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Sony Xperia XZ Premium, XZs, XA1 Ultra, XA1: Our first take

U.S. customers can buy a Sony Xperia XZs smartphone on April 5 for $700

Why it matters to you

If you're a Sony fan, you have a range of smartphone options to choose from in the Xperia line.

Sony is back with its Xperia lineup, and if you were expecting an all-new design, you may be disappointed. The differences from last year’s lineup are largely internal, though the four smartphones have some unique features that make them stand out.

There are two lines within the main Xperia line that Sony debuted at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. On the lower end of the spectrum are the Xperia XA1 and XA1 Ultra, and on the opposite end are the Xperia XZ Premium and the Xperia XZs.

Pricing and availability

Sony has announced availability for the Xperia XZs. It’ll go on sale April 5, and it’s available for pre-order on Amazon, Best Buy, and “other participating retailers” at a suggested retail price of $700.

The Xperia XZ Premium will launch in the spring, but it may be a while before we get to buy it. It will be available for pre-order in the Netherlands starting May 1. And the device popped up briefly on an Amazon U.K. listing with a June 1 release and a price tag of 649 British pounds (around $810), but that release date has since been taken down. We do know, however, that the XZs will cost $700 and it will launch on April 5. The Snapdragon 820 processor is a year old, and there are devices with better processors that cost less, so it may be a tough sell.

There’s nothing exciting about these devices, as there’s not much of a visible difference from last year. It also doesn’t seem as though the improvements are features consumers would really be interested in, though some of the camera tricks like Predictive Capture seem interesting. We’ll have to see if the Xperia line can take on the intense competition when the phones arrive later this year.

Xperia XZ Premium and XZs

With its 4K HDR display and Snapdragon 835 processor, the 5.5-inch XZ Premium is the cream of the crop.

As far as design goes, there’s not much of a difference from last year’s XZ — save for the camera flash placement on the rear. It comes in chrome and black, and despite its large bezels, the chrome variant makes the smartphone stand out and look gorgeous. It’s wrapped in Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and back, and it’s quite the fingerprint magnet.

More: Sony’s Smooth Trans Focus creates beautiful bokeh — but requires a sacrifice

The Snapdragon 835 is a powerful chip, and it’s likely necessary to keep the 4K HDR display running smoothly. Sony’s Z5 Premium from 2015 only utilized the 4K display for 4K content and the device normally ran at a 1,080-pixel resolution.  It’s likely what’s happening here with the XZ Premium, but Sony did not confirm it. Sony took HDR technology from its TVs and brought them into the XZ Premium — meaning you’ll get brighter whites, darker blacks, and more vivid colors.

The XZ Premium comes with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage, though a MicroSD card slot lets you upgrade that up to 265GB. It uses a USB Type-C charging port to power the 3,230mAh battery, and the device supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 technology.

Sony Xperia XZ Premium (left) Sony Xperia XZs (right)

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The front selfie camera has 13 megapixels and a 22mm wide-angle lens, but there are two features that make the XZ Premium unique — the first is the 4K HDR screen, which we mentioned, but the second is its rear camera.

The rear camera is packed with 19 megapixels and features 5-axis image stabilization. Sony’s Motion Eye technology allows the device to capture slow-motion video at 960 frames-per-second. It’s incredibly slow, and the effect is stunning.  It certainly doesn’t do this at 1,080p, but at a lower resolution.  For comparison, the iPhone’s highest slow-motion video recording capability is at 240 frames-per-second at 720p.

More: HMD’s Nokia 6, 5, and 3 are budget phones with great build quality: Our first take

Predictive Capture is another neat feature that starts capturing any motion as soon as you open the camera app. When you actually press the shutter button, the camera will save the last four photos from two seconds prior. That way, there’s a higher chance you may have captured a special moment.

Overall, the camera seemed to produce solid photographs in our limited time with the phone, though there was some slight shutter lag. We’ll test it out more when we get a review unit. Regular performance seemed fast, as we didn’t experience any lag or stutter.

There is no fingerprint sensor on the side of the U.S. model of the device, which Sony says is a “business decision.”

The Xperia XZs carries a lot of the same features of the XZ Premium, including the camera. What’s different is the screen — it’s Full HD with a smaller 5.2-inch display. It also features the Snapdragon 820 processor.  The XZs isn’t as pretty as the XZ Premium. The bezels are huge on the front display, and the back isn’t as interesting as the chrome-colored premium variant.

Highs

  • Chrome-colored XZ Premium is gorgeous
  • Display looks great
  • Snappy performance
  • 960 fps capability and Predictive Capture is useful and unique

Lows

  • Uninspired design
  • XZs is too expensive, meaning XZ Premium will be overkill
  • Low battery capacity is worrying

Xperia XA1 and XA1 Ultra

The Xperia XA1 and XA1 Ultra are on the opposite end of the Xperia lineup from the XZ series — that’s clear from the choice of processor. Both are powered by MediaTek’s Helio P10, and the XA1 comes with 3GB of RAM and the Ultra has 4GB.

If you can’t tell by the names, the Ultra is superior in almost every way. The 6-inch Ultra has a 1,080-pixel resolution and comes with up to 32GB of internal storage. A MicroSD card lets you expand that storage up to 256GB.

More: Bluetooth earpieces get a brand new bag in Sony’s new Xperia Ear

It runs Android 7.0 Nougat, and you’ll find a 2,700mAh battery strapped inside. You can charge that through the USB Type-C port on the bottom.

The regular XA1 also runs Nougat and comes with 32GB of internal storage with a MicroSD card slot, but it only has a 5-inch 720-pixel resolution. The front camera is packed with 8 megapixels and a wide-angle lens.

The XA1 series tends to focus more on the front camera for the selfie generation — the Ultra has 16 megapixels, solid low-light capabilities, and can go up to ISO 6,400. The regular XA1 only has 8 megapixels, but both use a 23mm wide-angle lens for group photos. The Ultra has optical-image stabilization in case you’ve got shaky hands.

Both have rear 23-megapixel cameras with ISO 6400 capabilities, but no OIS.

The XA1 Ultra and XA1 both felt quite snappy, but we didn’t have much time to put them through their paces. The cameras also seemed to take decent photographs in our initial tests, but again we did notice some shutter lag. We’ll have to verify this in our final reviews.

Pricing and availability

The Xperia XA1 will cost $300, which is quite pricey for its features — especially when you consider cheaper competitors like the new Moto G5. It will release on May 1, and can be pre-ordered immediately from Amazon and Best Buy. Other retailers, such as Fry’s and B&H, will also carry the device. There is currently no word on the XA1 Ultra’s availability yet, but it should arrive sometime in the summer.

Highs

  • Performance seems solid
  • MicroSD card option is great
  • Good selfie camera features

Lows

  • Bezels are too big, boring design
  • $300 for a 720p display is absurd
  • Shutter lag is worrying

Updated on 04-24-2017 by Adam Ismail: Added availability of Xperia XA1.