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Sony throws all its mobile eggs into the camera basket with new Xperia XZ flagship

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Sony’s move to metal-back phones in 2016 reaches its culmination today with the launch of the company’s new flagship phone, the camera-centric Xperia XZ. As the name suggests, it’s a splicing of this year’s Xperia X design with the previous flagship Z series, which was highlighted by a very good 23-megapixel camera. That imaging sensor reprises its starring role at the heart of the XZ’s camera system, but it’s now allied to a laser autofocus and an RGBC infrared sensor, which Sony says "accurately adjusts the white balance based on the light source in the environment." With this trident of sensors, Sony hopes to distinguish itself by simply taking better images than everyone else, and doing so in more challenging environments.

Beyond its cameras, the Xperia XZ is a quite ordinary flagship Android phone for 2016. It’s powered by the ubiquitous and proven Snapdragon 820 from Qualcomm, it has a fingerprint sensor built into its side-mounted power button, and its display is a reasonable 5.2 inches in size. With 3GB of RAM, 32GB of expandable storage, and 1080p resolution, the XZ could even be said to be slightly behind the curve — other debutants here at IFA, like the Nubia Z11, reach up to 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. To gain some distinctiveness for its 2016 flagship, Sony is introducing a new Forest Blue colorway that gives the device a bit more character.

xperia xz

But that’s the thing with this phone: it’s staking out a position as a camera leader and that will be its purpose for being. Sony has carried over its Predictive Hybrid AF from the Xperia X to help the XZ capture fast-moving subjects reliably, and the company’s also augmented that capability with 5-axis video stabilization. Up front, there’s a 13-megapixel camera with a maximum ISO stretching all the way up to 6400 — this helps the camera pull out a decently lit image even out of very dark environments, though that comes at the cost of image quality.

One somewhat disappointing aspect of the XZ is that it’s listed as only water-resistant, not waterproof like previous Z series flagship phones have been. Still, it does have Qnovo adaptive charging — which "monitors and adjusts the charging current to avoid damage for battery longevity" — and USB-C on board.

Photography by Tom Warren

Taken as a whole, the Xperia XZ can be considered quite a predictable advancement for the series. It marries Sony’s latest innovations and design philosophy with its established strengths and goes after the one hardware feature that everyone wants to be perfect: the camera. It’ll be hard to defeat the incumbents of Apple and Samsung in this field, but not impossible.

Sony today also launches its widely anticipated Xperia X Compact, a 4.6-inch Android smartphone that shares a number of the bigger flagship’s features and specs. the X Compact will be launching sooner, with UK sales opening from next week. The Xperia XZ will be available from the start of October.