SONY HAS TAKEN SOME TIME bringing its new flagship, the Xperia XZ Premium to the market. Announced at Mobile World Congress in February, it's only just landing in June. It's still the only phone on the scene with 960fps slow-mo video, a 4K HDR screen and 1GB download speeds, though, ensuring that even in June, it's cutting-edge.
But are these accolades enough to make the XZ Premium stand out in a crowd of excellent flagship smartphones?
Boy does this phone look familiar. With a combination metal and glass body, the Sony Xperia XZ Premium looks like a shinier, blown up Xperia XZ. Thanks to Gorilla Glass 5 around the back and front, it's high-gloss and well protected, and with IP68 water and dust resistance, it can be submerged for up to 30 minutes in depths up to 1.5 metres.
Interestingly, those are, for the most part, accolades shared by HTC, LG and Samsung's latest flagships, and the iPhone 8 leaks are leaning in that direction too.
Unlike the new Galaxy S8 and LG G6, though, Sony has opted for the more traditional screen aspect ratio of 16:9. This means that the phone isn't overly long, is plenty wide and will require you to have, at least fairly sizeable hands in order to use it comfortably.
Getting specific, the XZ Premium measures in at 156mm tall, 77mm wide and 7.9mm thick. It has a fair amount of bezel going on above and below the screen. These bezels house the front speakers and a high-resolution, 13MP selfie camera.
The power button on the right side of the phone also doubles up as a fingerprint scanner and, there's a physical camera button too, with two stage input.
In isolation, the Xperia XZ Premium looks and feels just that - premium. It's well weighted, high-quality and good-looking. Next to the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S8 and LG G6, it looks a little dated - but don't discount the in-hand comfort a bit of bezel adds to day to day use. Oh, and one last thing, keep a cleaning cloth with you at all times, or, use a case. Fingerprints are the name of the game on this flagship.
With a world-first 4K HDR mobile screen, you really would expect this phone to blow all others out of the water. Not only does it have more pixels than any other, it also supports the new TV tech, HDR video.
Let's start with the specs: IPS LCD technology, 5.46in and a resolution of 3840x2160 pixels. This resolution results in a pixel density of 807 pixels-per-inch (ppi). To put it into context, an iPhone 7 Plus has a pixel density of 400ppi, the Huawei P10 Plus clocks in at 540ppi and a Samsung Galaxy S8+ has 531ppi.
Anything above 400ppi delivers sharpness imperceptible pixels to a human eye, so you have to wonder, is doubling it just overkill? For the most part, yes it is. Most apps are drawn at a resolution of Full HD or Quad HD. The bulk of what you're experiencing is therefore likely upscaled. I also couldn't see a benefit in terms of clarity over a Samsung Galaxy S8 or an HTC U11, phones packing Quad HD displays. Finally, the XZ Premium isn't pushed by Sony as a VR phone, VR being one of the only areas that would benefit from 800+ ppi display.
If the 4K screen on the XZ Premium contributes to additional battery drain, therefore, I for one could have done without it.
In defence of Sony's decision though, the fact it does show off 4K footage captured on the device in its native resolution means there's no down-sampling. It's also futureproofed, with Netflix and Amazon Prime video expected to be rolling out streaming 4K movies and TV shows to smartphones imminently.
Now we've talked about resolution, let's move onto screen tech, and the XZ Premium's display is a Triluminous IPS panel with Sony's X-Reality Engine giving it a bit of extra oomph. In addition, the HDR video accolade comes into play when watching supported content. It really does make a difference, with HDR content looking punchier, having a more discernible range of darks through to lights and therefore delivering an even more immersive experience. As good as it is, HDR video is currently limited to a handful of streaming titles, making this feature a nice to have, rather than a primary buying motivator.
Picture quality on the XZ Premium is also exceptional. In a turn for the books for IPS devices, it doesn't fall short when watched side-by-side with the AMOLED Samsung Galaxy S8+. Specifically, it handles detailed footage and colour gradients noticeably better than Samsung's flagships. While the S8+ introduces colour banding, the pin-sharp XZ Premium retains smooth colour transitions better and also looks a bit more realistically muted. That said, it does look less vibrant and deep, especially when watched in the dark, so there is a trade-off.
Additional image controls are also available in the settings, enabling control over white balance and offering a range of modes, from ‘professional', for realistic colours through to ‘Super-vivid mode' for a bit more punch.
Next: UI, camera and super slow motion