Sony is betting the Xperia XZ and X Compact on an unconvincing camera

I know it’s true of every modern phone, but it’s especially true of Sony’s new pair of Xperia handsets: the camera will be the most important factor in deciding the fortunes of the Xperia XZ and Xperia X Compact. Introduced at IFA 2016 in Berlin today, Sony’s Xperia XZ triples down on camera technology with a new laser autofocus, RGBC-IR white balance sensor, and its traditionally strong 23-megapixel imaging sensor. The Japanese company’s new flagship even has a dedicated shutter button. And the Xperia X Compact is a smaller, less powerful vessel for that same upgraded camera system.

One of the reasons the camera is going to be so pivotal is that the rest of the specs are not all that impressive: the Xperia XZ has the Snapdragon 820, which is hard to beat, but it only offers 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, and 1080p resolution alongside that chip. The 2,900mAh battery is outmatched by 3,000mAh cells in thinner and lighter phones like the Huawei P9. The X Compact steps down to a Snapdragon 650 with 720p, which admittedly is probably sufficient for its 4.6-inch size, but it’s definitely not cutting edge. And the same is true of the Android Marshmallow OS version: not bad, but not the latest, and not distinct from other flagship phones you could’ve bought at the start of the year.

The camera is practically everything for these phones, but my first time with it was not a happy one.