Sony Xperia XZ1 review

Sony copies and pastes another flagship that’s solid, if unspectacular

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Our Verdict

The Sony Xperia XZ1 is just as solid, and just as frustrating, as its recent predecessors. Sony has made another flagship smartphone that gets the core elements right – display, camera, battery, power – but none really excel.

For

  • Dust- and water-resistant
  • HDR display great for video
  • First phone with Android 8 Oreo

Against

  • Dated and bezel-heavy design
  • Camera not as good as rivals
  • High price, yet 'only' Full HD display

The Sony Xperia XZ1 is the latest flagship phone from the firm, but you’d be hard pressed to tell that at first glance.

That’s because Sony has once again indulged its seemingly irrepressible passion for its omnibalance design, which has changed only insubtle ways over the last four years.

You’d be forgiven for thinking the Xperia XZ1 is a couple of years old, such is its similarity to previous handsets such as the Xperia XZ from 2016, which is its immediate predecessor, as well as the Xperia Z5 (2015) and Xperia Z3 (2014).

At least the specs are more 2017 though, with a Snapdragon 835 chipset, 4GB of RAM, 19MP rear-facing camera, HDR support for the display and Android 8.0 Oreo on board.

That said, in a year when Samsung, LG and Apple have all gone almost bezel-less, and HTC and OnePlus overhauled their design propositions, it’s hard not to feel like Sony is slipping behind its rivals.

We did a live Q&A with the Xperia XZ1 and XZ1 Compact - you can watch it below

Sony Xperia XZ1 price and availability

  • Launch price: £599, $699.99
  • US release date: September 19
  • UK release date: September 22

The Sony Xperia XZ1 release date is September 19 in the US and September 22 in the UK, and while we don’t have availability dates for other regions we expect it to arrive in key markets around the same time.

As for the Sony Xperia XZ1 price, it’s set at £599 ($699.99, around AU$875) SIM-free at launch in the UK.

That makes the Xperia XZ1 a touch more expensive than the LG G6, HTC U11 and iPhone 7, but cheaper than the Samsung Galaxy S8 and iPhone 8.

Design

  • Slick premium design, but it looks dated and bezel-heavy
  • Water and dust resistance, with easy-access microSD slot

The Xperia XZ1 is the successor to the Xperia XZ, and while Sony has refined its new flagship phone for a slicker, more impressive finish, the design hasn’t moved on in a significant way for several years now.

It means the Sony Xperia XZ1 looks a little dated, especially next to the Samsung Galaxy S8 and LG G6 boasting impressively small bezels – and with the iPhone X adopting this futuristic look as well it feels like Sony is missing a trick.

It’s not the only manufacturer to keep the additional space around the screen though – the new iPhone 8, HTC U11 and OnePlus 5 all boast sizable bezel – but there’s no question that the bezeless brigade look better.

As we’ve mentioned though, Sony has subtly refined its design once again. First off, the Xperia XZ1 is a touch thinner than its predecessor at 7.4mm (down from 8.1mm), and it boasts a metal unibody carved from a single piece of aluminum, giving it a strong yet surprisingly lightweight feel in the hand – an improvement over the XZ.

There are three antenna breakout points on the handset, which appear as three slender bands on the sides of the device. Sony says these will improve network connection no matter how you’re holding the phone; in short, there’s less chance your hand will block all the antennas on the Xperia XZ1.

Sony Xperia XZ1 hands-on gallery

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These are minor improvements, as are the even more rounded edges, which make the XZ1 feel more secure in hand and easier to hold – although without the gently curving edges like you get on the Samsung Galaxy S8 it’s still stretch to reach a finger across the screen.

Around the sides you’ll find the usual suspects – there's a SIM and microSD tray on the left, while on the right are the volume rocker, dedicated camera button and concave power button.

Two notes on the buttons: first, the volume rocker has been shrunk, reducing the margin of error when you’re adjusting the volume. It’s a minor point, but we’d have liked a slightly longer key for a more natural input.

Second – and yet again – Sony has omitted the fingerprint sensor from the XZ1 in the US, while in other regions, including the UK, it's built into the easy-to-reach side-mounted power key.

The power key hides the fingerprint scanner, but not in the uS

The SIM tray is also needlessly fiddly. First you have to remove the plastic cover, which slides out with a microSD tray attached to it. This makes swapping expandable storage in and out easy, but the SIM tray doesn’t come attached.

Instead you have to dig out a separate plastic tray with your fingernail. It’s not easy, nor intuitive, and there’s no reassuring click when you slide the tray in to tell you it’s properly inserted.

The plus point here is that you don’t need a SIM tool to insert or remove the card, but we’d have liked the tray to be attached to the plastic cover like the microSD tray.

In true Sony Mobile tradition the Xperia XZ1 is also IP65/68 certified, meaning it’s fully dust- and water-resistant, while also being able to survive a dunk in the wet stuff without frying itself.

Around the XZ1’s top and bottom caps, the soft edges make way for the glossy, diamond-cut metal trim. The bottom plays host to the USB-C charging port, while you’ll find a 3.5mm headphone port on the top.

The SIM tray is needlessly fiddly

Sony has packed dual front-facing speakers into the Xperia XZ1, and these feature its new S-Force surround technology, which provides 50% more sound pressure than the speakers on the XZ.

This allows you to enjoy stereo surround sound while watching movies or playing games. We found the sound to be very good, and we much prefer the speaker placement over Samsung’s and Apple’s insistence on bottom-firing, single speakers which can be easily muffled by your hands.

The Sony Xperia XZ1 is available in four colors: Black, Warm Silver, Horizon Blue and Venus Pink, although it’s currently not clear if all those hues will come to every region the handset is sold in.

Finally on the design front, the back of the phone has received a tweak. The main camera sensor is located in the familiar place in the top-left corner, but the flash and laser have been relocated horizontally in the center of the handset.

Overall the Sony Xperia XZ1 has a smart, premium design which could well be suited to business professionals, but there’s no getting away from the fact that it looks dated compared to its rivals.

Display

  • 5.2-inch Full HD display isn’t as high-res as expected for the price
  • HDR supports provides an excellent viewing for video

The full HD, HDR display is great for supported movies

The display on the Sony Xperia XZ1 is another feature you wouldn’t expect to see on a flagship Android phone in 2017.

What you get is a Gorilla Glass 5-covered 5.2-inch 1080p display. At this size the screen is sharp, text is easy to read and images are rendered with a high level of detail.

However, for the same money – and in some cases less – you can nab a flagship smartphone with a QHD display from a rival, providing even more detail, color and punch direct to your eyeballs.

Considering that Sony has already slapped a 4K display on the Xperia XZ Premium, it makes the decision to drop all the way back to 1080p on the XZ1 all the more puzzling.

It’s not all bad news though, as Sony has added HDR support to the screen on the XZ1, which means you can enjoy bright, clearer and more impactful visuals from supported services including YouTube, Amazon Prime and Netflix.

Videos with HDR support look impressive on the XZ1’s display, and it makes for an enjoyable viewing experience. The chunky bezels above and below the display are useful here too, as it gives you somewhere to rest your thumbs without covering any of the display.