Sony Xperia XZ2 and XZ2 Compact hands-on review

Sony packs a lot of tech into the Xperia XZ2 and XZ2 Compact

Sony packs a lot of impressive tech into the Xperia XZ2 that makes it a promising competitor to the Galaxy S9.
Sony packs a lot of impressive tech into the Xperia XZ2 that makes it a promising competitor to the Galaxy S9.
Sony packs a lot of impressive tech into the Xperia XZ2 that makes it a promising competitor to the Galaxy S9.

Highs

  • Good performance, specs
  • Solid, refreshed design
  • Super-slow-motion in 1080p is unique
  • Loud speakers
  • Colorful display

Lows

  • Sony user interface feels cluttered
  • Volume rocker is too high
  • Dynamic Vibration System goal of immersion is unconvincing

Sony has a new phone, and no, it’s not a rectangular slab with chunky edges around the screen. Yes, you heard that right. For the first time in six years, Sony has finally redesigned its smartphones. Gone is the “Omnibalance” angular design in favor of “Ambient Flow,” which Sony said is meant to mimic water. The Sony Xperia XZ2 is all about curves, and its ergonomic design harks back to the days of the original Moto X.

Sony also announced the Xperia XZ2 Compact, which carries many of the same features but in a smaller package and a different design. Let’s take a closer look at the Xperia XZ2 first.

Ergonomic design

Sony has finally embraced the bezel-less smartphone trend, where the edges around the screen are minimized in favor of more screen real estate. The bezels are still not as thin as those on phones such as the new Galaxy S9, but it’s a major improvement over the Xperia XZ1. Front-facing stereo speakers make it easier to give Sony a pass as well — though the speaker on the bottom bezel is well-hidden.

The Xperia XZ2 is two sheets of Gorilla Glass 5 sandwiching a metal frame. The edges are curved, and so is the back, allowing for a comfortable fit in the palm. The phone is still a little unwieldy due to its 5.7-inch size, but the curved back certainly makes it manageable.

The XZ2 looks sleek and modern, and it helps there’s also a plethora of colors to choose from.

You’ll find all the buttons on the right edge, including a dedicated camera button on the bottom right. The power button isn’t indented anymore, which is a nice change, but the volume rocker is a tad too high to comfortably reach. At the bottom edge is a USB Type-C charging port. Flip the phone over to the back and you’ll see perfect symmetry. There’s a nice flow of small circles — the flash and other sensors — leading up to the single rear camera. But it’s the fingerprint sensor that’s so satisfying to see. After years of blocking access to the fingerprint sensor in U.S. devices for “business decisions,” Sony is finally embracing the rear sensor, and it couldn’t be in a better spot.

We think the refreshed design is a step in the right direction for Sony. The XZ2 looks sleek and modern, and it helps that there’s also a plethora of colors to choose from — we’re partial to the blue (which Sony says is “deep green”), but you can also choose between silver, black, and pink.

HDR display, strong specs

The 5.7-inch screen utilizes an 18:9 aspect ratio, with a 2,160 x 1,080-pixel resolution. It looks sharp, colorful, and faultless, though we’ll need a closer look to pass a final verdict. It does support High Dynamic Range (HDR), so you can enjoy higher color profiles with HDR-supported content from apps like Netflix and HBO.

Sony Xperia XZ2 and XZ2 Compact hands on review
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

At the same time, Sony is also using its own X-Reality technology that can upscale traditional SDR media into HDR. An example we saw of an SDR photo being upscaled into HDR more or less looked as though the screen boosted saturation, but there was also a little more contrast, and it certainly was the more eye-catching scene to watch.

All of this is being powered by Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 845 processor, which is reportedly 30 percent faster than last year’s Snapdragon 835 chipset, as well as 30 percent more efficient. The XZ2 comes with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage, as well as a MicroSD card slot in case you need more storage. It flew through menus and apps opened quickly; we expect the device to be a powerhouse.

You undoubtedly won’t have a problem with performance on this device.

The phone runs Android 8.0 Oreo, and while we’re happy it’s coming with the latest version of Android, there are some parts of Sony’s user interface that are not too attractive, and there’s a decent amount of Sony apps that come pre-installed. It’s not a deal-breaker at all; we’re just nitpicking.

The Xperia XZ2 comes packed with a 3,180mAh battery, and since there’s glass on the back of the phone, it’s capable of wirelessly charging through the Qi standard. It’s also IP68-water resistant, meaning it can survive in up to 1.5 meters underwater for 30 minutes.

You undoubtedly won’t have a problem with performance on this device, though we’ll have to do more testing to see how the Snapdragon 845 processor fares. We’re happy with the display on the XZ2 as well, and we’re excited to continue testing Oreo on it.

Look, Hear, and Feel

Sony’s mantra for the XZ2 focuses on three aspects of this entertainment device: Look, Hear, and Feel. Look is comprised of the HDR upscaling technology and the HDR-supported screen we’ve talked about. Next up is “hear,” which places an emphasis on high-fidelity audio.

The dual front-facing stereo speakers are 20 percent louder than the XZ2’s predecessor, and it leverages Sony’s S-Force Front Surround to envelope the listener with 360-degree surround sound. It certainly has gotten loud, but it was tough to judge audio quality during our time with the phone.

Along with the speakers, the XZ2 supports a wide variety of high-resolution audio codecs and technologies, including the company’s Digital Sound Enhancement Engine, LDAC, as well as Qualcomm’s AptX HD.

The final “feel” category revolves around a new Sony technology called the Dynamic Vibration System, and it’s a little odd. Essentially, the XZ2 has a bigger actuator that provides stronger vibrations. The device uses an algorithm to offer more haptic feedback based on the audio output. So if you’re watching a movie, you may feel more vibrations when there’s a dramatic event taking place. For games, the phone will feel more responsive when the sound effects or music ramp up. You’ll want to turn it off when listening to music, though, since the phone just seems to constantly vibrate (yes, you can turn it off).

We tried it out with Angry Birds, and it was tough to be impressed. The device was a prototype, so we cannot say whether what we experienced will be the final result, but feeling extra vibrations when pulling back the slingshot didn’t make us feel more immersed in the game. We’ll have to give it a closer look for our full review.

Camera

There’s no dual-camera system on the XZ2, sadly. Instead, you’ll find a 19-megapixel camera, and a new feature called 4K HDR video recording, which Sony said is a world first.

More interestingly, Sony’s signature Super Slow Mo technology has improved. It has always been able to capture 960 frames per second in 720p, but it can now do the same in 1080p as well. It’s a leg up over Samsung’s super-slow-motion on the Galaxy S9. The 1080p version of this wasn’t finalized yet for us to demo, but it will work similarly to Sony’s previous devices with the technology — the results will just have a higher resolution. The slow-motion videos will be shorter, though, as it can only capture half the speed of 720p. That means you’ll get only 0.09 seconds of slow-motion video, which will net you 3 seconds of playback.

Sony Xperia XZ2 and XZ2 Compact hands on review
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

We did take a few stills with the camera app, and we found the phone snapped photos relatively quickly. It did a solid job with some indoor shots, but it did seem to suffer with an extremely bright sky and a dark foreground — something our Pixel 2 XL managed easily at the same time.

The 3D Creator app, which lets you create a 3D model of objects and faces, first debuted on the XZ1. On the XZ2, it now works with the front-facing camera, so you can create a 3D scan of yourself by yourself. You can also now share it directly to Facebook. It’s kind of neat, and creating a selfie 3D scan myself produced decent results, but we still see this feature as gimmicky for the average consumer. Still, there are some genuine uses here, especially since these scans can be sent to 3D printers, or placed as avatars in certain games.

Xperia XZ2 Compact

The Xperia XZ2 Compact feels quite the opposite of the modern and sleek XZ2. Our first impression – it’s a blast from the past. Yes, it also uses an 18:9 aspect ratio and has slim bezels around the screen, but the 5-inch phone feels incredibly compact, and it’s almost comically thick. It feels like a feature phone from pre-smartphone days, in a charming way. If you’re looking for a tiny smartphone, the Compact is powerful and will fit any pocket.

The Xperia XZ2 Compact feels quite the opposite of the modern and sleek XZ2.

The main difference between the XZ2 Compact and the XZ2 is size — but there’s no loss in resolution, and you’ll still find a Full HD screen on the Compact. There’s no Dynamic Vibration System, and because there’s no glass back (it’s polycarbonate), you cannot wirelessly charge the phone. Since it’s smaller, the battery has a slightly lower capacity at 2,780mAh. Sony also said the XZ2 Compact will be available on Verizon, while the regular XZ2 will not be on any carrier at all, but available unlocked.

The rest of the specifications are the same as the XZ2, which means we can expect the price for both to be in the same ballpark, with the XZ2 costing a little more.

Availability and price

Both the Xperia XZ2 and Xperia XZ2 Compact start at $800 and $650, respectively. You’ll be able to pre-order the devices in the U.S. exclusively at Best Buy from April 13 through April 19. Both smartphones will be available for purchase on Best Buy’s website starting April 20, and in-store on May 6. You can also purchase both devices through Amazon and other participating retailers starting May 20.

All in all, the XZ2 Compact and XZ2 are a good pair of devices that offer something a little different. There are a few aspects we’re not sold on yet, such as the Dynamic Vibration System, as well as the camera experience compared to phones like the Google Pixel 2 XL. But we love the 1080p Super Slow Motion camera, and you can’t deny that it delivers a great viewing and listening experience thanks to support for all these technologies. We’ll have to wait for the full review to see if the XZ2’s strengths make it worth buying.