Sony Xperia XZ long-term review: 2017 re-review of Sony's flagship phone

Six months after Sony launched the Xperia XZ, we re-review this flagship smartphone to see if it holds up against rival Android mobiles. In the days of Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and the LG G6, is Sony’s handset still a worthy purchase? Here’s our long-term Xperia XZ review.

So far, 2017 has been a seriously strong year for premium Android phones. Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and the LG G6 offer some innovative features for demanding users, while the Honor 8 Pro delivers on every count for a lower asking price.

Which means that last year’s flagship mobiles, such as Sony’s Xperia XZ, have been well and truly pushed out of the limelight. Even Sony is now fully focused on the upcoming Xperia XZ Premium, which boasts a 4K HDR screen and the company’s incredibly impressive Motion Eye camera tech.

I’ve been using the Xperia XZ on and off for the past six months, since the phone first launched in the UK. It’s not a perfect handset for sure but there’s plenty to enjoy, especially when consuming media on the move. However, can Sony’s flagship device still cut it compared with other full-priced phones?

For the purposes of this long-term review, I returned to the Xperia XZ full-time for a week and put down my thoughts. Here’s my 2017 re-review.

Read next: The best Sony phones you can buy in 2017

Sony Xperia XZ 2017 review: Scratch-tastic

I’ve always been a fan of Sony’s design work and the recent Xperia handsets certainly keep a consistent look and feel. Even the affordable Xperia XA rocks a gorgeous edge-to-edge screen that really stands out.

The Xperia XZ doesn’t appear much different from the previous Xperia Z5 flagship, at a quick glance at least. Those flat top and bottom edges give a more rectangular appearance, but you’re basically on safe Sony territory here. That said, I do love the Forest Blue model, with its unique alluring shade. Shame our review model is the black one.

I was a little nervous when originally handling the Xperia XZ, as its predecessor was a rather fragile smartphone. As you’ll see from our long-term Xperia Z5 review, that handset cracked all too easily. Thankfully, I’ve had no such problems from the latest flagship phone. The Xperia XZ has undergone the usual stress testing, including being bashed around in a bag, and so far hasn’t cracked or chipped under pressure.

However, that alkaleido metal surfacing is rather vulnerable to scratching. After just a couple of weeks of use, the back was already coated in light scuffs and shallow gouges. Fast forward six months and this mobile looks like it’s been attacked by a blind ninja. While handsets such as the LG G6 and HTC 10 happily resist damage, for a pristine finish even after prolonged use, the XZ is definitely one you’ll want to wrap in a protective jacket.

Sony’s flagship also feels rather chunky compared with the Galaxy S8 and LG G6. That’s despite the Xperia XZ sporting a much smaller screen, at 5.2-inches compared with near 6-inches. The reason for this? Those fat top and bottom bezels, above and below the display.

You can still just about use the Xperia one-handed thankfully, although there’s no real features to help out in this respect. Most mobiles, like the Huawei P10 and Samsung’s Galaxy S8, offer a way to shrink the desktops when needed. Not the XZ, however.

Still, Sony did thankfully bring back full water resistance for this flagship release, something missing from the more affordable Xperia X. This is a common feature for premium handsets now, so good to see on the XZ.

Sony Xperia XZ 2017 review: Media and gaming machine

The Xperia XZ recently got updated to Android Nougat, which made Sony’s flagship phone even more enjoyable. For instance, the phone can now split-screen multi-task with two apps at once; something missing from Sony handsets since the Small Apps feature was ditched.

Of course, the XZ was already rammed full of great features, especially for anyone who uses their handset to consume movies, shows and music on the move. The support for Hi-Res audio tracks is appreciated, if you want to enjoy your tunes the way they’re meant to be heard. The phone even does a respectable job of boosting old, low-quality tracks so they sound crisper.

For a closer look at some of the Xperia XZ’s best features, check out our tips and tricks guide.

I’m still a big fan of that 5.2-inch IPS screen too. Sure, the Xperia XZ doesn’t boast a Quad HD panel like many other flagship devices, including the Galaxy S8 and LG G6, or the glorious 4K output of the new XZ Premium. As a result, stick the XZ next to another premium handset and images won’t be quite as gloriously crisp and detailed.

Thankfully that Full HD display still makes the most of your high-def movies, offering smooth video playback. The G6 and S8 may offer HDR support, but the Xperia’s screen enjoys strong contrast levels and rich colour reproduction with Sony’s Super Vivid Mode activated. That said, the latest LG and Samsung flagships are geared towards films on the go, thanks to their stretched aspect ratio. That means you get a wider letterbox effect on the Xperia XZ.

In the shot below, you'll see the Xperia XZ compared side-by-side with the Galaxy S8's Super AMOLED screen.

If you own Sony’s Playstation 4, you can also stream your game direct to your Xperia XZ thanks to the Game Stream feature. Handy if you want to finish that tricky Uncharted level while you squeeze out a particularly troublesome bum nugget.

Sony Xperia XZ 2017 review: I have the power?

With its Snapdragon 820 processor backed by 3GB of RAM, the Xperia XZ was one of the most powerful phones of its time when it first hit the UK. Of course, since then we’ve seen the launch of two successive premium Snapdragon chipsets, the 821 and the 835, while some modern handsets now pack double the memory. Then you have the many updates heaped onto the XZ, as well as general ageing to consider.

So, how does Sony’s Xperia XZ hold up in terms of performance in 2017?

The good news is, this mobile is still reassuringly powerful six months after release. Android Nougat runs as smoothly as you’d hope, with little to no pause as you skip between apps and the like. I’ve been playing some of the latest titles to hit Google Play, including the rather addictive War of Crown, with no stutters or other ill effects.

My AnTuTu results have dropped a little from the original 140k score down to a 135k average result, but that’s such a tiny drop that it could just be down to random fluctuation.

One area which has actually improved with time is the Xperia XZ’s battery life. Originally we just about managed a full day of standard use per charge, meaning we had to plug in at night or risk waking up with no power. However, after the Nougat update and plenty of use, Sony’s flagship can actually last a day and a half between charges. That’s with plenty of messaging, music playback, camera use and a little bit of gaming.

This may be down to Android’s more efficient running behind the scenes, or perhaps some tweaking that Sony itself has done. Either way, I’m a happy bunny.

Of course, the Xperia XZ’s smart battery tech also helps to prevent long-term damage caused by overheating and overcharging, so we’re hoping that this 36 hours of regular use will persist.

Sony Xperia XZ 2017 review: Shoot me

Sony rarely disappoints with its camera tech and the Xperia XZ features one of the smartest mobile snappers we’ve played with.

This tri-sensor camera can capture images up to 23-megapixels in size, with good-looking results in almost any conditions. Detail levels are perfect and colour are realistically reproduced. Low light conditions are handled well too, as well as high contrast situations.

However, the Xperia XZ Premium's camera is a clear step up for photo quality in tricky conditions. Sony’s latest flagship offers low light performance comparable to the Galaxy S8, with realistic tones and impressive amount of detail captured. You also get better image stabilisation, especially when recording at 4K resolution or 60 frames-per-second, although the original XZ can shoot up to Ultra HD video no problem.

Check out our in-depth Xperia XZ camera review, which also compares this smart snapper to the Galaxy S7 and iPhone 7’s camera tech.

Sony Xperia XZ 2017 review: Verdict

The Xperia XZ can be picked up brand new from around £400 to £450 these days, if you know where to look. Alternatively, you can grab it on contract for a decent price - for instance, O2 is offering the XZ from £33 per month.

That’s quite a bit cheaper than the likes of Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and the LG G6. And while you don’t get the same super-premium display tech or the boosted performance, Sony’s handset is still a feature-packed media machine with few flaws. Even demanding users will be satisfied, six months after launch.