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Sony Xperia XZ2 review: Sony’s mixed-up premium flagship

Alex Kidman 6 June 2018 NEWS

The Sony Xperia XZ2 combines smart features with quirky performance, resulting in a clever smartphone that's hard to recommend.

Quick Verdict
The Sony Xperia XZ2 ticks all the essential boxes for a flagship phone, and some of its performance is class-leading. However, quirky camera performance, a slippery grip and a gimmicky vibration motor don't help to sell it.

The good

  • New design looks great
  • 4K HDR video recording
  • Good app performance
  • High quality speakers
  • Dedicated camera shutter button

The bad

  • Camera can be slow or inconsistent
  • Feedback motor is gimmicky
  • Incredibly slippery back
  • Poor fingerprint sensor placement

Sony was one of only a handful of manufacturers to officially launch a flagship phone at this year's Mobile World Congress in the form of the Sony Xperia XZ2. With a new design, cutting-edge processor and Sony's camera smarts, it should be a slam dunk of a phone, even in the hotly contested premium space.

The reality of using and testing the Xperia XZ2 reveals something subtly different. It's a phone that's equal parts brilliant and frustrating, and that's probably not quite what you want in your premium flagship.

Sony Xperia XZ2: Design

For years, Sony stuck to its "Omnibalance" design, with blocky edges that were (apparently) meant to invoke the style of its Bravia TVs. The Xperia XZ2 uses a new design motif with a smooth rounded style that is highly reminiscent of the way HTC's been designing its phones in recent years. Is imitation the politest form of flattery? In the case of the Xperia XZ2, while its inspiration is clear, it also means that it's the prettiest Xperia in many years. If you're after a flagship phone for its looks, then the Xperia XZ2 could be a good choice... except that the design also has an effect on its utility.

The Xperia XZ2 measures in at 153 x 72 x 11.1mm with a carrying weight of 198 grams, which is fine for a phone with a 5.7-inch display. There's no "notch" on the screen display, which means that bezels are very much a fact of life.

Like recent Xperia phones, there's a dedicated camera shutter button on the right hand side, which is a feature I absolutely adore.

The problem is that there are so many other design decisions that I find very hard to live with. The fingerprint sensor has shifted from side-mounted, which really wouldn't work with the curved sides of the Xperia XZ2, to the rear. The problem is that it's placed very low. I can all but guarantee that you'll tap the rear camera sensor far more often than the fingerprint sensor as you get used to it.

The other design drawback is that the combination of the glass back and that rounded rear make the Xperia XZ2 slippery. In fact, it's the most slippery phone I've tested in years, both in the hand and on flat surfaces. There's something slightly amusing about watching the Xperia XZ2 slide down a pile of papers because it can't get enough friction, until you realise that eventually it's going to tumble down to the ground and potentially meet a grisly fate.

The practical solution there is going to be a case, at which point all that shiny new design style will be compromised. A case will also make the Xperia XZ2 even fatter. Compared to its flagship competitors, at 11.1mm thick it's already kind of chunky.

The Xperia XZ2 also marks Sony's entry into the "no headphone socket" club because there isn't one present at all. It may be the style of the time, but I'm no fan of designs that offer less flexibility for music listening purposes. Naturally, Sony would prefer you matched the Xperia XZ2 up with its own headphones, including the Xperia Ear Duo.

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Sony Xperia XZ2: Camera

Sony makes the sensors for the vast majority of mobile phone cameras that you'll find in flagships and even in many mid-range and budget cameras, so it's logical to think that it would lead the world when it comes to its own phones, right?

Well, not if you're Sony. While it did announce its first in-house dual camera sensor with remarkable low-light sensitivity at MWC 2018, that's for a future flagship phone. That means that the Xperia XZ2 makes do with a single rear 19MP f/2.0 lens, with a front-facing 5MP f/2.2 selfie camera at the front.

There's the obvious issue that the market in premium and even mid-range spaces has shifted to dual lens, and that's not just a question of bokeh on portrait photos. Having a secondary accessible lens for telephoto or wide landscape shots gives you photographic flexibility, and that's not what the Xperia XZ2 offers.

Then there's the camera output, and here it's a matter of great features but often spotty performance.

The Xperia XZ2 offers up a range of features that Sony added to last year's Xperia XZ Premium such as 3D Creator for fully scanning heads, food and other objects, and it's a cool feature if you like it. Of course, it's useless if you're not into sharing its specific file types.

The Xperia XZ2 could be a good match for you if what you want out of a smartphone camera is video, with support for 4K HDR baked in. Not every scene needs HDR, but it can add punch to your moving pictures if that's your passion.

The Xperia XZ2 does offer 960fps slow-motion video, and Sony can pat itself on the back for being 12 months ahead of the pack with that feature. For the Xperia XZ2, while it supports the same 720p 960 frames per second of its competitors, it ups the ante with Full HD 1080p slow motion recording. However, there's a trade-off here because you get half the recording time at Full HD. That also means you've got to be a lot more precise in picking the moment you want in slow motion, and this does require a lot of practise.

You're going to want to practise with the Sony Xperia XZ2 anyway because its rear camera can be more than a little quirky in operation. Sony provides a range of modes, including a bokeh effect that can take things a little too far:

But it's in full automatic (dubbed "intelligent auto") that most users are likely to take their quick snaps. Here, the automatic focus can be rather slow and fiddly, sometimes taking precious seconds to settle before taking a shot, especially in low light. It's most noticeable when comparing against other flagships that manage this kind of shot with more grace.

Which isn't to say that the Xperia XZ2 can't take good photos. It's just that you'll have to work for them a little harder than on competing handsets, and that's not a good thing.

Here's some sample shots taken with the Xperia XZ2 in Intelligent Auto mode, letting the camera pick settings in each case:

Sony Xperia XZ2 Sample Photos
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Sony Xperia XZ2: Performance

The Xperia XZ2 follows the premium phone recipe for 2018 to the letter, combining the Snapdragon 845 SoC with 6GB of RAM, lurking behind a 5.7-inch 1080 x 2160 LCD display. Sony's sticking with LCD rather than AMOLED it seems, but there's not a lot of lost detail here, even though it's not quite the premium display we saw on the Xperia XZ Premium.

In benchmark terms, the Xperia XZ2 acquits itself well, if a slight mark below that of its competition:

It's closer for graphics performance, most likely due to that lower resolution display giving it less to do in each test:

Where the market has been tending towards more "clean" Android experiences, Sony still persists with its own launcher and many of its own applications on the Xperia XZ2. This means that you get Sony's own photo album, contacts, music and video apps as well as a dedicated PlayStation app preinstalled.

While there's no headphone jack on the Sony Xperia XZ2, audio is still a key part of its selling proposition, both because of its embedded speakers and a genuinely new feature in the form of a dynamic embedded vibration motor that kicks in while watching video, listening to music or playing games.

The speakers on the Xperia XZ2 are very good, equal to the similarly loud "Boomsound" speakers on the recently tested HTC U12+, so if you're a fan of using your phone as an ad-hoc audio sharing source, you'll be well pleased here.

The vibration motor is, once again, a bit of a mixed offering. With very specific video content, it worked intelligently and enhanced the action, and there's an obvious history in force feedback in the gaming world. You can adjust the intensity of the vibration motor to taste, with a separate slider appearing underneath the volume control in supported applications.

The issue here is that for far too much content, the vibration motor kicks in far too often, at which point its impact is lost and it feels more like your phone is constantly getting messages, rather than enhancing the action in front of you.

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Sony Xperia XZ2: Battery life

The Sony Xperia is supplied with a sealed 3180mAh battery, which in the premium space in 2018 is on the lower side in pure capacity terms as long as you exclude Apple from the equation of course. Fast charging and wireless charging are both supported.

The Xperia XZ2 provides solid, if not exceptional battery life. Using Geekbench 4's linear battery test to full exhaustion with screen dimming enabled, the Xperia XZ2 fits in the middle of the pack:

In real-world usage, I had few issues getting through a full day's usage out of the Xperia XZ2. That's pretty much the base floor for any phone, mind you, and there's not much doubt that a larger battery might have helped the Xperia XZ2 here. Sony has invested considerable sums in the implementation of technologies to promote overall battery life over the lifespan of each handset, but that's impossible to test without waiting a couple of years to write the review.

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Sony Xperia XZ2: Verdict

The Sony Xperia XZ2 is a phone that shows Sony's ambitions in the smartphone space as it's redesigned the way that it thinks about external design right at the point where everyone is converging on key components that make the hardware differences less meaningful.

That's a positive and no doubt much-needed step for Sony, but the resultant phone is a bit of a muddle of great ideas and some real clangers. It's just too slippery, and the fingerprint sensor placement is up there (or, really, down there) with the way Samsung used to place its readers, practically encouraging fingerprint smudges on the camera lens. It's perfectly feasible to take wonderful photos with the Xperia XZ2, but it frequently feels like it's harder work than on competing handsets, and the lack of dual lens capability hurts it here.

As such, if you're a long-term Sony phone fan looking for the next big thing, this is it, and it's by no means a bad phone. However, in the wider smartphone space, you're going to be putting up with some odd design compromises along the way, making it harder to recommend than it should be.

Buy the Sony Xperia XZ2

Buy the Sony Xperia XZ2 from Sony

Sony's latest Xperia handset combines the best of Sony's TV, camera and audio technology into one sleek device.

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Sony Xperia XZ2: Pricing and availability

The Sony Xperia XZ2 is available in Australia outright for $1,099.

Sony Xperia XZ2: Alternatives

The Xperia XZ2's $1099 price point puts it in direct competition with a lot of premium smartphone options.

If you're after the best current camera phone, consider the Huawei P20 Pro at the same price, or the HTC U12+ if you're after something a little closer to a pure Google experience. If you want the performance of the Snapdragon 845 and want to save a few bucks, the OnePlus 6 could be a good match for your needs.

If you're after a good single-lens camera experience with slick performance, Google's Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are still well worth comparing as well.

Samsung's Galaxy S9 or Galaxy S9+ could be good alternatives as well, especially if you want a handset on contract terms.

Sony Xperia XZ2: What the other reviewers say

TechRadar"A great smartphone that's struggling to stand out."4/5
Sydney Morning Herald"A beautifully eccentric Android flagship."N/A
Engadget"A brand-new design, the best processor around, and strange vibrations."84/100
Android Authority"A spec-lover's dream burdened by curious design decisions and a sub-par camera."8.7/10
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Product name
Sony Xperia XZ2
Display size
5.7 inches
386 ppi
Snapdragon 845
Operating system
Android 8.0
Front camera
Rear camera
153 x 72 x 11.1mm
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