Sony is known to make durable and powerful devices. But it feels like Sony is playing catch-up with its competitors in the flagship space. That impression still seems present in my mind today but has the Japanese brand gotten closer to its competition with the Xperia XZ? We find out below.

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    • A bit of a throwback. Sony has always made eye-catching devices and it manages to do the same with the Xperia XZ. This smartphone manages to set itself apart from the world of metal-clad, rose gold-tinted devices of late. It has a flattened top and bottom and a square build that tapers off to the sides, which makes holding the device in hand quite comfortable. The look reminds me a bit of the squarer Nokia Lumia smartphones. It feels well-built even though you can feel the plastic parts on the sides of the device. Its metallic back has a bit of a sheen to it but not so much that all you see are the fingerprints you leave on it. Don’t be fooled though, you’ll see some of your prints on this smartphone but it’s easier to clean.
    • Makes more sense. There are some design decisions that Sony got right with the Xperia XZ. One, water resistance is back. Two, the slot that houses the SIM card and microSD slots don’t need to be poked into to open. You can just pull it up to take it out. But it’s secure enough that water won’t seep into it. For a right-handed person, the power button is situated at a good spot, making it easy to power it on and unlock with the fingerprint sensor. If you’re left-handed, it isn’t entirely bad for you as you’ll just need to enroll your left index finger to take advantage of unlocking via the fingerprint sensor.
    • Design gripes. But I’m not completely sold on its looks. The glass-covered front has bezels that are a tad too thick for my liking. The top part is that way most likely because it houses the NFC chip, which is another weird design decision. The bottom houses one of the front-firing speakers but not physical buttons. A thinner chin would probably be better. The volume button is located at a strange spot below the power button.
    • Decent display. The 5.2-inch screen has excellent viewing angles and pretty good color reproduction. The downside to it is the Full HD resolution. While it’s serviceable and possibly enough for its screen size, it feels like it falls short of expectations from flagship devices. It also won’t be a good device to use for virtual reality headsets for mobile phones or even for viewing the 4K content you can shoot with its camera.
    • Speedy performer. Packing in the specs that it does, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the Xperia XZ works well. But kudos for its optimization, though. The phone didn’t crash at all during my test period with it. Sony doesn’t really layer tons of customization to its user interface but there are still a number of bloatware on this device. Also, the Xperia XZ uses a sizable amount (10.26GB) of the internal storage for Android System. Thankfully, you can expand the 32GB internal storage via microSD. If there was one thing I wish Sony improved on the Xperia XZ, it’ll be audio quality of its speakers. It’s great that these are front-firing but volume is so low, it instantly made me give up on the idea of listening to music through its speakers.
    • Capable shutterbug. With a 23-megapixel rear shooter and 13-megapixel front-facing camera, I had high expectations for the Xperia XZ’s camera, especially since Sony has built a good reputation when it comes to developing sensors for other brands. And for the most part, the Xperia XZ didn’t disappoint. It has one of the fastest autofocus systems I’ve seen and it generally produces good low light shots with as little noise as it could. Sony boasts its camera is capable of taking great shots of moving objects without that much blur and I’ve seen it done that quite well. Even for videos, image stabilization works well for it. Sometimes the camera does overexpose shots but it’ll just need you to tinker around with its manual settings. And that’s where I have a bit of an issue with the Xperia XZ. Its default camera app is simplistic and not as user-friendly as it could be. HDR is buried in the settings, 4K video mode is separate from the other video resolution options, and switching between modes takes a few seconds. If you’re curious about the front-facing camera, it’s a pretty good one. You can see a slight enhancement in the photo but it doesn’t make you look too airbrushed.
    • Get you through the day. If you’re looking for extraordinary battery life from the Xperia XZ, you’ll be disappointed. But it’s enough for at least one work day. You can get a battery life of anything between 10 percent and 30 percent at the end of a full day. But with Sony’s Stamina and Ultra Stamina modes, you can extend that further. Sony also hopes to extend the battery lifespan of the Xperia XZ with Battery Care charging option. The phone studies how long you usually leave your device charging and it’ll control the charging speed once it reaches 90 percent so you’ll only hit 100 percent when you usually take the phone off of its charger.
  • The price to pay. You’ll be paying a hefty P37,990 for the Xperia XZ and I see that as the biggest hurdle for the smartphone. While it packs in so much technology into it, it still doesn’t feel like it’s fully caught up with its competitors. If you’re a Sony fan who has been hanging on to your old Xperia Z model, then it might be time to upgrade. It might take a bit more convincing for non-Sony users.

TEST SHOTS

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This was shot in a really dark room. Despite the noise, it's a pretty clear shot.

This was shot in a really dark room. Despite the noise, it’s a pretty clear shot.

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You can see more sample shots of the Xperia XZ here.

VERDICT
Despite being a decent all-around performer, the Sony Xperia XZ is tough to recommend to a smartphone buyer looking for all the latest bells and whistles from their next smartphone. The brand still has a lot of catching up to do to face off against the likes of Samsung and Apple in the flagship space. But a loyal Sony user would appreciate all the innovations, especially those due a phone upgrade.

Specifications
Display 5.2” Full HD TRILUMINOS (1,920 x 1,080 resolution)
Operating System Android 6.0 Marshmallow
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 64-bit quad-core
Memory 3GB RAM
Storage 32GB, expandable up to 256GB via microSD
Cameras 23MP rear w/ 1/2.3″ Exmor RS mobile image sensor, 24mm G Lens, 5x Clear Image Zoom, BIONZ image processor, up to ISO 12800, 4K video recording, SteadyShot w/ Intelligent Active Mode; 13MP front w/ 1/3.06″ Exmor RS, up to ISO 6400, 22mm wide-angle F2.0 lens
Connectivity & I/O Ports LTE 4G Cat 9; Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac; Bluetooth 4.2, A2DP, aptX, LE; DLNA certified; Google Cast; NFC; GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS; USB Type-C
Other Features IP65/68, fingerprint sensor, high-resolution audio, PS4 Remote Play
Battery 2,900mAh w/ Qnovo adaptive charging & Battery Care
Dimensions & Weight 146 x 72 x 8.1mm, 161g
Price P37,990
Test: Sony Xperia XZ
Form Factor8.5
Build Quality9
Ease of Use8.9
Performance8.5
Value for Money8
8.6Overall Score