Gaming in India in 2021: We Discuss Everything From Best Games to Limited Next-Gen Console Availability

The year 2021 was both exciting and interesting for gamers as we saw a list of titles coming to keep us engaged. A lot of us got a chance to play some of the latest titles this year — thanks to the culture of staying indoors and avoiding physical activities. From Epic Games to Sony Interactive Entertainment, all major publishers brought new games this year. But the growth of titles launching in the year has also made it quite difficult to name the best games of 2021.

On this week’s episode of Gadgets 360 podcast Orbital, host Akhil Arora joins Chief Sub Editor and in-house game enthusiast Shayak Majumder and veteran Indian game journalist and our former Gaming Editor Rishi Alwani. The trio talk about all things games and speak about which were the best ones of 2021.

Rishi calls Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart his favourite game of the year, while Shayak finds Ghost of Tsushima: Iki Island Expansion as his favourite, and Akhil names It Takes Two as his best pick.

One of the prime reasons why gamers found 2021 an exciting year was the launch of several new games for next-generation consoles — the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S | X. It was also the year when the PlayStation 5 debuted in India, though many are still struggling to get their hands on one.

The difficulties in buying the next-gen console aren’t limited to the Sony model as people are not finding adequate quantity of the Xbox Series S | X as well in the market.

Although the supply-side limitation is indeed in place, the availability issue has also grown significantly in the market due to heavy demand for both consoles. COVID-19 restrictions also played their part in the demand, as people are staying indoors and have more leisure time to spend on games.

In 2021, we also saw a large of reports showing different cases of gender discrimination and sexual harassment at various game publishers. The #Metoo moment in the video game industry emerged last year itself. However, the number of complaints increased this year. It not just impacted developers and other people involved in building new games but also manufacturers including Microsoft who started evaluating their relationships with game publishers named in these complaints.

Best Games of 2021: Gadgets 360’s Favourite PC, PS4, PS5, and Xbox Games

The growth of serious reports coming from different parts of the industry also reflect that game journalism is maturing and moving beyond just new launches and reviews.

We also talk about what all we could expect in 2022 in terms of new titles. Games including Horizon Forbidden West, Destiny 2: The Witch Queen Expansion, and the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of Weird West are due for next year. Remastered games is a category that will likely grow in the coming future. Life is Strange Remastered Collection will be amongst the key launches coming next year.

You can listen to our complete discussion by hitting the play button on the embedded Spotify player above.

If you are new to our site, you can find the Gadgets 360 podcast on Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Gaana, JioSaavn, Spotify, and wherever you get your podcasts.

Don’t forget to follow/ subscribe to Orbital wherever you’re listening. Please also rate us and leave a review.

New Orbital episodes release every Friday, so make sure to tune in each week.

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Sony Bravia A80J 65-Inch OLED 4K TV Review: For the cinephile!

Sony’s 2021 lineup of flagship TVs are powered by the company’s all-new BRAVIA XR processor bringing with them some fantastic picture quality and performance. The first XR powered TV we reviewed was the Sony X90J (review) and today we have Sony’s OLED TV offering for 2021 – the A80J. The A80J runs on the Google TV UI. It has some design elements similar to its predecessor, the A8H (review) and some new tricks up its sleeves. Put simply, if you are looking for one of the best TVs for content consumption, then the A80J can be at the top of your list. But how does it stack up against the competition? Let’s find out!

Sony A80J Specs at a glance

Panel Size: 65-inch (also available in 55 and 77-inch as well)

Panel Type: OLED

Panel Resolution: 3840 x 2160 – 4K

Panel Refresh Rate: 120Hz

HDR 10 support: Yes

Dolby Vision Support: Yes

Weight (with stand): Approx. 22.3kgs

HDMI Ports: 4

USB Ports: 3

Bluetooth: Yes

Wi-Fi: Yes

Ethernet: Yes

Speakers: 30W (Acoustic Surface Audio+)

Built-in storage: 16GB

Price: MRP: 3,39,990. Best Price: Rs 2,79,990

Sony A80J Display and picture quality

Kicking things off with the display, this is an OLED panel with self-emitting pixels giving the TV true blacks and an infinite contrast ratio. You also get very good viewing angles from the TV. In SDR we measured a peak brightness slightly below 300 nits using our Calman and in HDR we recorded a peak brightness slightly higher than 750 nits making the TV really bright. The TV is fairly colour accurate out of the box with the cinema preset and we recorded a delta error of 2.7 out of the box and the custom preset gave us an average delta error of 2.5. The Custom for Pro profile gives you more accuracy and the ability to tinker with more settings than the other presets. Overall, in our analysis, the TV has a fantastic display for content consumption. Let’s see how this translates to real-world usage.

Sony A80J SDR peak brightness

Above: Peak brightness for SDR content. 

Peak brightness HDR Sony A80J

Above: HDR brightness readings. 

Sony A80J Saturation sweeps.

Above: Saturation accuracy.

Sony A80J colorchecker analysis.

Sony A80J: 4K and HDR performance

The Sony A80J supports HDR 10 and Dolby Vision and we consumed a lot of content from streaming services and Blu-rays in HDR. The one thing to note is that the TV can get really bright and the beauty of its performance is that it can maintain specular highlight details quite well in HDR content. Watch a movie like Wonder Woman or Ready Player One that are filled with stunning bright sequences, be it the fight at the end of Wonder Woman or the race at the 12-minute mark in Ready Player One and we have one of the best-performing TVs we’ve tested. 

HDR Tone mapping on the Sony A80J.

Above: Control for HDR tone mapping to prefer brightness. 

The surprising thing is that the TV is bright enough for content consumption in a relatively lit room, although dark sequences suffer a bit. There are some ways for you to enjoy this TV in a well-lit room. Leaving the light sensor on not only adjusts the backlighting but also the contrast to try and highlight dark details on the TV. You also have control over settings like peak luminance (we left it on high throughout the testing process of the TV) and you can also change the HDR tone mapping to ‘Brightness Preferred’. This helps enhance the performance of the TV and surprisingly there was no issue of banding. These new settings don’t play well with our Calman numbers but in real-world performance, it does help give you a better viewing experience in a well-lit room. These settings also work well in a dark room if you would like to get some retina-burning brightness when consuming HDR content (which can be a treat if you have the right content). Also, there was almost no issue with gradation or banding with the HDR tone mapping set to brightness preferred which is very good. 

Sony A80J Peak luminance

We do have the standard slew of presets, like Dolby Vision Bright and Dolby Vision Dark and HDR 10 content can be consumed in the standard slew of presets like Standard, Vivid, Cinema, etc. and for the most part, I found myself using Dolby Vision Bright and Cinema respectively for the content to get the most accurate colour experience. Needless to say, consuming HDR content on this TV is a treat because you get some of the best colours and natural-looking skin tones on a TV.

HDMI signal format Sony A80J.

Dolby Vision Settings on the Sony A80J.

Sony A80J FHD performance

FHD, HD and SDR performance is surprisingly better than expected and I think this is where the XR processor is flexing its muscles. When you consume SD content on a 4K TV, there will be some level of noise or blurriness around the edges but the performance of SD content on this TV was surprisingly good. It’s not something we mention in our TV reviews often as SD content does suffer on some of the high-end TVs but here it was a treat to the point that someone in my house asked if this was a 4K image. While it wasn’t really that clear, the clarity and reproduction of colours in SD and SDR are better than most TVs we’ve tested. Safe to say, if you use this TV with a set-top-box or your good old collection of DVD’s, you will have a good time. 

Netflix on the Sony A80J

The rest of our standard slew of SDR content in FHD was fun to consume as well. The skin tones in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation look natural despite using the Standard picture preset. Spider-Man’s suit in Spider-Man: Homecoming has the perfect shades of red and blue without looking oversaturated in both the Standard and Cinema preset. While the Cinema preset adds a warm tone to the content, the Standard preset has a cool bias, but not one that looks too blue. So, for those of you that leave the TV in the Standard preset and forget about it, know that you are still getting a fairly decent experience.   

Prime video on the Sony A80J.

In a show like Young Sheldon, switch the TV to the Vivid profile and you get really popping colours that will appeal to the eye and make the show look vibrant. Sticking to the Standard and Cinema preset works better for colours, but most may prefer the Vivid preset for a show like this.  

Sony A80J Gaming performance

As much as I love the picture performance of the Sony A80J, it’s gaming where the TV falls short when compared to the competition. Not in terms of the display’s performance but in the overall offering. So, let’s break it down. 

The Sony A80J has 2 HDMI 2.1 ports.

When it comes to the performance of the panel, it is extremely good. In all the games we played we got very good HDR performance and the colours looked rich with deep blacks. Ghost of Tsushima’s (review) watercolour-like art style shines, especially when you are riding your horse into the sun. In Spider-Man Miles Morales (review), the details in Spider-Man’s suit were easily visible despite there being bright light via the in-game sun when swinging through the city. One more thing to note is that Sony has released an update for its BRAVIA XR TVs where the PS5’s (review) peak brightness and black luminance is automatically calibrated and you don’t need to go through the calibration settings manually which is very good. A great example to check this calibration is Dirt 5 (review) and we did not notice any abnormal clipping of highlights by going with the TV’s auto-calibration for the PS5. 

Sony A80J gaming performance.

While the picture performance of the TV is great for gaming, there are niggles that one would expect Sony to have addressed by 2021. To begin with, VRR support is still missing on the TV and there are only two HDMI 2.1 ports of the four HDMI ports, one of which is eARC enabled. These are the two ports that support 4K at 120Hz. This means if you have a PS5, an Xbox Series X (review) and a soundbar, you will have to sacrifice one of the console’s performances with HDMI 2.1 features. This is a big con in 2021 especially considering LG TVs launched in 2019, 2020 and 2021 like the C9 (review), CX (review) and C1 (review) respectively come with all four HDMI 2.1 enabled ports. Also, the LG TVs mentioned come with support for VRR. The cherry on the cake is that the LG C1 comes with a bunch of gaming-specific settings enhancing the experience including settings specific to certain game genres. So, despite the fantastic panel performance of the A80J, the LG C1 is a much better option if gaming is a priority.  

Sony A80J: Audio performance

Sony’s Acoustic Surface Audio+ technology is one of the better setups of speakers on a TV. The TV comes with two​​ Actuators and two Subwoofers and the entire screen works as a speaker as the Actuators vibrate the display to produce sound. The biggest advantage of Sony’s Acoustic Surface Audio+ is channel separation. So, when the cars whizz across the screen in the race at the 12-minute mark in Ready Player One, you can actually feel the audio move from right to left adding a sense of immersion. The speakers can get quite loud for the average-sized living room. Even in a game like Ghost of Tsushima you get the sense of the position of an archer off-screen and the sound of their arrows firing across the screen is very immersive. The A80J has also received an update to support 360-degree audio and while it’s early to comment on its performance, it should help with the overall sound output of the TV. 

The Sony A80J supports Dolby Atmos.

Sony A80J: User Interface

Sony has been helming Android TV OS since the beginning of Smart TVs and now the brand is shifting to Google TV. In 2021 we reviewed the Sony X90J, X80J (review) and X85J (review) all of which sport the Google TV UI and the performance of the UI is no different here. The UI is easy to set up and has a content-first approach, something we’ve seen in the past on Xiaomi’s PatchWall UI. The UI on the X80J is very fluid and we found no instance of lag or stutter on the TV. The voice assistant worked fluidly as well. Sony has a good track record of updating their TVs so you shouldn’t be worried about getting the necessary UI updates. 

The Sony A80J runs on the Google TV UI.

Like we’ve said in our review of the X85J and the X90J, to make the most of HDMI 3 and 4 ports, you should switch on the Enhanced format. To do this go to Settings – Channel & Inputs – External Inputs – HDMI Signal Format. Here select the Enhanced format for the HDMI input. Remember, HDMI 2.1 is only available in HDMI 3 and 4. 

Sony A80J Remote control

The remote control you get with the A80J is the same we’ve seen on the other 2021 Sony TVs and it is ergonomic and gets the job done quite well. It does not have the pointer-like features found on LG’s remotes but then again, the UI doesn’t need that feature for navigation. While I miss the lack of playback controls on the LG C1 remote control, I find the placement of playback controls on Sony’s remote perfectly placed – at the bottom. While I would like to see more shortcuts for popular OTT platforms, it’s ok as navigating the TV with the remote in its current state is a very smooth affair. 

Sony A80J Remote control.

Sony A80J Build and design

The A80J has design elements similar to the Sony A8H and that’s not a bad thing as the A8H was a well-designed TV albeit with a few hiccups. The panel of the Sony A80J itself is very thin with a thick rectangle chunk at the back that houses the ports and components. The connectivity options are broken up into facing outwards on one side with the rest of them facing down at the back. There are four HDMI ports one faces out on the side and the other three are at the back. The side facing ports also include the AV port, 3.5mm headphones port, two USB ports and the mic on/off switch. Facing back, we have one USB port, the aforementioned three HDMI ports, optical port, LAN port and antenna port. 

Connectivity options on the Sony A80J

The TV rests on a table on two feet which can be adjusted to let the TV sit flush with the table or slightly elevated. The feet hold the TV in place quite well with minimal wobble. The only downside I see is that the feet protrude in the front a little which may be a hindrance to those that have a really long soundbar sitting below the TV. 

Sony A80J Tabletop stand.

Sony A80J: Bottom Line

The Sony A80J is a TV for the cinephile. It has fantastic picture performance in terms of its colours, good brightness for HDR content and ample settings to tinker with to get the best experience, based on the content you are watching. The most impressive feature of Sony’s XR processor is how it represents SD and SDR content with minimal blur in edges and extremely good colours, making it a very good option for those that will watch set-top-box content or have a library of good old DVDs. The sound output from the TV is good too. While the picture performance for gaming is fantastic, the A80J loses out to the LG C1 with gaming-related features and the number of HDMI 2.1 ports on offer. If gaming is not a priority or you only have one next-gen console, then you can consider the A80J. It is definitely one of the best OLED TVs money can buy.

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Good panel performance, but is it worth the asking price?

Sony’s 2020 flagship TVs may be dominated by the XR processor along with HDMI 2.1 and more bells and whistles. But the brand also has other options for you to consider in their 2021 lineup. Ranging from 43-inch all the way up to 75-inches we have the Sony X80J. It has Sony’s 4K HDR X1 picture processor (not the X1 Extreme powering 2020 flagships), comes with Sony’s Triluminos Pro display and also rocks the all-new Google TV UI. Is it a worthy consideration for the asking price? 

Sony X80J Specs at a glance

Panel Size: 65-inch (also available in 43, 50, 55, and 75-inch as well)

Panel Type: IPS LED

Panel Resolution: 3840 x 2160 – 4K

Panel Refresh Rate: 60Hz

HDR 10 support: Yes

Dolby Vision Support: Yes

Weight (with stand): approx. 21.6kgs

HDMI Ports: 4

USB Ports: 2

Bluetooth: Yes

Wi-Fi: Yes

Ethernet: Yes

Speakers: 20W (Bass Reflex Speaker, X-Balanced Speaker)

Built-in storage: 16GB

Price: MRP: 1,79,990. Best Price: Rs 1,34,990

Sony X80J Display and picture quality

Let’s kick things off with the performance of the panel of the TV. It has an IPS panel which means you get wide viewing angles at the cost of deep blacks (more on that in a bit). The viewing angles are good unless you go to the absolute extreme. The TV can hit a peak brightness of a little over 400 nits but it hovers around the 350 nits mark for sustained use. It has a 4K resolution with support for HDR 10 and Dolby Vision. The panel can produce some really good colours thanks to the Triluminos Pro display, but how does it fare against the Sony X90J (review) with the XR processor we reviewed earlier and more importantly, against something like the Mi QLED TV 75 (review), which for a similar price, gives you a larger screen size with QLED backlighting with local dimming?

Sony X80J peak brightness vs window

Sony X80J 4K and HDR performance

Firing up our Calman we can see that without calibration, the TV has an average delta error of 6.4 which is lower than what we’ve seen on some other TV, but higher than what we saw on the Sony X90J. Even with the 2-point grayscale, the error was high out of the box. However, the colour analysis shows an average delta error of 1.8 which is good. So, while the performance for colour accuracy may not be as good as the X90J out of the box, the panel performance is quite good for everyday content consumption. 

Sony X80J Grayscale performance

Sony X80J Colorchecker HDR

When we played our standard slew of HDR content on this TV, it just popped. In Our Planet on Netflix, you can see the stars in the night sky quite clearly and there were no dull or dark moments for HDR content. Even a movie like Ready Player One with the race at the 11-minute mark was a visual treat with its bright highlights.  

Even the slew of cars in the desert in the opening episode of the Grand Tour look rich without the green tint issue we’ve spoken off on so many other TVs. 

Sony X80J Supports Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos

While the HDR effect isn’t as pronounced as what we’ve seen on the X90J, it’s better if not at par with some of the other TVs we’ve tested. We would have loved to have the Mi QLED TV next to this one, but alas, we no longer have it in our lab. Overall, the HDR output of the TV is good, giving you an immersive experience. For HDR 10 content, you have the same set of picture presets as SDR like Vivid, Standard, Cinema and more. We recommend the Cinema preset to get the best experience but you can switch to Standard as well. For Dolby Vision content you have Dolby Vision bright and Dolby Vision Dark and we recommend leaving it at Bright if you will consume content in a room with some bias lighting. 

Speaking of biased lighting, yes, since the TV does not have dimming zones, you do get the slight grey effect in dark sequences and it can be quite pronounced in a pitch-dark room. However, even a little bias lighting in the room can help eliminate this.

Sony X80J FHD performance

The SDR performance of this TV is very good. We saw our standard slew of content from Spider-Man: Homecoming to Young Sheldon and even Mission: Impossible and it’s a fun experience. Here, I’d say the Standard preset has the edge over Cinema for content like TV shows. In Young Sheldon, while the Cinema preset gave more accurate colours, the Standard preset had more of the visual punch one would expect for this type of content. For the movies, however, the Cinema preset worked well. While we generally tend to stay away from the Vivid preset, in this TV, the Vivid preset has the ability to make colours pop without making people look like they have jaundice and that is very good. For those of you that like the punchiness of Vivid, this TV may be the one for you. 

Sony X80J SDR settings.

Even in Spider-Man Homecoming, we had Spidey’s suit look the right shade of blue and red in both the Standard and Cinema preset with skin tones looking right. The preset changes the colour temperature to warm in cinema and makes the colours feel more natural. 

Sony X80J Gaming performance

We played our standard slew of games on this TV including God of War, Spider-Man Miles Morales (review), Dirt 5 (review) and some Last of Us Part 2 (review). The TV has HDMI 2.0 ports only with support for YUV422 for HDR content and has a refresh rate of 60Hz similar to the Mi QLED TV 75 we reviewed earlier. All the games we played on this TV looked really good. From the soft snow in the city in Spider-Man where the HDR pops while you are swinging towards the sun or even in Dirt 5 while racing in the tracks and the blinding sun coming at you. Even in God of War, the colours really pop on this TV. It was a fun gaming experience. 

Sony X80J can play games in 4K at 60Hz in HDR at YUV422.

Once again, it was in a totally dark room that the “grey” in the blacks were visible because of no dimming, but adding a bit of biased light to the room is a quick fix for this. Needless to say, for RGB HDR you will have to upgrade to the X90J in gaming thanks to HDMI 2.1. But those that want a larger size for the price, will be happy with the performance of this TV.  

Sony X80J Audio performance

The X80J can get quite loud to offer room-filling sound. Even at 40-45%, the audio was loud and clear in a large living room. While the speakers lack bass and some background scores in movies missed the punch, the overall sound quality is good. Dialogues are clear during movies, and mixed audio that has a conversation, with explosions in the background and a background score is distinguishable. Even the bangs and thuds in games hit the right notes. While a soundbar will definitely enhance the experience, you can enjoy the audio output from this TV for everyday TV viewing, some movies and gaming. 

Sony X80J has 20W of sound output.

Sony X80J UI

The UI here is identical to what we saw on the X90J with the absence of far-field mics. You have the same Google TV UI with the same fluidity and the same convenience of settings when switching picture presets when consuming content. The “For You” section which we’ve seen in the Google TV videos and photos online is not here. While the apps tab is replacing the Play Store for you to search for apps, there is no place for you to quickly go to see if an app needs an update. Just like the X90J, on the X80J I had to use the Google Assistant to navigate to the section where I can check for app updates. 

Sony X80J runs on the Google TV UI.

Once again HDMI ports 3 and 4 support enhanced format to enable 4K HDR gaming and I recommend you go and switch it on as soon as you set up this TV. You can do this by going to Settings – Channel & Inputs – External Inputs – HDMI Signal Format. Here select the enhanced format for the HDMI input. 

Sony X80J supports eARC.

Sony X80J Remote control

The remote control is once again identical to what we got on the X90J with the slim candy bar form factor and textured back. You have OTT hotkeys for Netflix, Prime Video and YouTube along with playback controls. Overall, the remote is well built, functional and works well. 

Sony X80J remote control.

Sony X80J Build and design

The build of the X80J is very similar to what we saw on the X90J. It has 2 tabletop feet that slot into place and the feet are very slim. The 65-inch TV fit on my table where most other 65-inch TVs didn’t, so that’s a very good thing. The TV does wobble a bit when probed, but then again, how often do you tap the TV once it’s set up? The feet also come with external clips you can use for cable management. The back has a simple design. 

Sony X80J has 2 slim feet.

The placement of the ports is pretty standard. They are all on the right side of the TV facing outwards. We have two USB ports, optical audio out, headphones port, AV port, four HDMI ports, ethernet port and a good old antenna. 

The Sony X80J has 4 HDMI ports and 2 USB ports.

Sony X80J Bottom Line

Should you buy the Sony X80J? Well, it all depends on what you are looking for. The panel has very good performance for content consumption in HDR and SDR like movies and TV shows and is also good for gaming. In real work use, the TV performs very well giving good colour reproductions and an immersive experience. It does not have local dimming which affects its performance in a dark room, but a little bias lighting helps. The audio output is good too. While we tested the 65-inch variant of this TV, know that it is available in screen sizes from 43-inches up to 75-inches. As of writing this review, the 65-inch variant is priced at Rs 1,34,990. That’s similarly priced to the Sony 55-inch X90J which has better picture performance, local dimming and Sony’s new XR processor. So, you are getting newer technology and better performance at the cost of screen size with the X90J. On the other end of the spectrum, we have the Mi QLED TV 75 which, for a similar price as the 65X80J gives you QLED backlighting and local dimming along with a larger screen size. While the X80J has better colours than the Mi QLED TV, the Mi TVs local dimming is its strength for darkroom content consumption.

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A small and hardy speaker for outdoor use

In India, the Sony SRS-XB13 was launched on World Music Day. Opening up an audio product with the Sony logo on it remains as exciting as ever. All the important instructions are actually on the top flap itself, which shows you how to use the strap and buckle in different configurations. Within the box is the speaker enclosed within a soft pouch, a twelve inch long USB type C charging cable, a pictographic instruction manual, a text heavy reference guide, and the warranty card (which lasts for a year). The speaker itself is within a soft cloth pouch. 

Build and design

The speaker is three and a half inches tall, three inches wide, and weighs about 250 grams. This is designed to be a small and lightweight speaker, meant for the outdoors. The speaker is lightweight enough and the form factor is sufficiently compact to not feel like too much of an extra burden when packed into a bag for the next trek. It is actually small and light enough to dangle from your hand itself, for short excursions.   

On the top is the main driver, pointed upwards,but it’s the bottom half that makes the design of the device a little different. Beneath the device, pointing downwards is a passive radiator, which is a smart but obvious place to incorporate one in such a small form factor. This passive driver is powered by air pressure and depends on the electrical manipulation of the primary driver, to provide an extra thump in the lower frequencies. Now the membrane is within a railing that raises it above the ground, directing the sound downwards and then in all directions. This railing sits above half an inch above the surface of the ground, and needs just a little bit of care from the users, so as not to get too much gunk and dirt between the railing and the passive driver, although this is easy enough to clean out with earbuds. Sony recommends that the speakers should not be placed directly on loose sand. 

There is a handy strap that can attach itself to the side of the bag in two configurations, one where the speaker dangles down from the side, and another where it is more securely attached at two points. There is an S shaped clip, which is a pretty smart design that allows you to quickly switch between the two configurations, allowing the speaker to be easily hung on everything from trees to gear hooks within tents. Both the strap and the clip seem hardy enough, and more than capable of taking a few tugs and jerks without snapping. The textured strap, while easy to clean, gets dirty quickly as it easily holds mud or grit from the sides of trees. It is also much easier to switch between configurations when the strap is dry, getting the clip out and slipping it through the gaps around the bottom is more difficult and time consume when the strap is wet. 

The speaker is waterproof and dustproof with an IP67 rating. We tested it out in the rain and faced no problems. The unit is easy to clean, and in light but continuous rain with the speaker facing straight up, not too much water gets trapped within the grill. Turning it upside down for an hour or so is enough to get rid of any droplets. The speaker itself feels sturdy, and is completely satisfactory as a hardy outdoor speaker in terms of build quality. The finish of the speaker does not seem like it gets scratched easily. If you drop it in a pool, it will float, but slightly sinks over about fifteen seconds. The speaker seems to shake off small droplets of water easily, and it does not impact sound quality if it is wet.  

The power and volume rocker buttons are located on a rubber strip towards the base of the device, with a flap that opens up to the USB Type-C port. This flap is located just below the strap, which if you think about it, is the best place for it to be. It makes sure that if the speaker is dangling from somewhere and being simultaneously charged, then the power cable is comfortably sticking out from the port right below the strap, not getting pressed up against any other surface or dangling in awkward ways where they can get stuck in something and yanked off. 

Features

The speaker only has the necessary features for its intended function, stripping away all the extra bells and whistles. There is no WiFi connectivity, or voice assistant support, and the companion app does not work with this particular model. Being able to add the speaker on the Sony Music Centre app would have been incredibly convenient for checking the battery life, and simplifying the pairing of two units for stereo capabilities. The only feature that we wish the speaker had, was support from the Sony Music Centre app, if only to look at the battery capacity of the device. Fortunately, the device makes up for this by having a long battery life, and a dedicated LED indicator to show that it needs to charge up.

That said, we would consider the strap to be a feature on its own, because it is really convenient and allows the speaker to be positioned creatively in a number of different spaces, making it incredibly versatile. Within restricted spaces with limited floor space, such as inside tents, the ability to hang the speaker is really helpful, but this feature comes into play even indoors, where the speaker can easily be hung from a tripod in the middle of the room (allowing the speaker to fill it) or from shelf handles or hooks close to the ceiling (great for creating ambience). So even if you go out and decide to stay in a hotel, this is a handy and versatile travel speaker.  

There is also Google’s Fast Pair tech, which allows superfast pairing with Android devices, using Bluetooth Low Energy. This actually works like magic on some supported Android devices, where you get a notification on the device if the speaker is turned on anywhere in the vicinity. Tap on it once, and it gets paired. 

Unlike the SRS-XB12, the SRS-XB13 does not have an input for an audio jack, we absolutely do not miss that, but it does make the device get lower scores in the features department. Having a line in jack is a big plus for an outdoor speaker, as trekkers do tend to use dedicated music players to conserve the batteries on their smartphones. 

The only other feature of note offered by the speaker is a mic that allows you to answer calls. The mic is located below the control buttons, and does not perform very well at a distance. You can just about use it around arm’s length without raising your voice, but you will find yourself grabbing it and talking into the mic to be more clear, so it is not really something that one would prefer to use, but is a functional alternative if your phone is charging elsewhere. The good thing about using the speakers in this way is how loud you can make the incoming voice, and it also allows a group of people to huddle around a device for a conversation.  

Performance

One of the things that you need to be careful about is the positioning of the speaker. For example within a tent, it is much better to position it downwards towards yourself, and if hung from within an umbrella (it’s a possibility!), it is better to position it inwards. Especially at lower volumes, it makes a noticeable difference when it comes to which direction the speakers are facing. However, the strap that allows you to quickly and easily switch between configurations makes this part easy to manage. The strap also gives some room around the speaker , which makes it sound better when its hanging slack. Considering the small size of the speaker, it is easy to push it up against corners and walls, where it cannot sound that great.   

The battery life is really good. We played it at around fifty percent volume and it lasted well over a day of continuous playback, well beyond the 16 hours on the box, which we assume are at higher volumes. This is the kind of battery life that you require on treks, but since it’s not going to be on all the time, it is safe to say that this speaker can easily last a weekend without needing to be juiced up again. Though we suspect that the battery life is bound to deteriorate over time, out of the box it seems to last forever, which is exactly the kind of expectation users have from outdoor gear. There are indicators for low battery life on the side of the unit. 

The Bluetooth connection does get jittery from time to time, with the audio playback stuttering or distorted playback. When this happens, usually turning off the device and turning it on is enough to fix this problem, which is infrequent anyway. Turning off and turning on the device, and establishing a connection  is a rapid process, the power button is set up in such a way that it turns off when you release it, so even very short presses are fine (don’t keep pressing till it turns off, that won’t work). Pairing is superfast, on Windows as well as iPhone, and is even faster on Android devices. 

When you hold the speaker while it is playing back, you can actually feel the power of the main driver. The casing beneath the passive radiator also thumps along with the beat, along with the entire circumference of the speaker. This shows that the main speaker is really powerful, but there is still a lot of misdirected energy. The highs and mids are clear and distinct. The bass is a bit problematic, while the speakers are bass forward, they do not really pack in a punch. It is also difficult to reconcile buyer expectations with reality in a review. The most critical thing here is that the bass sounds much better when the speaker is dangled, the way it is meant to be used, reflected off sundry surfaces such as tent tops, tree tops and umbrella tops. Seriously, the leaves resonate with the bass. When kept on the ground or a floor, it is just not that impressive. In fact, theoretically, this is how you would think all speakers are meant to be used after listening to this thing, suspended, and in the middle of an infinite plane. For those who want a well rounded sound with a differentiated bass, this is the right speaker, for those who expect an extra kick in the lower frequencies, it can be underwhelming. Just don’t expect an excessive thump that makes baby birds fall off their nests. The passive radiator really helps differentiate the lower frequencies, which can be clearly heard coming out from the base of the speaker. The bass does pack in more of a punch at higher volumes, but the beats are subdued at lower volumes (think Bjork’s Hunter), compared to bluetooth or desktop speakers twice its size, which is about the average size for both these devices. To sum up, the mids and highs sound great, and the bass is just about right without being excessive. At high volumes, a single speaker can easily fill a cave, so there is no problem in that department as well. It can get surprisingly loud for its size.  

One of the most frequent questions we get from our listeners is the mythical sound stage. As these are mono speakers, they do not have much of a sound stage to speak of, but all the instruments are distinct and clear. While mono has its own charm, a pair of these speakers can be linked up to form a stereo couple. As the model is not supported by the Sony Music Centre app, we imagine this pairing to be a tad more difficult, but the instruction manual has clear directions on how to get this done. We imagine a pair of these to perform admirably as a replacement for desktop speakers, and provide great stereo sound for the outdoors. For our tests, we used only a single speaker. 

We checked the speakers on a range of music types, and also with games, movies and TV shows, from a number of sources. The speakers can handle a range of genres quite well, but the quality of the device really shows when you listen to soft dialogues and low orchestral scores, which are all crystal clear, even at low volumes. If you often end up driving to the middle of nowhere, pitching a tent, making some popcorn and watching a movie, then these are just the right speakers. 

Verdict

The device is available on ecommerce sites with an MRP of 3,990 which makes it an attractive proposition. Considering the quality of the device, it seems to have been priced just right, but we wish that Sony would make the deal sweeter for those who want to pick up a pair. The speakers are available in six colours, and those who are into camo will like the Taupe one. The Sony SRS-XB13 is a small, lightweight but hardy speaker meant for outdoor use. With a surprisingly loud sound from a small form factor, an extra kick in the lower frequencies through a passive radiator, and an exceptionally long battery life, this speaker is just right for its intended use, but does not have too many extra bells and whistles. 

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An overall solid pair of wireless earphones, with one major flaw

Sony has consistently offered solid audio products for years now, with the Sony WH-1000XM3 over-ear headphones and the Sony WF-1000XM3 true wireless earphones being best in class products that will appease most users. Nevertheless, the products from Sony that garner the most fanfare, and rightfully so, are the premium offerings, while the mid-range offerings from the company are usually farther from the limelight. Nevertheless, Sony does have a couple of stellar products even in the mid-range segment. So, in this review we will be evaluating a new mid-range contender from Sony, the WI-SP510 wireless neckband-style earphones. Priced at Rs 6,990 and available for Rs 4,990 on Amazon and Headphonezone, the Sony WI-SP510 is part of both Sony’s ‘sports’ lineup as well as its ‘XB’ – Extra Bass range of headphones. These earphones seem like an extremely lucrative purchase, on paper, at least. So, let’s find out how the Sony WI-SP510 in-ear sports headphones fared in our review.

Build and comfort

Sporting a familiar neckband-style design, the Sony WI-SP510, stylistically, is extremely minimalist. Available in Blue and Black coloured options, the design is a tad monotonous and bland, especially the Black-coloured variant we received for review. The build is entirely plastic, but the quality doesn’t feel cheap at all. The earphones have two compact, rounded plastic modules along with a semi-flexible plastic neckband. 

sony wi-sp510, wireless earphones sony

Now, the plastic-build lends itself to making the earphones extremely lightweight and portable. Weighing in at a mere 30g, the earphones can be easily stowed away in a backpack, or even smaller handbags. The weight of these new-gen earphones has increased in comparison to the previous model – the WI-SP500, however, the battery has also shot up considerably, with the WI-SP510 providing a whopping 15 hours of playtime in comparison to the WI-SP500’s now-measly 8 hours.

sony wi-sp510

The earphones are well-suited for those leading an active lifestyle. Whether you go to the gym, go running, cycling, or jogging, the earbuds sit firmly within the ear and the neckband itself stays put snugly around the neck due to the front-leaning weight of the plastic modules. The snug fit of the earphones lends to great passive isolation as well, which makes them suitable for usage even during commute or in noisy office environments. 

The earphones also come with both silicone eartips as well as silicone wings in different sizes – four pairs of silicone tips and three pairs of silicone wings. While we did manage to find a good fitting pair of eartips and wings, the wings did end up making the reviewer’s ears feel quite fatigued after an hour of wearing them. This is partly since the reviewer has smaller than usual ears, so if you do too, keep this in mind.

sony wi-sp510 review

The earbuds are small and ergonomic, and the driver housings are magnetic, which allows them to clasp together when lying idle around your neck. Unfortunately though, there’s no auto pause/play functionality tied to the magnetic housings as in OnePlus’ wireless in-ear headphones. Additionally, the magnets are not as strong as we’d like them to be either. 

The controls are on the left side plastic module and are extremely user-friendly. The buttons are adequately-sized and have quite the tactility to them too. You can pause/play the music, skip tracks or go to previous tracks, increase/decrease volume levels and even summon your voice assistant with the commands. Unlike many wireless earphones’ controls, the Sony WI-SP510 features simple and intuitive controls that just… work. Next to the controls, there’s also the USB-C port under a plastic flap.

Features

While the cream of the crop features such as ANC, Adaptive Sound Control, and Ambient Mode, are set aside for more premium Sony offerings, the WI-SP510 does have quite a few nifty features that most users look for in 2020. Firstly, since this is a sports pair of in-ear headphones, it comes with an IPX5 water resistance rating which means you can use these earphones in the gym or in heavy rain (as per Sony) without having to worry about it. Sony even claims that these earphones can be washed after an intense workout session!

Furthermore, the earphones allow users to access their device’s voice assistant via onboard controls. Simply double-tapping the middle multifunction button will summon Google Assistant or Siri. Users can also make and receive calls handsfree, and as mentioned above, control music and media playback via the onboard controls.

Powered by Bluetooth 5.0, the Sony WI-SP510 has a company rated wireless range of about 33 feet. In the limited testing we could conduct due to Covid-19, we saw that the earphones sport pretty decent wireless range. We could go from one end of a 400sqft house to another, without the range cutting off. However, if you put a wall or two between the earphones and the source device, the connection does falter. The earphones also support AAC codec apart from the standard SBC, which Android users can make use of. However, it does not come with aptX support, unfortunately.

With the Sony WI-SP510, users also get a sizable battery life of about 15 hours, as per the company, which is on the higher side for wireless earphones. In our tests, at about 60-65 percent volume, the earphones lasted 14 hours and 30 minutes approximately, which is quite exceptional. Charging up the headphones is a speedy affair as well, a mere 3 hours of charging gets the earphones back up from zero battery to full charge.

Performance

Sporting 12mm drivers, the Sony WI-SP510 offers a relatively pleasing sound profile and good audio reproduction. However, there’s a serious chink in the armour of these earphones. The noise floor (amount of white noise produced by the headphones) is inexplicably high, especially for headphones from a brand like Sony. So, due to this unfortunate but major flaw, we have to advise users who listen to lots of podcasts, audiobooks, and quieter genres of music, to steer clear of these headphones, since the relatively jarring white noise could bother you (like it bothered us during our tests).

Now, most headphones do have a small amount of noise, but the amount of noise present on the WI-SP510 is much more than most of the modern-day wireless offerings and will definitely stand out. The noise is the most noticeable when you pause the music/media and when you power on the device. Basically, when nothing else is playing, however, it is even noticeable during quieter music and films, audiobooks and podcasts. However, if you mostly listen to loud music, the noise will not be too noticeable.

Now, coming to the sound quality of the Sony WI-SP510, we quite enjoyed the warm and pleasing sound profile of the headphones. They’re definitely more lows and bass-oriented, however, even the bass has character and control. It isn’t murky or muddled in any manner, which we liked. The mids are well-produced as well, with vocal-centric tracks such as Hello by Adele or Rescue Me by OneRepublic sounding dynamic and lively, while still maintaining detail.

The highs are decent, but nothing to write home about. In the track Hysteria by Muse, the cymbals sounded energetic but at higher volume levels it did get a bit distorted. Imaging on these headphones is great as well. In crowded tracks such as Selkies by BTBAM which feature an array of instruments, you can still make sense of the chaos and somewhat place instruments. However, the soundstage is a bit lacking.

Microphone quality is pretty decent as well. During calls, the voice sounds ever-so muffled at times, but that could very well be a network issue and not a microphone issue. We also tried voice recording a paragraph and speech intelligibility through the microphone was pretty good as well, with only a few words being eaten up or picked up incorrectly.

Bottomline

Priced at Rs 6,990, and especially at a discounted price of Rs 4,990, the Sony WI-SP510 is no doubt one of the better-sounding wireless mid-range earphones. However, the noise floor is far too high and users that consume a lot of podcasts, audiobooks and softer genres of music may find this quite jarring and even distracting. If this is not an issue for you, there’s a lot to like about the headphones. You get a pretty robust build, solid battery life, intuitive controls, IPX5 rating and good sound quality. 

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Sony Has Sold 7.8 Million PlayStation 5 Consoles Since Launch, 3.3 Million in Q4 2020

Sony in its annual earnings report for FY2020 on Wednesday announced that it has sold a total of 7.8 million units of its PlayStation 5 console since its launch in November last year. In comparison, the Japanese technology company sold 5.7 million PlayStation 4 consoles worldwide in the entire financial year. It also said that there were 47.6 million PlayStation Plus subscribers, and 109 million PlayStation Network users in the fourth quarter of the financial year.

As per Sony’s earnings report of FY2020, the company sold 3.3 million PlayStation 5 consoles in the fourth quarter that ended on March 31. Previously, in its financial report for Q3 2020, the Japanese company shared that it sold 4.5 million PlayStation 5 units since its launch in early November. Furthermore, out of total 5.7 million PlayStation 4 consoles, Sony sold 1.4 million in Q3 2020, and a million units in Q4 2020.

In terms of software and titles, Sony sold 338.9 million full game software (PlayStation 4/ PlayStation 5), and 58.4 million first party titles in the entire FY2020, with 61.4 million and 7.9 million sold in the Q4 2020, respectively. Additionally, Sony had 47.6 million PlayStation Plus subscribers, and 109 million monthly active users in Q4 2020. In terms of revenue, Sony’s Game & Network Services (G&NS) segment, which consoles, games, and network services, brought in a revenue of JPY 2,604,713 million (roughly Rs. 1,78,060 crores).

Sony recently announced through its PlayStation account on Twitter that PlayStation Now users will soon be able to stream certain games at 1080p resolution. PlayStation Now is Sony’s cloud streaming subscription service that allows PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and PC users to play PS4, PS3, and PS2 games. PlayStation Now costs $9.99 (roughly Rs. 750) per month or $24.99 (roughly Rs. 1,900) for three months. There is also an annual plan that costs $59.99 (roughly Rs. 4,500), and it is available in Europe, the US, Canada, and Japan.


We dive into all things Apple — iPad Pro, iMac, Apple TV 4K, and AirTag — this week on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Orbital is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you get your podcasts.

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Sony Xperia XZ Review: Sony’s flagship isn’t perfect

Sony Xperia XZ detailed review

It feels like such a long time ago that I was recommending the Xperia Z3 Compact to someone looking for a small, but powerful smartphone with great overall features. It was the phone to recommend if someone wanted Nexus-like performance with a great camera and didn’t mind not having a stock Android UI.

Today we have with us the Xperia XZ. The smartphone is priced around 50k and is competing with the Google Pixel, iPhone 7, Samsung Galaxy S7, LG G5, HTC 10 and other flagship smartphones. On paper, it has some impressive specifications, especially when you consider the camera specs. So, is the Xperia XZ a worthy Android smartphone or are you better off considering the competition?

Build and Design

Even from afar you can recognise the fact that the XZ is an Xperia device. It has peculiar rectangular form factor that we have seen from the days of the Xperia Z2. The unit we are reviewing is silver (Sony calls it Platinum) in colour, but it is available in Mineral Black and Forest Blue. The front of the smartphone is symmetrical, with the forehead and chin looking so similar that I held the phone upside down a few times.

The back of the phone is simple, shiny and elegant. However, this phone won’t turn heads, but it’s a well built device, which you’ll know only when you have it in your hands. The camera and LED flash are at the top left corner of the back, but overall, it’s a clean and simple design. 

Coming back to the front, the smartphone has two front facing speakers. To the left of the phone rests a flap, which holds either two SIM cards or one SIM card and a microSD card. The right has the fingerprint sensor cum home button, volume rocker and the shutter button.

If you’re coming from another smartphone, you may not like the placement of the volume rocker. It rests below the fingerprint sensor/home button. Usually, most phones keep them the other way around. The location of the shutter button is fine for taking pictures.

Coming to the fingerprint sensor, the placement on the right is a good touch and I like it. The smartphone unlocks almost instantly, the minute I press the button. If you don’t want to unlock the phone and just bring about the lock screen to see your notifications or the time, you can double tap the display to wake it up. This feature has become second nature for me ever since the OnePlus One became my primary smartphone. 

At the bottom we have the USB-C port and the top houses the soon to be endangered headphones jack. 

The worst part about the build and design of the Xperia XZ is the fact that the smartphone is very slippery. Two out of five times when I remove the phone from my pocket, I made a fool of myself by nearly dropping it and struggling to get a grip. It made for good entertainment for those around me, though.

Overall, the phone is good looking with its industrial design. Ergonomically however, I don’t like the placement of the volume rocker and the need to put a case on the device to add grip defeats the purpose of its good looks. 

Display and UI

Kicking things off with the display, it is bright. Really bright. 794 lux bright, to be precise. That’s brighter than the iPhone, Under harsh sunlight, you can still view the display, so long as the brightness is pumped up! The viewing angles are great too. Coming to the color reproduction, you have 2 image enhancement options – X-Reality for Mobile and Super Vivid. Switching to X-reality makes images sharper and clearer, giving them a more natural tone. Super vivid, on the other hand, makes everything very vivid and vibrant. You also have the ability to control the white balance, so you can tweak colours according to your preference. There is a very slight shift in colours when viewing from some angles, but not worth complaining about.

It is bright. Really bright. 794 lux bright, to be precise

If there is one stand out feature of the Xpera XZ, it has to be the display. I have watched a bunch of YouTube videos, Netflix and played some games on it and the colours pop. It is just a 1080p panel and even though a lot of people çomplain that this ‘flagship’ device doesn’t have a QHD display, it’s OK. The display gets the job done,  really well. The lower resolution allows Sony to churn out higher frame rates on gaming, and optimise battery life a little bit. Sure, if you want to nitpick, you can see rough edges when you zoom into text and you will only see this if you compare it with a QHD display. To the untrained eye, it won’t make a difference.

Moving to the UI, the Xperia XZ is running on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow straight out-of-the-box skinned with Sony’s own UI. One thing that stands out immediately is the app drawer. Stock Android abandoned the horizontal app pages in favour of vertical scrolls. It’s a small thing, but you will notice it if you like the scroll better than the pages. For me, I prefer to search rather than run through the app catalogue. You can also rearrange the apps in the app drawer as per your preference, which is a nice touch. On the far left of the apps listing page you have a suggested apps section, which as its name suggests, lists your frequently used apps and recommends apps from the Play Store based on your usage behavior.

The smartphone also comes pre-loaded with apps such as PlayStation, Movie Creator, Sketch, Sony Live TV and more. Sony live TV has a lot of free and paid content for you to consume. 

Overall, the display of the smartphone is functional, works well and is a treat to work with. I don’t have any big complaints with the UI. It is at par with the UI available on Samsung, LG and HTC devices.

Performance and Gaming

From the get go, the Xperia XZ is fast, very fast. Apps load quickly, games respond to quick changes in controls, and switching between apps is a breeze. Having said that, it isn’t as fluid as an iPhone 7 or the Pixel XL smartphone. If you navigate the UI, quickly open and close a bunch of apps, or launch the camera from the home screen, you will notice how the Xperia XZ lags behind the other two mentioned devices. The iPhone 7 Plus is the fastest here and the Pixel is slightly ahead of the Xperia XZ. Put simply, it looks like the Pixel responds quicker to the touch than the Xperia XZ. If software and reaction to touch inputs can be optimised, then the Xperia XZ has the potential to stand tall with the Pixel when the response time is compared. At the moment, though, it’s nowhere close.

At the moment, though, it’s nowhere close to flagship performance

Here is a look at how the Xperia XZ compares with other flagship devices with respect to benchmarks.

 

Coming to gaming, the device works quite well. We played a bunch of graphically heavy games such as Asphalt 8, Modern Combat and Injustice and there was no drop in frames or any noticeable stutter. The games ran perfectly smooth, however, load times were higher than some flagships.

Audio

Though Xperia XZ boasts stereo sound output and it is disappointing. At full volume the audio is just about audible, which is a real shame considering the device has 2 speakers. The stereo effects are present with respect to channel shift but the overall volume is poor when watching videos on YouTube and Netflix.

 

Call quality

The quality of the voice from the earpiece is good. At full volume there is some audio leak and in a quiet room you don’t need to switch to the speaker if you want to keep the phone slightly away from your ear. From the speaker too the audio output is good but isn’t as loud as we have seen on other phones like the OnePlus 3 or the iPhone 7.

Camera

The camera on the Xperia XZ is good, but its far from the best. The auto mode is unreliable. Sometimes the details are really good and at others the phone struggles to maintain details. Overall, when it comes to consistency in image quality and overall image quality, the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus and the Pixel XL are better.

The camera on the Xperia XZ is good, but its far from the best

The camera on the Xperia XZ takes in a lot of light which is good for low light and in regular situations means that the images look oversaturated resulting in sometimes really good images and other times really bad ones. The reason the colours look so nice is because of the RGB IR filter but like I said, this isn’t consistent throughout all the images. 

Overall the camera is good but it isn’t up there with the best. The inconsistency in performance is surprising since some of the best smartphone cameras sport a Sony sensor. 

 

Xperia XZ camera samples

 

Coming to video recording, the Xperia XZ can shoot video in 4K, but the 4K mode isn’t in the video resolution menu. It is a separate option. We shot a video in 4K on the smartphone and after about 4 and a half minutes of recording, the phone got pretty hot reaching a maximum temperature of 42.6 degrees. After 6 minutes and 56 seconds of recording the cameras shut down on its own as the phone got too hot. This is a bummer if you are one looking to shoot long 4K videos using the smartphone. 

Battery life

In the PC Mark battery test the smartphone lasted for 7.1 hours, which is average. In real world use, you will need to get your hands on a charger by the end of the day. With about 15 minutes of gaming, 20 minutes of YouTube video viewing some social networking and a bunch of calls and messages, the phone was ready to die at about 6PM. My day begins at 9AM. I have seen smartphones like the OnePlus 3 sport slightly better battery life. 

Bottomline

The only reason you will buy this phone is if you are a Sony fanboy or you want a smartphone with a really good display. When it comes to audio, camera and overall performance, there are better phones available for the same price point. If you don’t mind compromising on the camera a little bit, then you can even consider the OnePlus 3, which is cheaper, but feels faster. If you’re looking to pick up a flagship smartphone, you can consider the iPhone 7, Google Pixel and even the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge as great options in this price.

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Sony Xperia XZ Premium Review: Premium, but not enough

Sony Xperia XZ Premium detailed review

Sony may not have a real hold on the smartphone space anymore, but its phones remain as relevant as ever. The company recently announced that it’ll focus on the premium range from now on. That, combined with the fact that Sony only caters to its own fans, means the company now has a niche sort of market for itself. For that niche market, the Sony Xperia XZ Premium is the best the Japanese mainstay has to offer.

But niche or not, Sony has a place in the market as long as it wants. Not only does the company supply almost all camera modules out there, its flagship phones are still a testament to what the best of Android can be. The Xperia XZ Premium is priced at Rs. 59,990 and carves out a place for itself in a market that’s more crowded than the Mumbai local trains.

Build and Design

You can always trust Sony to stand apart in one way or the other. The Xperia XZ Premium looks nothing like any other smartphone you’ll find. While it does have glass on both sides like so many other smartphones today, the mirror-finish is distinct. True to its name, the Xperia XZ Premium literally feels like it’s wrapped in a mirror.

While it’s a unique design indeed, the mirror finish is slippery and extremely fingerprint intensive. Combined with the phone’s large footprint, the XZ Premium is certainly difficult to use. While the display size is only 5.5-inch, there are large strips of glass above, below and on either side of the display. The phone’s overall footprint is closer to 6-inch or larger smartphones. 

Almost all of Sony’s design choices here are double-edged swords. For instance, the top and bottom of the phone have chamfered metallic strips, which look premium and unique, but they’ll dig into your hands when holding the phone in landscape mode. Similarly, the dedicated camera shutter button lies near the bottom of the right side, and you often end up pressing it inadvertently.

Personally speaking, I do like the Xperia XZ Premium’s design. It’s refreshing, new, unique and there’s not a single bone to pick in terms of build quality, except the obvious fact that glass breaks and scratches easily.

That said, many may call this gaudy, especially in the chrome finish, while fingerprints will be easier to spot on the black variant.

Display

The pixel race on smartphone displays seemed to have reached saturation, until Sony unveiled the first version of this phone last year. The highlight here is that the XZ Premium can render 4K resolution and HDR colour. So, not only is it at par with competing flagship phones, it can actually show you more pixels on occasion.

We’ll get to the 4K and HDR bit a little later, but let’s talk about the display in general at first. The 5.5 inch display is rendered in 1080p for the most part. So, there’s actually little to separate it from the Xperia XZs. Colours are slightly swayed towards the cooler side, but there’s excellent control settings for this, allowing you to tune them to your own preference. I found the Pro settings to my liking, but you can choose others, or use toggles to directly tweak the primary colours.

The display is as bright as it gets and Sony seems to have tweaked Android’s auto-brightness algorithms to good effect. The XZ Premium isn’t as adept at manipulating brightness as an iPhone, but it’s much better at it than most Android devices. It judges ambient light quite well and brightness levels are changed smoothly.

4K and HDR

The display kicks into higher gear only when you deliver 4K and HDR videos. To be absolutely frank, higher resolution is of little significance on a 5.5-inch panel. While the the display is noticeably sharper, you’ll have to take a really close look to ascertain the same. I used an Xperia XZs (1080p) and XZ Premium (4K) side-by-side, playing and pausing the same video in 1080p at precisely the same time to find the difference. With enough effort you’ll see added details like the scales on human hands, but it doesn’t make a very big difference for regular usage. The tangible difference here is that the Xperia XZ Premium is the only smartphone that trigger’s YouTube’s 4K playback option right now.

The really important addition here is HDR colour, which actually makes a much more noticeable difference. The XZ Premium produces better details in shadows, and contrast ratio and colour details is enhanced here. You won’t see this difference unless you’re comparing HDR and non-HDR displays side-by-side, but HDR does allow viable benefits in the long run. Sony’s display is at par with the Samsung Galaxy S8 or LG G6 on this front.

It’s worth noting that the phone tends to heat up a little bit when playing 4K and HDR videos. It’s not abnormal heating by any stretch, but internal temperatures can rise to 44 degrees, which you won’t find during regular video playback. Also, the Xperia XZ Premium drops 5% battery after 15 minutes of 4K HDR playback, which is not ideal.

Performance

The Xperia XZ Premium is our first phone running the Snapdragon 835 chipset from Qualcomm. Clocked at 2.45GHz, the chipset uses eight of Qualcomm’s semi-custom Kryo cores and supports up to 1Gbps downlink speeds. It’s built on the 10nm fabrication process, making it power efficient as well. But, for all intents and purposes, the Snapdragon 835 is an evolutionary update over the 820.

On the Xperia XZ Premium, it drives benchmark scores to as high as Android phones can do today, but regular usage is not noticeably faster. To be clear, the XZ Premium is as fast as any flagship should be, it’s just not noticeably faster. You’ll find subtle differences in the fact that the XZ Premium switches from mobile data to WiFi (and vice-versa) faster than the XZs. Similarly, Bluetooth connections are achieved faster too, but not because of Bluetooth 5.0 support. The Xperia XZ Premium processes such functions faster than phones with the Snapdragon 820, but it’s an incremental improvement only.



AnTuTu Benchmark



Geekbench 4 Single Core



Geekbench 4 Multi Core



GFXBench Car Chase

There are also no noticeable heating issues on the Xperia XZ Premium. In regulated environments, with the room temperature controlled to 24 degrees, the phone rises to about 45 degrees on heavy gaming for over half an hour. That’s normal for smartphones today. A similar result is found when recording 4K videos, more heat is generated with this than on gaming. That’s not abnormal either.

Overall, the Xperia XZ Premium is as fast as any flagship today, and in comparative terms it’s faster than the LG G6, which runs on the Snapdragon 820. You can expect smooth UI transitions and reasonably lower load times. Although we must say that the Samsung Galaxy S8 felt faster in terms of regular user experience.

Camera

Like the XZs, the Xperia XZ Premium also boasts 960fps slow motion recording. You can learn about the technology involved and its impact in the Xperia XZs review.

The camera on this phone is the same as the XZs anyway. The camera here is faster than previous Sony flagships and image quality is excellent in most conditions. It’s not the best you can get in terms of low light performance. The XZs produces good details and accurate colours, while noise is kept under control. Contrast levels are decent as well and dynamic range is pretty high. 

The camera works well as long as you’re not shooting in low light. In such conditions, phones like the LG G6 (review) and Samsung Galaxy S8 (review) are ahead. While the G6 produces clearer details and better contrast in low light, the Samsung Galaxy S8 clicks brighter photos. While Sony has reduced shutter delay and processing times on this phone, both the LG G6 and Galaxy S8 remain faster.

Another tricky element of the Xperia XZ Premium camera is the dedicated shutter button. While camera enthusiasts will indeed appreciate the button, it’s somewhat erratic in practical terms. There seems to be a noticeable delay between when the button is pressed and the photo clicked. Also, half pressing the button should direct the phone to focus, but this doesn’t work well sometimes.

Battery

For the most part, the Xperia XZ Premium is at par with any flagship smartphone out there. But that can’t be said about its battery. While flagship phones do produce only about a work day’s worth of battery life, the Xperia XZ Premium lasted us lower still. On regular usage, you’re looking at about 38% lower battery life than the Galaxy S8 and nearly 45% lower than the LG G6. The Sony Xperia XZ Premium lasts just under 6 hours on the PC Mark Battery test, which is the weakest score for a flagship on our benchmark tests at the moment.



PC Mark Work 2.0 Battery Test (in minutes)

You’ll need to charge this phone twice a day to have it last a full 24 hours. Sony does allow fast charging, so you can get a quick boost of power when you need it. Streaming an hour of HD video on Amazon Prime Video uses about 20% battery, while an hour of gaming is a tad more power consuming. In essence, if you charge this phone to 100% at 9am, you’ll need to charge it once more at around 5pm. If you’re a heavy user, you’ll need another charge in between.

While we’re on the topic, Sony’s Battery Care feature is a nifty addition. The feature learns when you usually leave your device on charge for extended periods. If it detects the same, it trickle charges the phone over this time, so that the battery’s life is extended. It also tells you when your battery is estimated to run out, or if it’s going to run out before the next charge. The predictions aren’t always accurate, but trickle charging to extend life is a good idea by Sony.

Bottomline

To sum up, the Sony Xperia XZ Premium is the best Sony has to offer right now. It keeps up with competing flagships for the most part, with battery life being it’s real downfall. 4K resolution and 960 fps slo-mo video recording are gimmicks that some may like, but it’s tough to see practical implementation for those. The Xperia XZ Premium is a decent flagship smartphone for the Sony fan. It’s just not the smartphone we’d recommend over the Samsung Galaxy S8.

Samsung’s phone feels faster, shoots better photos and lasts longer on each charge. That said, amidst a sea of well matched flagship phones, the Sony Xperia XZ Premium is certainly one that can catch your fancy.

 

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