Just a week or so ago we posted the Sony Xperia XZ1 review, so it would only be right to follow it up with the newer XZ2.
As they have done so many times in the past, Vodafone UK kindly loaned us one so we could see just how good this new Xperia really was. Sure, we got to see it at the big launch in Barcelona, but now we’ll spend some proper time with the handset.
The review will compare the differences between the XZ1 and the XZ2, and of course go into more detail on that beautiful new design.
Whilst on loan it used a Vodafone SIM connected most of the time to 4G+, so we could see the speeds and how it impacts the battery.
Design and display
Design was one area Sony really had to alter. They’d used the same look for their Z range of phones since the original Xperia Z launched many years ago.
Thankfully they took this on board with the XZ2 and we get a beautiful change. Now there’s an 18:9 screen which takes over most of the front….and best of all… there’s much smaller bezels!
Gorilla Glass 5 covers both the front and back making this super tough and, in most cases, you may not need a screen protector or a case – as it takes away from the look of the device.
Weighing in at 198 grams, the XZ2 is a heavy device, especially considering the Galaxy S9 is 163 grams. Even the iPhone 8, with its glass and metal design, comes in at 148 grams.
Don’t get me wrong, the XZ2 is not what you would consider ‘heavy’ in daily use.
Sony continue their excellent water resistance feature from older models, this time with IP68 rating allows 30 minutes in up to 1.5 metres of fresh water.
You may not feel happy swimming in a pool with your £600 smartphone, but you do at least get to use the phone in the rain. Great if you like taking fancy photos in a heavy shower or snow.
With glass covering the front and back, the frame is made from a strong aluminium which feels premium in the hand and looks nice too.
Up top there is a front facing 5 megapixel camera that records in a 1080p resolution. This is quite a hefty drop from the 13 megapixel selfie camera on the previous XZ1.
There is no dedicated front camera flash, but the bright screen helps boost images in lower light.
The display follows the current trend of having a taller 18:9 aspect ratio to get more content on the screen. This does away with those huge bezels that Sony have unfortunately been known for in he past.
The XZ2 features a 5.7 inch LCD screen at 1080p resolution, no Quad HD here. The bigger XZ2 Premium handset has a 4k display.
What you do get though is HDR built in to help with supported multimedia content. You can really notice the difference between normal and HDR, so this is great to see continue from Sony. You also get the multiple technology phrases Sony love to use such as, “Triluminos” and “X-Reality”, both just fancy wording for the clever colour calibration to get the most from the display.
Up top you have the earpiece for voice calls and the front facing camera, which as said earlier, is 5 megapixels and able to record 1080p videos.
With Sony stretching the display to allow 18:9 aspect ratio you get very little wasted space resulting is smaller bezels.
As they usually do, Sony stayed with on screen navigation. There’s the back, home and multitasking touch screen buttons.
With all the navigation on screen and the physical buttons being on the side, this leads to a clean and simple frontage. Again I must point out those much thinner bezels.
I know I keep mentioning the bezels, but trust me, this is a huge step forward for Sony. It’s so good to see them fix it.
Whilst the XZ2 is all glass and aluminium, the new curved design also means that it feels lovely in the hand. Most people will find it comfortable to hold even with no case on it. However, with that slippy feel it has a nasty habit of wanting to slide around a surface all by itself – potentially hitting the floor if not careful.
Turning over to the left side you don’t get much, in fact you don’t get anything at all, just a clean aluminium body which blends into the display, making it almost seemless.
On the right side you get all the buttons you would expect, a volume up and down area, a power button and the one button I wish more phones had – a dedicated camera shutter!
Plus it really feels like you are using a “proper” camera, with the two-step focus and capture method.
Up top you have one of the microphones used for noise cancellation. It’ll also work when recording videos. There’s a pull-out tray which is where you put your Nano SIM and microSD card.
Thankfully there is no need to go hunting around turning rooms upside down just to get a pin to push out the tray. Here all you need to do is use your nail to slide it out. Nice.
At the bottom you have another microphone used in voice calls as well as the USB-C charging port which can also be used for transferring data to a computer. Let’s be honest though, most people just charge with it now.
You also get the option to charge wirelessly. This is because the XZ2 features QI wireless charging. It will take a little longer to charge though.
Turn over to the back and you can see the redesign here too, but that may not be a good thing.
Up top there are some sensors which help when taking photos. There is an LED flash with the 19 megapixel camera below.
The camera is at a good height, which means that your fingers won’t get in the way of the lens.
Below that is the fingerprint reader, and here is the problem, it’s placement is totally in the wrong place. It’s right in the middle on the back. Many people will end up putting their finger on the camera instead of the fingerprint sensor. This can impact the photos you take.
The back is now curved, meaning it sits nicely in the hand, but is also a nightmare to keep still on a flat surface such as a table.
I lost count he amount of times the phone slid off a table because of this new design and glass. The black model is also a total fingerprint magnet with even the smallest touch making a horrible mark on the back.
Either take a microfibre cloth with you at all times or put the phone in a case. If you are someone who hates finger marks all over your expense gadgets, it’s worth it.
The camera on the XZ2 is the same one found in the older XZ1. This was to be expected though considering the XZ1 was only out in September last year.
This is not a bad thing though as the camera is more than capable in decent light and performs quite well even in low light. It can struggle to compete with some of the other flagships out though.
Sony also decided to stick with a single lens setup instead of following the trend with dual cameras on the back. This however has now been made available on the XZ2 Premium, but there’s no plans to launch that in the UK.
Here, although there’s a single lens, it still allows a form of “bokeh”. This is where it takes one photo of the object in focus and another with the photo blurred, then it’ll merge the two together to show depth of field.
In some situations this works quite well, although not the same as Pixel 2 quality, but sometimes it struggled with separating the foreground to the background and looked a bit of a mess.
There is a LED flash on the back to help boost lighting in poorly lit conditions and some sensors which allow super fast focusing of your object.
The 19 megapixel camera has a f2.0 aperture which is high considering a lot of flagships these days have f1.7. The Galaxy S9 has an aperture of f1.5, which means it lets more light in for better and clearer photos.
The XZ2 also lacks OIS, instead it has EIS which helps keep the camera stable using software instead of the lens doing the work. It does help, but is not as good as OIS for night shots.
Video recording is something Sony are great at taking to new levels. They were one of the first if not the first to try super slow motion. Whilst other manufacturers are coming on board with this idea, Sony have now gone a step further upping the quality to 1080p in super slow mo.
Sony have quite a complicated software experience for their camera. First the normal camera and the main controls on the left side let you switch modes with a slide whilst the right side has the thumbnail of your last photo. There’s also on-screen camera button as well as a settings button with the mode you are in.
The XZ2 continues with the easy “Superior Auto” option used on their main phones. This mode judges the scene and adjusts to give you the best settings. There is a manual mode for the pro enthusiast and the AR stickers if you want to have a play. Here you can add some dinosaurs to your photos (more are available but this one is the best).
The XZ2 also captures video in HDR if you switch it on, this helps boost colours and overall quality and does look great if you have a HDR display to play back on (also on the phone as this is a HDR display).
An issue with the XZ2 is the other camera options outside of the camera. Loading the apps menu gives you options for Bokeh, 3D scanner and a few more. These ideally should have been added into the actual camera app to be less confusing.
Performance and battery
Performance is an area Sony always impress on and the XZ2 is no different. The battery is decent at 3180mAh and, as normal, is non removable.
I was easily able to last a day with moderate use and that was whilst using the camera and super fast 4G+ speeds. You get Quick Charge 3 built in if you are near a plug socket, and QI wireless charging too if you have access to a wireless charger.
The processor is the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 which brings all the battery and performance improvements you would expect and, with 6GB of RAM, you have plenty of power under the hood for even the most graphically intensive games.
Being a company that deals with a lot of different devices can have its advantages. One example is the camera technology, which is shared with their camera business. Another example is their displays. However, when it starts to get a little too “in your face” is when your phone comes installed with a load of applications that cannot be removed.
On my device I counted at least 11 pre installed applications from Playstation to AVG Antivirus. Whilst some of these can thankfully be removed, it is a shame that they were added in the first place.
The XZ2 runs Android 8.0 Oreo with a custom skin which promotes Sony content. An update to 8.1 will hopefully be due soon as this brings more improvements in battery and security.
There is a lot to learn with the skin Sony use, for example swiping down on the middle of the screen opens up a list of suggested applications. This was something I found accidentally and also does not really serve any purpose.
It is not all bad though, the underlying software on 8.0 is solid and the main bug bears can be resolved after installing a 3rd party launcher such as Nova. This also allows icon packs, so you can really change the software experience, and you can hide any of those pesky installed apps you cannot remove.
So, after two weeks using the XZ2 what are my final thoughts?
Well, firstly I have to say the new design is a nice change from the previous old and boring look. It is quite different and that was nice to see. Refreshing.
The other main focus of the XZ2 is of course the camera they have put in here. The 19 megapixel shooter is very capable and captures some really impressive shots. The super slow motion footage, at 960fps video, takes it to a new level with that 1080p quality .
There are a few colours available, my personal choice would be the silver model as, whilst some may say it looks boring, it’s not as much of a fingerprint magnet as the black one. You have been warned.
I am always impressed with the connectivity included in Sony phones. Their XZ Premium was the benchmark phone for launching Gigabit LTE and the XZ2 improves on that with an incredible CAT18 5CA setup. This allows speeds up to 1.2Gbps if your network supports it.
The software could do with a new design here and there and there are quite a few Sony apps and tweaks included. Some may like this, but some will consider it bloatware.
The high end market is as competitive as it has ever been and, with companies like Huawei and OnePlus making some beautiful hardware and impressive camera tech, Sony need to keep innovating to stay ahead or at least keep up.
Would I recommend the XZ2? Actually I have to say yes, the new design makes it look and feel like a new phone. Compare it to the Galaxy S9 and S8, which shares the same design.