SONY XPERIA XZ PRE­MIUM BRINGS THE BLING

There’s a lot to be said about Sony’s Xperia XZ Pre­mium. How­ever, one ac­cu­sa­tion that can be thrown out right away is the idea that Sony didn’t try to com­pete.

SmartHouse - - CONTENTS - Writ­ten by Fer­gus Hal­l­i­day

Sure, af­ter fif­teen years the Xperia brand has never quite caught on. Re­gard­less, both Sam­sung and Ap­ple have taken ma­jor hits to their brands over the last twelve months, maybe now is the right time for Sony to pitch its tent. With the Xperia XZ Pre­mium, Sony make their bold­est gam­ble yet to be taken as a se­ri­ous player in the space.

Boast­ing a 5.5-inch HDR-ready 4K dis­play, Snap­dragon 835 pro­ces­sor and 19-megapixel cam­era – the XZ Pre­mium takes the fea­ture­set of last year's XZ to a new ex­treme. Mem­ory-wise, it's pack­ing 4GB of RAM and 64GB of on-board stor­age. What's more, it's got a hefty 3230mAh bat­tery and ar­rives ready-to-go with An­droid Nougat pre­in­stalled.

On pa­per, it's a solid pack­age. In prac­tice, the re­al­ity of every­day use sees the de­vice stay abreast of the ex­pec­ta­tions its spec­sheet in­spires. The de­vice loads ap­pli­ca­tions blis­ter­ingly fast and can mul­ti­task with­out any sig­nif­i­cant build up in heat.

While ac­tual con­ve­nience of be­ing able to watch 4K video on your phone is de­bat­able, it proves to be a wel­come ad­di­tion. Images looked con­sis­tently clear and brightly coloured. It's a shame that the Xperia XZ Pre­mium's built-in speak­ers don't shore up nearly as well. Sony have thrown in a pair of rea­son­ably-good noise-cancelling earphones to make up the dif­fer­ence but they still stand out as a weak­ness.

Un­for­tu­nately, once the dust set­tles and ini­tial lus­tre be­gins to fade, it be­comes pretty clear that the XZ Pre­mium doesn't quite have what it takes to com­pete with what 2017 has to of­fer. On a tech­ni­cal level, Sony's lat­est holds up as the best smart­phone they've ever built. Un­for­tu­nately, the de­sign side of it is a hodge­podge of hits and misses.

First up: the re­flec­tive metal build. The XZ Pre­mium brings new mean­ing the con­cept of the “shiny new smart­phone.” Like HTC's re­cent U se­ries of smart­phones, the sur­face of the de­vice is so re­flec­tive it ba­si­cally dou­bles as a mir­ror.

Aes­thet­i­cally, you'll ei­ther go for this or you won't. For me, it never re­ally came to­gether. How­ever, on a more im­por­tant and prac­ti­cal level, this de­sign leaves the Xperia XZ Pre­mium ex­tra vul­ner­a­ble to both smudges and scratches. Out of the box, it im­presses – but don't ex­pect that pol­ish to last. All told, it took less than a week to lose its spark.

When it comes to form factor, the XZ Pre­mium feels a lit­tle too boxy for com­fort. It's nice enough to look at but, af­ter a while, it feels a lit­tle un­com­fort­able to hold. Still, Sony have built this thing to last. It's cer­ti­fied IP65/68 and coated in Corn­ing Go­rilla Glass 5.

In English, this means it comes wa­ter­proof­ing, dust­proof, dirt­proof, shock­proof and sand­proof. We only dropped the Xperia XZ Pre­mium once dur­ing out time with it but it han­dled it with aplomb. Even if the XZ Pre­mium's hy­per-re­flec­tive sur­face isn't your thing, it's hard not to re­spect a prod­uct that's solid enough to take a hit.

The one other de­sign el­e­ment that works in the favour of the Xperia XZ Pre­mium is the fin­ger­print sen­sor. Rather than stick this on the front or back, as per the usual, Sony have in­te­grated the fin­ger­print sen­sor into the power/sleep but­ton on the right side of the de­vice.

Even if the form-factor of the de­vices is a long way from per­fect, I came away re­ally im­pressed by this de­sign choice. It's a small touch but it works sur­pris­ingly well. It al­lowed me to pick up, turn on and un­lock the de­vice in one sin­gle seam­less ma­noeu­vre.

Fi­nally, there's the cam­era. While it sits a few rungs lower in DXO mark than others when it comes to qual­ity, it earns a few points for speed. The Xperia XZ Pre­mium lever­ages a mem­ory-stacked Ex­mor RS, Sony G lens and BIONZ im­age pro­ces­sor to make the most of its 23-megapixel rear-cam­era. It's ca­pa­ble of shoot­ing video in ei­ther 2160p at 30fps or at 1080p at up to dou­ble that. Sony have fur­ther sweet­ened the deal by throw­ing in sup­port for slow mo­tion at a stag­ger­ing 960 frames per sec­ond.

Com­bined with the Mo­tion Eye and Pre­dic­tive Cap­ture tech­nol­ogy, the XZ Pre­mium comes ready to spring into ac­tion and start record­ing footage from the mo­ment it de­tects move­ment. This ad­mit­tedly-neat fea­ture prom­ises to make the Xperia XZ a more tan­ta­liz­ing op­tion for those who hate miss­ing “that per­fect shot” by sec­onds. While you only get about an ex­tra sec­ond to film, it's an ex­tra sec­ond that could def­i­nitely count for a lot.

Con­clu­sion

If we rewind the clock a year or two, the Xperia XZ Pre­mium's short­com­ings aren't too egre­gious. How­ever, stacked up against the Sam­sung Galaxy S8, HTC U 11 or LG G6, they leave the de­vice stand­ing out like a sore thumb. At the high-end of the mar­ket, aes­thet­ics count for a lot – and the Xperia XZ Pre­mium misses the mark. With that in mind, it's hard to rec­om­mend it with­out reser­va­tions. It's clear Sony know how to build a solid ma­chine on a tech­ni­cal level. And if that nitty-gritty stuff is all you care about, the Xperia XZ Pre­mium might fit the bill. How­ever, for the ask­ing price, you want some­thing that looks, feels and holds its own against the com­pe­ti­tion. Sony's lat­est doesn't live up to that ideal. It goes big but it doesn't take home the top prize.

RAT­ING 8/10

The Xperia XZ Pre­mium is avail­able both through car­ri­ers (Op­tus, Voda­fone, Vir­gin) and re­tailer JB Hi-Fi at an RRP of $1099. It’s also avail­able at a dis­counted price of $1056 through Tel­stra.

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