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(Pocket-lint) - Sony announced three new smartphones at consumer electronics show IFA, including two flagship devices that will "complement" the spec-stacked Xperia XZ Premium that launched at the beginning of the year, rather than replace it. 

The Xperia XZ1 succeeds the Xperia XZs and it is joined by a smaller, though still as powerful Xperia XZ1 Compact. Sticking with a similar design but introducing a few tweaks, along with some new technology, here are our first impressions of Sony's Xperia XZ1.

Sony Xperia XZ1 preview: Design

  • Metal finish on OmniBalance design
  • IP65/68 water and dust resistance
  • Fingerprint sensor within side power button
  • Available in Black, Warm Silver, Moonlit Blue and Venus Pink

The Sony Xperia XZ1 sticks with the same design many Xperia fans have come to know and love over the years. Things have been gradually refined since the launch of the original Xperia Z, but Sony Xperia devices have a specific look that distinguishes them from competitors.

In the case of the Xperia XZ1, the OmniBalance design sees some more refinement than the Xperia XZs in that it has been created from a single sheet of aluminium. The result is a much more seamless rear, with Sony ditching the two-section finish we criticised on the Xperia XZ for a cleaner and nicer look.

The top left hand corner of the rear sees the camera lens, which is the same as the one found on the Xperia XZ Premium and the Xperia XZs, but the flash module moves position compared to the XZs and extends slightly to incorporate the NFC chip too. Like the XZ Premium, the module takes a horizontal stance and sits to the right of the lens, rather than below like it does on the XZs, tying the new device in well with the super flagship model.

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The Xperia XZ1's edges remain curved, as they have been with previous Xperia devices, making the flat-slabbed device nice to hold, while the signature oblong power button with built-in fingerprint sensor remains a key element in the new model. The microSD port has a flap over it, as has always been the case for Xperia devices, but some antenna lines have been introduced to the edges of the Xperia XZ1 for better connectivity, though they are subtle enough to go pretty much unnoticed.

At the top, you'll find a 3.5mm headphone jack, while the bottom sees a USB Type-C port and Sony still offers the dedicated camera-launching button at the bottom of the right-hand edge. On the front, Sony continues with the Loop surface design it introduced last year on the Xperia XZ.

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The large bezels at the top and bottom of the display also remain, which is a little disappointing given competing devices have gone for the full screen look and succeeded so it would have been nice to see more screen and less phone on the XZ1, though Sony has improved the sound from the speakers within these bezels so at least they have some purpose.

The metal finish of the Xperia XZ1 is more practical than the super shiny glass Xperia XZ Premium (even if not as glam), in that fingerprints aren't anywhere near as much of an issue and the overall look of the Xperia XZ1 is a device that Sony fans will like. It's nowhere near as groundbreaking in design as rival devices, but it is IP65/68 water and dust resistant and it stays true to the look that's come to be expected from Xperia devices. 

Sony Xperia XZ1 preview: Display

  • 5.2-inch display, flat
  • Full HD resolution, 424ppi
  • HDR on board, along with Triluminos and X-Reality

The Sony Xperia XZ1 comes with a 5.2-inch display, making it slightly smaller than its XZ Premium brother, though in line with previous Xperia Z flagship models. It's a good size and one that is manageable one-handed, which is more than what could be said for the larger Premium device.

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Sony does drop the pixel count for the Xperia XZ1 though, moving from the 4K resolution of the XZ Premium to Full HD. The company notoriously doesn't opt for Quad HD in its smartphones like its rivals do, claiming customers don't want the trade off in battery life and there isn't enough native content available in 2K to warrant the jump. 

It means the Xperia XZ1 has a pixel density of 424ppi rather than 565ppi, so a few less pixels per inch, though in the grand scheme of things, it may not be too noticeable to the naked eye.

Based on what we saw of the display, viewing angles were good from the LCD screen and text and images appeared crisp enough, though colours didn't seem as punchy as they are on some OLED devices. We will test the screen properly when we review it in full though.

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As with the XZ Premium, Sony has introduced HDR, a technology we have seen on various other flagship smartphones, including the XZ Premium, Samsung's Galaxy S8, S8+ and Note 8, as well as LG's G6. The company has partnered with Amazon Prime Video from launch in order to offer compatible HDR content and it has said it is also working with Netflix to offer compatibility.

Sony's Triluminos and X-Reality technologies are also offered on the display, as they have been on previous Xperia flagships before them.

Sony Xperia XZ1 preview: Camera

  • 19MP Motion Eye rear camera, with 960fps super slow-motion video
  • 13MP front camera
  • New predictive smile feature and autofocus burst feature

The Sony Xperia XZ1 steals the Motion Eye camera introduced on the Xperia XZ Premium to offer that excellent super slow-motion video feature, along with a couple of new enhancements.

It's a 19-megapixel memory-stacked sensor on the rear with 1.22µm pixels that allows for 960fps video rather than the 240fps offered by most smartphones. The results from the XZ Premium were fantastic and far more dramatic than normal slo-mo videos so we'd expect similar from the XZ1. On the front, the same 13-megapixel sensor as the Xperia XZ Premium is present.

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In terms of the new features, Sony has developed the Predictive Capture functionality it offered on both the Xperia XZs and XZ Premium. Predictive Capture detects movement in front of the camera lens and starts to buffer images while you prepare to press the shutter button. Up to four photos are captured prior to you hitting the button, allowing you to select the best one in case you missed the moment yourself.

The Xperia XZ1 adds a smile shutter to this feature. This setting is turned on by default so you don't need to faff around with settings, and it does exactly what you'd expect - predict when someone is smiling or laughing so you don't miss it if you're too slow with tapping that shutter button.

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There is also an autofocus burst mode that will allow for up to 10fps and up to 100 photos at 19-megapixels. This feature is also switched on by default and simply requires you to hold down the main shutter button as a subject comes towards you, like your dog for example. The idea is that each acton shot captured using this mode will be in focus, with the focus adjusting automatically no matter how close the object gets to you and the camera lens. You can then select the images you want, or combine them all into an MP4 file for a short video clip.

We saw a demo of both the new features and they certainly look like they have potential so we're excited to try them properly in the real world. The Sony Xperia XZ Premium will get the camera enhancements with the Android Oreo update but aside from this, the camera interface and functionality is much the same as the flagship device so we'd expect the same results.

Sony Xperia XZ1 preview: Hardware and software

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chip, 4GB RAM
  • 32GB or 64GB storage options, 2700mAh battery
  • Android Nougat but update to Oreo likely

The Sony Xperia XZ1 runs on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor coupled with 4GB of RAM and 32GB or 64GB of storage, meaning it delivers the same hardware as the XZ Premium, but a slight bump up from the Snapdragon 820 found in the Xperia XZs model. As with all Xperia models, there is microSD support on board for further storage expansion up to 256GB.

Battery capacity sees a reduction to 2700mAh compared to 2900mAh like the XZs, but the company's Stamina Mode is on board to hopefully see you through the day. We didn't get a chance to test the battery capability during our brief amount of time with the Xperia XZ1 sadly, but we will do so when we review it of course.

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As we mentioned briefly previously, Sony has upgraded the front-facing speakers in the Xperia XZ1, claiming they are now its loudest speakers with a 50 per cent improvement over the Xperia XZ and X Compact. Hi-res audio is also supported once again, and technologies including DSEE HX with DNC is also on board for upscaling tracks to near hi-res quality.

The Sony Xperia XZ1 will ship with Android Oreo with Sony's software over the top though we didn't see the final software during our time with it. Sony has stripped back its bloatware over the years, though not as much as the likes of HTC or even Samsung.

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Overall on Android Nougat, the Sony launcher is nice, offering sensible options and the apps tray has a nice feature on board as well, not just offering search but suggested apps too. For Sony fans, the experience will be familiar and although it would be nice to see closer to stock Android, like Nokia, things were smooth enough when moving around.

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There are a few pre-loaded apps and several reworkings of the standard Android apps, like the Gallery. There is also an extra pre-loaded app with the Xperia XZ1 in the 3D Creator app. This app is designed to bring 3D scanning to the masses and it provides four scan modes comprising face, head, food and freeform.

The idea is that you select the mode applicable to what you want to scan, follow the instructions provided and the app will create a 3D scan of the object, which you can then share on social media, send to a 3D printer, create an avatar or GIF, or send to an online retailer to get a 3D model made.

We had a brief demonstration of it during our time with the XZ1 and although some will see it as a gimmick, it seemed like an interesting feature with lots of potential for the future.

First Impressions

The Sony Xperia XZ1 refines the design of the Xperia XZ and XZs to deliver a more seamless finish that's not only nice enough to look at, but nice and solid to hold too. The design isn't as exciting as some of the rival flagship smartphones out there, but for Sony fans, it stays true to the form many have come to know and love.

On the hardware side of things, Sony has packed the new 5.2-incher with the right numbers, offering Qualcomm's latest platform along with a decent battery capacity, HDR technology within the screen and that Motion Eye camera that does super slow-motion oh so well.

How the Xperia XZ1 will perform in the real world remains to be seen for now and while there probably aren't enough changes to warrant an upgrade from the XZs, trading in the XZ is perhaps more plausible given the processor and camera upgrades. We'll let you know our thoughts as soon as we have reviewed it in full.

Writing by Britta O'Boyle.