It’s hard to shake the feeling that Sony’s Xperia line exists primarily as a method for getting its camera technology out in the world. It’s not that they’re not solid phones, it’s just the company doesn’t seem particularly concerned with selling a lot of them, or doing much innovating outside of the imaging side of things. The company has also struggled to strike deals with U.S. carriers, making distribution something of a Sisyphean task here in the States.
As a showcase for the company’s camera tech, however, the phones work pretty well. At nearly every big phone trade show, from CES to MWC to IFA, the company invariably shows off a new Xperia iteration and leads with a few new camera tricks. Hey, it’s as good a platform as any for the company that makes roughly half of the world’s smartphone image sensors.
And indeed, the newly unveiled XZ1 sports some fun new camera tricks. 3D Creator stands out as one of the more interesting additions. Using a combination of software and hardware, the phone’s built-in camera can create 3D scans of human heads, food and other objects. It’s a neat trick we’ve seen replicated on a number of accessories, but Sony’s gone out of its way to build the functionality directly into the phone.
As for any actual practical applications, well, as is often the case for these kinds of features, they’re mostly still a ways off. Sony suggested the possibility of adding custom faces to games (and even went so far as showing an unlicensed demo with a popular game franchise). There’s also 3D printing. The scans are actually detailed enough to be printed, though “practical” is probably a pretty strong word in that case, with consumer 3D printing suffering some major post-hype doldrums.
There is one potentially useful application that springs to mind, however: augmented reality. Again, we’re really on the tip of the spear here, but there’s a decent possibility that we’re going to see a substantial uptick in Android AR during the life of the phone.
The company also sports the latest in Sony’s proprietary super-slow-motion technology, something it’s been pushing for a while now, which captures video at a ridiculous 960 frames per second — and the results are pretty stunning. Other cool tricks include predictive autofocus and rapid burst image capture. The company is definitely continuing to push the envelope on imaging, even including a 13-megapixel front-facing camera for super-detailed selfies, I guess.
The 5.2-inch handset also has front-facing speakers that offer solid sound, so far as handsets go. It will run $700 when it hits the store (but not carrier) shelves September 19. That timing, notably, makes it one of the first handsets to ship with Android Oreo out of the box. The 4.6-inch XZ1 Compact arrives the following month for $600.