A big, beautiful new phone, but it may not be worth the price.
Sony's latest flagship is the Xperia XZ Premium, and it's really nice. It's one of those phones you don't want to touch because it's so nice to look at. You may also not want to touch it because the damn thing is incredibly shiny, exposing fingerprints as well as any mirror. And it may not be worth buying because, well, there are just better devices out there at a lower price.
Interested in this phone? Here are a few things you need to know about Sony's best phone ever.
This is the second 4K phone, and the first with HDR
Sony debuted the 4K smartphone in 2015 with the Xperia Z5 Premium, and this year's follow-up has a better, brighter 5.5-inch 4K panel with a trick up its sleeve: HDR support.
Content that supports HDR — High Dynamic Range — will look more vivid and colorful on the XZ Premium's 4K display. Let's just hope that Netflix updates its app to support the Premium's setup because we need some of that streaming goodness on here.
It may be only the second phone to launch with the Snapdragon 835
Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 is one of the most anticipated updates to phone chips in a long time. Faster, more efficient, with better support for VR, high-speed LTE, and smarter cameras, the Sony Xperia XZ Premium may be only the second device to launch with the chip after the Samsung Galaxy S8.
A phone with a 4K needs a powerful SoC inside. The Xperia Z5 Premium was powered by the troubled Snapdragon 810, and while it didn't have performance problems, it also didn't upscale a lot of content. Sony says that this year's follow-up will take it upon itself to do just that, and that's mainly because the Snapdragon 835 can take the hit without affecting the battery too harshly.
The new camera isn't all new
People don't buy phones; they buy cameras that connect to the internet. Sony understands this, and has designed its devices around the camera experience for years. But as much as it's tried to outdo the likes of Samsung, LG and Apple, it continues to come up short.
Sony thinks the XZ Premium has what it takes to beat the competition in 2017 with a new "Motion Eye" camera setup that lowers the resolution from 23 megapixels to 19 while increasing the size of the individual pixels, ensuring improved low-light results. At the same time, a new connection between the camera sensor and the phone's memory allows for caching of photos — predictive capture, as it's called — five times faster than any previous Sony phone, so no frames are lost during quick-shutter action shots.
That same new setup also allows for the new 960fps slow motion mode, which looks to deliver outstanding results. I can't wait to use this.
The glass backs are reflective af
Seriously, this is the most reflective phone I've ever seen. The Luminous Chrome variant is the worst offender, offering an easily-tarnished mirror finish that shows off every fingerprint.
As long as you're not too particular, and walk around with a microfiber cloth in your bag or pocket, the Xperia XZ Premium could stay pristine, but it's likely to pick up hairline scratches pretty quickly — a problem with all phones, but exacerbated by the reflectiveness of the Gorilla Glass 5.
There's still no fingerprint sensor in the U.S.
Seriously Sony, this is getting ridiculous. While the company won't divulge the reason for the feature's continued omission in its most underserved market, we're getting a little tired. This is an essential feature, both for security and convenience, and the longer we go without it, the less likely we are to recommend phones. Especially one that's likely approaching $900.
It's water resistant and dustproof
Like most Sony phones of the last few years, the Xperia XZ Premium is IP68 water resistant and dustproof. The ratings mean you can submerge the phone in up to one meter for an extended period without incurring damage. And, of course, there are no port covers to worry about.
It runs Android 7.1.1 Nougat
We may be beyond it by the time the phone is released in late spring — late May, early June — the Xperia XZ is currently certified for Android 7.1.1 Nougat, which means that it will support all the latest goodies from Google, including rounded icons, image keyboards, and more.
Sony's skin continues to be very light and very fast, and there's no question that the company has learned its lesson in deviating too far from Google's recommendations. This isn't Samsung; Sony doesn't have the customer loyalty, nor the resources, to develop great custom skins, so the more it keeps to Google's Android the better.
Indeed, the new launcher has Google Now to the left of the main home screen, a result of the deprecation of the Google Now Launcher and opening that feature up to manufacturers. Great to see Sony implementing it so quickly.
There's no price or U.S. carrier information
Right now, the Xperia XZ Premium is coming to the U.S. in "late spring," according to Sony, and it has no explicit price or U.S. carrier partners. Indeed, we've been told the phone won't be sold at U.S. carriers, but will instead be offered unlocked on Amazon. That's all well and good, but based on the smaller Xperia XZs's price of $699.99, it's easy to see this phone approaching $900. Whether people will be willing to spend that much on a large, shiny 4K phone remains to be seen.
You can capture slo-mo video at 960fps
It may only be 720p, but think about the constrast between a regular 30fps capture and something as smooth as 960fps, slowed down to look great on this big, beautiful screen. I'm drooling just thinking about it.
You probably shouldn't buy this phone in the U.S.
And then I consider buying one. Just think about the phone market right now. It's chock full of unbelievably powerful, well-made phones delivering on promises of innovation year after year. Sony may be unveiling the Xperia XZ Premium before Samsung's Galaxy S8, but it's almost certainly going to be available well afterwards — well after Samsung has sucked up all the air in the proverbial room and convinced millions of customers to upgrade, including many Sony Xperia users.
Sony is in a tough position. It knows it makes good phones, but it also understands that its strategy of consistent iterative updates leaves some people cold; it's more akin to an annual car refresh than a big-time reveal. The Xperia XZ Premium is likely a great phone — it's certainly striking, and quite attractive — but there's no way the camera will be as good as the Galaxy S8's, nor its battery as long-lasting as the Huawei Mate 9.
With a price almost certainly approaching $900, and no fingerprint sensor in the U.S., you may want to give this one a pass.