The Sony XZ Premium is Sony’s new flagship smartphone, part of its renamed mobile portfolio, the Xperia XZ series. The premium successor of the Xperia XZ, launched at IFA 2016 last September, the new handset comes in a larger and shinier body.
The key innovations are the 4K HDR 5.5-inch display (resolution), the 3-layers 19 MP rear camera sensor with stacked memory, announced by Sony at the beginning of the month, and the latest and fastest Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, unveiled at CES 2017.
Since Samsung seems to get a three months exclusivity for the Snapdragon 835, may be because the Korean company partnered with Qualcomm to manufacture the SoC, the Sony XZ Premium will only be available in late spring, for an undisclosed price.
I played briefly with the new Sony flagship and here are my first impressions:
Pros: excellent rear camera with new 3-layer sensor, promising front camera with high resolution, excellent 4K HDR display, latest Snapdragon 835 SoC, elegant and thin design
Cons: no fingerprint reader for the US market
Bottom line: we still need to see how it compares with competitors that will launch in the next few months, but so far this phone is quite impressive, and delivers a unique camera and display experience (on the paper and from a very brief encounter).
What’s New: Xperia XZ vs. Xperia XZ Premium
The XZ Premium gets more of a flagship feel than the previous XZ model, which is probably the predecessor of the Xperia XZ S, launched alongside its larger Premium sibling at MWC 2017.
The larger 5.5-inch display has been upgraded from a 1080p to a 4K resolution with HDR (high Dynamic range) for better contrast and wider color gamut. Just like the XZ the new XZ S has a 5.2-inch display – read the article for more detail on the Sony Xperia XZ S.
The XZ features a Snapdragon 820, one of the top Qualcomm processors of last year, while the XZ Premium is powered by the Snapdragon 835. And it gets way more RAM: 4GB, a good upgrade from the 3GB of the XZ.
The front camera module is brand new, with a 3-layered 1/ 2.3” sensor that enables a few new features for a slightly lower resolution of 19 MP (vs. 23 MP for the XZ) – read the camera paragraph for more information.
Industrial Design (Excellent)
What’s sets Sony’s flagship apart from the current competitors, is its super shiny body, and the Luminous Chrome model could be easily used as a mirror. The rounded edges on the sides and the sleek design deliver a quite elegant look, and it feels comfortable in the palm.
The metal antenna at the top and the bottom flat edges are perfectly integrated and thus, the back cover has a unified texture, unlike the mid-range XA1 series. The top and bottom bezels are quite large, which means that the display to body ratio is low compared to the competitors.
The Premium feel is certainly due to the 2.5D curved Gorilla Glass 5, covering both the back and the front of the device. And it is surprising to know that such a thin beauty is also IP65 and IP68 dust tight, water jets resistant and immersion resistant, at 1 m. Learn more about waterproof IP ratings.
At the bottom, you will find the USB 3.1 -Type C connector that enables 5GB/s data transfer speed and Sony kept the 3.5mm audio jack at the top.
The power button on the side acts as a fingerprint sensor, for the rest of the world, but not for the US market, and Sony did not disclose the reason. We suspect that Sony tries to reduce its bill of materials, and to do so, the manufacturer remove various components in different depending on usage or priorities.
Display (Very Good)
The star of the show is certainly the 5.5-inch 4K HDR IPS LCD (High Dynamic Range) touch display that delivers an excellent image quality with bright colors and deep contrasts.
I snapped a photo of a colored scene that was set up in the briefing room and the photo displayed on the screen is gorgeous (see photo). In that regard, it tells a lot about the great quality of both the display and the camera.
19 MP rear camera with Motion Eye 3-layer sensor
The rear camera is the second star of the show with its “world’s first” memory stacked sensor for smartphone, the brand new Motion Eye sensor created by Sony. Sony added a DRAM layer to the conventional 2-layer CMOS image sensor to deliver fast data transfer, at 25 Gbps instead of the regular 5 Gbps speed.
“World’s First” Super Slow Motion Video in Smartphone (Excellent)
The Motion Eye is a large 1/ 2.3” sensor (7.7mm diagonal), larger than competitive smartphone’s sensors, according to Sony, and is able to deliver super slow motion movies at up to 1,000 frames per second (approximately 8x faster than conventional products*) in full HD (1920×1080 pixels) – thanks to its DRAM layer. Check the the second part of the video demo above, you will see how Super Slow Motion works.
This makes the XZ Premium the “world’s first smartphone to feature super slow motion video”, which effectively capture 960 frames per second for two seconds during any video recording session. Users have to tap the Super Slow Motion icon on the screen to trigger the 2-second capture. The demo of the feature during the meeting worked well.
Previously, Sony had cameras that captured at 960 FPS (equivalent to a 40X slow-motion) with the RX100 IV and RX10 II. It is amazing to see this technology make its way into phones.
High-speed anti-distortion shutter
The Motion Eye can read one photo of 19.3 million pixels in only 1/120 second, enabling what Sony calls the “corrective rolling shutter” or “high-speed anti-distortion shutter”.
Traditional smartphone sensors usually deliver distortion in shots of fast moving objects, because the readout of the image signal is faster than the object in motion, and not slower. Slower readout than the motion causes the image distortion.
In this mode, the camera captures the photo before the user pushes the shutter button, and shoot several pictures of the same scene, so you can select the best one.
*according to the manufacturer
Image Quality (very good)
I shot a photo from a scene set up in the room where we were playing with the new Sony smartphones, and the photo quality was excellent when displayed on the screen. We did not try low light shooting or other type of conditions, however that first result looks extremely promising. Knowing that Sony sells its sensors to a broad range of device manufacturers, including Nikon, we could expect great results.
Camera responsiveness (very good)
When shooting photos in regular lighting conditions, the camera autofocus and shutter speed were very good.
13 MP front camera with 1/ 3” sensor
Most high-end smartphones deliver 5MP to 8MP on the front shooter, and iSony is pushing the envelope here with a quite large 1/ 3” sensor size (6 mm diagonal) with 13Mp resolution.
Processor / SoC and Performance (Excellent)
The vast amount of pixels need a beefy processor to be moved around at high speed, and with its overall 20% to 25% performance increase, the new octa-core 64-bit Snapdragon 835 is perfect for the job. Qualcomm claims a 50% performance increase on the CPU side and 25% on the GPU side. We have not run the benchmarks yet, so we cannot vouch for this until April when the first device with the processor will be introduced to the market.
In fact, the new Adreno 540 GPU supports HDR10, which is a standard for the next-generation video content with High Dynamic Range (HDR) in 10-bit color. Snapdragon 835 devices are “UltraHD Premium Ready”, a TV/Video standard backed by large companies.
I guess that is the reason why the XZ Premium features a 4K HDR display, since Sony has always been big about playing the content exactly the way it was intended to be seen. With the new GPU, we can also expect higher performance for mobile gaming, specifically for 3D games.
Thanks to the integrated x16 modem (4×4 MIMO / LTE Cat16), the device is 4G LTE Gigabit compatible, so if you live in Sydney where the world’s first LTE Gigabit network by carrier Telstra rolled out a few weeks ago, you could enjoy up to 1GBps download speed. When there are a lot of simultaneous connections it is more likely to get 400 MBps or 300 MBps. According to Qualcomm several operators are testing their own infrastructure right now, but no exact timeframe for potential launches was provided.
On the data transfer side, besides the USB 3.1 connector that offers 5 Gbps speed for external transfer, the Universal Flash Storage (UFS) offers high-speed internal memory access at 1.5GB/s (!!), 3X the speed of the traditional eMMC internal memory.
The XZ premium comes with 64GB internal memory, 4G RAM and a microSD slot for up to 256GB of extended memory.
While playing with the phone, the Android 7.0-powered user interface was fast and responsive.
Battery (Very Good)
With a smartphone packed with such great performance, the high capacity 3230 mAh is necessary to sustain the power needs of the processor moving a lot of pixels in the 4K display. That said, Qualcomm claims that the Snapdragon 835 is 50% more power efficient than the 821, which is a huge number, and such improvement enables longer battery life even with power-hungry features.
We can expect the Japanese manufacturer to have improved the power management, with the upgraded version of its battery Stamina feature that now uses machine learning to save battery life, by learning your habits and optimizing power consumption accordingly.
Pricing & Availability
The Xperia XZ Premium will be available in late Spring, in 2 color version: Deep Sea Black and Luminous Chrome. There was no word regarding the price, it will be announced later.
Conclusion (Very Good)
The Xperia XZ Premium is a highly fashionable smartphone that packs impressive performance, specifically on the camera side, a competitive advantage for Sony which has manufactured the top image sensors for smartphones for a number of years.
Both cameras deliver top resolution, much better than a number of current high-end competitive devices, with 19 MP on the rear and 13 MP on the selfie side. On that front, the Sony XZ Premium surpasses the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus (12 MP, 7 MP), the defunct Galaxy Note 7 (12 MP and 5 MP) equipped with an excellent rear camera and the LG V20 (16 MP, 5 MP).
Besides high pixel count, Sony offers the world’s first Super Slow Motion video capture at 960 fps in 1080p resolution, a high-speed anti-distortion shutter, and predictive capture, Thanks to its new 3-layer Motion Eye image sensor.
Powered by the powerful Snapdragon 835, the fastest SoC from Qualcomm, which improves power efficiency by 50%, CPU performance by 50% and GPU performance by 25%, the device delivers an impressive 4K HDR experience on the display, with deep contrasts and a broad color gamut.