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Sony Xperia XZ2 Review

Sony Xperia XZ2 Review
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Sony unveil the Xperia XZ2 range at MWC 2018 as the Japanese giant’s first phone to boast the now-ubiquitous 18:9 aspect ratio on its screen. We've now spent proper time with the new flagship phone so here's our full in-depth Sony Xperia XZ2 review.


PRICE AND AVAILABILITY
Sony has confirmed that in the UK, the Xperia XZ2 release date is 6 April. That's the same day as the new Huawei P20.

That sees it arrive a little over six months after the company’s previous flagship, the Xperia XZ1, a break from the usual strategy of releasing a ‘Premium’ version at MWC.

The Sony Xperia XZ2 is now available to pre-order at £699 putting it £100 more expensive than the XZ1 (£599/$699). A price hike of £100 is a pretty big jump, but the phone is still cheaper than some rivals such as the Galaxy S9, but the Huawei P20 has come along at a cool £599.

Customers who pre-order can get various freebies including a PS4, PlayStation VR or Sony's WF-1000X wireless earbuds.

The XZ2 is joined by the smaller XZ2 Compact, which will launch on the same day but at a lower price of £529.

We've compared the XZ2 to both iPhone 8 models, in case you're wondering how they stack up against each other. We've also compared the XZ2 with the Galaxy S9.

DESIGN AND BUILD
After years of similar looking phones, Sony fans (just as much as us) have been crying out for a design revamp for the Xperia line. With the XZ2, they finally have it - sort of.

The XZ2 brings with it a new design language for Sony - dubbed ‘Ambient Flow’ following on from 'Loop Surface' - and with it the firm’s first attempt at a smartphone with the 18:9 display made popular in 2017 by flagships like the LG G6, Samsung Galaxy S8, and iPhone X.

Finally, gone are the giant bezels that sat above and below the display of the XZ1, replaced by… slightly less giant bezels above and below the new 5.7in display. Opinions at Tech Advisor are split as to whether its an improvement, but this is certainly not the sort of all-screen device Sony’s biggest rivals are able to offer.

It reminds many of us of some old Nokia Lumia phones, which is perhaps not the best thing.

Ambient Flow is about more than the screen though. It’s also about breaking up the straight lines that have dominated recent Sony devices. Instead the XZ2 boasts 3D curved glass on both the front and back of the phone - a subtle curvature at the edges of front, a more noticeable bulge on the back.

There are pros and cons to the design, but mostly the former.

The curved glass looks stunning when it catches the light, but it’s unsurprisingly a fingerprint magnet. It's also one of the most slippery phones we've tested and getting out of a pocket without dropping it feels like an almighty task.

The use of Gorilla Glass 5 should reassure buyers that it’s tough enough, but even so glass backs are always an extra risk when it comes to drops and scratches. If you do want to start thinking about additional protection.

In terms of feel in the hand, the rounded design feels nice, but means the XZ2 is extremely thick and heavy. Figures of 11.1mm and 198g do not sound right for a brand new 2018 flagship.

It's might only be that thick in the middle but the rounded back means the phone is basically impossible to use while resting on a flat surface. It rocks side-to-side like a baby's crib. We wouldn't mind so much if the size and weight meant a huge battery but that's not the case here.

Beyond that, Sony has moved both the camera and fingerprint sensor to the centre of the phone’s rear - and the fingerprint sensor is now always-on so is quicker to use than previously. It was mounted in the power button on the side.

Although it's faster, we actually prefer the old method. The natural way to hold the XZ2 means your finger rests on the camera lens, not the scanner. It's far to low down the phone, as is the power button on the side.

You’ll get the IP65/68 waterproofing we've all come to expect from Sony. However the firm has sadly, and shockingly, finally given in and joined the most of the industry in dropping the 3.5mm headphone jack from the phones, so it’s USB-C or Bluetooth only when it comes to audio.

The XZ2 will launch in a selection of four colours (with the usual colour-coded UI to match): Liquid Black, Liquid Silver, Petrol Blue, and Ash Pink.

SPECS AND FEATURES
So if the design is so far so Sony, what about what’s inside the phone?

Screen
As mentioned, the XZ2 is Sony's first phone with an 18:9 display. The firm is playing catch-up here and the change means the display has jumped from 5.2- to 5.7in, a more average size for a 2018 flagship.

The XZ2 Compact is now 5.2in if you want a smaller phone and we're glad Sony is still making 'mini' versions for those that still want one.

The new 5.7in screen comes at the cost of chunky dimensions, though, as the XZ2 has a screen-to-body ratio of 76 percent, a fair amount short of the Galaxy S9's 83 percent. Those bezels are still holding the design back.

We are glad Sony hasn't gone down the iPhone X route and introduced a notch, though.

The screen's Full HD+ resolution of 2160x1080 isn't the highest, but it's more than enough for a sharp-looking image at 424ppi. It's also very bright with a maximum of 535cd/m2

There are improvements as Sony has borrowed HDR upscaling tech from its Bravia TVs, so that the XZ2 can take any video content - either local to the device or streamed - and upgrade it to HDR as you’re watching it, with results that are impressive.

Processor, memory and storage
Unsurprisingly, the XZ2 is powered by Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 845, which we’re likely to see in most major Android flagships this year. Here it’s paired with 4GB of RAM and a typical 64GB of onboard storage.

Although some rivals some with more memory and storage, this should still be enough for most users. The inclusion of a microSD card slot for adding up to 400GB more helps and the feature is becoming more rare.

Performance isn't something to worry about with a flagship phone, and hasn't been for some time. As you can see below, the XZ2 keeps pace with the Galaxy S9 across the board and we've not had any issues. You should really base your decision on other elements.

It's worth noting that the XZ2 Compact offers the same core specs at a lower price if you don't mind the smaller screen. 

Audio and Dynamic Vibration
For those who use their phone out loud, the front-facing speakers are now 20 percent louder, with a slightly improved frequency range to match - and there’s still support for High Resolution audio.

The stereo speakers are decent but we're hugely disappointed to see Sony, a company that prides itself on audio, ditch the headphone jack - especially when the phone is easily thick enough to house one.

A USB-C to 3.5mm jack adapter is included in the box but this is a small consolation. You'll need it for the supplied headphones as they are not USC-C.

Instead of a useful port, you get a new 'Dynamic Vibration System', borrowed from the PS4's DualShock 4 controllers. Essentially it's force feedback that uses the vibration motor inside the phone.

You can select different levels of power easily by tapping a volume button and using the slider.

The system analyses audio from music, video, or games and vibrates the phone to match the audio. It’s a bit of a gimmick, doesn't work with every app and you need to be holding the phone but works reasonably well - especially for film trailers.

Cameras
Thanks to an exclusive image processor developed together with Qualcomm, Sony promises that the camera in the XZ2 has reduced noise, better colour reproduction, and improved contrast when compared to the XZ1.

Despite rivals having two or even three rear cameras, the XZ2 has a lone 19Mp camera and there's no optical image stabilisation.

There is one big thing the camera can't do: portrait mode. The blurred background bokeh effect is one of the big selling points of dual-lens cameras for most, and the XZ2 can't offer an alternative - there's not even a software portrait effect built into the main camera app, despite Google proving it can be done to great effect in the Pixel 2.

Features such as predictive capture - which automatically detects motion or smiles - and autofocus burst are handy. We also like that Sony still offers a dedicated two-stage button on the side for photography. The combined phase detection and laser autofocus is speedy, too.

Overall, the camera is decent enough but can't stand up to rivals at similar or even lower prices. You can see samples below that show the XZ2 is good in low light despite the f/2.0 aperture being a way off rivals (the test image looks decently lit but isn't), but often the images look better on the phone than on a PC monitor.

For example, in the macro shot we thought we'd got the buds on the plant nicely in focus and sharp but later inspection shows that it's a little off. It's a bit disappointing from Sony, which supplies cameras for rival phones.

If you're just after general snaps for social media then the XZ2 is easily good enough, but if you're serious about phone photography then a number of rivals including the Galaxy S9 and iPhone X are better.

Perhaps more importantly, this is also the first smartphone from any manufacturer capable of recording 4K HDR video footage, while the 960fps super slow motion that Sony pioneered will now be available up to 1080p, compared to the previous cap of 720p.

Those are some nice video upgrades which might swing it for those serious about shooting films.

However, the super slow motion in Full HD (see our sample below) means a shorter burst of the high frame rate, even if you can fit more in the frame. It's also still difficult to hit the button at the right time for things that aren't happening continuously, Samsung new motion detect feature is much better.

Sony’s oh-so-gimmicky 3D scanning tech has been added to the selfie camera, so you don’t even need a friend to help you use it any more.

Battery life
As mentioned earlier, the XZ2 doesn't have a whopping battery despite being so thick and heavy. It's 3190mAh which is only marginally bigger than the Galaxy S9. The Huawei P20 is just 7.7mm and has a 3400mAh.

Sony used to claim two-day battery life for its phones, but that seems to be a thing of the past despite newer and more efficient processors. The firm now just claims all-day battery and that's about right unless you're a heavy user.

In our battery test the Xperia XZ2 managed six hours and 46 minutes with a score of 3988. That's only slightly more than the Galaxy S9's 3980 and six hours and 38 minutes. Sony own lower tier XA2 phones managed 8-10 hours in the same benchmark.

The XZ2 benefits from Quick Charge 3.0 and Qi wireless charging.

SOFTWARE
As you'd expect the Xperia XZ2 ships with Android 8.0 Oreo - after all, the XZ1 was the first non-Google phone to pack that OS version - and comes with Sony’s usual tweaks and additions.

Not much has changed since the XZ1 really so existing Sony users will feel right at home. This sadly means there still too many pre-loaded apps like Kobo, AVG and various from Amazon. These can be disabled bit not uninstalled.

Luckily Sony makes up for it somewhat by providing some of the best own-brand apps on the market including its own Music player and PlayStation for things like PS4 Remote Play.

The biggest change is the Xperia Assist software, designed to help users make the most of the phone’s various features.

It an app (called Start Here) you can open but will also pop up the first time you open a relevant app to explain any features you might be able to take advantage of - like the HDR upscaling, or Dynamic Vibration - and uses a chatbot interface to explain how everything works.

SPECS

  • Android 8.0 Oreo
  • 5.7in Full HD+ HDR 18:9 touchscreen
  • Qualcom Snapdragon 845 processor
  • 4GB RAM
  • 64GB storage
  • microSD card slot (up to 400GB)
  • Rear camera: 19MP, video up to 4K HDR
  • Front camera: 5MP
  • Fingerprint sensor (rear)
  • 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • NFC
  • 4G LTE
  • Single nano-SIM
  • USB-C (USB 3.1)
  • 3190mAh non-removable battery
  • 72x153x11.1mm
  • 198g

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