Business Technology

Tuesday 17 October 2017

Sony's XZ Premium: for a real big-screen adventure

Tech review: Sony XZ Premium, free on contract or €699 prepay from Vodafone

Sony XZ
Sony XZ

Sony smartphones have always impressed in one thing: their cameras. From the very start, the lenses and sensors put into Xperia handsets were on par or better than those of Samsungs and iPhones. This is partly because Sony makes the sensors for many rival smartphones (including the iPhone).

So the camera was the first thing I opened when I got my hands on the XZ Premium, Sony's new flagship phone with a 5.5-inch screen.

What I found was an excellent cameraphone lens. However, the gap in image quality it once might have had over Samsungs and iPhones is now gone. The images from the 19-megapixel rear camera are as sharp as you can get from a phone. But the colours and (in particular) the contrast aren't better than you'll get on the big two (iPhone 7 and Samsung S8).

That said, what it does have is considerably more tech behind its camera which contributes to features the other phones can't match.

The most eye-catching of these is its super slowmotion video facility. This allows the XZ Premium to film at 960 frames per second. This is quite a huge jump on slow-motion rates available on other phones, which are usually maximised at 240 frames per second. It means you can slow down a ball in flight.

The only catch is that it's a bit tricky to use this feature. The phone asks you to press the record button a second time when recording and then records one second of super slow motion by default. It took me a while to get the hang of it: I suspect most people might be put off. Sony needs to make this experience a little smoother.

Even though it will mean little to many reading this review, it's worth mentioning here that Sony has built a triple-stacked sensor into this cameraphone, which gives it a lot more power than most phones. It especially helps with features such as autofocusing, which matters a great deal if you're relying on your phone to take photos at events.

There's also a nice amount of storage (64GB) by default for all those photos and videos.

The XZ Premium has more going on than just its camera. Least of these is its 5.5-inch ultra-HD (4K) display. 4K is great on 50-inch TVs but almost meaningless on a 5.5-inch screen. Still, pixel-peepers will love it.

The phone has a very distinctive look. It's very, very shiny. The silver model I had featured a near-mirror casing. Indeed, that was its most apparent accessorising purpose outside its tech features. The downside to this is that it's a bit of smudge-magnet.

The XZ's design is very angular. It has pronounced corners. The risk here is that it is more likely to tear the inside of your pocket or bag over time. (I already have some loose pocket threats caused by different smartphones, all of whose curves are more rounded than the sharp XZ Premium corners.)

On the other hand, Sony's design on this phone screams 'premium'. If Samsung has the most innovative phone design at present (with its 'infinity screen'), this Sony XZ Premium definitely looks the poshest. It could even be described as 'bling'. The physical design is not all aesthetics. The XZ Premium is fully waterproof (to a depth of a metre), meaning you can take photos or shoot video underwater with it.

I found the gadget's (3,230mAh) battery life to be pretty decent, usually lasting all day with fairly constant usage throughout.

The XZ Premium has one other practical advantage over its Samsung and Apple (and even HTC or Huawei) rivals - its price. Sony appears to have adopted a very aggressive strategy here, pitching the XZ Premium at €699.

That's a good €200 cheaper than the similarly-sized, similarly specced iPhone 7 Plus or Samsung S8 Plus. One might argue that Sony no longer has the brand-power of Samsung or Apple in the phone business. Still, it makes for real competition here. At that price, the XZ Premium is a very real alternative to both of the top two handsets.

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