Sony Xperia XZ review: The best smartphone of 2016 is here

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“What do you want to do with your smartphone?”

This is the question I pose to anybody who asks me, “what phone should I get?”

Usually this retort comes because there are so many options on the market, picking one is often rather difficult. For instance, the camera in the Huawei P9 is superb but overall the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge is a great performer. On that note the Xiaomi Mi 5 is a really great smartphone for its price but none of that is an answer to the most popular question I get asked: which is the best smartphone?

A few weeks ago my response would have been the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge but after using the Sony Xperia XZ for the last few weeks my answer has to change.

Sony Xperia XZ review: Show me the world

The XZ boasts a 5.2inch Full HD (1920 x 1080p) display but thanks to its small bezels the handset only comes in at 5.75 inches on the longest side. It’s a comfortable package that fits well in your hand and is still big enough to type on if those hands are larger than most.

At just under 6inches in total length, the XZ will fits where you need it to.
At just under 6inches in total length, the XZ will fits where you need it to.

The display is well lit and at full brightness you shouldn’t have any issues checking your mail or scrolling through Facebook in direct sunlight.

Colour reproduction is excellent thanks in part to the X-Reality Engine which beefs up the colour and contrast of each image and also reduces noise in images. All you need to do to experience this for yourself is scroll through Instagram and watch as your timeline suddenly appears to be filled with professional photographers.

Sony Xperia XZ review: This dragon is snappy

Powering everything along is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chipset running at a maximum of 2.15GHz and has 3GB of RAM to call upon. The GPU is an Adreno 530 with a maximum frequency of 624MHz.

The English translation for this is: it will blow your hair back.

For most of this year the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge has sat pretty at the top of our premium smartphone leader board and Sony just knocked it off of that perch.

There is not a task that I can throw at the XZ to make it falter, not one. Whether you want to play a game at 60fps, open up a spreadsheet to make some edits or even edit images directly on your handset, the XZ will take all of those tasks and then some in its stride.

Since testing this handset, I haven’t been able to look at my PC with as much admiration as I have this smartphone.

Sony Xperia XZ review: Selfies never looked this good

As you might have guessed, the Xperia XZ houses one of the best smartphone cameras I’ve seen in a long time. Superior Auto mode is great but you can adjust white balance, exposure, shutter speed and other settings in manual mode.

Being able to take close up macro shots is a great little feature and while video can still appear a bit noisy and lacks the punch still images have, you are able to scale down the UHD footage to 1080p in post production if you happen to be a vlogger.

The camera is helped along by a 5-axis EIS system which helps stabilise images. For instance, in the gallery above the image of the flowers was taken while the entire bush was moving thanks to a light breeze. The auto-focus is a tad slow if you have a few apps running in the background but its not so slow that it will frustrate you.

There is also a 13MP sensor at the front of the display and considering that in many phones that type of sensor is used as the primary camera, it’s genuinely great for selfies.

Sony Xperia XZ review: Clean fingers

Along the right hand side of the XZ is the unlock button that also doubles as a fingerprint scanner. The positioning of the button is great and the scanner works incredibly quickly most of the time.

The biometric scanner is easy to locate and responds quickly when your hands are clean.
The biometric scanner is easy to locate and responds quickly when your hands are clean.

I have found that when your finger is a bit sweaty or moist the scanner won’t read your digit. This is often solved with a quick wipe on a handkerchief (read: my jeans) but once your digit is clean it’s back to opening your handset quickly. You can of course key in your passcode or password, draw a pattern or swipe to unlock the phone if you’re in a rush.

Sony Xperia XZ review: State of power

I was expecting the XZ to falter here, it does only house a 2 900mAh battery and by today’s premium tier standard’s, it’s a tad small.

To my surprise however, the Sony has a tremendous battery life. In our battery abuse test the Xperia lasts for around 14 hours with the display on continuously.

That having been said if you plan to stream videos, listen to music and play games often you will need to plug your handset in for the night.

With moderate use such as checking for messages, watching the odd video and playing a few rounds of Subway Surfer I was able to squeeze two days of battery life from the XZ.

When the juice runs out, a USB Type C charger will bring the battery back to 100%
When the juice runs out, a USB Type C charger will bring the battery back to 100%

It all comes down to how you use your phone but the worst case scenario is that you’ll need to charge your battery every night.

Sony Xperia XZ review: Verdict

This is the first Xperia smartphone I’ve wanted since the Z3. Last year’s Z5 range, while groundbreaking thanks to the UHD display in the Premium model was just too expensive.

That’s not to say the XZ comes cheap it carries a R12 999 price tag but in my time with the XZ I’ve found it proves it’s worth time and time again. What’s more is that it’s cheaper than the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.

There is very little I can fault the XZ on. It’s performance is phenomenal, the camera is superb and the display is sublime. It might not be UHD resolution but with those colours and the frame rates I saw in testing, the XZ is not going to disappoint you visually.

My experience with the battery was great, so great I forgot to charge it one evening and woke up far later than I should have the next morning.

If you’re looking for the best smartphone to be released this year this is it.

[su_box title=”Sony Xperia XZ Specifications” box_color=”#f37021″]

Chipset Qualcomm Snapdragon 820

CPU Quad-core Kryo @ 2.15GHz

GPU Adreno 530 @ 624MHz

Memory 3GB

Storage 32GB, microSD card support up to 256GB

Operating system Android 6.0.1 (planned upgrade to Android 7.0)

Battery 2 900mAh

SIM Single SIM (dedicated microSD card)

Display 5.2inch HD (1920×1080)

Primary camera 23MP, f/2.0, 24mm, EIS (gyro), phase detection and laser autofocus, LED flash

Secondary camera 13MP  f/2.0, 22mm, 1/3″ sensor size, 1080p, HDR

Network Up to LTE

WiFi 802.11b/g/n/ac

Extras  Bluetooth 4.1, fingerprint scanner, USB Type C

Price R12 999


Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz writes news, reviews, and opinion pieces for Hypertext. His interests include SMEs, innovation on the African continent, cybersecurity, blockchain, games, geek culture and YouTube.