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Sony Xperia XZ2 and XZ2 Compact review

Does Sony’s latest do enough to pit it against the big boys of the smartphone world?

Pros

  • Very good camera, with 4K HDR video mode
  • More modern design than previous Sonys
  • The screen is decent, though not as impressive as the sound

Cons

  • Still has thicker bezels than its rivals
  • Some features smack of gimmickry

First impressions and design

  • New design that’s more ergonomic
  • No headphone jack
  • Fingerprint sensor on back

Sony-Xperia-XZ2-and-XZ2-Compact-backs

The XZ2 is all change for Sony. In fact, if it wasn’t for the Sony logo below the screen, we’d wonder who made the phone.

While previous Sony phones have had chunky bezels (i.e. borders) around the screen, the XZ2 has slimmed them down considerably. They’re still there, and they’re still a lot more noticeable than those on the all-screen Galaxy S9. But they’re a lot less conspicuous than on previous Sony handsets, which is a very welcome change.

The same goes for the XZ2 Compact, which is less boxy than its predecessors. Also, with a dinky 5-inch screen, it's a really nice size for anyone who finds a phablet a bit too bulky.

It’s all different around the back for both phones, too. 3D Gorilla Glass 5 gives the phone a curved finish that sits more comfortably in the hand, while the sides are more rounded as well. Those sharp, clinical Xperia edges are thankfully a thing of the past.

Like the Sony Xperia XA2, the fingerprint scanner is now on the back, just under the camera lens. This is where you find it on other Android smartphones like the Galaxy S9 and Google Pixel 2, so Sony is following the herd on this one.

Previous Xperias featured the fingerprint sensor built into the power button on the side, which was actually really handy. So it’s a bit of a shame but by no means a deal-breaker.

In another sign of modernisation, Sony has ditched the 3.5mm headphone jack. We’re told that Sony will bundle a dongle in the box so you can still use your standard headphones. Otherwise, you’ll need either Bluetooth headphones to listen wirelessly, or a pair that connect using the XZ2’s USB-C port. Which isn’t exactly ideal.

Finally, the colours. The handsets come in liquid black, liquid silver, petrol blue (though confusingly this is called deep green outside the UK) and ash pink.

The XZ2 has a glossy finish which is very reflective and looks premium. Though the downside is that it’ll soon be covered in fingerprints. The XZ2 Compact, on the other hand, has a matte finish, which looks a little less striking but attracts fewer smudges.

If you intend on showing it off somewhere, you’d better bring a cloth.

Build Metal and glass
Weight 198g (XZ2), 168g (XZ2 Compact)
Dimensions 153 x 72 x 11.1 mm (XZ2), 135 x 65 x 12.1 mm (XZ2 Compact)

Screen and sound

  • HDR compatible for more lifelike visuals
  • 18:9 aspect ratio
  • Bright and colourful

Sony-Xperia-XZ2-full-screen-movie

Both the 5.7-inch XZ2 and 5-inch XZ2 Compact boast a Full HD+ resolution of 2,160x1,080 pixels. That’s not quite as sharp as the Samsung Galaxy S9, Google Pixel 2 XL or iPhone X, but it is more pixels than the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, and [Google Pixel])(https://www.uswitch.com/mobiles/reviews/google-pixel-and-pixel-xl-review/). So Sony is definitely up there with the big boys.

It supports HDR, which stands for high dynamic range. This enhances the difference between the light and dark parts of the picture, making it seem more lifelike and hence adding depth. And with Amazon Prime Instant Video and Netflix both offering HDR content, it’s like having a portable cinema in your pocket.

Don’t have a ready stream of HDR content to hand? No problem. The XZ2 will upscale non-HDR content so it looks more polished and immersive. The effect isn’t bad, but it’s not quite as good as proper HDR.

That 18:9 aspect ratio is perfect for viewing content in the portrait orientation (i.e. held vertically). Because it allows the screen to be taller without adding significant width to the phone, it can cram in more content while the handset is still easy to hold.

Colours are very impressive, though the phone uses an LCD screen instead of OLED, so black levels aren’t quite as inky as we would’ve liked. And in one HDR clip of boats bobbing in the water, the resulting ripples looked slightly blurred.

There are better screens around, certainly. And the ‘infinity’ displays that cascade over the edges of rivals’ phones are more immersive. But the XZ2’s is bright, clear and colourful, and that’ll be more than good enough for most punters.

Now, the speakers. The advantage of having relatively thick bezels is that Sony can fill them with sonic oomph. And that’s certainly the case here: Sony claims its speakers are the loudest ever featured on an Xperia. And we’re inclined to agree.

At half volume, we were bothering people in the next room. Crank it all the way up, and the neighbours are likely to come knocking. But they’re not just loud, sound quality is nice and crisp too. It could mean you don’t need a Bluetooth speaker to share music with friends, which could save you a bob or two.

Size 5.7 inches (XZ2), 5.0 inches (XZ2 Compact)
Resolution 1080 x 2160 pixels
Technology LCD screen

Features

  • Dynamic Vibration system a bit gimmicky
  • Audiophile-friendly audio tech
  • 3D Creator is fun to play with

Sony-Xperia-XZ2-3D-creator

The big selling point of the larger XZ2 is that it brings together technologies from across Sony’s portfolio of consumer tech products. Such as? The Dynamic Vibration system vibrates your phone for alerts and notifications, but also pipes up while you’re watching films and playing games. It’s taken from Sony’s DualShock controllers for the PlayStation 4 games console.

It’s a nice idea, if a little gimmicky. It didn’t really add anything to the viewing experience, and it actually got quite annoying during gaming (though we did have it on the highest setting).

Vibration alerts are a notorious battery drain, so we feared near-constant vibrations would sap the phone’s juice in doubles-quick time. But it wasn’t too bad. A 10-minute blast on Super Mario Run with the vibrations cranked up only used 3 per cent of the battery life. Which was much less than we’d anticipated.

Don’t like the idea of your phone vibrating while you play? No problem, you can turn the feature off.

Sony has taken tech from its Bravia range of TVs to upscale non-HDR videos to near HDR quality. As we’ve already said, this isn’t quite as good as proper HDR, but it is a nice addition.

The screen is a Triluminos display, which again is the same tech as used in Sony’s tellies. According to Sony, this gives 30 per cent more colour detail than a standard display. In our use, the screen was certainly nice and colourful.

We’ve already mentioned the beefy speakers, but there’s another audio feature of note: support for LDAC and hi-res audio. LDAC is a technology developed by Sony that allows for higher quality audio files to be transmitted wirelessly over Bluetooth. In other words, better sounding tunes streamed from your phone to your wireless headphones or speaker.

Hi-res audio, meanwhile, is the name given to digital music files that sound better than CD quality. If you’re interested, the exact specifics are a sampling frequency and/or bit depth greater than 16-bit/44.1kHz.

In short, this mobile is geared up for audiophiles.

In terms of wireless tech, the XZ2 comes with NFC (for touch-to-pairing with another NFC device), Bluetooth 5.0 and Qi wireless charging.

Sony has also added its 3D Creator software to the front camera (on the XZ1, it was only on the rear snapper). That means you can create 3D selfies. More on that next.


Camera

  • Very good picture quality, especially in decent light
  • 4K HDR video recording with super slow mo
  • 3D scanning turns you into an avatar

Sony-Xperia-XZ2-camera-in-action

Sony has pulled out all the stops for the cameras on the XZ2 and XZ2 Compact. The main snapper on both has a 19-megapixel sensor, Sony’s Bionz image processing engine, predictive capture that takes a snap automatically when you move or smile, and 4K HDR movie recording.

Our test snaps came out very well indeed. Tree branches were very clearly defined against the sky, and contrast ratios were impressive (that’s the difference between the light and dark parts of the picture, so you can still make out detail in the murkier areas).

There was also a decent amount of detail. All the reflections were visible on a shiny plastic sign, where lesser cameras would’ve made it look flat and dull.

It performed well in low light, too. Shots of floorboards and a desk on a gloomy, overcast day brought out a richness in the wood that was sorely lacking in our comparison shots from an iPhone SE.

Pics are quick to take, and the camera app starts up in double-quick time with a long press of the physical shutter button on the side of the phone.

About the only fault we could find was the occasional area of noise (i.e. graininess) in a picture, especially when zooming in close. One other bugbear is that photos wouldn’t rotate automatically when we turned the phone from portrait to landscape.

Instead we had to manually select rotate from the menu, which is a bit of a faff. (You can change this in the settings, but this is the first phone we’ve ever tested which has this disabled by default.)

The video camera comes equipped for 4K HDR, which many will think is overkill for the kind of home movies most of us use our smartphones for. But it’ll give your films a professional sheen.

HDR works best when SteadyShot (the image stabilisation technology) is turned off. That means your footage can appear a bit shaky, so you have to weigh this up against the extra detail you get from HDR.

In low-light, HDR actually made the video appear duller, and the colours washed out. So it’s worth experimenting to see if it’s worth the trade-off depending on the conditions you’re shooting in.

Thankfully, Sony has put an HDR control right on the screen as you shoot, so you don’t have to go delving through menus to toggle it on or off.

The control for super slow mo is also plonked right on the screen, making it easy to activate. It’s a doddle to use. Just start recording, then press the icon (it’s a circle with two motion lines next to it) when you want things to get seriously sloooooow.

It brings things almost to a halt, recording at 960fps (frames per second). That’s the same as Samsung’s super slow mo feature on the Galaxy S9, but Sony’s films at Full HD 1080p, while the S9 can only manage the lower resolution of 720p HD.

It’s great fun, turning even the most prosaic of activities into something from an action movie. You can only record in three-second bursts though, which does limit things a tad. But considering how long and drawn out it makes everything seem, many will think three seconds is plenty.

You can record numerous super slow mo bursts in one video. Just get filming and prime your finger ready for the perfect moment.

Bear in mind that you’ll need brightly lit conditions to get a decent super slow mo vid. Anything lit less than perfectly gives you more graininess than a 1990s CCTV camera.

The front-facing camera packs 5 megapixels and takes very good selfies. We were particularly impressed by the skin tones. It too packs SteadyShot, to eliminate blur in your photos and videos, and has a neat auto capture mode that lets you trigger the shutter by raising your hand or smiling.

It’s a nice extra, and means you don’t have to mess about with shutter timers, or pressing the shutter yourself and potentially juddering the phone, leading to a blurry shot.

The selfie camera also features 3D facial scans. This lets you scan an object in 3D in order to either create an avatar of someone or 3D print an object yourself. (The XZ1 had the same feature, but only on the main camera, not the front-facer.)

Sony-Xperia-XZ2-3D-selfie

Taking a 3D selfie is easy enough. Open the 3D Creator app, and it guides you through the process. You have to keep your head still and move the phone around it as if you were taking a panorama photo. At the end you fill in the bits above and below that you might have missed.

You need a steady hand to get a decent result. You can use the resulting 3D selfie as a pretty realistic avatar. It’s a lot more lifelike than Samsung’s AR emojis on the S9, or Apple’s Animojis on the iPhone X.

You can also send your 3D selfie to your friends, though we had trouble opening it on an iPhone.

Overall, it’s a bit of a gimmick. Creating your own and panning around it is quite fun, but the novelty doesn’t last long.

Camera 19-megapixel camera
Optical image stabilisation Yes
Unique features 3D scanning


Performance and battery life

Sony-Xperia-XZ2-app-tray

The XZ2 and XZ2 Compact come with Android 8.0 Oreo, which is the latest version of Google’s mobile operating system. This is overlaid with Sony’s own ‘skin’, along with a few Sony-only apps like the aforementioned 3D Creator, Xperia Lounge (for entertainment) and AVG Protection (that’s internet security software).

As readers of our past reviews will know, we’re big fans of the pure Android experience. And generally speaking, extra software just dilutes the experience and clutters up the phone. So we’re glad to see Sony hasn’t gone overboard on the extras.

Android runs as smoothly as ever. The phone is quick to boot up (especially compared to the Xperia XA2 we tested recently), and apps load as promptly as you would expect. That’s thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chip, partnered with 4GB of RAM.

It handles videos and games without a hitch, too.

The XZ2 supports microSD cards up to 400GB, to bolster the on-board 64GB. That should be more than enough for games, films, apps and photos. And if you do need more, you can always invest in a second memory card.

Inside the XZ2 is a 3,180mAh battery, which, in real-world use, lasted more than a day before needing recharging. That’s impressive, especially given the big screen.

Meanwhile, the XZ2 Compact comes with a slightly more modest 2870mAh battery. But given the phone itself is a much smaller unit, it’s still more than enough to give you over a day’s worth of power on a single charge.

There’s also Smart Stamina and Stamina modes to help wring a little more out of each charge.

Don’t want to plug your phone in to juice it up? You can use a wireless charging pad. Sony didn’t provide one with our review unit, so we couldn’t test this feature.

RAM 4GB
Battery capacity 3180mAh (XZ2), 2870mAh (XZ2 Compact)
OS and version Android 8.0 (Oreo)

Durability

Sony-Xperia-XZ2-waterproof

The XZ2 and XZ2 Compact aren’t the slimmest handsets around, but the upside of this is that they feel nice and sturdy. They’re not going to fall apart if you accidentally knock them against a doorframe, for example.

During our testing, we didn’t protect either phone with a case, and they stayed looking pristine throughout (bar the fingerprint smudges, as we mentioned earlier). Thankfully the Corning Gorilla Glass 5 protected the screen against any knocks.

Both phones are also water-resistant up to a depth of 1.5m for up to 30 minutes. So you won’t have any problems using it in the rain, but don’t take it deep-sea diving.

This rating also means they’re dust-resistant, which will come in handy for a day at the beach or an afternoon baking session.

Waterproof rating IP68
Protection Corning Gorilla Glass 5

Value and verdict

  • Very good camera
  • Some novelty features
  • Great speakers
  • No headphone jack, but comes with an adapter
  • Impressive 4K HDR video recording
  • Super slow mo is lots of fun
  • Improved design, but still has thicker bezels than most
  • Fingerprint scanner on back
  • Android 8.0 Oreo comes as standard
  • Dynamic Vibration mode doesn’t add much
  • Standard battery life

Sony-Xperia-XZ2-and-XZ2-Compact

The XZ2 is a premium phone, and as such, it commands a premium price. SIM-free, it’ll set you back £699.

That’s just £40 less than the excellent Samsung Galaxy S9. It’s also £70 more than the Google Pixel 2, and the same price as the (admittedly smaller) iPhone 8.

All of these handsets have 64GB of storage, though the iPhone 8 and Pixel 2 don’t have microSD card slots.

If you pre-order the XZ2, you can claim a free PlayStation 4 games console with the Gran Turismo game, or PlayStation VR Starter Pack. Considering either the PS4 bundle or VR Starter Pack should cost around £350 each, that’s a stunning deal.

It’s only while stocks last though, so you’d better be quick. The phone goes on general sale on 6th April.

Sony is also offering the Xperia XZ2 Compact, which is currently priced at £529 SIM-free. Apart from the diddy dimensions the XZ2 Compact is pretty much identical to the standard XZ2. So if you like everything about the XZ2 apart from the price, the Compact might well suit you best.

On contract, the XZ2 will set you back £39 a month, plus an upfront cost of £79.99. Or you could pick up the XZ2 Compact for £33 a month plus £27.99 to pay upfront. So they’re not what you’d call cheap phones.

But you do get a lot of phone for your money. If you don’t want to join the Apple, Samsung or Google brigade, sound quality is a priority for you and you were already considering picking up a PS4 or PlayStation VR virtual reality headset, the XZ2 and XZ2 Compact are well worth a shout.

Want the XZ2? Take a look at all our best Sony Xperia XZ2 deals.

Fancy the Compact model? Check out all our best Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact deals.

Category: Reviews
Tagged: sony

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