Update: Sony's next flagship could actually be called the Xperia XR and it's been leaked in a new set of renders, complete with slim dimensions.
Sony turned it all around with the Xperia Z5, making up for the lacklustre Sony Xperia Z3+ with a far more stable phone. It also benefited from one of the best fingerprint scanners we've seen on a handset and a camera upgrade that made for much clearer photos.
Yet we can't help but feel that Sony could have done even more. There are still missing features and undercooked specs and there's only so many times the company can wheel out essentially the same design, even if it has been increasingly polished.
But making the best phone it can might mean ditching the Z line altogether, as Sony currently seems a lot more focused on the Xperia X range and it's unclear whether we'll get a Sony Xperia Z6 at all.
The latest leaks suggest a mystery new phone is in the works, but whether this is the Xperia Z6, the Xperia X2, or something else altogether remains unclear.
Cut to the chase
- What is it? Sony's next Z-branded flagship
- When is it out? Possibly IFA 2016 in September, if it launches at all
- What will it cost? It'll be expensive, it's a flagship after all
Sony Xperia Z6 or Xperia X2?
The Xperia Z6 is a confusing situation. Sony took to the stage at Mobile World Congress 2016 to announce three new phones; the Xperia X, Xperia XA and Xperia X Performance, followed shortly after by the Xperia XA Ultra. The eagle-eyed among you will note none of these bears the Z6 moniker.
The phones feature premium specs, with the Xperia X boasting a fingerprint scanner and a 23MP rear facing camera much like the Xperia Z5 - but the assumption is they will slide in below the flagship Z line. Or so we thought.
Sony didn't confirm whether these are its new flagship devices - thus killing off the Xperia Z6 and the Z line - and since the launch it's not exactly made the situation any clearer.
Over the course of MWC the question was put to a variety of spokespeople from the company and the message was somewhat confusing.
Jun Makino Senior Product Marketing Manager at Sony Mobile told uSwitch "I can't comment on the future, but we will not be releasing a Z6." He said that Sony is "turning to the next stage, with the Xperia X series".
But soon after, Sony denied this was the case. In a statement to techradar, a Sony spokesperson said "Although we can never confirm about the future possibilities of our product line-up, we can share with you that we have no plan to launch Xperia Z6 at this stage."
Emphasis on the "at this stage" part, suggesting that Sony does plan to announce the Xperia Z6 in the future. That was then followed by a statement to AndroidPIT from Sony Mobile US which said, "The Z series is not going away. We want to make it clear."
But more recently a leaked slide seemingly shows that Sony plans to focus exclusively on the 'X' brand until at least 2018. It may not be genuine of course, but it's looking like we may not see the Xperia Z6 for quite some time. For now the Xperia X2, Xperia XR, or whatever Sony's next high-end phone ends up being called, could be the closest we'll get to it.
Here's our look at the Xperia X and what it means for the Xperia Z6.
Sony Xperia Z6 release date
Sony announced the Xperia X range at MWC 2016 in February, and the handsets started going on sale this summer.
Usually we see an Xperia launch at both MWC and IFA in September, so it may be that Sony has chosen to give the Xperia Z6 a miss in Barcelona and just go for an IFA 2016 launch this year.
That's looking distinctly possible, as Sony has announced an IFA press conference on September 1, while a new phone has recently popped up in a series of leaks, suggesting it could be on the way soon.
But while the handset just about has flagship specs the model number suggests it could be another entry in the Xperia X range - perhaps the Sony Xperia X2 or the Xperia XR as it's now rumored to be called.
In fact a couple of model numbers have emerged, suggesting we might be seeing a whole new range of phones. That could mean an Xperia Z6 and Xperia Z6 Compact, but at the moment it looks more likely that it's new X entries.
A source speaking to cnBeta has previously said that we'd see two Sony flagships this year- one in June and one in October. But even if that's true it's not clear whether the new phone will carry Z branding.
TechRadar's take: A new flagship phone will likely arrive at IFA, but it will probably be called the Xperia X2 or similar. The Z6, if it ever arrives, is unlikely to land this year.
Sony Xperia Z6 design
- A brushed metal back
- A slim build
Early rumblings about the Sony Xperia Z6 suggested it would have a completely new design, with metal playing a big role. The Sony Xperia Z5 and most other Sony flagships have a metal frame with a glass back, so perhaps Sony will be ditching the glass and going all-metal. However, it's possible that this rumor was referring to the Xperia X, which itself is metal-clad.
More recently rumors have referred to a high-end phone with the model number F833X, which suggests it's a member of the X range, but it could be the closest thing we're going to get to an Xperia Z6.
These rumors include a number of leaked photos, showing a phone with curved edges but a flat top and bottom, with a back that's seemingly brushed metal. That flat top and bottom would be a change for Sony, which has rounded them in its recent phones.
We've also seen leaked renders sporting the same design, but with dimensions attached - specifically 146.4 x 71.9 x 8.1mm, which would make it slightly slimmer than the 8.7mm thick Xperia X Performance.
They could well be accurate and they reveal other details like the apparent presence of a USB Type-C port for charging, though the 3.5mm headphone port is thankfully still intact.
What's less clear is if the Xperia X2 will be dust and water resistant. Sony dropped the feature from the likes of the Xperia X and Xperia XA, but it's managed to keep waterproofing intact for the Xperia X Performance.
TechRadar's take: The leaked shots look convincing, but the handset on show is likely to be an X rather than a Z.
Sony Xperia Z6 screen
- 5.1-inch 1080p screen
- 3D Touch
Early Sony Xperia Z6 rumors claimed it would have a 5.2-inch screen, just like the Xperia Z5. That marks it out as separate to the Xperia X phones, as they are all 5.0 inches other than the 6.0-inch Xperia XA Ultra.
However, more recently a benchmark showing off what's likely to be Sony's next high-end phone (whether Z6 or X2) has listed a marginally smaller 5.1-inch 1080 x 1920 display. That 5.1-inch size has since been echoed by another leaker, so it's our best guess at the size.
A 1080p resolution would be lower than most flagships, which are starting to embrace QHD displays, but it would be in line with the likes of the Sony Xperia X Performance. Whatever the case, the display on the Xperia Z6 / Xperia X2 apparently won't be 4K, despite Sony introducing that resolution on the Xperia Z5 Premium.
Whatever the resolution, it may benefit from 3D Touch-like technology if rumors are to be believed.
TechRadar's take: Sony seems quite happy to stick with 1080p screens, while a 5.1 or 5.2-inch size seems believable - pushing it above the original X handsets but not into phablet territory.
Sony Xperia Z6 camera and battery
- High megapixel counts on both front and rear cameras
- 4K video support from both
A leaked benchmark for a mystery high-end Sony phone reveals a 21MP rear camera and a 12MP front-facing one, while someone who claims to have got hold of a prototype reckons it has a 23MP rear camera and a 12MP front-facing one.
23MP seems more likely, given that both the Xperia X Performance and Sony Xperia Z5 have such a sensor, while that 12MP front-facing snapper could actually be 13MP, in line with the Sony Xperia X Performance.
We've also heard that both snappers will be capable of shooting in 4K, rather than just the rear one, while it's clear from leaked shots that the main camera has a dual-LED flash.
We haven't heard any battery rumors yet, but Sony tends to use relatively small yet efficient juice packs, so we'd guess it will be 3,000mAh at most.
TechRadar's take: A 23MP rear camera and 13MP front-facing one just like the Xperia X Performance would be our best guess, as Sony tends to stick to similar camera tech for a while. But some tweaks are likely and 4K footage from the front snapper would help it stand out.
Sony Xperia Z6 OS and power
- Snapdragon 820 processor
- 3GB of RAM
The earliest Xperia Z6 rumors include reference to the Snapdragon 820 chip, which is the minimum we'd expect to see given that it's the main flagship processor of 2016.
More recently we've seen a benchmark listing a Snapdragon 820 chip, coupled with 3GB of RAM and an Adreno 530 GPU. Another leak also mentions 3GB of RAM, so that's looking likely, which is unfortunate as it's a step down from the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S7 and HTC 10, both of which have 4GB of RAM.
Still, it's in line with the Xperia X Performance and Sony rarely puts the most cutting edge tech in its phones.
The benchmark also reveals that the phone will run Android Marshmallow rather than Android Nougat. If it launches in early September that's quite possible, but if we're waiting longer Nougat is likely.
TechRadar's take: Sony seems to have slightly dropped out of the specs race, so a Snapdragon 820 chip and 3GB of RAM seem believable, though if so the Xperia Z6 / Xperia X2 may struggle to stand out.
Sony Xperia Z6 other features
- Stereo speakers
The Sony Xperia Z6 or Xperia X2 is likely to once again have a fingerprint scanner and leaked images also suggest it will have front-facing stereo speakers, while the NFC sensor seems to be present, but at the front rather than the back.
A USB Type-C port has been spotted too, which would be a first for a Sony phone and would allow for reversible USB cables.
TechRadar's take: Sony tends to put a big focus on sound and has used stereo speakers before, so their presence here is likely, while USB-C would make sense too as most brands will start using it sooner or later.
Sony Xperia Z6 rivals
The Sony Xperia Z6 will be up against the biggest flagships of the year, like the Samsung Galaxy S7 and HTC 10. Both of these phones have QHD screens, while the Xperia Z6 will likely just be 1080p. It could also have less RAM, leaving it with a tough fight on its hands.
It will also have to face up to the iPhone 7. That hasn't been launched yet but is rumored to include a large camera and plenty of power, but no 3.5mm headphone port.
Sony Xperia Z6 cost
There aren't any price rumors yet, but we'd expect the cost will be in line with past Sony flagships like the Xperia Z5 and Xperia X Performance, so it's likely to come in at roughly US$700/£525/AU$1000.
- Take a look at the Sony Xperia X