Sony Xperia XZ review:

The best of Sony, but not the best phone

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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Sony's Xperia XZ looks good, it won't die when you spill your drink on it and its bold screen makes mobile games look great.

The Bad Its battery life doesn't impress, and nor does the camera. Its full HD display isn't as high resolution as most of its rivals.

The Bottom Line The Sony Xperia XZ is a decent all-round phone, but it doesn't offer any competition to its main rival, the Galaxy S7. Its high price means the XZ isn't the phone to go for.

7.0 Overall
  • Design 7.0
  • Features 7.0
  • Performance 8.0
  • Camera 7.0
  • Battery 6.0

Sony needs to get it together. I've reviewed its phones -- from the top of the line down to the most basic -- for several years now, and I hate to see the Xperia family decline. Hard truth: It just can't keep up with its competitors. Take this "flagship" Xperia XZ, for example. It looks good, the screen is great and the Xperia line was water-resistant before IP68 was a glimmer in Samsung's eye.

But that's not enough of a reason to buy it. It costs a lot: $687, £540 or AU$999. Google's Pixel and Samsung's Galaxy S7 phones have much better cameras and longer battery life, for the same price or less. And their fingerprint readers work all over the world -- for some insane reason, Sony turns it off for the US. While there's little that's seriously wrong with the Xperia XZ, there isn't much to grab my attention, and that's a big contrast from even a year ago when Sony was an undersung brand just waiting for its time in the sun.

The Xperia XZ is a decent Android phone, but you'll probably feel more connected with the Google Pixel, OnePlus 3 or Galaxy S7. This one will get the job done; it just won't dazzle you while it does it.

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It's Sony's signature black block. That's metal this time, not glass.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Refined design

  • 161 grams (5.67 ounces)
  • 146x72x8.1mm (5.7x2.8x0.3 inches)
  • Fingerprint scanner on right edge -- but not in the US
  • Water resistant
  • 32GB built-in storage

If you've seen last year's Xperia Z5, you've basically seen the XZ. The newly rounded edges make the XZ a smidge more comfortable to hold, while also making it look less boxy. The back panel is metal, not glass, and while there's a seam separating it from a plastic strip at the bottom, it's smooth and feels good to hold.

The changes aren't huge and it still bears the unmistakably monolithic Sony design, but XZ looks and feels like more of a refined, luxurious option than its predecessor.

The phone is water and dust resistant (IP68 rated, if you're wondering), but that doesn't mean you can take it in the swimming pool. The protection it has is designed to keep it safe from accidental drink spills or rain, but it's not an underwater camera. Sony's official advice states, "You should not put the device completely underwater; or expose it to seawater, salt water, chlorinated water, or liquids such as drinks. Abuse and improper use of device will invalidate warranty." Yikes.

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Just a power button? Yes, but only in the US. Elsewhere it pulls double duty.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

There's a fingerprint scanner on the right-hand edge, built into the power button. Its position means the scanner is right beneath your thumb when you hold it in your right hand, or under your index finger when you hold it in your left. It's quick to register your fingerprint, and I found it to be fast and accurate in granting access.

Those of you in the US should note that the fingerprint scanner is disabled in the model sold there. In America, it's just a dumb power button. It's an odd move and it does put the XZ a step down against rivals like the Galaxy S7, which have the scanners built in wherever you buy them.

There's 32GB of built-in storage as standard, but you can pop in a microSD card to expand that to your heart's content. The XZ uses the new USB type-C, so prepare to replace your stash of old Micro-USB cables.

Bold display

  • 5.2 inches
  • Full HD (1,920x1,080-pixel resolution)

Colours really pop on this screen, making it a good option if you like playing vibrant games like Candy Crush or watch colourful TV shows like "Power Rangers." Although maybe that's just me.

It's a bright screen too, easily countering the overhead lights in CNET's London office, and being easily readable under Britain's grey, autumnal clouds. How it fares under midday summer sun remains to be seen, but I'm comfortable saying it'll be at least as good as most of its main rivals.

It has a full HD (1,920x1,080-pixel) resolution, which is sufficient to make apps and games look crisp, but it's not as high as you'd expect from a top-end flagship. Phones such as the Galaxy S7, LG G5 and HTC 10 all pack ultra high resolution displays, so the XZ feels like it's coming up short here. For everyday use this won't make much difference, but if you want to use a phone with a VR headset -- where the phone will be displayed close up in front of your eyes -- that lower resolution will be noticeable.

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The Xperia XZ runs Android Marshmallow.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Android Marshmallow, with additions

  • Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow software
  • Sony custom interface
  • Too much preinstalled software
  • 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor
  • 3GB RAM

The phone arrives with Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow on board, which isn't the absolute latest version -- that honour goes to Android Nougat -- but it's the most recent version you'll find on most phones at the moment. Sony has confirmed that the XZ will get the update, but hasn't yet set a firm date.

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