Sony Xperia XZ Premium review: 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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Our Verdict

It's a blazing fast phone, with an impressive number of interesting features. But its massive bezels can't be ignored, and its rivals offer more attractive propersitions.

For

  • Sharp, colourful screen
  • Solid build
  • Fast

Against

  • Massive horizontal bezels
  • Expensive
  • Camera poor in low light

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. 

We've spent the best part of two weeks testing out the Sony Xperia XZ Premium, and this is our verdict.

Design

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 feels impressively thin at 7.9mm, however, and rock solid as well with not flexing or creaking.

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. It’s sharp with a PPI of 807, and side-by-side, is noticeably sharper than its competitors. It's colourful and vibrant, too, with the ability to change the colour temperature if you think the standard setting to cold. Paired with Xperia’s colourful UI it’s a treat for the eyes. It's also incredibly bright, and was surprisingly easy to see in direct sunlight.

Just like the Z5, we are still left questioning whether 4K is really necessary in a phone display. Especially considering 4K content is so difficult to find and watch on the phone.

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

It’s water resistant, and the finger print sensor is located in the side-mounted power button. We really like this location. Also, the large bezels make space for front mounted speakers. That's great if you use internal speakers a lot, as they won't get covered by your palms.

One final thing we need to mention about the design is just how reflective it is, as is exemplified by our images. 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. Now, personally, that doesn't bother me, but it may annoy some, slightly more anal, smartphone users.

Camera

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, with plenty of detail. It looks like they're taken on a point-and-shoot camera.

It's also great at handling movement, and the autofocus is fast as well.

The camera is let down by its low light performance. Images are dark, muddy, and lacking detail, especially in the shadows. They're not a complete disaster, but it's certainly not up to the performance of its rivals in this area.

Here are some image samples, all taken in automatic mode:

 

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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 720p and it's been harshly compressed, 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. Those that do own a dog or a cat.

Powering everything is Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 chip, 4GB RAM, and 64GB storage (expandable). It's incredibly snappy, although indistinguishably so from other flagship phones. 

While we initially had questions about the battery life (it packs a 3230mAh battery, which isn’t the highest capacity out there, and the power hungry 4K screen). We were actually pleasantly surprised in this area, with the XZ Premium easily lasting all day, with time to spare.

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. 

The software is a mixed bag, we actually really like the colourful, bold UI, even if it is about as far away from stock Android as possible. Unfortunately, Sony insists on preinstalling numerous bloatware apps, which other brands have scaled back on recently.

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. 

The Sony Xperia XZ Premium will come in at £649.99. That's similar pricing to the Samsung Galaxy S8, Google Pixel, or LG G6.

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