resolution, which makes for sharper images, but the XZ still produces perfectly crisp visuals.

Read next: Xperia XZ vs Galaxy S7, which is best for me?

You get Sony’s X-Reality engine too, which artificially tinkers with your movies and photos when activated. Alternatively, you can switch on the Super Vivid mode, which boosts colours to make them really pop off the screen. In our hands-on time with the Xperia XZ, we were pleased with how everything looked.

Sony’s built-in speakers seem to more or less match the Xperia X’s for power, producing some reasonably crisp audio. You get full support for Hi-Res tracks too, great news for music fans.

If you want to carry around a massive media collection, that won’t be a problem. The Xperia XZ packs in 32GB or 64GB of storage space, and you can slip a microSD memory card into the SIM drawer to expand.

Hands-on Sony Xperia XZ Review: Cameras

One of the biggest improvements with the Xperia XZ compared with the rest of the Xperia X family concerns the camera tech.

The Xperia XZ’s camera once again boasts the smart features packed into the Xperia X’s snapper, including the hit-and-miss predictive focus that can help to keep moving subjects sharp instead of capturing a blurry mess. However, now you also get a built-in laser autofocus (something found on plenty of rival handsets), to help sharpen up a photo taken in low light conditions.

Sony has also added some very smart 5-axis image stabilisation, covering yaw & pitch, roll shake (from walking) and X & Y Shift shake (from simple hand tremors, which can ruin your up-close macro shots). Loading up the Xperia XZ’s camera app, we could immediately see the difference this makes. Even when deliberately shaking the phone, the image on-screen remains impressively stable.

The Xperia XZ’s camera app is very similar to that found on the Xperia X, so you get the usual Superior Auto mode for taking dependably attractive snaps in almost any conditions. However, there’s also updated manual controls with smarter focus shifting and full shutter speed control. The latter is particularly handy if you want to get Huawei-style night light shots.

As for video, the Xperia XZ supports full 4K UHD recording unlike the Xperia X. Great news if you’ve run out of content to view back on your expensive new Ultra HD telly.

Finally, Sony’s 13-megapixel front-facing camera can once again take sharp, attractive selfies even in low light conditions, with image stabilisation to help out when you’ve had a skinful.

Hands-on Sony Xperia XZ Review: Battery and performance

A 2900mAh battery is packed inside the Xperia XZ, a mite bigger than the Xperia X’s 2620mAh cell. We’re hoping that means the Xperia XZ can manage at least a day and a half of life – we usually get just over 24 hours of playtime from the Xperia X.

Sony has added another cool new feature to help preserve the Xperia XZ’s battery longevity, known as Intelligent Battery Charge. This learns your charging habits and stops the battery from sucking juice when it hits 90 percent, until just before the time you usually disconnect from the mains. At this point, the phone will power up to 100 percent.

Intelligent Battery Charge will prove particularly useful if you charge the phone overnight, to avoid overcharging which can lead to battery damage. And as before, careful battery monitoring also allows the Xperia XZ to control its electric current, to avoid excessive charging. With these features combined, the handset’s battery life span should be twice as good – at least according to Sony.

Oh, and the Xperia XZ is the first new Sony phone to launch here in the UK with USB Type-C support.

Like the Xperia X Performance before it, the Xperia XZ packs a Snapdragon 820 processor, backed by 3GB of RAM. You can expect silky smooth performance at all times, especially as the phone can automatically improve its running rates by isolating and shutting down any unused apps.

Hands-on Sony Xperia XZ Review: UK price and release date

The Sony Xperia XZ should be released in the UK in October 2016. We haven’t got an exact release date or any word on UK pricing just yet, but you can expect a price tag of around £549 SIM-free.

Check back soon for our full in-depth Xperia XZ review.

Video: Xperia XZ hands-on review

 

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