Sony Xperia XZ1
When the Sony Xperia XZ Premium landed in our offices, we was certainly intrigued by it. Here was Sony’s latest flagship phone with some great camera features, a beefy processor, and one heck of a flashy screen. But then at IFA 2017 this year, Sony unveiled the Xperia XZ1, which seemed to be exactly like the Xperia XZ Premium, just in a smaller design. So is it fair to make comparisons between the two? In some regards yes, but the XZ1 does do its best to stand out on its own.
Sony Xperia XZ1 price and release date
- AED 2,199 with complimentary XB20 Speaker
- Pricing just shy of the Xperia XZ Premium
In the UAE the Xperia XZ1 has been on pre-order from September 7th 2017 and will be priced AED 2,199 with complimentary Sony XB20 Bluetooth Speaker. That’s an acceptable amount of money to be asking for the phone, considering the Xperia XZ Premium sits in at AED 2,499 with its 4K display.
You’re essentially getting the internals of the Xperia XZ Premium, but in a much more comfortable form factor if larger smartphones aren’t your thing.
- Comfortable to hold
- Standard Sony design template
Sony has always relied on a specific kind of design for its smartphones, and it doesn’t deviate from this for the XZ1. The phone’s bezels now look somewhat outdated by current market standards, so let’s hope that Sony looks to refreshing this for future models.
The XZ1 looks almost identical to my previous XZ smartphone, but the rounded design from the XZ Premium makes its appearance here, which gives the phone a more comfortable grip. The phone is less of a fingerprint magnet as well, thanks to a sleek matte finish on the back. Our review unit came in a no-fuss black color, but there’s also Moonlit Blue, Warm Silver, and Venus Pink on offer.
Over towards the left side of the phone is your standard SIM card slot, alongside a tray that lets you insert either a second SIM or a microSD card. With 64GB of onboard storage I’ve long stopped using microSD cards, but it’s good to know the option for additional storage is there. The SIM tray itself is a bit difficult to pull out – you have to jab a fingernail deep in there to grab the tiny tray and then slowly pull it out.
Over on the right side you’ve got the dedicated camera button, which launches the camera app and takes a photo in 0.6 seconds, according to Sony. There’s the power button with integrated fingerprint reader, as well as the volume rocker. We’re used to having the volume buttons below the power button like on the original XZ, but this was a minor adjustment to make when using the XZ1. It’s also nice to see that Sony’s still holding on to the 3.5mm headphone jack, which is located at the top.
At the back you’ve got the rear-facing 19MP camera, which is raised slightly from the phone’s body. It’s the same shooter we’ve seen on the XZ Premium, but with a few new cool software features which we’ll come to later.
While the XZ Premium touts a 4K HDR screen, the smaller display size of the XZ1 means that you only get a Full HD screen that still supports HDR. Coupled with Sony’s proprietary BRAVIA TV tech and TRILUMINOS display, you get a surprisingly enjoyable viewing experience, even on a smaller screen.
Apps such as Amazon Video and Netflix offer HDR content without any problems, and the content does look stunning on it. Our favorite Netflix show, Chef’s Table, was a joy to watch, with each frame bursting with color. There were no signs of grainy video or loss of contrast, so if you’re someone who enjoys consuming high-fidelity content on the go, then you’ll really appreciate the XZ1.
The phone does surprisingly well in sunlight, though of course you wouldn’t be watching content or playing games under the blazing sun – the screen loses some of its vividness, and the phone’s body will get nice and toasty in direct sunlight, so it’s best to keep things in the shade.
If you’re one of those people who insists on bringing their smartphone to the beach or poolside, you’ll be relieved to know that as with Sony’s previous phones, the XZ1 is water and dust resistant. So if you end up spilling something on it, you can simply wipe it off – it’s just important to remember that the side SIM tray is firmly closed so that nothing gets into it.
Weighing in at 156g, the Xperia XZ1 is a great phone to carry around. Under the hood you’ve got a Snapdragon 835 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of internal storage. To top it all off, it’s the first phone I’ve got my hands on that is running the latest version of Google’s Android, 8.0 Oreo. There are a ton of background tweaks that have been made to the OS which I’ll come to shortly, but it’s great that Sony has been able to launch its newest smartphone with the latest OS. Manufacturers often fall short of quickly rolling out updates with every Android release, so this is a refreshing change to say the least.
- 19MP rear camera takes decent pictures, struggles in low light
- New 3D Creator app accurately scans objects and faces
Sony’s been really stepping things up in the camera department on their phones, and having used the Xperia XZ and then seen what the XZ Premium can do, we can attest to that. The XZ1 carries forward the camera tricks that the XZ Premium can pull off, namely slow-motion video and Predictive Capture. I’m not sure how often you’ll capture slow-motion video, and in reality it can be a bit fiddly to pull off, but when you do capture it there’s a certain sense of awe and accomplishment with it. Just make sure you’re doing so with good lighting, otherwise the video will introduce a lot of noise with it.
Photos snapped with the Xperia XZ1 tend to have a good balance of color, and photos taken outside in bright daylight tend to look great. Indoors the camera was still able to capture enough detail, though the office fluorescent lighting made photos appear with more cooler tones than we’d like.
Low-light photos were a mixed bag – while the phone was able to take a decent photo of the Dubai skyline, zooming in to the photo shows a mixed amount of detail, and some very blurry outlines. A quick snap of a table setting lit by candlelight proved to be a bit better, but again some of the details were lost in the image.
The phone does automatically detect what sort of photo you’re taking, and we found that food photography definitely got a good boost from the phone. A photo we snapped up of a mango cheesecake really captured the glistening details of the topping, and similarly a plate of scallops snapped at home were captured with a good amount of color and detail.
The front-facing camera is also great at picking up details, so fans of selfies can relax knowing that they're always going to get a great photo without too much effort. As seen in other Xperia models, you can simply raise your hand to trigger a short countdown timer to take the photo, or simply press the physical or on-screen camera trigger buttons.
Predictive Capture works perfectly as well for those moments where you’re lining up to take a photo and your subject accidentally moves or the moment has passed. You can quickly skim through some of the photos the camera has automatically captured and choose to keep those instead of the ones you’ve taken.
By far though the biggest feature that Sony is touting for the XZ1 is the new 3D Creator app that bundles with the phone. With it you can scan a person’s face, their entire head, a plate of food, or any inanimate object. Scanning a face or head requires a somewhat steady hand and plenty of patience – you’ll be instructed to line up a series of dots as you circle around your subject, and once everything is lined up, the phone does the rest. It’s a really impressive app to use, and you can certainly have plenty of fun with the created avatar.
Whether or not you’ll go around 3D-scanning your friends is another story, but the final output really does make you chuckle. There’s nothing funnier than turning your friends into a green dinosaur that’s doing sit-ups on your dining table. There are a number of other apps that can be downloaded for some more AR fun, and what’s more is that the scanned 3D model can also be sent to a 3D printer, which is equally impressive.
For audio lovers who love listening to music on their smartphone, the XZ1 has a number of audio enhancing features to improve your listening experience. Firstly there’s DSEE HX, which digitally upscales audio to near High-Resolution quality. There’s also digital noise cancelling when paired with a suitable wired headset, as well as improved audio quality over Bluetooth. I’m not that much of an audio purist to be worried about listening to music with these features turned off, but if you’re looking for a slightly better listening experience, then the XZ1 has you covered.
The front-facing stereo speakers are quite decent, and the optional S-Force feature can give them a bit of boost if required. Call quality was generally quite good as well, with calls coming through clearly with no dropouts.
- Good battery management
- Easily get through the day with medium usage
One thing we learned from using the Xperia XZ was how the phone intelligently adapted to usage and charging pattern. The same goes for the XZ1, with the phone monitoring when we were charging the phone on a daily basis and adapting charge cycle accordingly. The 2700mAh battery may seem small, but Sony’s charging methods coupled with improvements in Android 8.0 means that you can easily last through the entire day with medium use, and go well into the next morning with lighter usage.
My average day includes plenty of picture taking for social media, watching the occasional YouTube video, and an endless stream of emails and surfing multiple tabs on Chrome. The phone did kindly remind me when certain apps were running in the background and might eat up battery life (such as WhatsApp), so that’s another plus point.
The phone does feature a Stamina and Ultra Stamina mode for the most moments when your phone is heading towards its last trickle of battery life. Both will aim to keep your phone running for as long as possible by closing down background apps and limiting Wi-Fi and Bluetooth usage, at least until you’re able to get to a charger. And even then, you can get back on track faster than ever with Sony’s optional Quick Charger.
Benchmarks and Performance
- Snappy overall performance
- Android 8.0 shows marked improvement
With a suitably fast processor and the butter-smooth response of Android 8.0, the Xperia XZ1 is great for everyday use. My usual workflow on my phone for social media as an example can be a bit technical, but I was able to zoom through it on the XZ1. I downloaded the image I needed from the Dropbox app, did a few edits in a photo app, copied some text from my Gmail, and then pasted everything into Instagram. There wasn’t any slowdown between any of the apps, so doing this through most of the day was a breeze, along with phone calls, emails, and taking photos.
After about a week of use, the phone did begin to show a few bugs in the software, mainly with the camera freezing up when trying to take photos in the app or in Instagram. Thankfully Sony let us know that a software update was being released that week, which when installed took care of the problem entirely. Other than that there were no visible slowdowns on the phone from daily use, which is good to see.
For gaming the Xperia XZ1 does quite well – it scored 3526 in our 3DMark tests and Geekbench ran up a score of 1790 (single-core) and 6277 (multi-core) respectively. Generally most of the games we played were able to run just fine as long as they weren’t overly complicated ones. Minion Run, a favorite pastime, ran smoothly throughout, while GT Racing 2 showed a few frame drops in certain parts of a race. If you’d prefer to really ramp up your gaming, you can also play your PS4 games on the XZ1 via Remote Play, which I would highly recommend you try out at least once.
UI and Apps
- Picture-in-picture app mode
- Assist hub helps maintain your phone
Android 8.0 Oreo brings a few visual tweaks to it, but most of the good stuff is buried deep into the background where general users won’t care to look. There’s a much cleaner Settings app, and notifications have also been given a fresh lick of paint. You can now snooze certain notifications and even address individual notifications in certain apps, giving you tighter control over what your smartphone notifies you about. This is super useful for apps such as Twitter and WhatsApp, which I get regular notifications from.
Split-screen apps and picture-in-picture apps are a new addition to the fold, and are supported on apps such as YouTube Red, Google Maps, and a few choice others. It’s handy for situations like when you’re using Maps to navigate and need to quickly respond to an incoming message on WhatsApp. You can then tap the Maps app to restore it to fullscreen, or make a phone call, or just launch another app in the background.
There are also nifty features such as Triggers – this lets you automatically assign certain actions to execute based on things such as the time of day or your location. For example, I’ve got a Trigger set up to automatically turn on Do Not Disturb mode every day from 10PM if I’m at home. There’s also other hidden features such as the Cleaner app to clear out app cache, all of which is now bundled under the ‘Assist’ app.
The Xperia XZ1 has a number of apps pre-installed, which we was quick to dispose of. It’s had to understand why an app like AVG is installed for example, along with apps for Amazon and Sony’s own apps for music and video. Other than this, the UI is about as minimal as you can get on a phone such as this.
The Sony Xperia XZ1 doesn’t look too different from previous Xperia phones of the same size, but don’t let that fool you. It’s packing some serious weight under the hood, and best of all comes with the latest version of Android that won’t be coming to other manufacturers for a while at least.
While software is strong for the XZ1, the design is starting to look more and more outdated, and it’s about time Sony did something about those larger bezels. It’s still an attractive phone by some means, but when compared to the likes of LG and Samsung, it doesn’t quite sing the same tune.
The HDR screen is certainly pretty, even if it is just HD. Netflix looks fantastic on it, and we can easily see more apps opening up their content offering as smartphone screens become more and more powerful. For the average user however, HDR won’t mean a thing, so it’s only something you care about if you’re constantly watching media on the go.
Who's it for?
Consider yourself a smartphone shutterbug? Then you’ll certainly appreciate the camera improvements you’ll get with the Xperia XZ1. Need a phone that will power through the day without shutting off? With great battery management and a faster charging time, you’ve got that covered too. A price point of AED 2,199 makes the phone fairly accessible as well, so overall you’re getting a decent amount of value for what you’re paying for.
Should I buy it?
If you’re using a phone such as the Xperia XZ currently (like I have been), then the XZ1 seems like a marginal upgrade. You’re getting a better processor, some fancy camera tricks, and a newer version of Android, but outside of this there’s little here to coax an upgrade.
On the other hand, if you’re using an older Xperia handset or a phone that’s still running Android 6.0, then this is a phone that you’ll certainly benefit from buying.
Not convinced with the Xperia XZ1? Here are some other alternatives that are worth looking at instead.
Samsung Galaxy S8
At AED 2,349 the Samsung Galaxy S8 may be priced closer to the Xperia XZ Premium, but its design will easily win you over.
Add to that the convenience of features like Samsung Pay, and you’ve got a really fantastic and attractive phone to work with.
Sure, you’ll lose out on features like slow-motion recording and the new 3D scanning that the Xperia XZ1 features, but it’s not something you’re going to lose sleep over.
- Read our in-depth Samsung Galaxy S8 review
Sony Xperia XZ Premium
A bigger and better screen for an additional AED 200? That’s what you’ll get with the Sony Xperia XZ Premium. If you’re a fan of lager screens, you’ll certainly appreciate the 4K HDR display and just how ridiculously good everything looks.
While the Xperia XZ1 does ship with Android 8.0, the Xperia XZ Premium is not far behind, so when the update eventually hits, you’ll have all the slick features that currently makes the Xperia XZ1 stand out.
- Read our in-depth Sony Xperia XZ Premium review
While it’s not out in the region yet, the LG V30 is a stunning smartphone, with nearly-invisible bezels and some serious power to show off.
You’re wandering into slightly larger display territory with this phone, but it won’t be too unwieldy – this is one slickly designed phones, and heads are sure to turn wherever you pull this bad boy out.
- Read our in-depth hands on LG V30 review
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