iPhone 7 Plus full review
Which is the best smartphone/phablet: Apple's iPhone 7 Plus, or the Sony Xperia XZ Premium?
Sony's Xperia XZ Premium smartphone has just been launched at Mobile World Congress (MWC), and it's an impressive bit of kit. But is it good enough to beat the iPhone 7 Plus to top spot in the premium smartphone market? Let's find out.
iPhone 7 Plus vs Sony Xperia XZ Premium: Design/build quality
As with most questions of aesthetics, your preferences in terms of design are likely to be deeply personal, and our best policy in this department may be simply to show a few pictures of each device and let you decide for yourself which is the look you prefer. But it's undeniably the case that the two phones are both beautifully turned out.
Sony phones often have comparatively sharp squared-off corners, and the same is true of the XZ Premium; those used to the softer curved corners of the iPhone may find the XZ less pleasant to hold. But again, it's a question of personal preferences. We would always advise getting your hands on a new smartphone in a shop so that you can see for yourself how neatly and nicely it fits in your hand.
It might be worth mentioning, as well, that the iPhone 7 Plus, while a very attractive device, has the same broad chassis design as the previous two generations of Apple iPhones, and as such its looks are starting to pall somewhat.
iPhone 7 Plus...
Sony Xperia XZ Premium...
And the iPhone 7 Plus again...
...and the Xperia XZ Premium again.
Solid-state Home button
A quick note to point out that, unlike all previous generations of iPhone, the iPhone 7 Plus (and its smaller iPhone 7 cousin) has a Home button that doesn't actually click downwards when you press it; it just simulates a click by buzzing a little motor. It's a similar effect to the non-clicking trackpad on the more recent MacBook models.
Not everyone likes the solid-state Home button, particularly at first (in our view the illusion is less convincing than with the MacBook's trackpad), but it opens up new possibilities for customisation, such as changing how pronounced a click you get. And it's one less moving part to go wrong: Home buttons in the past (particularly on the iPhone 5) were notorious for breaking down, although the past few generations have been more reliable. (See also: How to fix a broken iPhone Home button.)
The iPhone 7 Plus, famously, does not have a 3.5mm headphone socket, so if you want to plug in headphones you'll need to use the Lightning port or connect wirelessly over Bluetooth.
Speaker grill, Lightning port, second speaker grill, no headphone port
This isn't quite as much of a pain as you might think, because a) the iPhone 7 comes with a pair of simple but decent Lightning headphones, the EarPods, to start you off; b) it also comes with an adapter so you can connect any old-style headphones anyway; and c) there are lots of good Lightning headphones and Bluetooth headphones (including Apple's own AirPods) to choose from.
Nevertheless, many people will prefer to at least have the option to connect via a 3.5mm port. The XZ does include a 3.5mm headphone jack.
The iPhone 7 Plus is available in five colours: black and Jet Black (the former is a plain matt black, the latter a beautiful high-gloss black that's only available if you go for the 128GB or 256GB storage options, and which is susceptible to fingerprint smudges), silver, gold, and the pink Rose Gold.
The Sony Xperia XZ Premium is available in two colour options: Deepsea Black and Luminous Chrome. We understand that both options are highly reflective and get grubby as soon as you pick the device up, much like the Jet Black edition of the iPhone. Sony may regret not offering a matt version for those who aren't so keen on this look.
iPhone 7 Plus vs Sony Xperia XZ Premium: Features
Both phones are extremely feature-rich, so we'll limit ourselves here to the highlights.
Dual lens camera, and Portrait Mode
The iPhone 7 Plus - unlike the iPhone 7 - features a twin-lens rear-facing camera. One of the lenses is wide-angle, the other telephoto, and both are rated as 12Mp; working together, they allow the 7 Plus to zoom optically (up to 2x) and then zoom further (up to 10x) digitally, whereas all other iPhone cameras are capable of digital zoom only, and then only up to 5x.
Optical zoom should result in little or now loss of picture quality, but digital zoom is effectively just cropping in tighter and tighter on the same pixel information.
More interestingly, the iPhone 7 Plus can also use its twin-lens camera to create attractive 'bokeh' photo effects, where the subject is in focus and the background blurred - a popular effect normally limited to digital SLR cameras. Apple calls this Portrait Mode. We love Portrait Mode. (Remember that you can improve the quality of your photography with an iPhone tripod and an iPhone camera lens.)
Motion Eye camera
It may not have a twin-lens camera, but Sony strikes back with the Xperia XZ Premium's hugely impressive Motion Eye camera. As well as a high megapixel rating, which we'll discuss further in the specs section, the Motion Eye has a range of improvements and features that we're looking forward to trying out properly in long-term testing.
Its pixels are 19 percent larger than on the XZ, in a bid to improve low-light performance, and it's the first phone camera to offer super-slow-motion video at 960fps. Nine hundred and sixty frames per second! We've tried this out a little - the effect is pretty spectacular - but it obviously can't record for long.
The name of the camera comes from a handy Predictive Capture feature whereby the phone detects motion and takes four photos before you hit the shutter. Sounds great; haven't tried it out yet.
The iPhone 7 Plus and Xperia XZ Premium are both water-resistant, but the Xperia more so, at IP68 to the iPhone's IP67.
An IP rating is divided into two numbers. The first number indicates resistance to physical intrusions, with a maximum of 6, so both devices get top marks for dust resistance. But for liquid resistance, the second number, which goes up to 8, the iPhone is rated as only capable of handling immersion up to 1m, while the Xperia is rated for immersion beyond 1m.
In fact, Sony refers to its phone as being IP65/68, which is a bit confusing. This is because IP ratings are not necessarily cumulative at the upper ends - it's technically possible for a device to be rated IP68 (okay to be immersed beyond 1m) but not IP65 (okay to be sprayed with low-pressure jets). Sony is just clarifying that the XZ Premium has both capabilities.
Six and eight are the usual maximum IP ratings, we should finally add, but some companies have added a 7 and a 9 (sometimes a 9K) to the respective scales. Find out more about IP ratings here and here.
Both the iPhone and the Xperia have integrated fingerprint scanners, which can be used to unlock the devices more conveniently (but approximately as securely) as with a passcode.
The iPhone 7 Plus's Touch ID fingerprint scanner is built into its Home button. It's the second-generation version of Touch ID brought in with the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, so it's faster and more reliable than the first-gen Touch ID on the iPhone 6 and earlier. We've had few issues with it, but if you do, try our roundup of Touch ID problems and fixes.
The Xperia XZ Premium has a fingerprint scanner built into its power button, on the righthand edge.
iPhone 7 Plus vs Sony Xperia XZ Premium: Tech specs
Let's look at the rest of these devices' specs.
Most obviously, the XZ has a startlingly powerful rear-facing camera, rated at 19Mp (an astonishing offering for a phone, although as ever, we are obliged to point out that megapixels aren't everything). Sony has form in this area. Amazingly, the XZ offered 23Mp. The iPhone 7 Plus's rear-facing camera can muster only 12Mp - although it also has the dual-lens feature mentioned earlier, and Portrait Mode.
The XZ Premium also has a superb screen. It's tough - made of Gorilla Glass, which is understood to also be the case for the iPhone 7 even though Corning isn't allowed to say so - and has a 4K resolution. That's a resolution of 3840 x 2160, compared to the iPhone 7 Plus's 1920 x 1080.
Battery-wise, don't be put off by the iPhone's seeming disadvantage in terms of capacity - 2,900 mAh to Sony's 3,230. In real terms relatively small difference is likely to be less important than the higher screen resolution of the Sony, which will make heavy demands on power consumption. (See also How to improve iPhone battery life.)
The iPhone 7 Plus is a shade thinner and lighter than the Sony, but not by much.
iPhone 7 Plus specs
- 5.5-inch LED-backlit IPS LCD (1920 x 1080)
- Apple A10 Fusion processor, quad-core CPU, six-core graphics
- 3GB RAM
- 32GB/128GB/256GB storage
- Lightning port
- Bluetooth 4.2
- 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi with MIMO
- 2,900 mAh battery
- 12Mp rear-facing camera
- 7Mp front-facing camera
- iOS 10 pre-installed
- IP67 water resistance
- 158.2 mm x 77.9 mm x 7.3 mm; 188g
Sony Xperia XZ Premium specs
- 5.5in 4K HDR Triluminous display (2160 x 3840)
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor
- 4GB RAM
- 64GB storage, expandable via Micro-SD
- Bluetooth 4.2
- Dual-band 11ac Wi-Fi
- 3,230 mAh battery
- 19Mp Motion Eye rear-facing camera
- 13Mp front-facing camera
- Android 7.0 Nougat
- IP68 water resistance
- 7.9mm; 195g
iPhone 7 Plus vs Sony Xperia XZ Premium: UK launch date
The Xperia XZ Premium will launch in spring, but at time of writing Sony isn't offering any more precise information than that. You can register here to get updates on when the XZ Premium will launch.
iPhone 7 Plus vs Sony Xperia XZ Premium: UK price
Here are the UK prices for the iPhone 7 Plus:
- £719 (32GB)
- £819 (128GB)
- £919 (256GB)
It's an intimidatingly costly smartphone, although the UK price rises Apple has instituted recently have been mirrored to a greater or lesser extent across the tech industry. If you're keen, take a look at the Best iPhone deals UK, or buy direct from Apple or from John Lewis.
Sony hasn't announced UK pricing for the the Xperia XZ Premium. We can speculate with some confidence, however, and it's virtually certain to be a cheaper option than the 7 Plus. The XZ cost £539 when it launched six months ago, and the XZ Premium is a bigger version of the XZ with some higher specs, so you can expect it to be a bit more expensive. We'd expect the XZ Premium to cost a shade over £600 or thereabouts.