Sony Xperia XZ2 Review: Revamped Design & Improved Camera, Same Steep Price

Sony Xperia XZ2 Review: Revamped Design & Improved Camera, Same Steep Price

Sony's New Flagship Corrects Past Issues and Brings Top Performance at an Inexplicable Price

Sony’s Android smartphone endeavors stretch back quite some time, starting with the Sony Ericsson, X10 series in 2010. Since then, Sony has struggled with the typical highs and lows of the industry that led them to what most people know Sony smartphones by: the redesigned Z series with a designed dubbed “OmniBalance”. This flat glass and aluminum sandwich defined the brand for nearly five years. Known by their massive top and bottom bezels – the chin and forehead – dedicated camera buttons, and candy-bar design, Sony phones were set apart from the rest of the market; for better or worse. Now, the new Sony Xperia XZ2 looks to change things up for the first time in many years.

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Fast forward to 2018 and Sony is ready to reinvent itself with a brand-new design that both brings some of the Sony of old, and also borrows from where the rest of the market finds itself today — or in some cases, yesterday. While Sony’s mid-range lineup is quite a mess of letters and numbers confounding which device is the better one, their flagships for the past few years have settled on the simple XZ branding. There is the flagship, the compact, and the alternating uber-flagship usually defined by the Premium moniker. Today I have the primary Sony flagship, the Xperia XZ2 (US version), so let’s see how it stacks up.

In this review, we’ll take an in-depth dive into the Sony Xperia XZ2. Rather than listing specs and talking about how the experience felt, this feature attempts to provide a thorough look with contents relevant to our reader base. At XDA, our reviews are not meant to tell a user whether a phone is worth buying or not — instead, we try to lend you the phone through our words and help you come to the decision by yourself. Before getting started, let’s get the index and specification sheet out of the way:

Design & DisplaySoftware & PerformanceCameraBattery Life & ChargingOdds & Ends

Conclusion

Device Name: Sony Xperia XZ2 (US Version) Price USD 800
Android Version Sony Xperia UI w/Android 8.0 Oreo (May 2018 patch) Display 5.7″ 18:9 Full HD+ (1080×2160) HDR Display, TRILUMINOS Display, X-Reality Engine, SDR>HDR Upconverting, Dynamic Vibration System, Gorilla Glass 5
Chipset Snapdragon 845 4x 2.8Ghz Kryo 835 & 4x 1.8Ghz Kryo 835; Adreno 630 GPU Sensors Fingerprint, Accelerometer, G-sensor, Electronic Compass, Gyroscope, Proximity, Ambient Light Sensor, RGB
RAM 4GB LPDDR4X Battery 3,180mAh; Qualcomm QC3.0, USB-PD; Wireless Fast Charging
Storage 64GB Internal + Expandable Micro SD Connectivity USB 3.1 Gen1 Type-C; Bluetooth 5.0 (aptX and AptX HD);  NFC; GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou, Galileo; Dual nano-SIM slot
Rear Camera 19MP Sony IMX400 Exmor RS 1/2.3″, f/2.0, 25mm G Lens, 1.22 µm pixel size, EIS, Sony Steady Shot Intellgent Active; 4K 30FPS / 1080p 960FPS video / 1080p & 4k HDR rec.2020 Front Camera 5MP Exmor R, f/2.2, EIS, 1080p 30FPS video
Dimensions
& Weight
153mm x 72mm x 11.1mm
7.0 ounces (198g)

Sony Xperia XZ2 Design & Display

Sony’s new design language has caused quite the controversy (yet also some excitement) when it was announced, as it is a clear departure from that old but beloved design. Gone is the old flat sandwich, now replaced by a portly and rounded body. Sony claims this design was more fluid and is better-suited to fit in your hand, and while I am usually one to dismiss claims made by manufacturers like this, it is actually an incredibly comfortable phone to use, even if some feel its looks are a little boring.

Sony Xperia XZ2 Design

The Sony Xperia XZ2’s largest departure – its curved back – comes to a peak just below the fingerprint sensor, dead center on the back. Above the not-quite-indented-enough fingerprint sensor is Sony’s familiar 19MP camera sensor, laser auto focus module, flash, and what I can only determine is the dedicated white balance sensor. Thanks to their new placement near the middle of the back of the phone, the camera array no longer is easily interfered with by fingers while taking photos, something people with long fingers like myself have to deal with on poorly-mounted housings. However, this is offset by the fact that the fingerprint sensor is placed too low and is not easily distinguished leading to a slightly-worse setup than what the Galaxy S9 has. During the first day I tried to unlock my phone quite often with the camera, but you quickly get accustomed to the setup and it becomes second nature. The scanner is a very nice glass-topped sensor that is large, unlike the new pill-shaped trend others are going with. Lastly there is both Xperia and NFC branding on the back, but neither stick out as distractions, and are actually attractive and distinctive branding. Overall, I am personally in love with this design. Sony’s ergonomics are excellent, and despite the phone being very heavy (198g) and quite large falling between the Galaxy S9 and S9+ (despite its smaller 5.7” display), holding it feels like a mix of the old and the new and if you were a fan of the way phones used to feel before they all went slim and edgy, you might find solace in the Xperia XZ2’s design. It is also of note that the back and front are both encased with Gorilla Glass 5, but mine already has a pretty bad scratch along the back despite its advertised scratch resistance, and due to the design of the back, you are likely to amass more scratches under the fingerprint scanner.

Gracing the front of the device is Sony’s first tall aspect flagship 18:9 display coming in at 5.7” on the diagonal. While many other OEMs have been going for as little bezel as possible, Sony has brought their own flair to the phone with sizable – especially for 18:9 – bezels and front-firing speakers. On first inspection the bezels are obnoxious, but in usage they have their own defined charm. However, they are not symmetrical which might bother the more OCD among us. Sony is also one of the last OEMs that’s still putting their branding on the face of the device, but while using the phone I hardly even notice it since the color does not really stick out against the black phone given it’s quite dull, unlike the bright silver branding LG and Samsung phones used to have.

On the top of the front you will find your traditional proximity and light sensors, alongside a small LED light for notifications and a solid 5MP selfie camera. If I had to make a complaint it would be that the ambient light sensor is placed near the extreme left corner, which means when you are holding the phone in landscape your hand or finger can place a shadow over that area and cause the display to dim. It is the most picky of things, but once you have it happen it does get annoying. The left side of the phone is completely barren, no AI button to be found here. The bottom houses a USB-C port with QC3.0 and USB-PD, a microphone, and no 3.5mm headphone port — yes, despite Sony’s heritage they killed the headphone jack. The right side of the phone has Sony’s dedicated 2-step hardware camera key, power button in the middle of the device and a volume rocker near the top. This arrangement might sound weird and it sure takes some getting used to, but taking photos with this setup is actually delightful. The camera button sits right where your right forefinger sits, and the volume rocker (which is setup for zoom) is at your left forefinger. This makes operating the camera without touching the display a breeze and feels more like a small dedicated point and shoot than a cell phone, I’ll discuss this further in the camera section. Buttons are a sticking point for me and Sony nailed them. They are rather small, but their action is distinct and they have the right amount of feedback and zero wiggle or movement. The top edge houses another microphone and dual-SIM tray that doubles as a SIM/SD holder depending on your particular model. Sony is still stuck in the early 2010’s though, as removing the tray causes the phone to annoyingly reboot — but at least you can remove the tray without a SIM removal tool, so there is that.

Sony Xperia XZ2 Display

In a first for Sony, the Xperia XZ2 and XZ2 compact forego their 16:9 wide displays for 18:9 tall ratios. Unlike the notched and rounded OLED displays many others are utilizing, Sony keeps things basic with a 5.7” FHD+ “squared corner” display. Basic is not always a terrible thing though, as this is one of my favorite LCD displays to date, despite its apparent lack of resolution. As they did in previous years, Sony has brought over its Triluminous display technology and X-Reality engine from the Bravia line of premium televisions, and this year they improve upon that with SDR to HDR up-converting. While I found the initial white point to be a little on the blue side, Sony includes three different display profiles – an sRGB “Professional” mode, Standard Triluminous mode, and super vibrant mode and a custom white balance adjuster available for all three modes. The SDR to HDR upconverting can also be switched on or off if it is not your preference. I like this user choice approach from Sony, as they allow you to adjust everything in any of the modes, unlike Samsung who restricts white point adjustments to the poorly calibrated and oversaturated Adaptive mode. The display gets bright, but not extremely so like a Samsung panel or the new LG G7 and it is also highly reflective adding up to a usable but poorer outdoor experience compared to its flagship competition. It is disappointing as having a good and bright display in the Florida sun is near essential and is really the displays only weaker point. As I mentioned earlier, you will not find rounded corners on this display and after a few days I honestly can say I do not miss them. Rounded corners belong on phones with notches and rounded bottoms, not slab style devices.


The Sony Xperia XZ2 display is also HDR10 certified with Amazon, Netflix, and YouTube all supporting the device, as they do others. In comparison to the iPhone X and Galaxy S9+, I personally enjoyed the Xperia display playback in HDR more as the colors felt like they were more true to life. The Samsung and Apple phones felt like they pushed a little more toward unrealistically warm tones although they do have the AMOLED benefit from the insane contrast ratios their tech affords. This though ultimately comes down to personal preference and all of the devices really do a great job with HDR content. Along that HDR display, Sony also offers to “upconvert” SDR to HDR. This is hit and miss, as it can look fantastic but only in a few scenarios. If your primary usage is watching YouTube videos and the like, then you will likely want to keep this disabled.


Something you usually will not find in the display portion of a review is the vibration motor. Sony touted a brand-new, considerably larger, vibration motor for the Xperia XZ2 and it can instantly be felt. Sony also tied this into the audio system to provide a haptic feedback of sorts for music and videos. This is probably the biggest gimmick on the entire phone, but personally I like it. It does come with some issues though. The biggest problem is a bug when you exit the media application but playback is still ongoing, which causes the vibration to just stop and then start, and then get weak, and then stop again. If you leave the application as the foreground you don’t face any issues, and it does a good job matching it to the audio being played back. The setting does have 4 settings that I call: Off – Small Sub – Large Sub – and Obnoxious. My personal favorite is Small Sub, or “mild” as it is defined in the OS, and those who I have shown it off to say it feels like a small subwoofer hooked up to a home theater system. With this new vibration motor Sony also added subtle feedback throughout the OS like when you adjust the brightness, change the hours for an alarm, and so-on much like iOS does and is very much appreciated. The quality is nowhere near that of the Taptic engine in the iPhone whose distinct taps are sharp and accurate, though it is a little better than the one found in the newer Samsung devices. I do wish there was an intensity control like that found on the Galaxy S9 as general vibration can be a little harsh, but the shorter Sony added vibrations feel amazing. It is absolutely a gimmick, but with a few revisions I could easily see it being a nice feature other OEMs implement.


Sony Xperia XZ2 Software & Performance

I feel like I need to preface this section by saying Sony utilizes what I call stock+. This is not “straight-up AOSP” nor is it like a Google Pixel’s ROM, instead it adds a few more customization options and features like HTC or Motorola’s software. You will not find as much customization as you would on Samsung or Huawei ROMs, but Sony does add some useful software to enhance the experience.

First off, how does the XZ2 perform? While the Sony Xperia XZ2 is not quite as performant in day to day smoothness and responsiveness as the Google Pixel 2, I have found the Sony Xperia XZ2 to be above the rest of the competition especially in how regularly responsive it is. Through my nearly two weeks of testing there was no period where the device was laggy, unresponsive, or had even the smallest of delays in performing an action. That being said, the phone did have a few occasions where an animation stuttered slightly mainly while dropping the notification shade, but this was neither reproducible nor a big problem. Part of the remarkable system performance is due to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chipset which we have seen perform admirably in every device it has launched with. Unfortunately, Sony decided to include only 4GB of RAM for US variants and while my device never went above 3.1GB of usage with roughly 700MB free, this is a disappointment on an $800 flagship (luckily, other regions have access to a 6GB variant, and you could import one). I have strongly felt that very lightly-skinned and not-quite-feature-packed phones just don’t need 6GB or 8GB of RAM, but at this price it should at least keep up with other devices on the market especially when companies like OnePlus are offering, and have been offering up to 8GB of RAM at a significantly cheaper price.

While I did not do the entire gamut of testing Mario did on his OnePlus 6: Speed, Smoothness, and Gaming review, I did do some of the same testing on the Sony Xperia XZ2 related to application launching and UX smoothness (mainly due to popular demand!). I would highly refer to his article to catch up on exactly how we do this testing and what it reflects. I will be showing my testing in comparison to his done with the OnePlus 6 and Pixel 2 XL. It is very important to note two things, firstly any application updates and changes between testing periods could bare an impact on these results, and given that this isn’t a dedicated performance analysis, we did not minimize extraneous variables to the same extent. While they were done roughly within a week of each other, we all know the pace Google pushes out updates, even behind the scenes (in particular, the YouTube app has gotten a small but significant UI revision in that time). Secondly, my device was running fully loaded. I had 300 applications installed as indicated in the settings menu as I wanted to reflect the real world performance you would see after using the phone for a few weeks, not just best case scenario. This might not have much of an impact either, but it renders the results less commensurable with the ones obtained for previous articles.

Sony Xperia XZ2 Performance

First up is the UX speed and app launch times. As you can see in the charts below, the Sony Xperia XZ2 performs right to where I expected it to running toe to toe with the OnePlus 6. YouTube is marginally quicker, Gmail is slightly slower, and the PlayStore is quite a bit slower. The thing to really take away from this testing is not the nearly imperceptible differences you see between the OP6 and XZ2, but is instead the jump the Qualcomm 845 has over last years 835 in the Pixel 2 XL. Something I appreciated in these results is the consistency of the testing, the Sony Xperia XZ2’s consistency was sharp with very few peaks and valleys – something even the OnePlus 6 could not match. This responsiveness and reliability is something I noticed in my day-to-day usage where there was no single occasion I can recall an application hanging on the splash screen or not opening exactly when I hit the icon.

The second area of day to day performance we are going to be looking at is UI smoothness. Again, Mario’s OnePlus 6 article goes in-depth on our methodology of testing, whereas in this article we are going to focus primarily on the results compared to what I actually felt while using the phone. As I mentioned earlier, the XZ2 smoothness – while fantastic – is not the “non-chloric, silicon-based kitchen lubricant” that Google must have borrowed from Clark Griswold, and these composite app navigation tests reflect that.

The Sony Xperia XZ2 never feels quite as smooth as the Pixel 2 XL does in scrolling and application responsiveness, but it is a step above any other device I have used to date including the Galaxy S9+. Similarly, application launch times are fast and reliable rarely succumbing to hiccups, lag, or unresponsiveness and even outperform the Pixel 2 XL, but that is more due to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 than it is actual system tuning, I presume. All of that being said though there are two areas where the device does not feel quite as responsive. The first is the unlock speed with the fingerprint sensor. If you are coming from a Huawei or OnePlus device you will absolutely notice it since those phones feel like there is zero delay in unlocking. The delay is less perceptible compared to a device like the Galaxy S9 where there is a short wait after placing your finger on the sensor. The second is while taking photos. As I will discuss in the camera review further on, there is a massive delay compared to other flagships in terms of taking the shot and the shot being reviewable on the right of the display. Taking a shot side-by-side with the S9 the delay is nearly doubled. Now, this is not the actual responsiveness of the shutter, that is just as good as the rest, just the time until the phone visually tells you the photo was taken via a thumbnail. This does not affect day to day usage unless you are like me and take a shot, see how it came out, and then shoot another. Further, the camera has a burst mode which is impressive churning out 100 shots in a burst, much like the Galaxy S9, but at an insane file size of 6MB per shot compared to the S9’s 2.3MB – a difference of over 2.5x. I think the delay in the camera comes down to Sony’s application and not an actual representation of system performance.


Sony Xperia XZ2 Software

When it comes to the software I tend to enjoy much of what Sony does here. I personally tend to find AOSP bland, and while Google continues to add useful features to what most consider “stock Android”, additions like Sony’s Stamina Mode have their place on the device. Sony’s skin has a colored settings menu much like Android P and is not endless lists of settings and changes, instead it is a colorized approach to what AOSP offers with a few extra settings here and there. The dialer and contacts menus are derivatives of AOSP and missing Google specific features but includes things like a visual voicemail service. There are added haptics throughout the OS to better make use of the enhanced haptics motor, “Xperia Loops” which add a neat circular line animation while doing things like unlocking the phone, plugging in the charger, and other stuff. It is a weird but really neat addition and just adds to those things that make this phone look and feel its own. It also has a statusbar icon editor, although I had to use another application to kill the NFC icon, and my personal device in these screenshots has the “smallest width” set to 476 in Developer settings and my font is set to large.

 

One of the things I found especially interesting is how Sony provides one of the best support applications I have ever seen on a phone complete with easy to use do-it yourself guides, hardware test suites, and more. On the surface it might seem useless, but it easily allows you to test components people often feel fail like the proximity sensor, light sensor, gyros, and more without having to go into any sort of testing men… other OEMs should take note and provide this.  There is the Xperia backup and restore service that will backup your phone to the cloud, or even better to your SD card complete with password security. Sony Dual-Shock controller support natively as well as an extensive media casting and server service makes this phone a multimedia powerhouse. The Sony Xperia XZ2 also has Xperia actions, similar to Moto Actions, that allow you to set things to occur based on location or time. It’s a neat way to control your phone, but with the inclusion of night light modes, Do-Not-Disturb settings, and other native Android services these sorts of controllers are not as useful as they once were and are thankfully mostly out of the way.

 

Some of the more useful features I enjoyed were the clock options for the ambient display and lockscreen. It also gives you the ability to hide old notifications from the lockscreen after you unlock the device, it also sports the old Nexus-style ambient display that is partially interactive and lights only on new notifications or when the phone is lifted and is a welcome addition for those like myself who hate the battery drain always-on display modes bring. This is not an Always-On-Display mode like many other phones have, but since this is an LCD panel it is a nice compromise allowing you to easily and quickly see notifications and even dismiss them on a simple black and white screen.

 

What doesn’t have its place on this phone are the significant number of applications Sony added from Amazon and their own junk. The Xperia Lounge? Why is this here, and why do I get notifications from it? There are two applications – Videos and Video & TV Sideshow – that are actually one application but has two entries in the app drawer. The Sideshow application, which is pretty awesome as a remote if you also have a Bravia TV, appears to be an add-on to that Videos app because changing a setting in one is reflected in the other and vice-versa. Regardless of its usefulness seeing a number of Amazon applications like the Amazon Photos app, which is also attainable through the Album application, and AVG security are just annoying especially on an “unlocked” phone. There is a “Themes app” that is totally useless as the themes just link to the Play Store or are plain broken on this phone and a few other oddities that just don’t belong. Most of the applications are removable or can be hidden and can be worked around with little to no effort, but you should not need to do that on an $800 phone.

On a much better note though, Sony follows my preference for software updates. While the phone is still regrettably on Android Oreo 8.0, they have released security patches reliably for the XZ, XZ1, and XZ2 – my XZ2 was on the May update for this review. Sony is a major contributor to AOSP and has been involved in the community with their developer portals and bootloader unlocking programs, so seeing Sony flagships being maintained with security patches is par for the course for them, but is absolutely something that other should be following. Of note, the Sony Xperia XZ2 can have its bootloader unlocked but you will lose the DRM keys, an essential part of the camera experience, it is annoying that they are still doing this, but at least we have the option and hopefully it will not be an issue in the future. The Sony Xperia XZ2 is also part of the Google P Developer beta and should hopefully get P soon after it launches. You can see an overview of that in this video I made below. While Android P is neat, this Beta is absolutely not daily driver material.

The software is not perfect though. As I noted in the performance section the phone does have the rare smoothness issue or oddity. I also have had a reoccurring camera bug that causes the camera to throw an error that closes the application. Oddly though, accessing the camera through another method actually fixes this, so if I get the error long pressing the camera key, double pressing power fixes it and vice versa. It is a weird and annoying bug but one I expect fixed in short time.

Outside of the small hiccups I mentioned, Sony has a polished Android experience that is modified in all the right places but suffers from bloat overload. I appreciate what Sony does here with their stock+ approach to Android and I think the only complaint Samsung or Huawei users could have would be that it is a little boring, but all stock Android versions are.


Sony Xperia XZ2 Camera

Sony has been the major supplier of camera sensors for the entire industry for a long time now and chances are if you look at a spec sheet you will find the familiar Sony IMX branded sensor. This is for good reason, Sony makes good sensors and they are found in nearly every single phone on the market. However, much like Samsung’s display and smartphone companies are separate, Sony’s smartphone and camera sensor divisions are separate and although they can get access to the latest and greatest sensors, Sony phones have never been the best performers. However, the Xperia line does benefit from their camera history with the “BIONZ for Mobile” processing chip and “G” branded glass – both derivatives of tech from Sony’s full form cameras. So how does the XZ2 stack up against the best of the rest? Quite well, but ultimately it all comes down to your personal preference as I believe none of the current flagships have objectively bad cameras anymore, they just have individual traits that might or might not suit your needs.

Firstly lets go over the specs. On paper the Sony Xperia XZ2 has a rather conservative f2.0 22mm Sony G lens, which lets in considerably less light than competitors f1.7 or even the f1.5 the Galaxy S9 is capable of. The sensor is a 19MP “Motion Eye” 1/2.3” Exmor RS model that is lacking both the dual-pixel autofocus system and OIS the S9 offers — and although the 19MP sensor offers more resolution and that resolution is on an overall larger physical sensor, its micron pixel size of 1.22µm comes in lower further hindering low light capabilities. Sony does take a step above the Galaxy S9 when it comes to video recording though as its sensor is capable of BT.2020 HDR recording at both 1080p and 4K resolutions – but only at 30fps – and maintains its 1080p resolution at a blistering 960fps ultra slo-mo for .02 seconds. Ultimately, when it comes to the raw hardware and capabilities the Sony is the underdog in most areas as many other Qualcomm 845 devices are offering 240fps slo-mo and [email protected]

I have all the original resolution (they are compressed on this site) photos and videos used for this review plus a lot more stored in a shared album on Google Photos so feel free to check those out.