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Sony’s Eye-Catching 4K HDR Xperia XZ Premium

BARCELONA—Sony regularly releases Xperia devices at MWC, but this year they may steal the show. We went hands (and eyes) on with the Sony Xperia XZ Premium, the first phone with Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 835 processor, which powers a 5.5-inch 4K HDR display—a visually stunning resolution and a feature thus far only seen on TVs.

For those who aren’t keen on phablets, there’s also the 5.2-inch Xperia XZs, which does make some compromises on resolution and processor to accommodate the smaller body. And for the midrange market, Sony has the phablet-sized Xperia XA1 Ultra and the smaller XA1. All four unlocked phones are expected to launch in the spring or summer, with availability and pricing details to come.

Sony XZ Premium and Xperia XZs

The Sony Xperia XZ Premium is undoubtedly the flagship phone of the bunch. In terms of overall build quality, it follows Sony’s traditional design language, resembling the Xperia XZ $449.99 at Amazon most closely.

Sony XZ Premium

The Xperia XZ Premium has a pane of Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and back, with rounded corners and a display that partially curves at the sides. The top and bottom edges sport antennas, giving it a seamless design without impacting network performance. The overall feel is sleek but not slippery. With a 5.5-inch display, it’s certainly a phablet, making it a bit difficult to use with one hand, but the rounded sides make it easier to grip than the Google Pixel XL $545.98 at Amazon. If you need something smaller, the Xperia XZs has a similar look in a more manageable form factor.

Attractive design aside, it’s the Xperia XZ Premium’s 5.5-inch 4K HDR display that immediately draws the eye. HDR gives the phone deep blacks, rich whites, better contrast, and more vivid colors. It’s by far the single best panel we’ve seen on a smartphone. That said, we also anticipate the display will be power-hungry, so Sony allows you to turn off HDR, as well as downscale from 4K to 1440p or 1080p. You can also turn off other parts of Sony’s image-enhancement features, like Triluminos and X-Reality.

The Xperia XZs has a 1080p display and doesn’t support HDR.

Xperia XZ phones

Above: Xperia XA1, Xperia XZs, Xperia XZ Premium

If you can tear your eyes away from the display, the top of both phones sport a 3.5mm headphone jack with support for high-resolution audio and digital noise cancellation for wired listening. Users of Bluetooth headphones can take advantage of LDAC, Sony’s high-quality wireless audio transmission. On the bottom are stereo speakers with full range drivers.

The XZs and XZ Premium both support expandable storage cards up to 256GB. SIM card and microSD card slots are accessible through a flap on the left side.

Both phones have a USB-C charging port that supports Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0. Once again, however, Sony will not activate the phones’ fingerprint sensors in the US. They exist on the phone—integrated with the power button on the right—but US users will find them disabled, a mysterious omission Sony continues to defend as a “business decision.”

Xperia XZ bottom

Above: Xperia XZs

The two devices are IP65/68 waterproof, meaning they can withstand immersion in 5 feet of water for up to 30 minutes.

Under the hood, the XZ Premium packs plenty of power. It has an octa-core Snapdragon 835 processor with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage. This is the most powerful chipset Qualcomm has available, and it’s one we expect to see on the Samsung Galaxy S8 as well. Its presence means the XZ Premium has Cat 16 LTE with 4×4 MIMO, allowing it to achieve a gigabit download speed, once those networks rollout.Related Story

The Xperia XZs is unfortunately pared down a bit. It has a Snapdragon 820 processor and 4GB of RAM, which still gives it plenty of power, but not as much as the XZ Premium.

The XZ Premium has a 3230mAh battery, which should have no trouble handling all-day usage, Sony says. Of course, that will heavily depend on how much you use the display and if you have HDR and 4K enabled at all times. The Xperia XZs has a smaller 2900mAh cell, but that should still be ample taking into account its smaller size and less demanding display.

Sony Xperia XZ battery management

You’ll find Sony’s usual power-management software, along with some new tricks. Both phones have a revamped Smart Stamina mode that helps you optimize power management by learning your usage habits and turning off 4K or Wi-Fi and other things you may not be using at certain times of the day. Qnovo, meanwhile, adapts charging cycles to lengthen the lifespan of your battery. When plugging in at night it’ll adjust its output so the phone charges normally at first before switching to trickle charging as you approach 100 percent to keep you from wearing out the cell.

There’s a 19-megapixel, rear-facing camera on the back with the same RGB and IR sensors as the Xperia XZ. The RGB sensor is intended to improve color reproduction, while the laser autofocus increases focus speed, and the CMOS sensor with phase detection autofocus should improve low-light shooting. One interesting feature both phones share is Motion Eye, a memory embedded sensor that immediately processes images allowing it to minimize distortion and reduce post-processing time. We were able to snap crisp shots with both phones, and they handled the variable lighting conditions of the showroom well, focusing fast in low light and well-lit areas alike.

Xperia XZ premium

Above: Xperia XZ Premium

The rear sensor is capable of 4K video recording at 30fps and ultra-slow motion recording at 240fps. The latter allows for some very cool action shots, though fluorescent lighting caused some flickering. Of course, software isn’t final so we expect issues like that to be ironed out by release. The 13-megapixel front-facing camera also took solid shots.

The phone will come running Android 7.1.1 Nougat, with Sony’s custom UI running on top. It’s not a heavy UI layer at all, and aside from some minor visual and animation changes, it’ll be familiar to most Android users. Like many manufacturers, Sony has incorporated AI assistants into both phones with various smart features for event notifications, scheduling, and daily briefings.

The Xperia XZs launches April 5 for $699.99. The Xperia XZ Premium will get a release in spring 2017 and it’s almost certain to be more costly than the XZs due to the higher-resolution display, more powerful processor, and larger battery.

Sony Xperia XA1 and XA1 Ultra

XA1 Ultra

Above: Xperia XA1 Ultra

The Sony Xperia XA1 and XA1 Ultra may not have the same bells and whistles as the Xperia XE Premium, but that doesn’t mean they’re not appealing devices in their own right.

The XA1 Ultra is a super-sized 6-inch, 1080p phablet with an edge-to-edge borderless display, giving it a large screen to go along with its hefty dimensions—6.5 by 3.1 by 0.3 inches (HWD). It’s much bigger than the 5-inch, 720p XA1 (5.7 by 2.6 by 0.3 inches) so you certainly won’t be able to use it with one hand. Its large size also makes it a bit heavier than most phones at 6.6 ounces, compared with the 5 ounce XA1. Unfortunately, neither phone has waterproofing.

Under the hood, both devices run a MediaTek Helio P20 octa-core processor clocked at 2.3GHz. We didn’t get a chance to sneak in any benchmarks, but both devices felt smooth and responsive, barring the minor stutter, which may be due to pre-release software. The XA1 has a configuration of 4GB RAM with 32GB and 64GB internal memory options. The XA1 comes with 3GB RAM and up to 32GB of internal storage. Both phones can take a 256GB microSD card.

Sony Xperia XA1 Ultra

The XA1 Ultra has a 2,700mAh battery compared with the smaller 2,300mAh cell on the XA1. Both phones support Sony’s proprietary Pump Express+ 2.0 quick charging, along with a built-in Stamina mode to save battery life and Qnovo’s adaptive charging to extend battery lifespan. The XA1 Ultra has a USB-C charging port, but you’ll find a micro USB port on the XA1.

The camera sensors seem promising on paper. Both devices have 23-megapixel rear-facing cameras that launch fast and take quick snaps. We only got a few test shots, but they appeared crisp in the variable lighting condition of the showroom. That said, the camera app itself wasn’t as responsive as the one on the Xperia XZ Premium and XZs, but these are pre-production units so that may be resolved by launch.

Sony Xperia XA1 Camera

Both phones run Android 7.0 Nougat, with Sony’s unobtrusive UI layer running on top. You’ll find some visual and animation changes and a few extra features, but things largely retain a stock Android appearance.

The Xperia XA1 will be available on April 26 for $299.99. XA1 Ultra pricing wasn’t announced, but it’s expected to launch in summer 2017 and will likely be more costly than the XA1 due to the bigger body and higher resolution display. Stay tuned for more details and check back for our full reviews.

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