Sony Xperia XZ: A phone with a laser camera for night shots, ‘smart’ battery

Sony touted the potential of its camera in the Xperia XZ when it unveiled the device at the 2016 IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin.

Sony unveiled its latest flagship smartphone - the Xperia XZ - Thursday as it looks to build on momentum in its mobile business, amid a continued turnaround at the electronics giant.

The Japanese firm, which is enjoying a turnround in its fortunes, showed off two smartphones - the 5.2 inch Xperia XZ and the 4.6 inch Xperia X Compact - at the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin on Thursday

Key features of the devices include:

  • A bolstered camera with three sensors, one of which is a laser capable of measuring distances in low light conditions allowing a quick focus
  • Video stabilization to get rid of jerky motion when shooting moving images
  • A 13 megapixel front "selfie" camera with a larger sensor than Sony's previous flagship Xperia Z5, to take pictures in low light environments
  • Smart battery technology to help stop the cells wearing out. For example, the phone can learn your sleeping habits, so that if you are charging the phone overnight, the battery will charge to 90 percent, stop, and then the remaining 10 percent will charge just before you wake up. This stops the battery over charging.
  • Water resistance - but not for the compact version.

Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai has been on a drive to make those parts of his business that were bleeding cash, such as the smartphone division, more efficient while boosting money-makers such as gaming with the PlayStation consoles. So far there have been successes: The mobile communications division swung to an operating profit of 400 million yen ($3.8 million) in the three months to June 30 after a 22.9 billion yen loss in the same period last year.

The Sony Xperia X Compact is the smaller of the two devices and could prove popular, according to analysts, due to the demand seen with Apple's iPhone SE.

However, to achieve this recovery, Sony has quit unprofitable markets which in turn has hit scale, making future smartphone launches difficult.

"Sony has now engineered the business to a point where it's financially viable which is important, however it's very difficult to see how they can grow going forward," Ben Wood, chief of research at CCS Insight, told CNBC in a phone interview.

The company has lost out in the high-end space to the likes of Samsung, Apple and Huawei which dominate in terms of market share, leaving Sony to be a niche player. But the success of Apple's smaller 4-inch iPhone SE device, which has seen strong demand according to the company, could be a boost for Sony's Xperia X Compact.

"The Compact is more interesting because the iPhone SE has shown that there is an appetite from some consumers for a smaller device. It might be the compact variant that could be the most important in international markets," Wood said.

Sony's smartphone strengths have typically been with its camera because of its expertise in this area, but manufacturers such as Samsung have also bolstered their offering, making it difficult for the Japanese company to differentiate itself.

"There is not much to make these phones stand out on a shelf," Daniel Gleeson, senior consumer technology analyst at Ovum, told CNBC by phone.

Smart device updates

Sony used the press conference at IFA to give updates on three devices that it unveiled this year - the Xperia Ear, the Xperia Projector, and the Xperia Agent. With these smart products, Sony is hoping to play in the so-called Internet of Things market as smartphone growth slows and it looks to new areas for growth.

The Xperia ear is a wireless set of "smart" ear buds that can give you calendar reminders and tell you the weather. Users can talk to the device and it can carry out tasks like replying to a message or giving you directions. The device was announced in February and Sony said on Thursday it will be commercially available from November without giving a price or markets.


The Xperia Projector is a device that can turn any surface into a touch screen. When it was announced in February, it was just a concept product and now Sony has given updates which include a partnership with Yahoo Japan to bring new experiences which utilize the big screen. For example, users can do shopping via the projector.

Sony's Xperia Agent is a competitor to Amazon's Echo - a digital personal assistant that sits in the home, connects to different devices and can control them. It's another concept design, but Sony announced that it had partnered with Nestle Japan to allow the Xperia Agent to connect with the Swiss firm's coffee machines so users can make coffee by just talking to it.

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