Xperia XZ1: Has Sony finally made a good-value flagship smartphone?

Intro

I don’t think you need me to tell you that Sony’s smartphones, as of late, are not what you’d call….value for money. In fact, I may have strongly suggested in the past that a lot of their devices are grossly overpriced for the features they offer. So, with every new Sony flagship smartphone, I always have my fingers crossed that they will finally come to their senses.

Well, it’s that time of the year again and we’ve got Sony’s second big flagship smartphone launch in Malaysia. This time, the company has pushed out a phone that looks nearly identical to its predecessor, is priced roughly the same, but has a brand new “first in the world” camera feature.

At this point, you might be wondering “now where have I heard this before?” and you wouldn’t be the only one. But this time, I think things aren’t that simple.

Sony’s new phone is called the Xperia XZ1. This time it’s a proper flagship and not another XZs. In fact, it actually feels like a combination of the XZ Premium and the XZs.

Inside, you’ve got a Snapdragon 835 octa-core 10nm processor mated to 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage, which is about the same kind of hardware you’d find in the XZ Premium from earlier this year. Though, you do get Android Oreo out of the box and that’s great. However, battery capacity takes a hit, going down to 2,700 mAh (down from both XZs and XZ Premium) and you only get a 5.2-inch Full HD panel. However, Sony says that this time the panel supports HDR which is a nice touch.

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Accompanying the handset’s new HDR display are a pair of front facing stereo speakers. On the XZs, I found that the stereo speakers weren’t loud enough but it seems Sony may have just fixed that with the XZ1 as I could hear it pretty clearly even on the noisy demo floor.

As you can probably tell from the photos, if there’s one thing that hasn’t changed, it’s the way Sony designs their smartphones. To the layman, it’s almost indistinguishable from the phones it succeeds. Sony is trying to turn it into a positive thing by giving it fancy names like “Loop Surface” and calling it a “Timeless Design”, but I’m not convinced.

I’d tell you that the phone looks really dated and that bezels that thick have no place on a 2017 flagship, but at this point it’s like beating a dead horse. At least it has phones like the HTC U11, Xiaomi Mi 6, OnePlus 5 and Nokia 8 to keep it company in this regard.

Still, I can appreciate several design choices Sony has made that makes the XZ1 one of the more satisfying Sony phones I have had the chance to hold. The first is the choice to opt for full-metal body where its entire back plate and the sides are milled from a single block of aluminium then anodised into a gorgeous matte finish. This sheds the cheap-ish feeling you get from the XZs and the seamless sides really go a long way in making this phone feel good in the hand.

The second design choice is to launch with a matte black colour option that I think looks very sexy. In a world full of shiny reflective phones, it’s nice to have a handset that almost seems to absorb light. Unfortunately, it also seems to absorb fingerprints and the unit I had was almost impossible to wipe down. That said, it does have IP68 water resistance so you can just run it under the tap when it gets a little too disgusting. I do that all the time with Samsung’s shiny flagships.

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