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Sony's Xperia XZ flashes its 23-megapixel camera (hands-on)

The latest flagship plays to Sony's strengths with waterproofing and a lot of camera potential.

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Cameras are Sony's strength, so we took note when its Xperia XZ appeared with a 23-megapixel rear shooter and a 13-megapixel selfie cam. Partly because of the cameras, partly because of its metal build and partly because of the current Qualcomm 820 chipset, Sony considers the Xperia XZ a flagship phone of the X series. And so far it seems to mostly fit there, as far as the specs list goes -- especially compared to the tiny, plastic Xperia X Compact that shares the same megapixel-heavy rear camera. (That phone might well wind up being the better buy for casual users.)

At 5.2 inches, the screen's a little smaller than some, which makes the body easier to maneuver with one hand. The resolution and battery capacity are a little lower, too. An IP68 rating makes the Xperia XZ -- named for its a stylistic cross between the Xperia Z and Xperia X Performance -- submergible in 5 feet of water for up to 30 minutes.

I didn't get a whole lot of quality time with the camera in our hands-on briefing, so it's too soon to comment on image quality. But the camera is easy to operate with both tap and swipe controls, and there are plenty of filters. Lasers help with autofocus and an RGBC sensor promises to punch up lowlight scenes. More exacting photographers will find a manual mode.

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My complaint with Sony is that it (illogically) insists on turning off the fingerprint reader in the US. Globally, though, the power button that doubles as a fingerprint reader works quickly and accurately on other phones we've tested, like the Xperia X from earlier this year. Anyone Stateside who buys the US version of the XZ (or any other Sony phone) will have to do without that common security measure.

The Xperia XZ starts selling October in the US. We'll update with global pricing and availability as soon we have it.

Sony Xperia XZ Sony Xperia X Compact
Software Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow
Display 5.2-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels 4.6-inch; 1,280x720 pixels
Construction Metal build Polycarbonate (plastic) build
Rear camera 23-megapixel 23-megapixel
Front-facing camera 13-megapixel 5-megapixel
Processor Snapdragon 820 Snapdragon 650
Storage 32GB/64GB 32GB of storage
RAM 3GB 3GB
Battery 2,900 mAh 2,700 mAh
Fingerprint reader Globally; Not in US Globally; Not in US
Waterproofing IP68 None

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