Positioned as an enthusiast phone just below Sony’s XPERIA XZ Premium, the new Sony XPERIA XZ1 displaces last year’s XZ model. It comes with the same 960 FPS video camera experience introduced with the XZ Premium. Designed to be price $100 below the XZ Premium, the XPERIA XZ1 is priced at $700. To achieve this, Sony is using a 1080p display and reduced the battery capacity among other small tweaks to segment its line of products. We’ve had some hands-on time with the product, here are our impressions.
- 2” FHD HDR Display (vs. 5.5”/4K for Premium XZ)
- 19 Megapixel Camera with Motion-Eye Sensor, 960 FPS video recording, 3D scans
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, 4GB RAM, 64GB storage
- 2700 mAh battery
- IP68 water-resistance, 148 x 73 x 7.4mm, 156g
- $700 (vs. $800 Premium XZ)
The XPERIA ZX1 follows the same design language as the XZ Premium. Because it is smaller and a little thinner, the XPERIA ZX1 feels more comfortable than the XZ Premium (I wear M-size US gloves).
Sony uses a full-metal frame, and I always liked how different recent XPERIA phones looked with their angular/boxy design. The lines are pure, and the colors are often selected with taste. The surface treatment of the high-end phones matches their price. There are a lot of good things to be said about Sony’s designs.
However, there are also some technical things that I think the company should improve upon. Aesthetics aside, the XPERIA phones tend to have a much lower screen-to-body ratio than other phones within the same price range. The ratio between size and battery also doesn’t play in Sony’s favor.
It’s true that the XPERIA XZ1 has a stereo dual front speaker setup. That is the absolute best speaker setup when it comes to sound quality. However, it doesn’t completely justify the phone’s size, and I’m not sure that it is a great trade off when you see the wave of screen-only phones which started to hit with LG G6, S8, Note 8 and soon iPhone 8…
To draw a comparison, Sony’s 5.2-inch XPERIA XZ1 has about the same size as the new LG V30 6-inch HD display…
There isn’t a fingerprint scanner in the US version of the phone. This is not due to technical limitations, but rather to some legalities that Sony has to work around. International version might have the fingerprint unlock feature.
Sony has been one of the first Android phone OEMs to introduce water-resistance with an IP68 rating. The XPERIA XZ1, of course, has this feature which is a must-have in Japan.
The 5.2” 1920×1080 LCD is bright enough to support HDR playback (high dynamic range). I’m not yet sure what certification Sony has (HDR10/Dolby Vision), but we’ll check on that later. At launch time, the phone will be able to play HDR content from Netflix and Hulu. HDR makes a significant contribution to content playback if the movie has been authored in HDR.
Multimedia aside, bright screens are great when you are using the phone outdoor on a sunny day. Many phones come with a ~300 NITs brightness. Although Sony doesn’t mention the brightness level, it’s probably beyond 600 NIT to be an HDR mobile display.
Sony uses its TRILUMINOS technology, which is based on Quantum Dots technology. Quantum Dots are electrically-charged crystal particles that can bend light waves and provide some control on the color hues. As a result, it makes it possible for the display to boost color saturation well beyond the level of a non quantum dot LCD.
This handset also uses X-Reality, which is an image processing methodology developed by Sony. The idea here is to separate different layers of the image and enhance them with the best algorithm depending on their nature. Once enhanced, all layers are re-composed to form the final, beautified image.
All of this contributes to having a very good LCD display. By nature, such displays can’t reach the black levels of OLED screens, but with the technologies above, Sony is capable of very high quality in the LCD space.
At the $700 price level, most competitors will have high-PPI displays with larger sizes
- Learn more: LCD vs. OLED. Which is Best And Why?
- Learn more: What is PPI?
- Learn more: High PPI displays: do you really need them?
The XPERIA XZ1 has a 19 Megapixel camera with a Sony Exmor RS sensor equipped with 1GB of on-board memory to shoot 960FPS video. It has an optical stabilization and an anti-distortion shutter.
Opinon: What’s a Great Mobile Camera Experience?
Learn more: What is Image Stabilization?
The most impressive technical feature of the XPERIA is the 960 FPS video recording. This is a feat introduced with the XPERIA Premium, which is now slowly trickling down in the line-up. At the same time, the feature is not entirely easy or intuitive to use in the real world. Because 960 FPS produces an insane amount of data, even with the 1GB of memory directly stacked on the sensor, you can only record a very short time.
In addition to this, you must be already recording a “normal-speed” video before you can activate the 960 FPS recording. The short lag between tap and 960FPs switch isn’t known, but it adds some difficulty to the process. Although you can shoot amazing slow-mo videos, the process is challenging, even in a staged environment.
Because the camera is fast, there’s a burst-mode couple with a predictive autofocus (AF). This is particularly useful to capture subjects that come towards or away from you because the focus might need to change at every frame. Sony’s predictive AF works by estimating the object’s position for the next frame so it can activate the AF motors and be ready. That is why it needs to be predictive.
Sony has added a cool 3D-scanning feature that lets people take a bunch of photos of a person or an object, then turns the photos into a 3D model. Since the pictures are shot in high-resolution, the model and texture produced in 3D are surprisingly beautiful.
The user interface is intuitive, and all you have to do is follow the guide which will tell you exactly how to take the photo. Super-easy. What you do with the 3D models is the real question. I’m not sure that they can be easily exported to apps such as Maya, 3DS max or even game engines.
The 2700 mAh battery has a decent size but feels a little under-powered in the $700 price range. With many competitors at that price boasting battery sides of 3000-3500 mAh, it’s difficult to be happy, even though one may be content. The XZ Premium has a 3230 mAh battery.
Regarding battery capacity in relation to the size of the phone, at 553 mAh/CI (cubic-inches) the XPERIA XZ1 sits right between the Galaxy S8+ (605 mAh/CI) and the Galaxy Note 8 (519 mAh/CI). The thing is, these phones have displays of 5.8 and 6.3 inches respectively.
Sony is somewhat compensating this with proprietary software features such as Smart STAMNIA Battery Care and Qnovo Adaptive Charging. However, there isn’t a good way to assess their actual effect. Some of these strategies could be used without branding by other OEMs.
Fast-charging is present with Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0, and that should help things out if you have frequent access to a plug. There is not integrated wireless charging.
System Performance and OS
Android 8.0 “O”
The XPERIA XZ1 will be one of the first handsets to ship with Android 8 (codenamed O for Oreo). There are a lot of features in this new release, but two are of importance. First, Google is (finally) clamping down on background app activity, partly because battery life is under assault from all those apps that keep wanting to know what the current location is, etc. This is incredibly battery intensive.
Secondly, the framework to integrate drivers from silicon vendors such as Qualcomm, Huawei or Mediatek will decouple device software from operating system code. This may lead to better and faster upgrade processes and cycles. At this point, we’re not sure what the real impact will be, but this creates a lot of potential.
Going with the leading Android hardware platform is always a good idea, and that’s exactly what the Snapdragon 835 SoC is today. It is used quasi-universally in high-end Android phones, with some exception such as the Samsung Exynos version of the Galaxy Series-8 devices, and Huawei high-end phones. Both those companies also produce their own chips.
Snapdragon 835 brings a great deal of computational power on the table, especially when it comes to photo and 3D graphics, two things that Sony is particularly interested in. Without a doubt, in terms of speed and capabilities, the XPERIA XZ1 will rank with the best there is on Android.
Snapdragon 835 also bring Gigabit-class LTE speeds if your carrier has a compatible network. Not only peak speeds would be significantly faster, but the overall network will be more available as more people move to better LTE devices.
Learn more: what is a SoC or System On a Chip?
The Sony XPERIA XZ1 is a beautiful handset that has an attractive design and “out of the box” ideas. The powerful camera sensor and the new capabilities such as 3D scanning spark the imagination and are a wow factor.
Sony is right in analyzing that users want formidable camera capabilities, but in general, this means excellent low-light photography, and a great photo experience in general. Wide angle and portrait photography are also relatively understood. However, Sony is trying to create a new market for extraordinary camera features that people aren’t asking for, yet.
I’m not sure that Sony will be able to compete effectively in the $700 space. With the Galaxy S8 and S8+ 64GB selling at ~$675 unlocked, the XPERIA XZ1 is facing a very tough pricing environment. The LG G6 64GB now sells for ~$510 unlocked. I could continue to go on, but you got the picture. Unless you really want something that only Sony offers, there are a lot of attractive alternatives out there.
It’s true that Sony phones often have unique features, but it seems hard to believe that the brand can command such a pricing power in the current market. This handset will be available on Sep 19.