When it comes to the mobile phone landscape, there’s certain companies that engender a feeling of passion, for me Sony is that brand.
I’ve been an admitted Sony fan for a long time. I love their home entertainment gear – my lounge room is a testament to that – and owned all their gaming systems. I also like reviewing their phones. It’s my second time reviewing a Sony phone this year, and the third flagship in a row for me.
Suffice to say, that Sony phones are divisive. Though bringing some high-end specifications to the table, there are quite a number of people who are really not a fan of their blocky, rectangular design language, but that’s all ok, because with the Xperia XZ2, that’s all changing
This time around, Sony has adopted the 18:9 aspect ratio displays that other manufacturers started pushing last year. This new slimmer design, combined with their new flowing curved back which makes them easier to hold is called Ambient Flow.
It’s a brand new day for Sony in terms of design, and as usual it’s carrying their flagship hardware – and new camera and multimedia experiences.
Their XZ2 handset is the top of the line for the company, at least for now, with an already announced ‘Premium’ model also coming – though likely not to Australia.
So, is the high-end package worth your high-end dollars? It’s time to find out.
WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT IT?
- New design feels modern, and looks great (but can be improved)
- Performance is excellent
- Great Sound
- Software is mostly bloat free
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD ABOUT IT?
- Button and Camera placement make using it hard
- Camera could be better
- Dynamic Vibration System is gimmicky
In terms of hardware there’s little to complain about the Xperia XZ2, the phone runs the latest Snapdragon 845 processor with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of on-board storage – and yes, you can add a microSD card to it. This combo, combined with the essentially stock Xperia Home software skin running on the phone, means the phone has great performance, with apps opening and closing quickly.
The battery life on the phone is pretty decent, allowing for all day usage – upwards of 12 hours a day – with at least 3.5 – 4.5 hours of screen on time on a regular basis. This was with screen brightness at halfway, and some pretty heavy usage.
These numbers were achieved without even resorting to Sony’s Smart Stamina or Ultra Stamina mode which can be kicked in when the battery reaches 15% left.
The 3180 mAh battery can also be fast charged through the USB Type-C port as well, with Sony’s Qnovo battery saving technology built-in to allow the phone to be left charging overnight without adding strain to the battery. Wireless charging is also on-board for anyone wanting to try that – though it is fairly slow when compared to wired charging.
The design of the phone is the big change for Sony this time around, eschewing the boxy, rectangle look that’s been getting more stale by the year for the last several years. This time around though Sony has gone the extra mile, incorporating the 18:9 aspect ratio display, and a nicely curved glass back which makes it really nice to hold.
I’ve become somewhat of a convert to coloured phones over the last few years and Sony has always delivered on this front. This year the XZ2 comes in Liquid Black, Liquid Silver, Deep Green, Ash Pink with Sony sending me a Deep Green model which is simply gorgeous.
The 18:9 aspect ratio screen has minimal bezels on either side which works great for most people like myself who have issues with phantom touches on phones with no bezel like the Infinity display on the Galaxy phones. The top and bottom bezels have been shaved down from previous generations, but are definitely still present.
I also like the improved SIM/MicroSD Card tray at the top of the phone. Previously Sony has had a tray that you’ve had to slide out behind a plastic cover, this time it’s a simple slide out tray which doesn’t even require a SIM removal tool. This new setup doesn’t even compromise Sony’s IP65/68 dust/waterproof rating on the XZ2 either.
Not everything is great with the design, but we’ll get to that further down.
The screen is quite impressive as well, despite the step down from a ‘4K’ display in the XZ Premium last year to a 1080P display this year. XZ Premium was mostly displaying in 1080P anyway, so it doesn’t make a huge difference in that respect – but where Sony have really gone the extra mile on the XZ2 is by incorporating HDR support into both the screen and camera. This means you can either shoot 4K video with High Dynamic Range (HDR) – a first for a mobile camera – and play it back on the phone, or you can stream Netflix in HDR for those extra vibrant colours.
As a company, Sony does a few things well and one of those things is sound. Their headphones are great across the board, as is their HiFi equipment. They’ve finally brought this down to the Xperia series with the dual front-facing speakers that can output some impressive sound.
The Xperia XZ2 has a pretty full sound that was a surprise for me. I’m used to the slightly disappointing sound of the PIxel, which gets tinny at the high end and lacks bass. The XZ2 however offers a finely tuned sound across the board.
After using the Xperia XZ2 camera for a month, Sony get points for working on their camera, or at least the camera software which now launches quickly making it possible to take quick snaps when you need them.
It’s the second year in a row we’ve seen Sony use the 19MP 1/2.3″IMX400 sensor on the rear of the phone, but something has changed in processing, because the shots are definitely looking better.
Sony have again used a 5MP sensor on the front of the phone, and while it’s not outstanding, it’s good enough. Sony also built-in a selfie flash using the screen which switches to bright blank white to take your selfie in low-light.
As we’ve seen with other phones lately we’re in a pretty great place for cameras on smartphones these days. In good light the shots on the XZ2 are fantastic with good colour reproduction.
In low-light, while Sony has improved the quality of images from last years model, they still pale in comparison to some of the class leaders like the Huawei P20 Pro and Galaxy S9.
The XZ2 is hampered by a f/2.0 aperture which doesn’t quite let in enough light, but in terms of output, the photos in low light are still decent, thanks to what I believe is a reliance on the SD845 ISP.
The Camera app is unchanged from last year, or the year before that – and it’s time they changed this. The camera is split in four sections Manual mode, Superior Auto, Video (with Super Slow Mo) and Applications. The Applications section which contains Panorama, AR Effect, Bokeh, Creative Effects and Google Lens. While it’s easy enough to get to these apps – Sony has even put them in the App drawer for easier access – there has to be a better way.
The big deal for the camera on the Xperia XZ2 isn’t in the still shot though, it’s all about video. It’s the 4K HDR video capture and Super Slow Motion – that’s 960fps, which was introduced last year on the XZ Premium with the ability to capture 960fps in a 0.182 second burst at 720p resolution. This spec has been bumped this year to capture at FullHD (1080p) resolution, but you still get that 0.182 second burst and it’s a lot of fun.
The HDR video is nice, it really bumps up the colour range making it look that little bit nicer. I was more intrigued with the Super Slow Mo capture, and tried it out on a number of occasions. The end result is if you’re taking wide shots in good light (i.e outside) it works really well, if you’re taking up close shots inside then you’re going to find disappointment. Sony could overcome this by improving their LED flash which is quite weak, but for now, it’s not great inside.
Really, there isn’t much to dislike about the Xperia XZ2, it’s a very capable phone in all respects. That said, there’s a few niggles, mainly centred around the design of the phone, which as a first generation of the design is to be expected.
Sony has chosen to mount their camera and fingerprint sensor one above the other in the middle of the phone on the rear around halfway down and frankly this setup is terrible. The camera is precisely where you expect to find the fingerprint sensor – and with both camera and fingerprint sensor circular, you’ll spend a lot of time with your finger on the camera before you get used to the placement.
The full glass rear of the phone, while allowing for things like wireless charging, is also a problem. To put it bluntly the phone is as slippery as a greased pig. Thankfully you can resolve this fairly easily with a TPU case for a few dollars from AliExpress.
The placement of the power button is also a little bit off with it a bit too far down the phone. The position makes it hard to hit when using the phone one-handed, and also means you hit the button with the webbing of your hand when reaching across the screen with your thumb.
Sony has great audio on the XZ2, but one new feature they introduced was their Dynamic Vibration System (DVS). In short DVS uses the haptic feedback motor in the phone to provide a tactile feedback that syncs with movies, games and music playing on your phone. There’s several different levels you can set as part of your volume controls, but even when at the lowest setting it wasn’t something I found added to the mobile experience for gaming or music/movies.
Not only did it not add anything but it was constantly out of sync whenever I tried to use it. I can see what Sony were aiming for here, but it’s really not something I see customers screaming out for in future handsets.
The software of the Xperia line is always fairly nice. Sony runs what they call ‘Xperia Home’ on their handsets, which has always been a very lightly skinned version of stock Android.
This Xperia Home launcher is actually coming to an end shortly, with Sony entering a ‘maintenance’ phase in terms of development. No news on when a new launcher is coming, but you may see it on the XZ2 over the next year or two.
Sony has always had a decent track record with software updates on their devices. The phone comes with Android 8.0 on board, with the May 1st security patch however the phone has since been updated to the June 1st patch, and we’re still in early July so we may see another update soon.
The Xperia Home Launcher is pretty decent, it’s close enough to stock Android for most casual users. The Settings are slightly different with a Sony themed touch, the home screen is pretty well similar though Sony incorporates a theming engine to allow you to apply different themes from their store. Quick Settings, Notifications and App drawer are essentially the same, though with a few improvements.
The usual arrangement of Google apps are installed on the XZ2, you also get a smattering of Sony apps including their own Phone/Contacts and SMS clients, as well as multimedia apps for Music and Video. I don’t mind the Video app as it integrates with the Sony Bravia TV I own giving me a remote control on the phone. There is some ‘bloatware’ on there with Amazon apps included – but this arrangement allows Sony to include the Amazon Prime Video app on their Bravia Android TVs, so I’m Ok with it.
Should you buy one?
This is the first Sony phone in a long time that’s been a mostly positive experience for me. The camera app finally loads quickly, and takes quite decent shots, with the added benefit of 4K HDR and FullHD Super Slow Mo video.
The price is a little high though when it comes to its position in the Australian market. Sony has dropped the XZ2 in Australia at $1,099 – directly in competition with Huawei’s P20 Pro which is a step or two ahead when it comes to things like night photography.
Sony has made a good handset with the Xperia XZ2, but they’ve already announced a successor with the XZ2 Premium that incorporates dual-rear camera so it remains to be seen whether this will hold them back.
I really like the Xperia XZ2 and if you can get it for the right price, it makes a compelling handset in today’s market.