EARLY this year, Sony rolled out its most expensive smartphone to date — the Sony Xperia XZ Premium, priced at a whopping P45,490. It boasts top-tier features, including Bravia display technology, high-end processors and cutting-edge camera.
It’s a testament to Sony’s mission to keep pushing into the premium market by producing high-end smartphones designed to go head to head with those made by Apple and Samsung, presently the kings of flagship handsets.
When it was launched at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona back in February, the Xperia XZ Premium was such a showstopper that it was crowned “The Best New Smartphone” during the annual Global Mobile Awards (GloMo Awards). Sony Mobile President and CEO Hiroki Totoki even called the XZ Premium Sony’s “most technologically capable smartphone ever”.
Does the Xperia XZ Premium live up to its label? We took the handset for a test to see how it holds up.
Sony didn’t seem to spend too much time in the design department when it made the Xperia XZ Premium. It sports a pretty much standard Xperia body with the same boxy corners and rounded sides.
Compared to the Xperia XZ, which came out a year ago, the Xperia XZ Premium has a fancier, mirror-like finish. It’s encased in Corning Gorilla Glass 5 on both front and back panels, making the handset look like a thick sheet of reflective glass. Of course, a shiny surface only means one thing: fingerprint magnet. The case is certified IP65/68, which means the Xperia XZ Premium resists dusts and water spills, and can survive underwater for up to 1.5 meters deep.
The placement of buttons and ports are the same as that in earlier flagship models: you have the 3.5-mm headphone jack at the top end and the USB Type-C charging port at the base. The power button, which doubles as a fingerprint sensor, is found on the right side, along with barely noticeable volume controls and camera launcher button. The SIM and micro-SD tray can be found on the left side.
Powering up the phone reveals a 5.5-inch 4K HDR (high dynamic range) display, which Sony claims is a world-first. Back in 2015, Sony introduced the world’s first 4K smartphone, the Z5 Premium, which certainly upped the ante when it came to display technology. For the XZ Premium, Sony took it one step further by adding HDR support, which means the screen now offers a significantly wider range of brightness or contrast as well as colors and tones, making pictures look much more realistic.
This sounds impressive, but what’s disappointing is that Sony retained the thick bezels that diminish the screen real estate of most Xperia handsets (Hey Sony, would it hurt to to make the XZ Premium a bezel-less beauty to deliver a truly immersive viewing experience?).
Nevertheless, pictures do look sharp and vibrant on the XZ Premium screen*. Reds and blues pop out nicely and, if you squint a little and take a long hard look, you will notice that blacks appear deeper and whites brighter. Sure, the viewing experience is enjoyable but only when viewing 4K HDR content, which is still limited, at least in the free Internet. But for those who occasionally consume such content and use the phone mostly for functions other than entertainment, this feature may not be enough to convince them to buy the Xperia XZ.
The XZ Premium is quick to respond and doesn’t stutter during multi-tasking, thanks to the Snapdragon 835 chipset and 4 gigabyte of RAM under its hood. The only downside is that the back panel tends to heat up when the screen time reaches one hour or longer.
The phone’s battery (3,230 mAh) works great, even for power users. With activities like Internet browsing, playing multimedia, streaming content, and shooting videos and stills, the XZ Premium could last almost a day on a single charge. It could, however, drain faster if 4K native resolution is enabled.
Apart from its high end display that sets it apart from other equally expensive flagships, the XZ Premium also has a new camera trick to show off.
The XZ Premium comes with a 13 megapixel (MP) front- and a 19-MP rear shooters, which are really nothing out of the ordinary. But Sony throws in a new camera system called Motion Eye, which is capable of capturing 960 frames-per-second (fps) slow-motion video, something Sony claims is “four times slower than any other smartphone”.
On video mode, tapping the gear icon shows three options for shooting slow motion videos. The first is that it will shoot scenes at 120fps and offers the option to apply slow motion effects. The second option is that it will shoot 960fps in single shot, so you really have to time it well. The third is that it will shoot the entire moment at 960fps, but resolution drops to 720p.
Testing the one-shot slow motion feature was the most frustrating and most fun at the same time. It took us several failed attempts before we got the perfect footage. Timing was key as this setting only captures 2-3 seconds in 960fps slow motion once you press the button. But when you do it right, the results are amazing. What we learned about this feature overall is that it works best when shooting outdoors and in broad daylight. You may get decent footage indoors, but only in a controlled setting. Shoot in inadequate light and the video becomes grainy and noisy.
When it comes to shooting pictures, there’s not much to gush about. The Superior Auto setting takes pictures that are warm and vibrant, but again, using it to shoot indoors or in low-light conditions may produce unsatisfactory shots unless you switch to manual mode.
Despite the ‘wow’ factor some of its features might bring, the XZ Premium’s hefty price tag could still be intimidating for would-be buyers. At P45,490, some would at least expect an edge-to-edge screen that will truly showcase Sony’s best-in-class display technology. For that price, others would perhaps demand a better camera that captures great shots even in low-light settings.
For what it’s worth, the fact that the XZ Premium was able to grab everyone’s attention at this year’s MWC means that it still has a place in the game of high end flagships. It may not be for everyone, but there could still be smartphone users out there, looking for a fancy upgrade, who might find the XZ Premium appealing. If you’re a frequent consumer of 4K HDR content and you want something like a handheld version of a Sony Bravia TV, this phone could be right up your alley. — Mira Gloria
- Update: By the time this review comes out, Sony had already launched (and opened up pre-orders for) Sony Xperia XZ1, Sony’s latest flagship device that sports a 3D-scanning camera. The Xperia XZ1 will hit stores this month and will cost P39,990, which is less pricey than the XZ Premium.
- *Display resolution: Sony Xperia XZ Premium doesn’t run native 4K resolution except for selected apps like Netflix or YouTube. It means that it doesn’t run 4K all the time and this can be proven by downloading apps like AIDA64, which shows that the resolution is at 1080p most of the time. A modification is required (see YouTube tutorials on how to do this) to enable 4K resolution.
- DISCLOSURE: The review unit (Xperia XZ Premium-Deep Sea Black variant) was sent by Sony Mobile Philippines.