The quick take
Sony's Xperia XZ1 once again offers lustworthy design and hardware quality that focuses on style rather than ergonomics and screen-to-body ratios, and it absolutely works. With top-tier specs, the Android 8.0 software absolutely screams — and despite having a small battery, longevity is excellent. But for a $699 phone, the XZ1's 1080p screen is just average, and its camera still doesn't match the similarly priced competition.
- Unique design
- Great build quality
- Strong battery life
- Clean software and excellent performance
- Dual speakers
- Average screen quality
- Poor screen to body ratio
- Camera quality doesn't match price
- Expensive for what you get
- No fingerprint sensor in the U.S.
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Sony Xperia XZ1 Tech Specs
|Operating System||Android 8.0 Oreo|
|Display||5.2-inch LCD, 1920x1080|
Gorilla Glass 5
|Processor||Snapdragon 835 64-bit|
|Rear Camera||19MP Exmor RS, hybrid AF|
960 fps slow-mo, 4K video
|Front Camera||13MP f/2.0 22mm wide-angle|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, USB 3.1, GPS|
1Gbps (Cat16) LTE
Quick Charge 3.0
Qnovo Adaptive Charging
|Security||Fingerprint sensor (except U.S.)|
|Dimensions||148 x 73.4 x 7.4 mm|
|Colors||Black, Warm Silver, Moonlit Blue, Venus Pink|
Sony Xperia XZ1 Things you'll love
You can always pick a Sony phone out from a crowd. (Doubly so when you have a pink Sony phone, as I do here.) That opinionated, bold design is a big selling point of Sony phones, knowing that you have a phone that will get looks wherever you go — particularly in the U.S. where so few Sony phones are out there in the wild. Some may not like that, but I see it as a huge positive. I love how the Xperia XZ1 looks.
And the quality of its build matches the design. The metal body is sleek and just lightly textured, perfectly rounding up to the sides to meet the front glass. It's fantastic, and easy to manage even though it's perfectly flat across the back. This isn't the "Compact" model, but with a 5.2-inch display and at 155 grams it's much lighter and more comfortable to hold than the big slab that is the XZ Premium. Though of course the screen is much smaller than the competition, its overall size is roughly the same as the Galaxy S8 — that's "small" today.
The power button is perfectly situated for your thumb, and the volume rocker is easy to press. There's a dedicated camera button, if you like that sort of thing. There's a headphone jack(!), and even a pair of front-facing stereo speakers — which sound good, by the way, even if they aren't on the same level as the pseudo-stereo speakers of the HTC U11. The big bezels, while not necessarily in vogue at the moment, give you plenty of room to comfortably hold the phone in landscape for video.
Sony backs up the XZ1's good looks with some great specs and performance. A Snapdragon 835, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage with an SD card slot is a great base to work on, particularly when you consider it's pushing just 1080p resolution on the screen. You get all of the latest radios, including NFC placed properly on the back of the phone, and it's all wrapped up in IP68 water- and dust-resistance.
The specs interface wonderfully with Android 8.0 Oreo, which puts the XZ1 in some very exclusive company at the time of launch. The software absolutely flies in every single way. No hiccups, no lag, no stutters, no dropped frames or complains. It's not that I wasn't expecting exactly this, but actually using it and having a great time is always worth reporting on.
Sony's interface itself hasn't really changed much from Nougat to Oreo, as you'd expect, but that's just fine with me. A few of its apps could use a face lift, and its launcher (somehow) doesn't properly integrate with notification dots, but Sony continues to offer one of the least intrusive manufacturer software suites. You get all of the benefits of having Oreo underneath, which will suit you well now and in the future, and Sony always seems willing to follow Google's playbook — case in point being the Google Now feed in the default launcher.
Sony somehow continues to get ridiculous battery life out of phones with below-average battery capacities. The 2700mAh on tap in the XZ1 seems small, even by this screen size, yet I never had to worry about battery life. I ended my average 17-hour day off the charger with 30-40% left on the phone, even with 2-3 hours of "screen on" time. A heavier day with over 4 hours of screen on time still got me to bed before hitting Stamina Mode at 15% battery. It's long and consistent — that's awesome.
Not much to dislike
Sony Xperia XZ1 Things you'll hate
Some people just won't be able to deal with buying an expensive phone that doesn't give them a high amount of screen real estate per dollar. At $699 with a 5.2-inch screen, the Xperia XZ1 doesn't offer the same sort of value as a Galaxy S8+ at roughly the same price. Sony isn't even trying to play the "small bezel" game, and if that's what you want, you just need to look elsewhere.
But there are bigger concerns with the screen when it comes to its overall quality. The fact that it's 1920x1080 isn't a huge issue at this size, though you will notice the resolution from time to time when you get your face closer to the screen than usual. The bigger issue is that this is just an average LCD. It's both accurate and colorful when it needs to be, and viewing angles are fantastic, but it doesn't get particularly bright, which limits its usefulness in sunlight. It also doesn't get particularly dim, so it can be tough on your eyes late at night.
Once again making a comparison to Samsung's latest phones at the same price level ... the screen isn't in the same league. Or comparing directly to an LCD, like the HTC U11's, the XZ1 doesn't match it.
I have so many extra feelings on the XZ1's camera I actually wrote a whole separate article about what's improved. But here's the short(er) version: Sony has dramatically improved its image processing with the XZ1, to the point where you wonder what the heck it was thinking on previous phones. Rather than crush fine lines and details into a muddy mess, the XZ1 now lets far more of the detail come through so you get crisp, realistic photos.
More: The Sony Xperia XZ1's camera has pleasantly surprised me
The camera is still begging to add OIS to improve its low light photos, and there are some areas where the XZ1 still doesn't meter properly and has to over-process dark areas. But those are more of fringe issues now, as Sony has upped its game to the point where walking out of the house with the XZ1 didn't feel like a massive downgrade from the other great cameras I have available to me. But alas, this is a $699 phone. Its camera altogether doesn't meet its price, notably still beaten overall by phones like the Galaxy S8, HTC U11, etc. — but this is Sony's best camera in several generations.
And of course, the anchor for this section is a few sentences addressing the fingerprint sensor. Mainly, you don't get one if you buy this phone in the U.S. Not because the hardware isn't there, but because of a legal situation keeping Sony from enabling it in the firmware. It's a ridiculous limitation, and we're tired of prattling on about it, but this issue alone will keep many people from buying the XZ1. Yes you can import a phone from the UK, or even flash UK firmware to a U.S. phone to get the sensor — but should you have to? No, Sony should just remedy whatever it got itself into that keeps the fingerprint sensor disabled on U.S. phones. It's insane that we're still talking about this today.
Listen to your heart
Sony Xperia XZ1 Should you buy it?
Once again, Sony has made a phone that appeals to your heart rather than your brain. Looking at it, holding it in your hands and using it every day, you'll love so many aspects of the Xperia XZ1. But then you realize what it costs and what you can get elsewhere ... and you may think better of that decision to spend $699 on this phone.
Sony's hardware is beautiful and unique, despite its unabashedly large screen bezels. The XZ1's build quality is top-notch, as are its internal specs. You get Android 8.0 Oreo out of the box, and it runs perfectly — and runs all day on a charge despite not having a large capacity battery to draw from.
But again, it's $699. And for that money, you're getting a 5.2-inch 1080p LCD that's just average. And a camera, while much improved from its predecessors, that doesn't match the competition in the same price range. And in the U.S., you're not even getting a fingerprint sensor. When you take in those downsides, it's a tough sell for the rational consumer. But then again, how often do we act completely rationally? Sometimes you have to listen to your heart. Sometimes, you buy a Sony phone.
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Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.
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And for 400€ you can get a G6 which is, again, only 0.9mm taller but has an even better dual-lens system (done right, ie. with a wide angle lens instead of a zoom or monochrome one) and a higher resolution screen. At this point, Sony's failures are their own fault.
It's not like reviewers and consumers haven't been telling them every 6 months that they need to change their phones. They just don't listen.
I have the Xperia XZ which is a great phone again. Sounds like the XZ1 is yet another improvement. Don't let the fact you got burnt by the z5 put you off the XZ1
Ah yes, default apps. I never remember those (probably because both Google's stock and OEM's stock apps all s*ck). Though default apps are fewer today than they were. They've, for example, unfortunately, replaced their really good Xperia keyboard with the much worse Google keyboard. And I believe they had also adopted the Google messaging app for SMS? Still, I think the bigger complain would be the bloatware that Sony likes to install. Not sure about the XZ1 but I still remember when they came with Cleaners and AVG and a bunch of pre-installed AR crap alongside useless stuff like "Movie Creator" etc.
Based on that limited experience: Sony made great phone[s].
Not impressed with their proprietary fast charging but otherwise:
Solid well built phones.
Call me Gulliver.
Sony has been an absolute nonentity @ cellphones.
I'm waiting for somebody besides Google, LG or Samsung to make a good 6.5-8" phone for North America... say Huawei, Xiaomi, ZTE, Blu, Asus, etc.
BUT...Sony could immediately leapfrog Samsung and Apple if it put out for North America something like the old Blu 7" or Asus Zenfone 8".
What's funny is that instead, TRUE- SIZED phablets don't make it here, staying in the land of the Lilliputians. Someone should have the stones to make and sell phones in sets of 2- a Maxi and a Mini "with the option for both numbers to ring on both models, thru extra SIM or software". Carriers would love to provide a plan for this.
So now, a person could keep both and just carry the size appropriate to where they're going OR the larger could just be for home/office... phone-cradled / lap- docked.
Or could be his/hers, parent/child set. Field workers and other business types, larger people, seniors, plus those with diminished sight and other disabilities...the world over...are clamoring for phablets. Now that bezel-less is a reality, there is a market for the largest possible size phablet that can fit into cargo pant or coat pocket. Someone should go to Asia and remind them to be kind to all the poor suffering without in America, yet all that plethora of phablets going to waste there.
The best build quality. Compared to Samsung which ages to unusable within 2 years.
Very underrated specifications. I have noticed that Sony phones with "so called inferior specs" out perform Samsung phones with higher specifications
As an example the battery life on the Sony's are far superior for the size battery they use.
I have dropped my Sony's dozens of times, I had one screen crack (still functions to this day). Very strong and robust phones compaired to Samsung. Drop those once and it's a screen change as I saw with my kids (They are now all back on Sony). Never had a problem with my Z5 either. Still going strong.
In summary, if you want to get on with life low key and hassle free, buy a Sony. The most robust, stylish and best quality built phone in the world , I still have a working Z1 as a spare. Z3 landed in my pool and still going. Z5 has only been a pleasure.
On the negative side, up to the Z5 I was always dissapointed in the Sony cam quality compared to Apple and Samsung .From the Z5 it,s on par and in some cases better
And as for the big Hoohaa about the style not keeping up and the screen size and quality. Style is something you dont need to change every year, and go do a rea1 life comparison of the actual screen quality with other "superior screened" phones and you will quickly realize why I say Sony phone specs are conservative. There screens are of the best.