Sony Xperia XZ1 review: 3D-scanning phone is solid but uninspiring
Given the smartphone saturation in the current market, making a phone stand out is something of a tall order, and it can culminate in some questionable design decisions. HTC attempted it with the U11‘s squeezable frame, which added very little to what was already a very good smartphone.
Sony made a better stab at it with 960fps ultra-slow-motion video in the Xperia XZ Premium, and now the firm is back for more with the Sony Xperia XZ1, a mid-high-end 5.2in smartphone with the capacity for 3D image scanning.
Sony Xperia XZ1 review: Design
If you think that’s a gimmick too far, you’re right. But I’ll get onto that later in the review. For now, let’s focus on the XZ1’s capabilities as a smartphone, because it turns out that it’s actually quite good.
First things first: the Xperia XZ1 is not an eyesore. In fact, it’s pretty aesthetically pleasing for a smartphone, comprising a completely flat front and flat rear, gently rounded side and sharply cut-off top and bottom edges.[gallery:3]
From a distance, it looks like the Xperia XZ Premium, the key difference being that the rear isn’t clad in glass, but matte-finish metal. It isn’t revolutionary, but it does feel a touch more robust than Sony’s top-end effort and, because it’s a little smaller than that phone, its sharp corners are less likely to catch on your pocket linings.
The biggest issue isn’t with the way it looks, though, it’s that it’s simply too big for its screen size. The Xperia XZ1 has a screen that measures 5.2in across the diagonal and yet, when it comes to its overall measurements, it’s only a tiny fraction smaller than rivals with larger displays. The OnePlus 5, for instance, has a 5.5in display and works out less than half a centimetre taller than the XZ1. It’s barely any wider and a good sight slimmer as well.
Still, the Sony is a practical phone. Although the battery is non-removable and there’s no dual-SIM support, it has a microSD slot for expanding the storage; there’s a dedicated two-stage camera button on the right-hand edge; and the phone is dust- and water-resistant to IP68, so it’s as ruffty-tuffty as a Samsung Galaxy S8.
Finally, as with other Sony handsets, there’s a fingerprint reader built into the indented power button on the right edge, too.[gallery:1]
Sony Xperia XZ1 review: Display
The 1,920 x 1,080, 5.2in display might not boast the highest pixel count, but its pixel density is perfectly fine at 424ppi. Unless you push your nose right up against it, you won’t be able to spy any pixels. At this resolution, it won’t be the best phone in the world to plonk in a VR headset but, for most purposes, it’s absolutely spot on.
By default, the display looks extra vivid, but it’s a bit too much in my opinion. Skin tones take on an orange David Dickinson glow in this mode – everyone looks as if they’ve just walked off the set of The Only Way is Essex. Fortunately, there are a couple of less in-your-face modes: Standard and Professional, the latter of which has been calibrated to target the sRGB colour space. In this mode, menus and homescreen graphics look less intense, but the screen is super-accurate across the board.
Readability in bright conditions is great, with a peak brightness of 539cd/m2, and the contrast ratio is also impressive, reaching 1,313:1. This is a fine display, make no mistake about it.[gallery:9]
Sonty Xperia XZ1 Premium review: Performance and software
Hardware-wise, there’s more good news. The phone runs the Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 chip, the top-end SoC from the US chip giant, which also powers the OnePlus 5. There’s 64GB of storage, which can be boosted via microSD card, 4GB of RAM, and – excitingly – the device runs Android 8 Oreo.
It’s the first phone we’ve seen with the new OS, although as usual Sony is using its own launcher overlay. This adds extra organisational features to the app drawer, among other nice-to-have extras such as Sony Remote Play, which allows you to stream gameplay from your PlayStation to the screen of the phone. Otherwise, though, it’s a reasonably subtle tweak.[gallery:4]
When it comes to performance, the XZ1 is a winner. As you’d expect, the Snapdragon 835 puts it right at the top of the tree, alongside such behemoths as the Samsung Galaxy S8 and the HTC U11 and, thanks to its lower-resolution 1080p display, native graphics performance is superior to those phones as well.
Battery life is disappointing, unfortunately, and that’s surprising for Sony phone, let alone one with a Snapdragon 835 onboard. The Sony Xperia XZ1 lasted longer than its bigger, pricier sibling in our video-rundown test – at 11hrs 53mins – but that result is still mediocre when compared with the mighty OnePlus 5, which lasted 20hrs 40mins in the same test, and the Samsung Galaxy S8, which lasted 16hrs 45mins.
Sony Xperia XZ1 review: Camera and 3D scanning
When it comes to the camera, the Xperia XZ1 holds up well on paper compared with rivals. The resolution is 19 megapixels with an f/2 aperture; it has electronic image stabilisation for smooth video capture and “predictive” phase-detect and laser autofocus systems for quick, reliable shooting in good and low-light conditions.
It takes perfectly good photos, too, as most modern smartphones do. Images are wonderfully detailed in good light, courtesy of the 19-megapixel sensor. There’s a tendency for the software to over-sharpen the details a bit as with the Sony XZ Premium but, by and large, you should be happy with the results.[gallery:10]
^ The Sony Xperia XZ1’s shot on the left is sharp with good colours but it’s marred by over-sharpening and image-compression artefacts. The OnePlus 5 image on the right is softer, but not quite as splotchy (click the image and hit the View Fullscreen button to zoom in)
In low light the camera performs well, but not brilliantly. Images demonstrate evidence of visible noise, made worse by the phone’s sharpening algorithm, and some areas of white show odd pink blobs. Overall, quality is fractionally better than the OnePlus 5 (remember, though, this phone has a more flexible, dual-camera setup), but it isn’t as good as the Samsung Galaxy S8 or the Google Pixel.
As for the phone’s 3D image scanning feature, that’s a bit of a mixed bag, too. It works simply enough: just point the rear camera at an object of your choice – faces, food, they’re all viable subjects – follow the dotted lines onscreen, and tap to confirm once you’ve finished.
All the post-processing is, impressively, performed on the device itself and after you’ve captured your object you can export the file for printing out at home if you happen to have a 3D printer on hand.
The question is, is this something you should pay good money for? I’m not convinced. The process is slow and fiddly, and good results are somewhat hard to come by. You need a steady hand, patience (not something I have in abundance) and a good amount of space around your subject so you can circle it, and even then you’re not guaranteed a flawless scan. Even after multiple attempts, the scans of my head looked terrible (even more so than usual).
It’s good for a laugh if all you want is an icebreaker at a party, but Sony is going to have to work harder than this if it wants to sell more smartphones. The XZ Premium’s super-slow-motion mode is a better gimmick than this.
Sony Xperia XZ1 review: Verdict
That’s not to say you shouldn’t buy a Sony Xperia XZ1, though. It’s a fine specimen, with a superb screen, a decent camera in most conditions, lovely design and weatherproofing, as well as a superfast processor. All of this makes it a strong competitor to the OnePlus 5.
And the Sony Xperia costs £599 at launch, which isn’t hugely expensive in the current climate, what with the iPhone 8 costing from £700 and other flagships launching at prices of £650 and up in 2017.
The problem is that, currently, £599 is £150 more expensive than the OnePlus 5, and around £60 to £70 more expensive than the Samsung Galaxy S8, and both phones have better, more flexible camera setups, better battery life and larger screens than the Xperia XZ1.
The Sony Xperia XZ1 falls between two stools, then. It’s not quite good enough to topple the best flagship phones, nor cheap enough to mount a strong challenge to the mid-range might of the OnePlus 5. Unless the price falls dramatically over the coming months, you’re better off going with one of its rivals.