The Xperia XZ Premium is a big bundle of exciting functionality packed into a boring, unwieldly body. There's a lot to love, but there's also a lot you'll have to forgive if you're after Sony's latest high-end device.
What we love
- Fast processor
- Super slow motion video is a cool trick
- Solid battery life
What could be improved
- Big and heavy, difficult to use one-handed
- Rear-glass is a fingerprint magnet
- A little too expensive
- 4K screen is underutilised
What Is It?
You'd be forgiven for the mistaking the Xperia XZ Premium for one of the monoliths in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sony's latest shiny slab of smartphone is a veritable chrome behemoth; a hefty, heavy device destined to get covered in fingerprints.
The Xperia XZ Premium might not the most modern looking smartphone, but what's on the inside counts too. Its overly large body is host to some impressive features, including a 4K HDR display, a very convenient fingerprint reader, and a camera capable of shooting super slow motion video.
Super slow motion video capture is the Xperia XZ Premium's headlining feature, and for the most part, it delivers. The Xperia XZ Premium is able to shoot video at 960 fps, which means you're able to slow down footage by a factor of 30. This results in incredible vision, but there are a couple of catches. The biggest problem is that you can only slow down 0.2 seconds of footage at a time, which extends out to about 6 seconds at speed. As a result, it's very hard to actually capture a precise moment in slow motion.
Unless you've got impeccable reflexes, slow motion capture works better for filming an event that's already happening, rather than a precise moment. When testing out the functionality, I tried to get vision a performer popping a water balloon, and it took me four goes to actually get a shot where it slowed down at the right point. On the other hand, a performer juggling is much easier to shoot in slow motion, given that it's much less reliant on exact timing.
In addition to a fairly restrictive time duration, super slow motion video also infringes on quality. You're limited to resolutions of 720p, the sensor area is cropped heavily (as if you were zoomed in), and ISO is boosted. Unless you're shooting in a very well-lit environment (ideally, outdoors), you're going to get noticeable noise on your slow motion footage. This doesn't ruin the effect, but it can be a bit distracting.
The Xperia XZ Premium's other interesting camera trick is predictive capture: a feature that essentially takes photos before you take them. The phone will start capturing images when you hold down the physical shutter button, and then uses the tech industry's favourite new buzzword - machine learning - to give you the four best options when you press it.
This functionality is explicitly designed for shooting motion heavy situations, but even when there was clear movement in the frame, predictive capture didn't always trigger reliably. Whether or not I got the extra "predictive" shots seemed to almost come down to luck. The shutter button's physical position means the functionality works best in landscape.
Outside of fancy features, the Xperia XZ Premium's camera is fairly standard fare. It's not disappointing, but it's not really standout either. It's quick to shoot and you'll get good photos in the vast majority of lighting conditions, but white balance and exposure can let it down from time to time when shooting on auto. This can be address by swapping over to the manual mode, but it does mean the Xperia XZ Premium can fumble shots in trickier light situations (such as when dealing with very dark and very bright elements in the one photo).
Powered by a top-of-the-line Snapdragon 835 processor, the Xperia XZ Premium is one fast phone. As with the HTC U11 before it - the other smartphone with a Snapdragon 835 in Australia at time of writing - there's a noticeable improvement over last year's top of the line devices. Most day to day tasks feel just that little bit faster; it's only a couple of seconds here and there in reality, but there's enough of an improvement to see a difference.
Water-resistance, a speedy side-facing fingerprint reader, a fairly light take on Android, and 64GB of expandable storage are all other nice-to-have inclusions.
The Xperia XZ Premium's 4K display is another winner for Sony, even if doesn't actually run at 4K most of the time (more on that later). Outside of specific apps, the Xperia XZ Premium is technically running at 1080p, but this doesn't take away from the gorgeous screen. It's bright, vivid without being oversaturated, and easily viewable in direct sunlight.
Despite the high resolution display, you should still get a healthy amount of battery life from the Xperia XZ Premium. In our testing, we've found that between a day and a half and two days between charges should be doable, depending on how hard you're pushing the phone (or how much 4K content you're watching). At the very least, you'll have a healthy buffer at the end of the day.
What's Not So Good?
If there's one thing you can say for sure about the Xperia XZ Premium's design, it's definitely Sony. Sony's latest doesn't break the mould introduced with the first Xperia Z phone, back in 2013. It's a little curvier and a little shinier, but the Xperia XZ Premium makes almost no deviation from Sony's brutalist aesthetic. And when you compare the Xperia XZ Premium to the likes of the LG G6 and Samsung Galaxy S8, it may as well have been released in 2013; it's busted and old in comparison.
The dated look and feel may have been forgivable if the Xperia XZ Premium was a touch more compact. Flanked by sizeable bezels on all four sides, the Sony's latest is the only recent 5.5-inch phones that hasn't comfortably fit into my pockets. When combined with a weight of almost 200g, you get a device that feels unwieldly at the best of times. Good luck using this one one-handed.
A predominantly glass build means the Xperia XZ Premium hordes fingerprints like a '90s kid collecting Tazos. They're a little less prominent on the black model, but silver is impossible to keep clean. It kind of undermines the "Premium" part of the name when your smartphone is a grime fiesta. The glass also means the Xperia XZ Premium is a bit slippery, which isn't helped by the aforementioned weight issues.
As technically impressive as the Xperia XZ's 4K display might be, it doesn't actually run at 4K resolutions for the most part. You'll only get 4K when perusing photos and videos - specifically, in Sony's preloaded apps.
Amazon Prime Video and YouTube are two non-Sony apps that I've found to actually support 4K content; Netflix doesn't at this stage. You probably don't want to stream 4K on the go though, because you'll eat through about 7GB of data an hour, and even if you've got an ungodly allowance, you'll be hard pressed to tell the difference between 1080p content and 4K video on a screen this small.
Virtual reality content would be a much better use for Sony's impressive screen, but regrettably it doesn't support Google's Daydream, and the vast majority of Google Cardboard apps will only run at 1080p on the XZ Premium.
At $1,099 outright, the Xperia XZ Premium may be a touch too expensive to be truly compelling when compared to the competition. It will set you back less than a 128GB iPhone 7 or the Galaxy S8, but you've also got fantastic phones like the HTC U11 and the Huawei P10 that undercut it outright and on contract. Unless you're offering something truly special, $1,099 is almost a no man's land price point for anyone that's not Apple or Samsung these days.
Who's It For?
In some ways, the Xperia XZ Premium is a bleeding edge device. In others, it's stuck in the past. You've got unique features like a 4K HDR display and super slow motion capture - which admittedly are pretty cool - that are counterbalanced by an outdated design that impinges on usability.
If you can handle using a big bulky smartphone in exchange for some cool tech, the Xperia XZ Premium could be for you, but the Xperia XZ Premium's stars aren't the kind of game changers that make you forget about the unwieldly aesthetic. Especially when compounded with a four-figure price tag.
The Xperia XZ Premium manages to tick a lot of boxes - in fact, almost everything you want in a 2017 flagship smartphone is here - but for me, it misses the mark when it comes to comfort and usability. No number of bells and whistles take away from the fact the Xperia XZ Premium is an awkward device.
What Else Can I Buy?
When it comes to value, the HTC U11 is currently the Android flagship to beat. Retailing for $999 outright, you get one of the best cameras in a smartphone right now, a top of the line Snapdragon 835 processor, water-resistance, and a solid battery life. There's no headphone jack, and the back is just as prone to fingerprint's as the Xperia XZ Premium's, but unless you're especially loyal to Sony, the U11 is the better bang-for-buck buy.
If you want to spend a little less, Huawei's P10 is another great bang-for-buck option. It's about $200 less than the Xperia XZ Premium outright, much smaller, but still has a great camera. Huawei's take on Android isn't quite as polished as Sony's though, and the P10 isn't water-resistance.
Samsung Galaxy S8
If you're after a new smartphone that looks and feels new, it's hard to pass up Samsung's Galaxy S8 and its funky infinity display. It also helps that it's a pretty great device.