Sony Xperia XZ2 review: Different but not quite better

Sony Xperia XZ2
  • Sony Xperia XZ2
  • Sony Xperia XZ2
  • Expert Rating

    3.75 / 5

Pros

  • Great design and feel-factor
  • Dynamic vibration

Cons

  • Lackluster camera
  • Software is still a weakness

Bottom Line

The Sony Xperia XZ2 is a good phone but, for the price and compared to the competition, it’s difficult to really call it good enough to make the case for choosing it over the other options.

Would you buy this?

The Pitch

As we noted in our recent review of the Sony Xperia XA2, the arrival of the Xperia XZ2 and XZ2 Compact see Sony Mobile switch up their approach to aesthetics in a pretty significant way. Gone are the days of the company’s blockish OmniBalance design logic.

Looking forward, it’s all about Ambient Flow, and - on top of being the company’s latest flagship smartphone (until the arrival of the XZ2 Premium, that is) - the Xperia XZ2 is designed to be a flag-bearer for it.

Specs

Display size:  5.7-inch

Display type: IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen, FHD+ (1080 x 2160 pixels),

Processor:  Qualcomm Snapdragon 845

Weight:  198g

Dimensions: 153mm x 72mm x 11.1mm

Operating System: Android 8.0 with Sony Xperia Home skin

Fingerprint Sensor: Yes

RAM:  4GB

Storage: 64GB, MicroSD

Durability: IP68

Ports: USB Type-C

SIM:  Single

Battery: 3180mAh, Wireless Charging, Quick Charge 3.0

Connectivity: Wi-Fi (802.11ac), CAT 18 LTE, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC

Rear Camera:  19 MP (f/2.0), gyro EIS, predictive phase detection and laser autofocus, LED flash

Front-Facing Camera:  5 MP (f/2.2), gyro EIS, 1080p

Colors:  Liquid Black, Liquid Silver, Deep Green, Ash Pink

Price:  $1099

Design

And when it comes to showcasing Sony’s new Ambient Flow design logic, there’s a lot to like about the XZ2 - even if there’s not a whole lot setting it apart from the bulk of 2018’s other flagship smartphones.

Like a lot of its competition, the Sony XZ2 boasts a liquid glass back and a set of neatly-manicured bezels on all four sides of the display. Compared to the XA2, the difference is quite striking. This time around, Sony have also opted to place both the rear-camera and the fingerprint sensor as a centerpiece on the back of the device. Sony’s dedicated shortcut camera button continues to endure but the headphone jack hasn’t been so lucky.

Still, even if the Sony Xperia XZ2 looks and feels like a lot of other recent flagship smartphones, there’s a lot about it that just works. It feels nice in your hand, the display is consistently bright and clear and the back-side is surprisingly smudge-resistant. It’s a little less distinguished than I’d like but in terms of how it’s put together, there’s little to fault here.

All told, the Xperia XZ2 boasts an almost symmetrical form-factor - and the corresponding look is an effective one. It’s a little thicker and heavier than some of the other 2018 flagships out there but there is a reason why. With the Xperia XZ2, Sony are looking to position themselves as the smartphone brand that’s the best at offering on-the-go entertainment. To that end, they’ve introduced a new feature that’s only available in the Xperia XZ2: Dynamic Vibration.

Evocative of the iconic rumble found in Sony’s Playstation DualShock controllers, the Xperia XZ2’s Dynamic Vibration automatically maps itself onto the bassline of video and audio content consumed on the device and vibrates to match it.

Now, if that sounds like a gimmick to you, that’s because but it is. However, whether or not it's a good gimmick or bad gimmick, is ultimately going to come to down to how much video content you consume and whether you deem that the extra tactile sensation is worth the slight cost to battery life.

All this isn’t to say that the feature adds nothing. I’m someone who watches several hours of video content a day - and having that little extra sensory element complementing the Xperia XZ2’s already fearsome capabilities in that space definitely made a positive difference. Less nice things can be said about the speakers on the ZX2. While they’re decently loud and louder than certain other devices, they’re easily eclipsed by those on the Galaxy S9 and S9+.

Whether Dynamic Vibration is worth paying $1099 for is more of a question you’ll have to determine for yourself However, it’s worth noting that the high-price does put it into direct contention with Huawei’s P20 Pro, LG’s G7 and the Nokia 8 Sirocco.

Performance

The last part of the picture worth exploring here is the software and performance of the Xperia XZ2.

The Sony Xperia XZ2 runs on Android 8.0 Oreo flavored by Sony’s own Xperia Home Skin and pre-populated by the company’s suite of apps. I wasn’t a huge fan. Right from the get-go, there were a lot of pre-installed apps and alternatives to the usual Google apps that I could barely bring myself to investigate, let alone actually contemplate using.

I get that this is an essential part of the Sony Mobile experience at this point - and that I could totally bypass it by loading up a custom launcher - but compared to the out-of-the-box software experiences offered by Samsung, Motorola or even Oppo, Sony still lag behind.

Your mileage may vary but the overall experience is far enough from stock Android that it probably won’t be one for the purists out there. That said, if you’re already pretty invested in Sony’s ecosystem of apps and services via their camera, TV, audio or gaming products - there’s a little bit of extra value to it.

In terms of benchmarking, the Xperia XZ2 is the first device we’ve reviewed that runs on Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 845 chipset - and that generational advantage was cleanly reflected in the results. Despite expectations that Sony’s suite of pre-installed would slow it down, it cleanly I blew past every other devices we’ve tested in recent months from the Huawei P20 Pro to Samsung’s Galaxy S9+.

The gulf between what the Xperia XZ2 scores in GeekBench’s Compute test is particularly noteworthy here as it ended up outright doubling the scores from some of the other devices we tested.

Camera

Last year, Sony were the only smartphone vendor offering up super slow-motion video. However, this year has already seen Huawei and Samsung adopt the format as well for their smartphone cameras. That said, Sony have kept their edge somewhat by sharpening the quality of their 960FPS video to 1080p versus the 720p offered by the competition. If you take a lot of super slow-motion video, this will be a nice upgrade. However, if you haven’t made much use of the feature much in the past, this probably won’t change that.

The XZ2 also supports filming 4K HDR content using the HLG format - though the frame-rate of videos shot using this mode is often uneven. In addition, actually watching this content back on anything other than the XZ2’s display might actually be more trouble than it’s worth - as you’ll need to own a HDR-friendly monitor or TV that supports HLG.

Apart from these (minor) upgrades, this is essentially the same rear camera found in last year’s XZ Premium. Accordingly, photos taken with the XZ2 feature sharp contrasts, bright colors and melodious amount of detail. As with the XZ Premium, the results here are more good than great - even if they’re not quite on the same level as the current top-dogs of smartphone photography.

Despite the single-lens setup, the XZ2 supports bokeh shots on the rear-facing camera but not the 5-megapixel selfie-cam. When used, the bokeh mode on the XZ2 takes two quick shots of the same image and then uses algorithms to gently generate that soft-background blur you want out of a good portrait. Unfortunately, I found that this feature was a little less reliable than the competition. The effect here was often uneven, and sometimes weird chunks of my image would be in focus in addition to the object I’d select as the focus of the shot.

In terms of low-light photography, the XZ2 delivers surprisingly good low-light shots but, again, in that fairly standard 2018 flagship smartphone way. The XZ2 is no P20 Pro. You’ll be able to get better results out of dimly lit scenes than you might with a mid-tier device but, as flagships go, the low-light performance is good but not exceptionally so.

Though not a new feature, the XZ2’s camera also includes support for the company’s unique 3D Camera app. Though often tedious to use, this app does let you create detailed 3D models of objects and people. It’s a little clunky and you do need to run through some tutorials before you’re able to get the most out of it - but it remains a neat feature nonetheless - mostly since you can’t get it anywhere else.

Battery Life

In terms of every-day battery-life, we’d make it through the usual 9-5 work day pretty consistently but did need to make the time for a top up if we planned on doing anything afterwards. We’re talking nine or ten hours of use here, though - as always - your mileage may vary (especially if you watch or film a lot of video content).

The Sony Xperia XZ2 supports Quick Charge 3.0 and Qi Wireless Charging.

The Bottom Line

The Sony Xperia XZ2 marks the start of a new chapter for Sony’s flagship efforts in the mobile space. However, it fails to really push enough or the right boundaries for it to come off as anything other than yet-another all-glass smartphone with no headphone jack and support for wireless charging.

By definition, this is a tick the boxes flagship device that only offers the most minor of improvements over its predecessor. Dynamic Vibration is a neat gimmick that I actually quite enjoyed messing with but, if you’re spending more than $1000 on a smartphone, the XZ2 just doesn’t seal the deal in the way that Huawei’s P20 Pro camera or Samsung’s gorgeous Infinity Display does.

Worse still is the looming shadow of the Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium - due in only a few months and featuring a better screen, a bigger battery, extra RAM, and a much better camera. If Dynamic Vibration sounds like your kind of feature, it might be worth testing it out at your local Sony Kiosk. However, even as a fan, this one’s a hard-sell. 2018 has seen flagship smartphones become more similar and homogeneous than ever before, and feeling different can only get you so far when being better is on the table.

The Sony Xperia XZ2 is a good phone but, for the price and compared to the competition, it’s difficult to really call it good enough to make the case for choosing it over the other options. 


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