Rest easy, Xperia X Performance, the Xperia XZ will take it over from here. Sony's ultimate flagship this year has finally arrived (though we are still entertaining the thought of an X Premium).
It brings back Z-series essentials reimagined to fit into the top of the revamped X lineup - the blocky rectangular body is now clad in ALKALEIDO; the 5.2-inch display is the same size and resolution, only better; the camera has every known focusing tech built-in, and an extra color temperature sensor. How could all that not make a worthy upgrade to the Z5, good enough to make us stop lamenting the Z-series' demise?
Well it does, sort of. It's a better phone than the Z5 in pretty much every respect, that's for sure. The greatest leap is perhaps in battery life, where the Z5 fared miserably once we adopted a specific brightness level for our battery tests. The display itself is also an improvement - visibly, and also measurably.
Time and time again, though, we can't get truly excited about a Sony camera. It may be equipped with every imaginable engineering breakthrough Sony could come up with, yet you'd be able to find more pleasing images if you look elsewhere. Try not to get us wrong on this one - it's not a bad camera, it's just not the best camera, and it still beats us why Sony, of all makers, can't make it the one.
Sony's pricing of its flagship actually makes some sense with the Xperia XZ, for a change. That's in part due to the Bluetooth wireless headphones that come bundled in a lot of markets if you pre-order the XZ. Priced at €200/£150, they bring the phone's price down to €500/£400, though simple math is not really how this works. What does tend to work, especially with Sony handsets, is price drops, so you might be wise to wait for a few months (though no headphones then).
Anyway, the rivals are clear - only the best will do. Let's start with the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, which is closer to the XZ in terms of price than the regular S7. With the S7 edge you get more screen real estate in mostly the same physical dimensions, and it's sharper too.
The curved Samsung flagship also has much longer battery life going for it, but its primary camera has half the pixels of the XZ's. Not to mention Samsung's 5MP front-facer - it's so two thousand and late, says the Xperia's 13MP selfie cam. The Type-C port of the Xperia joins the mock fest, only to be countered by the microUSB of the S7 edge that both adhere to the same USB 2.0 standard, and which type of cable do you have more of?
The HTC 10 is another flagship from an aching manufacturer that might have been too pricey at launch. Its price has dropped, making it more affordable now than the Xperia XZ. It may not be ALKALEIDO, but the 10 is made of metal as well, though it can't match the XZ's IP68 rating. It's another case of 12MP/5MP vs the Sony's 23MP/13MP combo. The HTC features a proper USB 3.1 Type-C port, so at least you get faster transfer speeds.
The LG G5 does come in an aluminum body too, only you can't feel it under the coating, and with that detachable chin it can hardly compete with the Xperia XZ in a beauty pageant. Or in a pool dive - the G5 has no waterproofing. At EUR250/GBP120 less than the XZ though, it is a bargain for what it offers - a couple of rear cameras (both 4K-capable), QHD display, removable battery - heck, it even has an FM radio.
As more unorthodox option, one could explore the Huawei P9, again more affordable than the XZ at launch. A different take on the dual-camera, the Leica-branded shooter on the P9 could introduce you to black and white photography, but the phone can't record 4K video. It's also not as powerful, trailing the XZ in most benchmarks, and lacks the protection from the elements.
The iPhone 7 is pricier than the Xperia XZ pretty much everywhere, and belongs to a different ecosystem altogether - not a minor consideration. An overall more compact device, the iPhone has a smaller lower-res display, but it's one of the best in business - certainly the most color-accurate. Then there's the more powerful chipset, and the optically stabilized primary camera, though the XZ has the megapixel trump card to throw against it. The XZ has a microSD slot for storage expansion, which is but a dream in the Apple realm, yet it could be essential to some.
We've been having a hard time wholeheartedly recommending a Sony flagship recently, for one reason or another. Well, we have it easier with the Xperia XZ - it's the best Sony smartphone yet. Only, we can't help but feel they can, and should, do even better.