Sony Xperia XZ1: So very nice, but so very same-old

Mala Bhargava | Updated on March 09, 2018 Published on November 29, 2017

Print yourself The 3D creator can be used to make stickers of your face

A solid build, unique camera and audio features, and a powerful 3D creator make this smooth phone stand out. But a tired design holds it back

Like many others, I miss the days when Sony was on top of its game in many categories and wasn’t out of the reckoning in the smartphone space. The Japanese electronics pioneer must have a very good reason for sticking to its old formula for phones, but I have no idea what that reason could be.

The old formula is back on its current flagship, the Xperia XZ1. In fact, I’d say it’s with a phone like this that you realise how important what’s on the outside is. Sony’s one concession to change is that the edges on its otherwise excessively boxy device are rounded. That makes the phone more slippery, but well, any change is welcome at this point.

The XZ1’s chassis is all metal and so it looks and feels totally solid without being heavy. Despite the slippery smoothness, it’s not uncomfortable to hold because of its size. The back is all smooth because the fingerprint sensor has moved to the Home button on the side, a bit awkward for the left-handed amongst us. The only thing you’ll notice on the back is a button-sized camera lens, protruding a little.

On the front, you have thick top and bottom bezels, now almost offensive on phones being born in this season. An edge-less Sony phone would probably look just great, but this unfortunately is not where we’ll get to see it. If you’re a confirmed Sony fan and have tended to like the way it looks and feels, you may well be among those who will find the design reassuringly familiar.

The 5.2-inch IPS LCD display is overall quite pleasant and crisp. Colours are on the realistic non-popping side. Should you miss that, you can get right into the settings and go super vivid and have the screen looking like an AMOLED in no time. There’s more tinkering you can do as well, changing white balance, etc.

Smooth as cream

Sony’s skin on top of Android Oreo is really quite light, though there’s nothing special or outstanding about it. As a result, the XZI works with supreme smoothness and is quite a pleasure to navigate. It’s fast and responsive to the point where it’s close to Google’s own Pixel phones. There are dozens of phones with plenty of RAM and so on, but not many of them achieve the level of smoothness the XZ1 does.

The XZ1 is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 processor, same as all the flagships at the moment, and works with 4 GB of RAM — but going by its smoothness you would think it was double that. No processor-heavy tasks are a problem for this device. It has 64 GB of internal storage plus a memory card slot for expansion. And of course, it is water and dust resistant because it’s Sony that set this trend a long while back.

Unique camera

The camera on this phone is special in a few ways. First off, it’s a 19 MP Exmor RS sensor with five-axis image stabilisation. What you get instead of the now popular background blur effect and dual cameras is super slow video recording, which, if you choose your moment carefully, can be quite amazing. Another special thing it does is to predict movement just before it happens. Basically it takes the beginning of an action and intelligently second guesses it and takes four photos, by which time the one you need will have a better chance of being well-shot. The camera also predicts emotions in the same way, which is an interesting feature.

The key feature on the camera is its ability to scan objects — or people, more interestingly — in 3D. The capability works with a 3D creator app. You can use it to go around a person and 3D scan the head, for example, and then 3D print it if you have access to a printer. You can use it for fun stuff like creating characters and stickers of yourself, or others.

The camera is obviously capable of 4K recording but lacks optical image stabilisation. It’s a unique camera with its own differentiation even though it doesn’t outdo the current camera favourites in all departments.

The XZ1 also has very special audio capabilities, with support for hi-res audio files. Music was always at the core of Sony and it’s nice that the company leverages its expertise on a smartphone. There are front firing speakers on the phone as well.

If there’s one thing other than the design that irks, it is the small battery with its 2,700 mAh rating. This is less than what is expected on a top-tier device and underpowered given that the phone is expected to play around with special camera capabilities and 3D scanning. You’re okay if you use the phone lightly through the day, but given its capabilities, why should you?

The Xperia XZ1 has a lot going for it, and a lot not. The price puts it in the pre-flagship category, which is nice and if you’re not one to worry about design, you’ll find it a great performer, although a few areas also keep it from being an outright steal.

Price: ₹44,990

Pros: Very smooth performance, clean interface with Android 8.0, good display, impressive 3D scanning, good camera, nice slow motion.

Cons: Dated design, battery too underpowered for device, no optical image stabilisation

Published on November 29, 2017
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