Sony Xperia XZ1 review: Solid, opinionated, and lovably flawed

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.

The Good

  • Unique design
  • Great build quality
  • Strong battery life
  • Clean software and excellent performance
  • Dual speakers

The Bad

  • 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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The internals

Sony Xperia XZ1 Tech Specs

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CategoryXperia XZ1
Operating SystemAndroid 8.0 Oreo
Display5.2-inch LCD, 1920x1080
Gorilla Glass 5
ProcessorSnapdragon 835 64-bit
Adreno 540
Rear Camera19MP Exmor RS, hybrid AF
960 fps slow-mo, 4K video
Front Camera13MP f/2.0 22mm wide-angle
ConnectivityWi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, USB 3.1, GPS
1Gbps (Cat16) LTE
Quick Charge 3.0
Qnovo Adaptive Charging
SecurityFingerprint sensor (except U.S.)
Dimensions148 x 73.4 x 7.4 mm
Weight155 g
ColorsBlack, Warm Silver, Moonlit Blue, Venus Pink

Sony Xperia XZ1

Standard Sony

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.

Good or bad, everyone has an opinion on Sony's design.

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 packs serious specs into what is a relatively small phone.

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.

Android 8.0 Oreo flies with these specs, and battery life is great as well.

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.

Sony Xperia XZ1

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.

The 'right' screen size is subjective, but the quality here is objectively not good enough.

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

It's Sony's best camera in years ... and it's still not matching the competition.

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.

Sony Xperia XZ1

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.

Sometimes you buy the phone that's objectively the best. Other times, you buy a Sony.

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 Martonik

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

  • In Europe this costs 700€ (aprox. $821). Currently you can get a Galaxy S8 for 550€ ($645). Which will give you a superior AMOLED screen, a far better camera with OIS, wireless charging, VR capabilities and a 5.8" screen in a phone that is pretty much the same size (the S8 is 0.9mm taller).
    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.
  • Lacking an OLED display is the only deal breaker for me. Otherwise, Sony has the best phones out there. Out of all the phones I have had, the Sony ones have been the best in the last 4 years. Of course the AMOLED has always drawn me back to Samsung until the Axon 7 and Moto Z2 Play, now LG, Apple, and Google. I'm sure Sony will go OLED next year. With all the extras Samsung has, they're software experience still lacks fluidity and their devices spell fragility. I'd rather loose a couple of niche crowd features Samsung offers over Sony's bug free, lighting fast, premium experience. I also like the unique design language. When everyone else is drifting to the same look.
  • Try the Note Note 8. its fluid in fast
  • In Finland it costs 699e yeah but we get free wireless headphone that costs 299-345... Sony WH-H900N h.ear on 2 wireless NC headphone We have been getting free stuffs from Sony when buy one... When bought xz we got 199e wireless headphone and xz premium we got wireless speaker xb30
  • Well than consider yourself lucky, because most of Europe isn't getting that sort of deal at all.
  • If this was $100 cheaper I would probably buy it. Happy to see a "small" phone with modern specs and great battery life.
  • Give it a month or 2, Sony prices drop really fast cause of their 6-month upgrade cycle.
  • Oh, hey, there's the XZ1 Compact for $100 cheaper and even better battery life. ;)
  • I briefly checked it, looks like similar specs with a smaller screen size. Thanks for the recommendation!
  • Despite the bezels, this is probably the only flagship released this year that has a form factor that really appeals to me. My ideal screen size for a 16:9 phone is 5.2". If it's 18:9 then I like 5.5" but all we've seen in that range was the LG G6, which has terrible specs. If it had a fp scanner in the US I would be tempted to get it when the price drops but alas. (I know I can flash UK firmware but I'd really rather not).
  • Why do you feel the LG G6 had "terrible specs?" According to many tech reviews it ran just as smooth as phones with a Snapdragon 835 Processor and had enough features to satisfy most. I agree with your statement about the Sony Xperia XZ1 having the ideal screen size. I have the Moto G5+ with a 5.2 inch screen and anything bigger would feel unwieldy in the hand.
  • Oops, that was a typo. I meant the Q6. Their smaller budget offering with a "bezel-less" display. I actually considered the G6 despite it being taller than my preference, but the battery life seems hit or miss.
  • Ah Ok! Thanks for the clarification.
  • The problem is that the phone is physically way bigger than necessary because of the enormous bezels all around the display. It's poor from Sony. And I'm a huge fan of theirs but I cannot justify going for a phone looking like that in late 2017. Hopefully at the next MWC we see something radically different from them, because the basis of their design philosophy is awesome. Also they need to move to QHD OLED.
  • Hey Andrew, thanks for the comprehensive review. Have you had a chance to play with the Compact version? I'm wondering how it stacks up compared to its bigger brother.
  • Not yet unfortunately. Hopefully soon!
  • This. This review gives me some hope though since most of the specs are the same...
  • The price of this phone is now $50 cheaper.
  • I’d take the Compact. Would actually like a smaller phone
  • the fudge is wrong with sony, cause they make dslr and mark it at the highest price, they do the same as they please on the phones too? wow sony, kiss my arsse.
  • If you ask me, they should replace the finger print scanner with an Iris Scanner, thus they won't have this issue anymore in the future.
  • No, they can just not make stupid exclusivity deals with other companies and then back out on deals. The issue isn't the technology of a fingerprint sensor itself. The issue is making a deal about where they can use it and for how long. It could've happened with any other feature.
  • Psst! The fingerprint sensor *is* there, it's just disabled on US firmware. Loading another region's firmware (i.e. UK) activates it just fine; it's by far my favorite placement.
  • And why on earth should the ENTIRE WORLD be deprived of a superior solution - fingerprint scanner - just because America can't have it due to some legal issue with an American carrier?
  • Wow, this reads like a good review of a Sony phone. The cons (bezel aside because I'm indifferent) are justifiable. This makes me very curious about the Compact version of this phone, and it also gives me hope.
  • In before the "You can enable the fingerprint reader if you..." comments! Even though they look like the 70's version of what the future would look like, I still like the classy design language. Three cheers for being able to hold your phone while you use it. I watched the entire Guardians of the Galaxy 2 yesterday, and my only regret was the interruptions.
  • Why they keep making those phones at a high end price? It can't rival the high end, just mid end if anything
  • Because they're loosing money on their phone division. Slashing prices will make things worse when Chinese OEMs are already selling cheap. What's worse is that Samsung does a lot in-house, they have a massive distribution network, cutting edge foundry, huge phone sized display network, flash memory, etc that covers everything from refrigerators to 4k tvs. Sony has a great distribution network, great programming engineers, and cutting edge camera tech. But they have to buy everything else from Qualcomm, Samsung, and others who make smartphone components. Chinese smartphone makers are undercutting everyone because they have unlimited credit from State owned banks and far less overhead costs due to, lax government oversight and China's weak currency. Sony has none of those advantages. In fact, outside of Apples premium flagship $349 iPhone SE, no other Smartphone manufacturers outside of China offers budget priced, premium spec, Flagship phones on release if at all.
  • Still those are really outdated and overpriced phone, outdated by design and can't compete with samsung LG and Huawei at all. Would never buy sony phone at that state, which is a shame cause i want to try one.
  • I got my wife and I Sony Z5s. Frankly, I'm never buying another Sony phone. The camera SUCKS! Cell phone reliability sucks. GPS sucks. Other than those things, the phone is alright.
  • Yeah that phone didn't age well.
  • The Sony Z3 was an awesome phone. The z5 was a real step back.
    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
  • Andrew, how's the volume of the speakers? I'd like to know before recommending this to someone. The XZ Premium had the same speaker layout, but volume was soft. That was a sore spot I remember from my last Sony phone: hitting the volume because you can't hear, and finding it's already at 100%.
  • Sony's speakers are never loud enough.
  • The speakers sound good, but aren't super loud. The U11 is much louder. Even the Galaxy S8's single speaker is louder — though it's tinny and shallow. The XZ1's speakers are just loud enough for me, but I would prefer they were louder for sure. Even if it came at a little loss of quality at the highest levels.
  • I have one friend who always used a Sony phone owing to being a huge Sony fan in general. She just upgraded to a Note 8 because the XZ1 is apparently boring and unimpressive... It suggests to me, tiny anecdotal sample that it is, that Sony really need to step things up if they want to retain the small market share they have.
  • As an owner of several Sony phones I had a good look around before buying the Xz1. The reasons? 1. Proper headphone socket with noise canceling earbuds available for only £30 2 The dedicated camera shutter button makes it fast and easy to capture a quick picture. 3 Battery life 4 Robust and waterproof.
  • I know people have their preferences but I'd take a smoother fast stockish experience over a pretty screen and stuttering function. Sorry, I just hate Samsung for their seemingly inability to optimize their phones. But, people seem to eat em up! Huh..
  • I'm inclined to agree, I don't really like Samsung myself. However, for my money Oneplus, Lenovorola, HTC and of course Google fill the niche you speak of very well... Sony make good phones, but in 2017 who doesn't?
  • If you replace the launcher you get a pretty stock experience. The only thing Sony changes is really the launcher.
  • And the lock screen. And a handful of the default apps (though I think they're pretty tastefully designed).
  • I doubt anyone sees the lockscreen anymore these days. The thing goes away as soon as you unlock the phone.
    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.
  • Andrew.. What's the hold up on a xz1 section in the forum? Haters? 😁
  • There we go!
  • Yay thanks!
  • You're welcome!
  • Nice! Thanks man!
  • Have had the Z3, still have a Z3 compact.
    Based on that limited experience: Sony made great phone[s].
    Not impressed with their proprietary fast charging but otherwise:
    Solid well built phones.
  • My Z5 and its 810 was terrible for battery life despite having a larger battery. I was really happy with the phone otherwise. It was fast, relatively compact, and I enjoyed PS4 Remote Play. I'd buy a Sony XZ1 in a heartbeat if I wasn't so invested in Moto Mods.
  • 5.2"?????!!?! And there's an even smaller version?!!!!!???!
    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.
  • Those wouldn't sell at all. If there's an actual demand for them, then OEMs will actually fill said demand.
  • The Sony minis are almost exactly the same screen size as the standard iPhones (4.6 versus 4.7 inches) and the bezels are smaller, while they fit in stereo speakers. The XZ1 Compact is basically an Android version of the iPhone 8 and is better in some ways, worse in others. Now, which will be Apple's best selling phone?
  • Would like a more objective and in depth take on what Android Central deems as best in class for cameras. Really want to go back to Sony for the cameras alone. Let me explain: my z3v finally bit the earth enough without case 4 months back and screen died. Bought a g6 on your recommendation and loathe the camera. Focus response is so slow and so difficult to reliably pick the right focal point when manually focusing that I almost, almost despise the phone. I had maybe 1 out of 200 pbotos on the sony that were blurry with no focal repose time (family purpose point and shoot). On the g6 I average 25% on point and shoot focusing which is horrible. I lost a ton of good shots with the g6 that the sony would have nailed. Also, fingerprint sensor is nice, but the location on the g6 is bunk. Why do phone makers not put the sensor on the side of the phone more often? Ie, away from the camera lens?
  • So, it's a pixel 2 with better design, worse camera, no finger print scanner, an SD card slot, and a headphone jack.
  • (It has a fingerprint sensor; it's just disabled through the US firmware. Flashing a foreign firmware (i.e. UK) will ameliorate this.)
  • Awesome review. Explains everything in details. Makes each points clear.....
  • I have been using Sony phones from before they were smartphones. I have a large family with a spread of cell phone makes so I can quickly see the pros and cons of various makes. The main things that I observed about Sony are
    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.
  • BTW for what it's worth. I don't live in the USA and have the fingerprint lock. Guess what I dont like FP lock and never use it nor does anyone else in our family on Sony phones or Samsung for that matter. Retina lock well that;s a completely new ball game .
  • it really makes me wonder about some users. I have an XZs and my picture quality is awesome. I've taken photos of my daughter and was asked when we had those pictures taken. I've had people comment on how great the pictures look. It's definitely on par with the top phones out there. Low light, sure can be a little tricky, but in all honesty how often do we take low light photos? The whole point of photo shooting is creating the right light. Even with professional photographers, they bring lighting, flashes etc. As for the finger print scanner, I have an unlocked version in the US and never use it. Really could care less. This is just a personal preference. You either really want it or don't really care. Same goes for design. I actually don't mind the bezels. They work for me. Really cell phones are pretty subjective anymore. The vast majority, even the low end are pretty damn good! I love changing phones, I've had nokia, sony, samsung, etc I get bored! Only thing I will never buy is Apple. I'm in the design business and have used many apple products and you couldn't talk me into one!
  • I think it's funny that with their OWN camera sensor, that everyone else uses, they aren't able to produce the best mobile device camera. SMH.