Sony Xperia XZ1 Review: Media maestro and super-smart snapper combined
- Gorgeous HDR screen
- All of the audio
- Flexible MotionEye camera
- No one-handed help
- Average battery life
Sony’s Xperia XZ1 flagship phone is a beautiful hybrid of last year’s Xperia XZ and the super-powered XZ Premium, offering impressive media playback on the move as well as some flexible camera tech for capturing attractive photos and home movies.
The Xperia XZ1 is the direct successor of Sony’s Xperia XZ flagship from 2016, with updated specs to help it rival other premium mobiles such as the Samsung Galaxy S8 and OnePlus 5. Of course, some of the XZ1’s best features have been lifted direct from the still-fresh XZ Premium handset, a mighty 5.5-inch blower that we reviewed just four short months ago.
If the Premium seemed a little too unwieldy to you, the Xperia XZ1 may well be the answer. We still adore Sony’s 4K Ultra HD handset, yet we have to concede that the bulky and hefty frame is rather off-putting, especially as there’s no nifty one-handed mode.
Step forwards the Xperia XZ1, which sticks with a more manageable 5.2-inch frame while still boasting HDR visuals, the latest Snapdragon smarts and that awesome MotionEye camera. Everyone from music lovers to gamers will find something to love about Sony’s new flagship, while the camera tech is a great tool for shooting ever-lasting memories.
Here’s our full Xperia XZ1 review and check out our XZ1 hub for all of our guides and other features on Sony’s latest mobile. We’ve also rounded up our favourite Sony phones in 2017, for you to check out alternative favourites.
Sony Xperia XZ1 Review: Design
Sony’s smartphone design has stuck quite closely to a distinctive template over the years. Sure, there have been some tweaks to the materials used, be it metal or glass, while the finer details are often revisited. Yet stack the flagship Sony Mobile devices from the past few years side-by-side and you’ll notice a striking similarity between them all.
The Xperia XZ1 is yet another subtle evolution, with the template mostly left untampered with. Face-on, you’ll spy the same chunky bezels above and below the display, which add significantly to the smartphone’s overall bulk. This sure isn’t an edge-to-edge design like the Galaxy S8 and Note 8, although we love how Sony handsets are so unique.
Compared with the XZ Premium, this new handset is certainly much better suited to one-handed use, thanks to the reduced dimensions. You still get the Premium’s ‘loop design’ finish however, rather than the blocky construction of the Xperia XZ. This offers pleasingly curved edges, which definitely feel nicer against the palm.
The Xperia XZ1’s unibody finish means less lines than before too, although that rear camera does jut from the surface somewhat. You can pick up Sony’s phone in a handful of colours and we recommend the more colourful options. That gold model is our personal favourite, although the pink is rather fetching too.
Most flagship mobiles these days boast full water resistance, so you can rock them in the bath or take them out in the slashing rain, and the XZ1 is no different. The IP68 rating means you can dunk it for around half an hour, in a metre of water. However, Sony seems to have improved significantly on the screen responsiveness when this phone is damp. Usually a moist display is pretty much unusable, as it registers all sorts of touches and taps that simply aren’t happening. However, the Xperia XZ1 manages to function as expected even when the screen is coated in water, which is mightily impressive.
One of our biggest complaints about the Xperia XZ design was how easily it picked up scratches. That metal backing looked rather worn down after just a couple of weeks. Thankfully this device seems much hardier so far, repelling scuffs with the best of them. Even without a case, you can expect your device to stay pristine.
The sleek Xperia XZ1 may not be a massive evolution over previous flagships when it comes to design, although the rugged unibody looks marvellous and is fully water resistant.
While they add to the distinctive look and feel of all Sony phones, those chunky bezels seem a bit old-fashioned these days.
Sony Xperia XZ1 Review: Screen and media
On the surface, the Xperia XZ1’s 5.2-inch IPS screen seems to be no different to the display found on last year’s Xperia XZ. Sizing and resolution remain the same, with Full HD visuals to keep your images and videos nice and sharp.
Sure that’s not as crisp as the visuals produced by Quad HD rivals, or of course the 4K panel found on the XZ Premium. Still, the 1920x1080 pixel resolution is perfectly fine for enjoying movie downloads on the go, offering up strong detail levels coupled with reliable brightness levels.
As before, you can jump into the display settings and turn on Sony’s Super Vivid Mode, if you’d like more striking visuals. This boosts colours to really make them pop, which we personally love. Knock the feature off again and you can expect more natural hues instead.
So, is there any actual difference between the Xperia XZ1 and XZ displays? Well, yes, a pretty big one. The XZ1 supports HDR video, so you can stream or download compatible shows from Netflix or Amazon Prime Video and enjoy incredible contrast levels and a wide colour gamut. The realistic visuals are simply stunning, and we’re expecting plenty more supported content in the near future.
Sony hasn’t forgotten about the audio side either. The usual array of great music-boosting features have been packed inside the XZ1, including Hi-Res Audio and Bluetooth 5.0 support. You also get the DSEE-HX software, which brings low-quality compressed tracks to life.
And if you want to listen to music or video via the built-in speakers, good news. Sony has boosted the power of these ‘S-Force’ front-facing stereo blasters, offering a strong maximum volume. More importantly, sound quality doesn’t take a hit at top power. You still get strong clarity, similar to the output of the HTC U11 BoomSound blasters.
HDR visuals, Hi-Res audio...media fans really have a lot to like here, whether they’re kicking back with Netflix or enjoying some tunes on the commute.
We could complain about the lack of Quad HD super-sharp visuals, although it’s a rather weak argument considering the quality of the Xperia XZ1’s screen.
Sony Xperia XZ1 Review: Features and OS
The Xperia XZ1 is one of the first smartphones to come rocking Android Oreo, the latest version of Google’s mobile OS. Oreo may look quite similar to Nougat on the surface, yet you get quite a few upgrades and cool new features, including some smart behind-the-scenes resource management. So we’re definitely happy, and impressed, that Sony managed to get full Oreo on board so soon.
Of course, Sony has tweaked the look and feel of Android, so the XZ1 fits in with the rest of the Xperia family. You’ll get the usual swirly live desktops and themes, which look as snazzy as ever. Meanwhile the likes of PS4 Remote Play helps you to pair up this phone and your Playstation console, to stream your gaming session to anywhere in the home. Even smartphone noobs are well catered for, with Sony’s on-board tutorials.
If you want to download loads of extra apps, the 64GB of on-board storage should keep you going for a while. You can also expand this using a microSD memory card, which slips into the same flap-covered slot as the SIM card.
Android Oreo makes its Sony debut with style, backed up by some great features such as PS4 Remote Play.
We’d have liked some one-handed help and gesture support, but hey ho.
Sony Xperia XZ1 Review: Performance and battery life
It’s no surprise to see Qualcomm’s mighty Snapdragon 835 platform powering the Xperia XZ1. After all, pretty much every Android flagship of recent months has come packing this chipset, from the OnePlus 5 through to the enormous Galaxy Note 8.
Nothing changes here, so you can once again expect buttery smooth performance all of the time. We’ve blasted through a selection of the latest games, streamed high-quality HDR video on the go and split-screened with apps and never seen a stutter.
That said, the Xperia XZ1 did crash a few times in our first week with the phone, something that thankfully settled down after about five days of constant use. This is no doubt down to the software (it seemed to be worse when using the camera), so hopefully should be fixed by the time the phone goes on general sale.
Battery life is solid, although not spectacular. With heavy use you’ll still just about make it through a full 24-hour period, without having to rely on Sony’s handy Stamina modes. If you simply use the Xperia XZ1 for checking messages and occasionally jumping online (which seems a complete waste of some awesome tech), you’ll get closer to a day and a half of life per charge.
Qnovo’s battery tech helps to prevent long-term damage through overcharging, which from our previous Xperia experience certainly seems to work well. All the same, you can fill up the battery nice and quick when it’s drained, thanks to the Quick Charge support.
You’ll reliably make it through 24 hours even with quite heavy use, while the Snapdragon 835 keeps everything running smoothly.
We’d have preferred longer battery life considering the efficient running of the 835.
Sony Xperia XZ1 Review: Cameras
Last but far from least, we come to the Xperia XZ1’s brilliant camera tech.
Sony has always been one of the front-runners when it comes to mobile cameras, even if the post-processing puts some people off. This latest MotionEye snapper is an upgraded version of the XZ Premium’s camera, boasting a new burst mode, smart smile capture and other tweaks. That means the Xperia XZ1 is as great as previous Sony phones at shooting your everyday existence, especially if you’re trying to shoot fast-moving subjects.
You can capture up to 4K resolution video, this time with the same brilliant Super Slow Motion mode of the Premium model. And with that 13-megapixel front-facing camera, you can capture some sharp-looking selfies too.
Head on over to our full Sony Xperia XZ1 camera review for photo and video samples and our full thoughts on this latest MotionEye masterpiece. We've also spent a lot of time with the unique 3D Creator tool, which can be used to scan an accurate three-dimensional model of your bonce. It's certainly impressive, although also incredibly bizarre.
Video capture is simply fantastic and the XZ1 is also very capable when it comes to snapping hyper kids and action shots.
The new smile mode is a bit hit and miss, often taking shots seemingly at random, while the 3D Creator tool still doesn't have any proper uses.
Sony Xperia XZ1 Review: Verdict
Sony’s Xperia XZ1 is one of the best phones around right now for demanding media fans and anyone after a world-class camera that slips into their pocket with ease. While this flagship may lack the gorgeous and innovative design work of Samsung’s premium devices, it’s still a good-looking and distinctive smartphone with a tough-as-nails build.
Sony Xperia XZ1 video review
Don't feel like reading words, or just want to see the new Sony phone in action? Check out our in-depth Xperia XZ1 video review below.