Sony Xperia XZ Premium 4K phone review
Sony Xperia XZ Premium smartphone£643
We broke the news that the Sony Xperia XZ Premium was up for pre-order back in March. The release date was set for June. Well, it’s now August and we’ve been living with one.
It has been quite a while since I’ve played with a Sony phone. In fact, it was 5 years ago. Although, it was the same phone that James Bond had.
Things have moved on quite a bit since then. The XZ Premium boasts a 4K display, the latest high-end processor in the engine-room and all the cleverness that Sony’s imaging heritage can muster, including super slow motion. It is also dust and water resistant.
On paper, it certainly looks like a premium phone. How does it handle in reality though?
Sony Xperia XZ Premium design
Curvy is pervy! Well, that’s what I’d like to think was the chant at the Sony Xperia design centre.
The XZ Premium (which I will shorten to XZP from time-to-time) is literally a slab. A very slender slab, but a slab nonetheless.
The top and bottom edges of the XZ Premium are metal.
The curved sides appear to be plastic. The unfortunate thing is that this is the bit your fingers touch most.
Here you’ll also find the volume rocker as well as dedicated camera button.
On the base of the handset there’s a USB-C port while, on top, there’s a headphone jack.
The front is mostly taken up by the 5.46-inch 4K display.
The XZ Premium measures 156 x 77 x 7.9mm, which means the screen could’ve been even larger. Instead, those somewhat oversized bezels are home to front firing stereo speakers.
I approve of the speaker placement but I still think there is still room for more screen / less bezel.
It certainly looks good, in any case.
Sony Xperia XZ Premium performance
As there’s the latest Snapdragon 835 chip under the hood mated with 4GB of RAM, it is not lacking power.
In fact, that line-up matches the Samsung Galaxy S8 and LG G6 in a drag race.
I ran the Geekbench 4 app on the XZ Premium and it averaged a multi-core score of 6,438.
This is all very well, but what does it actually mean in real life though?
Well, Android runs very smoothly, and apps are open swiftly. The Xperia XZ Premium will happily run multiple apps at the same time. You can even jump between those open apps without stuttering or lag.
The power button on the right of the handset falls nicely under thumb when held in your right hand, or finger of your left.
I am digging the novel placement of the fingerprint scanner here too. No separate button or sensor. Also, no entering a pin, pattern, or password either. Pins and patterns are still options, however.
The Xperia XZ Premium has been awarded an IP68 rating for dust and water resistance.
This means it’ll survive a dip in the bath and heavy rain. The IP protection only affords the phone protection up to depths of 1 meter in fresh water. It should stay out of the pool.
One of the things that enables the XZP’s IP68 rating is also something that I’m a bit in two minds about. The SIM and microSD flap and tray.
The plastic insert feels a little fragile compared with the rest of the phone’s build. This is where you slip in your microSD card. The separate SIM tray, which also resides beneath this protective flap, needs to be coaxed out with a fingernail.
Granted, there should be no real reason for you to be constantly opening this and fiddling with your SIM, but if you want to keep that water resistance, I’d recommend keeping this shut once SIM and microSD card are in place.
The single sensor and software still ticks all the boxes: HDR, face detection, EIS (electronic image stabilisation), predictive phase detection and laser autofocus.
OK, OIS (optical image stabilisation) would have been preferable as EIS can degrade the image. But this is still an impressive snapper.
This is all before we get to the XZ Premium’s real party piece – super slow motion.
Slow mo videos
This impressive offering can capture footage at a staggering 960fps. In comparison, the slow motion modes on the iPhone 7 (and 7 Plus) and Samsung Galaxy S8 (and S8 Plus) record at 240fps.
That means the XZ Premium gives you even slower footage. However, there is a definite knack in capturing those moments and it certainly helps to have great light.
My humble offering gives a flavour of what can be achieved but those who have had more time to play with it have much better results.
There are three different slow motion modes to choose from.
The entry-level Slow Motion option records at just 120fps, but gives you the added benefit of applying the slow motion effect after recording your video.
This means you can pinpoint the exact moment you want to slow down after filming, without having get the timing just right when shooting live.
Slow mo modes
The two super modes, Super Slow (one-shot) and Super Slow Motion, require you to capture your snippet of 960fps footage while recording. However, you can’t edit the slow motion section of your video afterwards.
As you probably noticed in the clip above, when you go slo mo there’s no audio.
- Super Slow (one-shot) makes things easier. All you have to do is tap the shutter key once and the XZ Premium will capture a five-second clip at 960fps. This does mean you don’t get any normal-speed video either side of your clip, but you’re likely to get a better slow motion result.
- The Super Slow Motion mode is the full package. Select it and hit record and you’ll be filming at 720p, but an extra button appears on-screen. Tap it at any point while you’re recording and the XZ Premium will grab a quick super-slow-motion clip before immediately resuming normal-speed recording. It can be difficult to get the timing right, but when you do you a rewarded with pro-looking Super Slow Motion footage.
What I found was that, as the slow-motion footage is recorded at 720p, clarity can suffer a little. This is especially so in some low light or indoors situations. This results in grainy footage. Get a good day outside or a well lit indoor environment though, and the Xperia XZ Premium produces arguably the best slow-motion footage of any smartphone currently out there.
Moving to the more day-to-day snaps, the XZP is a great performer.
Sony’s default Intelligent Auto mode is handy and is able to adapt to the lighting environment you’re in. Most shots are well-exposed, and with the laser autofocus you generally get high detail with minimal blurring.
Moving objects are also handled with ease thanks to Sony’s predictive phase detection, which can follow targets to ensure they’re always in focus.
I do like that you get a dedicated physical camera button. Its two-stage operation allows you to focus your shot by pressing the button half way down, and then take the snap when fully pressed. Just like a DSLR.
Most days when I had the XZP were a bit overcast, hopefully these show what average shots look like.
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You can always go manual though. This allows you to fine tune the focus, exposure, white balance and shutter speed.
The focus control is especially useful, and easy to use. Simply by adjusting the slider on the side of the display.
There is a selection of camera choices hidden away in the menu, this is where you will discover the option for capturing 4K video. Whilst here you will find panorama and the bonkers AR Effect.
The latter overlays volcanoes, dinosaurs, equips you with laser eyes, that kind of thing. Fun for the short term.
I have no doubt if you have time to spend your shots will look much better than my hasty snaps. Sony’s post production skills produces nice and natural images. They might not pop as those from the latest Samsungs do, but I prefer realism.
My one minor gripe is that it sometimes over sharpens images, especially if you go for shallow depth of field shots. In Bokeh, you don’t really need the blurred background images sharpened, but the XZP really wants to. Check out the background of the rose, above.
If you’re going to use the Xperia XZ Premium to capture 4K video, you should have a decent screen to watch it on. Fortunately, the XZP is loaded with a 5.46-inch 4K HDR display.
That equates to a resolution of 3840 x 2160. So, when stretched over 5.46-inches, this gives you a peeper-pleasing pixel per inch density of 807.
To put that in perspective, the Infinity Display on the Galaxy S8 manages 570ppi, while the LG G6 gives up 564ppi. It really does look good.
Watching 4K content on the Xperia XZ Premium is possibly one of the best visual experiences you can get from a smartphone. You might, however, spend more time tracking 4K content down than watching it though.
Sony will argue that the XZ Premium is future-proofed, as 4K content will only increase in availability – which could be true I guess.
My only question is that, on a screen this size, would Quad HD be just as good? I would be interested in seeing this side-by-side with a Samsung S8.
The front-facing stereo speakers hint at the XZP’s audio skills.
The XZ Premium’s speakers use S-Force:
S-Force Front Surround gives you the experience of a natural three-dimensional sound field – so you can enjoy virtual surround sound with your two front speakers.”
I think that might be pushing it slightly. Although, the speakers are capable of kicking out decent audio, albeit not at room-filling volume.
However, plug in a set of headphones and the XZ Premium treats your lugholes to some loving. This is thanks to audio-enhancing technology and Automatic Headphone Optimisation. The latter adjusts the sound output to suit the type of headphones you’ve plugged in.
You also get the Digital Sound Enhancement Engine HX (DESS HX). Sony says that even those compressed files in your playlist will sound better, as
DSEE HX lifts them up so they’re closer to studio quality.”
Again, not totally convinced by this promise. But, music through my Oppo PM-3, some Noble Trident IEMs (review to follow) as well as some iFrogz Dual Driver Wireless earphones (also an upcoming review) sounded pretty great.
On-board is LDAC for when you go wireless. LDAC apparently transfers three times more audio data than normal Bluetooth, so every note is crystal-clear. I didn’t notice three-times more data coming though, but it does sound good.
This was always a weak spot as far as me and Sony phones were concerned. I applaud the fact that it has tidied up its Android overlay.
Now what you get is not that far removed from vanilla Android, and it is so much better for it.
Under this new, slick Sony coating is Android 7 Nougat.
Sony still adds a number of its own apps alongside the expected suite of Android ones though.
Some are useful, such as the Livelog app and video-editing Movie Creator. However, the Email, Music, Album and Video ones basically duplicate the core functions of their Android counterparts.
Then there are Sony’s What’s New and Xperia Lounge apps. These push content, downloads, apps and games, as well as a competitions and news to you.
On the plus side, you can disable most of these apps if you decide you don’t want them.
The user experience is pretty much exemplary. Flicking around, in and out of apps, and trying to confuse its screen rotation, hardly had the XZP missing a beat.
The Sony Xperia XZ Premium comes with a 3230mAh non-removable battery packed inside its 7.9mm-thick body.
It is by no way the largest cell out there, but it does beat phones such as the Galaxy S8 that’s equipped with just a 3000mAh power pack.
As the saying goes though, it’s not what you’ve got, it’s how you use it. The XZ Premium saw me through a ‘normal’ day of use on a single charge. I am ignoring the days when I was benchmarking, taking and deleting video and photos, and all that kind of malarkey.
On a day with a couple of hours of music playback, some general social updates, calls, texts, browsing, and a couple of snaps, there would still be around 15% charge left as I placed it on my bedside table. My days are long, too.
Naturally, spanking it with hi res video is going to dramatically lower its stamina. Thankfully the XZ Premium has a few tricks up its sleeve to help you out.
Firstly it supports Quick Charge 3.0. As the name suggests, it will replenish the battery faster than a standard charger. Actually four times faster. Handy if you’re about to head out the door but notice your phone is lacking.
Unlike some brands, Sony does equip you with the necessary charging block in order for you to take advantage of the speedy top-up.
Of course, there’s Stamina Mode too. This extends battery life by reducing background data and screen brightness, as well as disabling some functions. It’s set to activate when your battery hits 15% by default, but you can manually override this.
If you’re really struggling, however, you can call upon Ultra Stamina Mode. This basically turns your smartphone in to a feature phone. Here you’ll be restricted to nine core apps and a simplified interface. In return, you get long enough to call a taxi or finish off that killer response on Facebook.
Sony Xperia XZ Premium review conclusion
The Sony Xperia XZ Premium is an impressive handset. You get an excellent 4K display, as well as plenty of power to drive it. There is also a great camera and solid battery life. All these come together to make a suitably amazing top-level smartphone.
However, it also comes with a suitably top-level smartphone price tag too.
This puts it amongst some very tough competition. Samsung Galaxy S8, LG G6, HTC U11 and iPhone 7, kind of competition.
Its bezels, no matter how handy they are when playing games ot taking photos, might knock it back a bit.
I do like how the XZP looks. But, this is down to personal taste at the end of the day.
The shiny finish loves your fingerprints so much it will hold on to them. Thanks to a good oleophobic surface, they wipe off easily.
The 4K HDR screen is incredible – when you find some 4K content to play on it. Until then, at least it might still score you bragging points down the local.
The camera is a definite strong point, as is the super slow motion video capture – put in a little work and you should get some amazing results.
The XZ Premium delivers large on display, camera, power and battery life. It is definitely the best Sony smartphone you can lay your hands on.
You do get plenty of bang for your buck if you’re a Sony fan or dare not to follow the herd.
Sony Xperia XZ Premium price and availability
You can buy the XZP outright direct from Sony for £649. It comes in Deep Sea Black (a rather nice dark blue), Luminous Chrome (practically a mirror finish), and Bronze Pink.
Amazon UK has it unlocked for £643 with free next day delivery if you have Prime.
On Vodafone for £30 upfront and £58 per month you get 32GB of data, unlimited minutes and texts, as well as 24 months free subscription to Spotify, Sky Sports or Now TV.