Sony releases two flagship smartphones every year, and though that might seem like an oddity, it’s not very different from what several other Android OEMs do. Samsung releases Galaxy S and Galaxy Note flagships roughly six months apart, and LG’s been doing something similar with the G series and the V series.
Both Samsung and LG, however, try and cater to different audiences with their two flagship ranges. Samsung’s Galaxy S series is clearly meant for a mainstream users, while the Note range with its S-Pen stylus and bigger screens targets professionals focussed on productivity. Similarly, while LG’s G series is the flag-bearer of its smartphone range, the V series has recently been used as an opportunity to experiment with different designs and form factors.
Sony doesn’t seem to have any such philosophy, and its second-half offerings can at best be considered incremental upgrades to each year’s ‘main’ flagship, with minimal changes. It’s no surprise then that the Xperia XZ1 looks virtually identical to the Xperia XZs from the front. This time, however, Sony has done enough to ensure that the Xperia XZ1 feels like a bit of a refresh over its predecessor, even though it lacks the narrow bezels and 16:9 display that became a popular trend in 2017.
First up is an all-new metal body that gives the Xperia XZ1 a definite leg up over the other members of its family. We especially liked the matte finish on our black unit – the only colour option available in India – which gives the phone a classy, understated look and feel. However, it still feels very ‘boxy’, and maybe rounded corners could ha addressed this.
Long-time Sony users will also note that the button layout on the right has been changed and the volume rocker is now above the power button. What’s unchanged is that the power button still houses the fingerprint sensor, which works quite well. You also still get a dedicated camera button towards the bottom of the right edge.
Sony has made some changes at the back. While the camera module is still in the top-left corner, the dual-LED flash is now to its right instead of just below as it was on the Xperia XZs. The Xperia XZ1 retains the USB Type-C port, and to the relief of many, the 3.5mm headphone jack as well.
Overall, despite these minor changes, it’s clear that the Xperia design language has been showing its age for a while now, and is badly in need of a major revamp. Sony executives have indicated we could get it soon, but as of today this phone looks dated compared to what other manufacturers are putting out there.
The Sony Xperia XZ1 has the same 5.2-inch display seen on the Xperia XZs but the new panel borrows a feature from the bigger, more expensive Xperia XZ Premium. The screen resolution is still full-HD so you don’t get 4K – which would be overkill for a screen of this size in any case – but the Xperia XZ1 does support HDR. If you watch a lot of videos on your smartphone and can find the right content – services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, in addition to YouTube, have a small but growing collection of HDR videos – this can improve the experience.
The difference is especially noticeable when you watch an HDR video on a panel that doesn’t support HDR side by side with a smartphone like the Xperia XZ1. While HDR by itself is not reason enough to change your smartphone – unlike a high-end TV, where you’d likely want HDR support – it’s definitely a nice bonus.
Like other Sony smartphones, the Xperia XZ1 lets you pick from three modes that impact the colour gamut and contrast ratio used to display on-screen content. The Standard mode that is selected by default offers fairly neutral colours. You can opt for the Professional mode to use the sRGB colour gamut for a more accurate, though muted colour appearance, or the Super-vivid mode, which makes the colours appear brighter, but to us this looked really over-the-top and unnatural.
The panel on the Xperia XZ1 has excellent viewing angles and gets sufficiently bright without being overly reflective – we didn’t have any issues when using the phone outdoors in direct sunlight. Gorilla Glass 5 is included as well.
Sony Xperia XZ1 specifications, performance, and battery life
The Sony Xperia XZ1 is powered by the Snapdragon 835 SoC – the standard for nearly all Android flagships of this generation, and the only major change in specifications compared to the Xperia XZs. There’s 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, of which around 54.5GB is available for your use out of the box. You can add up to 256GB of storage using a microSD card, though that means you will have to give up on the second SIM. 4G and VoLTE are supported, though LTE can be active on only one SIM at any given time.
As you’d expect from a phone of this class, we did not experience any issues in terms of day-to-day performance, and benchmark numbers for the Xperia XZ1 were similar to what we’ve seen with other Snapdragon 835-powered phones. Thankfully, the phone does not suffer from the heating issues that plagued the Xperia XZs and the Xperia XZ while recording 4K video or running other processor-intensive tasks. The phone is rated to be IP65/ 68 water- and dust-resistant.
The Xperia XZ1 features stereo speakers that sound good, but had us wishing they were a little bit louder. Like many other Sony phones, this model also supports a bunch of features for audiophiles, such as High-Resolution audio, LDAC-enhanced Bluetooth, aptX, and more.
Sony is pushing the 3D scanning capabilities of this smartphone as one of its headline features. Using only the primary camera – no dual camera setup here – the preloaded 3D Creator app lets you scan various types of objects: Face, Head, Freeform, and Food; each with a different preset mode of its own within the app. The idea is to let you grab 3D models of different kinds of objects, and then print them from your smartphone if you have access to a 3D printer, which obviously…