Sony Xperia XZ2: Hands-on review

Alex Kidman 27 February 2018 NEWS

Sony's latest flagship has a new style and a lot of camera smarts.

While many other manufacturers decided to skip releasing new flagships at Mobile World Congress, Sony decided to double down with two new devices, the Sony Xperia XZ2 and Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact. I've had the chance for a little light hands-on time to get to grips with the new flagships but not enough for a full opinion. That'll come with testing time, but here are my early impressions.

In a style sense, the Sony Xperia XZ2 (and to a lesser extent) the Xperia XZ2 Compact don't look much like their predecessors, thanks to Sony dropping its "omnibalance" design motif for a more smooth, rounded approach.

It's new to Sony, but highly reminiscent of HTC's 2017 designs, especially the HTC U11. Depending on your perspective, that could be quite flattering to HTC, or they might send the lawyers in.

I can't speak to that, but at least it makes for a new look for Sony's handsets. Rather predictably, it's also something of a fingerprint magnet.

Sony's also shifted its position on fingerprint sensors, moving from side mounting to rear mounting for biometric unlocking purposes. There's definitely a learning curve to working out where the new fingerprint reader is, but it should hopefully be a little more responsive than the thin sensors Sony used to throw on the sides of its premium Xperia offerings.

Maybe it's the tradeoff for shifting the fingerprint sensor, but the one thing you lose with the Xperia XZ2 is a proper headphone socket. Sony's claim is that the onboard DAC on the XZ2 itself should ably handle audio output via a supplied USB-C adaptor that will come in the box with the XZ2, but I wasn't able to test that. At least it'll be a Y-shaped cable, so you can charge and listen to audio at the same time if you need to.

One of the more exciting aspects of the Xperia XZ2 is the inclusion of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 845 SoC. Sure, the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ will handily beat Sony to market with Snapdragon 845 handsets, but in Australia, we won't see the Snapdragon variants of the new Galaxy phones. Sony hasn't committed to a specific timeframe for the Xperia XZ2, or to the Xperia XZ2 Compact at all yet, but it's quite feasible that it could be our first taste of what Qualcomm's new processor is really capable of.

Then there's the new "Dynamic Vibration System", where the entire phone shakes based on the audio playback you're running through it, whether it's a game, movie or TV show. There's something rather N64-rumble-pak about the whole experience, both in its implementation and with how well it works for games, but less so for video. Ultimately, it feels rather like a gimmick you might show your friends once to laugh about, but outside gaming experiences, I don't know that too many folks would bother.

One aspect where the Xperia XZ2 did have some serious impact is in its speakers. To demonstrate that, Sony ran the same audio for me through an older handset next to the Xperia XZ2, then on the XZ2 itself. While that's a staged demo, it made the point perfectly clear that, if it's to your taste, the Xperia XZ2 can most certainly rock out with the best of them.

I wasn't able to do a lot of live testing of the camera app on the Xperia XZ2 but then Sony's made some unusual choices here. It's still a single lens camera and that's a little disappointing, even though Sony was happily demonstrating its new dual lens system to come in future phones. Video is the key focus here, with support for 4K HDR shooting being the new premium feature. Now, you will need a 4K HDR capable TV for playback purposes, although you can switch it off if you just want to shoot in regular 4K, but either way, the demonstrations shown to me did rather prove the point that in the right circumstances, 4K HDR shot on the Xperia XZ2 can look spectacular.

The Xperia XZ2 also supports 960fps slow motion in the same style as the Xperia XZ Premium, but now at 1080p resolution. You're still only capturing a fraction of a second and stretching it out over several seconds, but that extra resolution should give your clips a little more oomph. One caveat here is that you only get 3 seconds of footage where the Xperia XZ Premium gives you 6 seconds, although that's presumably a storage and data throughput issue to cover the new 1080p functionality.

The use of the Snapdragon 845 also means that the Xperia XZ2 is CAT18 compliant, which means it's got the potential of up to 1.2Gbps download speeds. Currently you would have to throw it onto Telstra's 4G network to get those kinds of speeds. Not shockingly, Telstra's mobile towers don't quite stretch to Barcelona, so I couldn't test that feature, but it means the Xperia XZ2 should join Samsung's Galaxy S9 in offering fast CAT19 4G LTE when it hits our shores.

The Xperia XZ2 also features wireless charging on board, which is always a nice feature to have. I wasn't able to test out its wireless charging prowess, or indeed particularly stress the battery, although I do wonder how well its slightly rounded back will handle some Qi chargers.

Ultimately, the Xperia XZ2 feels the part of a premium smartphone. I'm told it may be some months before it launches in Australia. However, that may well give Sony's competitors time to jump on board the Snapdragon 845 bandwagon. Right now, it's a seemingly solid competitor to Samsung's Galaxy S9, even if it's not grabbing quite as many headlines.

For all the latest news from MWC 2018, click here.

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