Hands on Sony Xperia XZ Premium review: finally, a proper flagship from Sony

Top-end specs, 4K screen, and super slow motion camera. Is this a flagship Sony can be proud of?

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For

  • Sharp, colourful screen
  • UI
  • Fast

Against

  • Fingerprint magnet
  • Display suffers in bright light
  • Massive horizontal bezels

After a few years on flagship hiatus, Sony is back with the Xperia XZ Premium, the Japanese company’s latest and greatest handset. The XZ Premium was announced earlier in the year at MWC, it features an upgraded super slow motion camera, 4K HDR display, and a familiar sleek design. 

But while most of the phones unveiled at MWC have found their way into consumers pockets by now, we’re still waiting for the XZ Premium to hit the shelves. As the phone is edging near to launch, Sony invited us to Portugal to get hands on with the device. 

These are our initial impressions… 

In a world where all smartphones tend to look the same, the XZ Premium manages to be distinctive. It’s very clearly a Sony phone, with sharp corners and rounded edges, but while we have been fans of Sony’s design language in the past, the XZ Premium now looks dated thanks to those MASSIVE bezels at the top and bottom of the screen. 

The phone measures 156 x 77mm and packs a 5.5-inch screen. For comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S8 measures 148.9 x 68.1 mm and manages to squeeze in a 5.8-inch screen.  

The Sony is impressively thin at 7.9mm, however. 

So the phone may not be 90-percent screen, but thankfully, Sony has focused on display technology to make this a standout performer. The XZ Premium is has a 4K HDR display, so it should be the best when it comes to watching premium Netflix and Amazon Prime content.  

We think the screen looked great, most of the time. It’s sharp (although, not noticeably sharper than QHD displays in competitors) and vibrant. Paired with Xperia’s colourful UI it’s a treat for the eyes. We did find the screen difficult see in direct sunlight - it’s not the brightest display out there - although, that’s not likely to be too much of a problem in the UK. 

Just like the Z5, we are still left questioning whether 4K is really necessary in a phone display. 

The phone will come in Luminous Chrome, Deepsea Black or a rather fetching Bronze Pink colourway. 

It’s water resistant, and one final thing we need to mention about the design is just how reflective it is, as is exemplified by our images (it’s impossible to take pictures of). It really could be used as a mirror, and looks great after it’s just been polished, but unfortunately, most of the time it’ll be covered in greasy fingerprints. 

Sony has a bit of a checkered past when it comes to smartphone cameras, while they’ve been technically among the best, they haven’t been able to rival Samsung et al. when it comes to point-and-shoot, everyday situations.  

To fix this, there’s a new, larger sensor which let’s more light in, and Sony has included plenty of tech to help you get the best snap, including Motion Eye, which begins to capture images before you even press the shutter button, then determines the best image for you. 

We were impressed with our initial shots taken on the XZ Premium’s 19 megapixel camera. They’re sharp and colourful in good lighting, but we still need to carry out some testing in more challenging conditions for a final verdict. 

The real headline feature here is the XZ Premium’s super slow motion rear camera, capable of shooting at 960 frames per second. The phone uses a stacked memory Exmor RS sensor to provide faster image scanning and data transfer, a system which was originally developed for Sony’s high-end compact cameras. 

We tested this function in a number of different ways - a dancer punching through glass, a stunt man jumping through polystyrene, and bottle flipping on a beach. It’s a cool feature, but it’s far from perfect. Unfortunately slow motion footage is capped at compressed 720p, so it looks grainy (especially in low light), and it’s also quite difficult to use. Filming is limited to 0.2 second bursts, (which is then stretched to six seconds in slow mo), so you have to be spot on when you start and stop recording. We had several occasions where we missed the stunt man jumping through a wall, recording the ‘build up’ and not the ‘break through’, for example. 

It's capable of recording some amazing footage, and it's far superior to slow motion on existing smartphone cameras, but we don’t think many people will be buying a smartphone based purely on a super slow motion function. What really matters is whether Sony has nailed the ability to take a decent image quickly and easily in any condition.  

Powering everything is Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 chip, 4GB RAM, and 64GB storage (expandable). It felt super speedy from our initial play, indistinguishable from other flagship phones. 

There are still questions over battery life, it packs a 3230mAh battery, which isn’t the highest capacity out there, and the 4K screen is sure to big a big power drain. 

The XZ Premium also features a Snapdragon X16 LTE modem, which is capable of Gigabit Class LTE (up to 1Gbps) download speeds. You'll need to be on EE in the UK to make the most of it, however, and we're guessing that won't come cheap. 

Early verdict

The Xperia XZ Premium is a glorious return to the flagship segment. While the headline grabbing features, such as the super slow motion camera, have, let’s say, limited usefulness, the phone behind them is very competent. It’s fast, it has an amazing screen, and the camera has improved over previous generation phones. 

What remains to be seen is whether it'll be priced competitively enough to tempt customers away from the Samsung Galaxy S8, Google Pixel, or LG G6.

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