Sony Xperia XZ Premium review

Sony’s 4K smartphone boasts a pixel-packed display and a solid snapper

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Interface and reliability

  • Cleaner Android overlay is easy to use
  • Number of pre-installed apps is unnecessary

Sony has tidied up its Android overlay over the past year or so, which means you get a cleaner, less cluttered on-screen experience with the Sony Xperia XZ Premium.

Under the slick Sony coating is Android 8.0 Oreo, Google’s latest mobile operating system, after the Japanese firm started to roll out updates to replace the Android 7 Nougat  software the phone launched with.

The Android 8 software brings new features to the Xperia XZ Premium including Sony's clever 3D scanning application and a new auto smile detection mode in the camera app to make sure you never miss a grin.

These are features which launched with the Xperia XZ1 and XZ1 Compact, and it's great to see them being retrofitted to an older - but still highly capable - device.

We'll be bringing you more detail on the Android 8 update for the Xperia XZ Premium in this review, once we've had time to use it thoroughly.

For the most part though, it’s business as usual for anyone transitioning from another Android device.

Even if you’re considering a switch from an iPhone, Android and iOS have become more similar over the years, so the learning curve isn't as big if you do opt for the Xperia XZ Premium.

Something Sony hasn’t got out of the habit of doing, though, is pre-installing a number of apps on its phones. The Xperia XZ Premium has the standard phone-based applications along with Google’s suite, but the Japanese firm adds to these with at least another 10.

Some are useful, such as the fitness-tracking Livelog and video-editing Movie Creator, while Email, Music, Album and Video basically just duplicate the core functions of Gmail, Play Music, Photos and Play Movies & TV.

Then there are Sony’s What’s New and Xperia Lounge apps, which push content, downloads, apps and games, as well as a smattering of competitions and news, to you.

On the plus side, you can disable most of these apps if you decide you won’t use them – just long-press on them and tap the small ‘x’ that pops up next to the icon to hide them from view.

We found the XZ Premium was reliable under finger, and minus the odd screen rotation issue – fixed by closing all apps in the multi-tasking panel and re-opening – it had no trouble keeping pace with us.

Music, movies and gaming

  • 4K footage difficult to find, but looks stunning
  • Gaming is impressive
  • Great audio experience

With a heap of power under the hood, dual front-facing speakers, a 4K HDR display and high-resolution audio support, the Sony Xperia XZ Premium is a serious multimedia machine.

If you have access to 4K HDR video content, the Xperia XZ Premium will seriously impress. We watched a number of videos, and were blown away by the clarity of the display.

On-screen people look like they're sitting just the other side of the glass, as if you were looking through a window rather than at a smartphone display. It’s a wonderful viewing experience, and one that really has to be seen to be believed.

The thing is, it’s not exactly straightforward to see. That’s because the Xperia XZ Premium doesn’t make finding 4K HDR video particularly easy.

We hoped that on starting up the phone for the first time we’d be directed to an app or store featuring videos that would show off the phone’s corking display. 

However, there were no obvious signposts after getting past the setup wizard, so we headed to the pre-installed Google and Sony applications – Play Movies & TV, Xperia Lounge, What’s New, Video and YouTube – to see if any of them could offer us some help.

What’s New is essentially just a simple app store and download center for apps, themes and wallpapers.

The Video app was potentially the most confusing allowing us to select the cable television service we used at home and showing us a full program guide, but no links to any of that elusive 4K content we were after.

Google Play Movies & TV is no help either, as it doesn’t provide 4K HDR footage for handsets.

We did have some luck in the Xperia Lounge, with a banner advertising the fact that Amazon Prime Video provides a selection of 4K HDR content - although even getting to this isn't the most straight forward.

It requires you to first of all download Amazon's own third-party app store, called Underground, from which you then have to download the Prime Video app. You'll also need to dive into the phone's security settings and allow app downloads from 'Unknown Sources' before attempting to get download of Amazon's apps.

It all feels a little tiresome, and unless you're desperate for some 4K video we wouldn't blame you if you just gave up.

Netflix hasn't been overly helpful either, as for the first few month's of the XZ Premium's life it didn't support HDR playback on the handset. Thankfully it's now (from August 2017) got its act together, bringing its own HDR action the the screen of the Sony.

Getting into Prime Video though, finally, and the app has dedicated sections on the home page for 4K (UHD) and HDR programs including The Grand Tour and Red Oaks. The selection is still limited, but the hope is more will be added in the coming months.

It's unlikely you'll be able to stream in 4K though, as you'll need a seriously robust Wi-Fi or 4G connection. We didn't manage to get enough bandwidth at any point to stream at full resolution - which means you'll have to resort to downloading.

An hour TV show in 4K uses just under 7GB of storage per episode - so if you wanted the first full season of The Grand Tour you'll need 91GB of available space. 

Considering the Xperia XZ Premium only has 64GB built in (of which less than 50GB is available to you), it goes without saying a microSD card is a must if you're planning on downloading a lot.

If you fancy some free 4K action you can always head to YouTube. Here there's a large selection of 4K HDR footage, and as we’ve said it looks fantastic – but it’s not movies or TV shows.

Sony would be wise to make 4K HDR content more easily accessible to users, otherwise few will take advantage of the excellent display it's lavished on the Xperia XZ Premium.

Gaming, thankfully, is a much more straightforward affair. The Snapdragon 835 chipset and 4GB of RAM ensure the Xperia XZ Premium can handle anything you throw at it – and with the settings set to maximum.

The additional bezel above and below the display provides welcome room to hold the phone when in landscape mode – perfect for keeping as much of your hands as possible off-screen and out the way of the action.

The front-facing stereo speakers are another plus point, firing audio towards you, rather than into one of your palms.

Those speakers also come in useful when you want to to listen to music, with the Sony Xperia XZ Premium kicking out room-filling audio, although the quality isn't the highest.

Plug in a set of headphones though and the XZ Premium excels, thanks to its audio-enhancing technology and Automatic Headphone Optimization, which adjusts the sound output to suit the type of headphones you've plugged in.

There's good news for fans of wireless headphones and speakers too, as Sony has enhanced the audio output over Bluetooth. 

It's not the same high-resolution quality you'll get over the wired connection when you plug a set of headphones into the 3.5mm jack, but it is an improvement over the general standard.

The Sony Xperia XZ Premium gives a great audio experience over headphones, both wired and wireless, so if you're a big music fan you'll want to check out this phone.

Performance

  • Fast, fluid operation with no lag
  • Apps open quickly and multi-tasking is easy

As we’ve already hinted at, the performance of the Sony Xperia XZ Premium is excellent. The Snapdragon 835 chip and 4GB of RAM combo matches the Samsung Galaxy S8 and LG G6 for pure grunt.

We ran the Geekbench 4 app on the XZ Premium and it averaged a multi-core score of 6,424. That's an excellent result and puts it close to the Samsung Galaxy S8 which averaged 6,630 and above the Huawei P10 which scored 5,888.

What does it mean for you though? Well apps load swiftly, Android runs smoothly, and the Xperia XZ Premium will happily run multiple apps at the same time and let you jump between them with ease.