Sony Xperia XZ2: Less Sony Now With More Sony

The Sony Xperia XZ2 is the latest flagship the company is pinning its mobile hopes on and it does deliver in a variety of areas. Released in February 2018 at MWC in Barcelona, Sony’s hopes of rivalling Samsung and Apple in the smartphone market rest on features such as their 4K HDR recording, tweaked design language, and 960fps slow-motion mode. Will there be enough to win out against the competition? Let’s see what we made of it in our full review.

Disclaimer: First things first, this review is made possible by the good folks over at Vodafone UK. They provided us with this review unit for a designated period to allow us to share with you real-world usage scenarios and deliver our final opinions on the device. Want to know more about the plans available, click the Vodafone button below.

Sony Xperia XZ2
  • Day long battery life
  • Solid design
  • Powerful speakers
  • Software issues
  • FHD Screen
  • Camera still behind competition

 Purchase on Amazon UK – £589     Buy from Vodafone UK – £29 upfront – £53 pm

Overview – Sony Xperia XZ2

At MWC in Barcelona, we got our first hands-on with Sony’s new flagship at their launch event. At the time they were making a big thing about their 960fps slow motion feature, however, I was most interested in the subtle change in direction their design had taken. You see whilst I had always expected Sony to deliver a good smartphone, they had, for me, been lumped into the same smartphone bucket as HTC and to a lesser extent, LG. That bucket is clearly labelled ‘usable’ but has small print underneath indicating that the smartphone manufacturers ‘could do better’. I was just hoping Sony showed me something else in 2018, and they delivered, on the design at least.

The Sony Xperia XZ2 has a number of other features that Sony are proud of outside of the slow motion. Let’s have a look at the spec list.

  • Processor: Octa-core Snapdragon 845
  • RAM / storage: 4GB / 64GB (MicroSD card support Up to 400GB)
  • Display: 5.7-inch LCD, HDR
  • Display resolution: 1080 x 2160 (16:9) with Gorilla Glass 5
  • Rear camera: 19MP Motion Eye, f/2.0 lens
  • Front-facing camera: 5MP, f/2.2 lens
  • OS: Android 8.0 Oreo
  • Battery: 3180mAh
  • Charging: USB-C (quick-charging), wireless
  • Dimensions: 153 x 72 x 11.1mm (6.0 x 2.8 x 0.4 inches)
  • Weight: 198g
  • Fingerprint sensor: Yes, rear placement
  • Waterproofing: IP65/68
  • NFC: Yes

Whilst from the front of the Sony Xperia XZ2 it might look like a similar design; shallow curves on the edges of the glass slate and a blocky feel, the curved glass backside gives it a much improved in-hand feel. The 2.5D glass now curves into the metal housing, which has a shallower curve, and then continues on into the rear glass. It looks very nice and feels premium.

Sony puts nothing on the left edge of the device, with the right edge being used for all of the function buttons, namely, the volume rocker, power button and camera key placed from top to bottom. Moving to the top edge there’s a pinhole microphone and the SIM card tray, which also houses the microSD card expansion slot. There is a dual-SIM SKU of this device, but we haven’t had hands-on with that. You’ll be paying a premium again if you want to use multiple SIM cards in the Sony Xperia XZ2. This slot doesn’t require a SIM ejection tool and the tray can simply be pulled out, which is a nice departure from the norm.

On the bottom edge sits another pinhole microphone and the Type-C USB charging port.

Up front there’s the 2160 x 1080 5.7″ LCD display covering 76% of the body of the device, protected with Gorilla Glass 5.  Around the back sees the convex glass backface which houses the 19MP camera, flash and NFC tag placement.

Performance & Use – Sony Xperia XZ2

Let’s start with the design as I was drawn to this subtle change. Gone is the blocky front aspect, replaced by a consistently curvy glass backface and subtle curved metallic edge. Immediately it looks more premium, but perhaps that’s because it’s more in keeping with 2017/2018 design aesthetics from other smartphone manufacturers. Either way, this is one area OEMs are looking to their peers to emulate that I’m happy with. Long may that continue Sony, and I hope we’re done with the Z-brand design language.

I also want to commend Sony for being sensible this year and putting a 1080p panel (albeit LCD) on one of their flagship products. Whilst many sites might see this as a step backwards, I see the displays having hit something of a plateau, and close to entering the realm of diminishing returns, and as such, I’d prefer more longevity in the battery department than a few extra pixels, especially at 5.7″. That display, whilst being an LCD, does get very bright, and viewing angles are good. It’s also not going to suffer from the potential burn-in of OLEDs, but I still can’t help but prefer an OLED screen due to the battery saving aspect again. That’s a personal preference though and anybody using the Sony Xperia XZ2 will have a vibrant, balanced experience.

The 18:9 aspect ratio does also help the in-hand feel along with the curve, and helps to reduce the bezels on this device. Whilst Sony have been known for delivering smartphones with large bezels, and the Sony Xperia XZ2 has done a lot to move them on from that unwanted tag, they have still managed to keep a large chin on the device sporting nothing but a Sony logo.

You could argue that a 2K display here might have elevated this to flagship status a little easier in the minds of consumers than some of their design language subtleties or ‘unique’ features, and you’d be right. given that this is an HDR capable display and unlocks HDR content in streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and YouTube, it seems strange that Sony didn’t opt for a fuller resolution display to add more bite to that particular buzz-worthy feature. Putting the Sony Xperia XZ2 up against another 2018 flagship and playing some UHD content, you’ll definitely see a difference that doesn’t favour the XZ2, but for the most part, it’s a good display for general use.

Sony Xperia XZ2The dynamic vibration feature called out during the marketing campaign is, sadly, nothing more than a gimmick which gets old, fast. Whilst watching the included Jumnaji trailer on the device, the vibration kicked in almost all the time for any little piece of bass to simulate rumbling and it quickly became loathsome, even after just 2 minutes. Yes, it can be turned off thankfully.

What is less than stellar however is the fingerprint scanner placement. Full disclosure, I don’t care where you put your fingerprint scanners, as long as it’s a) anatomically achievable to reach, and b) fast. Out of 2, I’d have to give Sony a 0.5 for this, unfortunately. My main gripe with the sensor is the centre placement of the scanner, just underneath the circular camera cut out. The number of times, even after 2 weeks of use, I place my finger on the camera ring instead of the fingerprint is, well, every time! It’s an incredibly poor placement. I would have forgiven them more for using the front chin as a fingerprint scanner placement more than where they have it now.

When your finger does land on the scanner you will register 9/10 times, but it’s not as fast as Sony’s contemporaries sadly.

What is as fast is general day-to-day performance thanks to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 chipset. The Sony Xperia XZ2 powers through social media, media consumption, emails and browsing tasks without a second thought and delivers sterling gaming performance as well in our testing. The 4GB of RAM on the device manage to deliver good app management and I haven’t had a reload when switching backwards and forwards across a number of applications (that I’ve noticed). 4GB of RAM should be enough in 2018 but with other companies looking to deliver 6GB as standard and even 8GB in some scenarios, again, on paper, Sony looks a little behind the times. They have still increased their compute numbers over their 2017 flagship though.

Another improvement is the audio on this device. No, I know there’s no 3.5mm headphone jack (a dongle is included though) and yes, I am as angry as you, honest, but that doesn’t detract from the generally stellar audio from the main speaker which can fill a small room when consuming media. When you do dig our your 3.5mm headphones and use the dongle though, the audio quality is again very crisp and clear with a plethora of options to tweak and change to your requirements. Sony pride themselves on delivering an immersive entertainment experience and audio-wise here they once again hit it out of the park, 3.5mm or no 3.5mm jack.

Battery life on the Sony Xperia XZ2 is very good actually. I managed to get through an entire day with moderate use and still return home with around 20% left in the tank. An average of 5 hours screen on time was achieved during that moderate (sometimes heavy) use too, however as this was only over a 2 week period, take this with a pinch of salt as batteries do degrade over the life of the phone. When you are struggling for juice, the Qi Wireless charging can be used with a compatible pad, and there’s even the Quick Charge 3.0 which will top you up faster, but will require a cable. I actually found the battery one of the most surprising aspects of the Sony Xperia XZ2 as I seem to have a very poor relationship with smartphone batteries and screen time over a full charge. Sony kept up with me here though so kudos.

Ending the performance section on a slightly sour note, the dissipation of heat from this device is sub-par. Using the device for any length of time will make the slippery device all that more slippery when the heat from the devices starts making your hands sweat. It took just 15 minutes in an intense game for this to start happening, and again around a similar length of time when out and about on an admittedly sunny day, taking ‘fire and forget’ photos. Thankfully this doesn’t happen all the time, but it happened enough for me to call it out here as a potential design flaw.

Camera – Sony Xperia XZ2

Sony have bucked the 2018 trend of dual cameras here and instead delivered a single 19MP sensor with an f/2.0 aperture. The phase detection and laser auto-focus systems make locking on to a subject with that sensor relatively easy and speedy in a mixture of scenarios, even low light but the issue of noise still persists across the spectrum of shots.

In good light, as you can see from the gallery, there can be some very detailed shots taken. I tend to keep a lot of landscape or flower-based shots in galleries so as to show the detail (or lack thereof depending on the device) and the petals can be seen here in most of the pictures clearly and crisply. The portrait shots have a little more grain in them from the front-facing 5MP camera, which is to be expected, but both the front and rear do struggle in high dynamic range situations as you can tell from the shots I’ve taken in the shade with the sunny to the background.

There are a number of scenes that the Sony Xperia XZ2 camera recognises also, with it accurately understanding when I was looking at a macro shot, some text, or a landscape which mirrors what the NPU chips on Huawei devices look to deliver.

Video is interesting also. When holding the device up to take the videos, no doubt in 4K you will be greeted with a rather worrying and annoying message that, essentially, the device might get hot from shooting in 4K and this can kill the app. In reality, this happens semi-often but more annoying is the camera app framerate dip when you move beyond 30 seconds of 4K video recording. The screen cannot keep up with rendering in real-time what the camera sensor is seeing so you see a stuttering mess, which can cause you to move the phone erratically thinking you’ve missed a particular shot. Thankfully this “framerate” won’t be recorded in the final file, and will play back just fine (as long as the app didn’t crash), but it’s still incredibly annoying.

What’s more here is that the phone does get quite warm and I’ve had more than a few occasions where the camera has refused to start up again after crashing due to the temperature. In 2018, this should not be happening. I would like to say that this is this particular unit, but I know others who have had the same issue with their Sony Xperia XZ2, as well as previous Xperia devices suffering a similar fate. It’s laughable that this is still an ongoing issue and Sony really needs to resolve this if they are serious about charging flagship money for their devices, which they clearly are.

Sony Xperia XZ2

The video itself is vibrant and detailed, and whilst not optically stabilised, the electronic image stabilisation (EIS) onboard does a decent job when I’m walking, but nothing earth-shattering.

The slow-motion effect is here in force also with 960fps delivering a super slow video recording but unfortunately outputs to 720p. As you can see below, this is far from appealing, although it does depend entirely on the composition of the frame as to the clarity you can expect. I concede my use case might not be everybody’s but I didn’t find this to be useful, especially with a 720p output and low bitrate.

Overall the Sony Xperia XZ2 camera can deliver some lovely shots, but the video recording issues and gimmicky 960fps doesn’t really fool anybody after a certain amount of time with the device. It still baffles me how Sony cannot come up with a compelling optical package to compete at the top end, and whilst this is by no means poor, it’s certainly towards the bottom of the flagship devices in my testing.

Software – Sony Xperia XZ2

I’d love to say that this is where the Sony Xperia XZ2 picks up some points, and I suppose it does for making things feel a little more stock than normal, but Sony’s skin is not ageing well at all. Firstly there are a number of duplicate applications which other OEMs have done away with, simply accepting Google’s dominance in certain areas. Sony refuses to be cowed however and therefore we see proprietary messaging, music, photo, contacts and imaging applications as well as a suite of Amazon apps. Sadly most of these cannot be uninstalled either. Their AR effect app, along with the 3D Creator app can provide some fun, however.

Sony’s skin isn’t heavy at all and doesn’t bog down general performance of the system, it’s just pervasive. The menu systems feel antiquated and lacklustre, even down to the colours of the icons and the included wallpapers; it just feels a little 2016 at first glance. Luckily, Sony has included the Google Now swipe-to screen for content and not gone with something third-party which I felt sure they would.

There are further signs that Sony still wants to do things their way despite them attempting to make it a little more stock. The app drawer swipes horizontally, and if swiping to the left on the app drawer there’s an entire screen dedicated to showing your most used applications which I actually found helpful.

The Sony Xperia XZ2 does ship with Android 8.0.0 but it has yet to receive an OTA to 8.1 which, given the Android P beta is available for the device, and other OEMs are already bang up to date with 8.1 already, seems a little worrying. It remains to be seen how long the XZ2 will be supported, but don’t base your purchasing decisions on promises of updates; therein lies madness.

Conclusion – Sony Xperia XZ2

I haven’t been excited about a Sony Xperia device since the Z3 days when it was an absolute beast, that is, until MWC 2018. When I saw the Sony Xperia XZ2 I was actually looking forward to getting it in my hands and having a play. The fact somebody at Sony raised their hand in the development rooms and suggested a change from their rectangular brick design gave me hope that if that change can be made, others may well follow suit.

This, largely, is not the case with some of the same old problems dogging Sony. They get a huge tick for the design change, but the built-in application bloat, the silly additional menu screen for certain camera functions, temperature issues dogging 4K recording capabilities, and below par optics for a flagship phone in 2018 all make this a hard sell. Couple that with the very flagship price assigned to the device and we really have more of the same from Sony.

Let’s be clear, this isn’t a bad smartphone at all, it just doesn’t really excel in any one area, or deliver class-leading capabilities or functionality. It remains behind the front-runners moving into 2018 and whilst the XZ2 is almost certainly guaranteed Android P when it launches, I’m yet to be assured that a software update will really give it the boost it needs to trouble the top table.

About Craig Bradshaw

Tech enthusiast and Editor-in-Chief of MobileTechTalk

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