Sony hasn’t really impressed us with anything design-wise since the W810 in 2006, a phone that featured a distinctive orange Ericsson hue and a cool joystick. Since then the company has been caught in a loop of the same squared-off heavily-bezelled design. Until, that is, the Xperia XZ2 rolled into town.
Although it has been updated, the design is definitely not the reason you want this handset. This is because this peculiarly-rounded device feels a tad uncomfortable at first and stays that way until you start up a mobile game. Good thing PUBG is out on mobile, as well as Final Fantasy XV Mobile Pocket Edition (and hopefully Fortnite for Android is around the corner), as the Sony Xperia XZ2 is very equipped to handle them.
Design: Ambient row boat
The XZ2 brings a new design to the table, called Ambient Flow, a design element following on from Sony’s Loop Surface. Translation? We have finally got a 18:9 display — the same display size sported by flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S9 and iPhone X. And no more of the giant Sony bezels we saw on the XZ1 — just… slightly smaller bezels. At least Sony is catching up on trends.
Ambient Flow is about breaking up the blocky design that has dominated recent Sony devices. The XZ2 now boasts 3D curved glass on both the front and back of the phone — a subtle curvature at the edges of the screen, and a more noticeable bulge on the back. So not at all like Samsung’s curved designs. No, really, it is quite different.
The curved glass behind looks spectacular when it catches the light, but it’s unsurprisingly a fingerprint magnet. Not as unsurprisingly, it’s one helluva slippery phone — and it doesn’t feel very secure in-hand. It’s also very uncomfortable to use when placed on a surface, seeing that it rocks back and forth like a mini canoe. Putting it on a slanted surface also won’t work and you’ll see your phone heading for the floor in three, two, one…
Not to worry! Gorilla Glass 5 all-round promises sufficient toughness, but even so glass backs are always at risk when it comes to drops and scratches (and fingerprints). And if you’re still worried that it will instantaneously fly out of your hand — there is always the option to wrap it with a fancy cover.
Thanks to the rounded behind, the XZ2 feels pretty comfortable in-hand. It mimics the natural shape of your hand, but this just adds to the slippery factor, as well as size. Figures of 11.1mm in thickness and a weight of 198g do not sound right for a brand new 2018 flagship.
Sony has also opted to move the (previously perfectly placed) fingerprint sensor to the centre of the phone’s back, making them on-par with most other flagship devices. We kinda liked the side-placed unlock sensor — it was different and worked well. Now we have the same issue we had with the S8: continuously getting filthy fingers on the camera sensor that is placed right above the fingerprint sensor.
Performance and features: As you’d expect from Sony
The XZ2 is powered by Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 845, which we’ll likely to see in most major Android flagships this year. It’s fitted with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of onboard storage.
Although some flagship devices typically have more memory and storage, this should still be enough for most users. The inclusion of a microSD card slot for adding up to 400GB more storage helps.
Based on the usual benchmark tests it is clear that this is a flagship device, being almost on-par with the Samsung Galaxy S8 and the iPhone 8. But to get back to the superior gaming capabilities of this guy… The front-facing speakers are louder than those found in the XZ2’s predecessor, with a slightly improved frequency range to match — and there’s support for High Resolution audio. Which is perfect for the loud gamer/music blaster, but for the more discreet listeners we have bad news — the headphone jack has disappeared and Sony neglected to include that trusty USB-C to audio jack converter with our review unit.
If you have ever used the PlayStation 4 DualShock 4 controllers, you’ll be acquainted with the Dynamic Vibration System, which has now been built into the XZ2. Essentially it is force feedback, that uses a vibration motor inside the phone. Users can select different levels of vibration power easily by tapping a volume button and using the slider.
On to one of the key features of the XZ2 — the brilliant Full HD+ screen that can be set on a resolution of 2160×1080, which isn’t the highest, but it’s more than enough for a sharp-looking image at 424ppi.
There are improvements as Sony has borrowed HDR upscaling tech from its Bravia TVs (which we can’t officially buy here), so that the XZ2 can take any video content – either local to the device or streamed – and upgrade it to HDR as you’re watching it, with impressive results. As an awesome bonus, PUBG Mobile looks just as amazing as it runs.
The XZ2 doesn’t have a whopping battery despite being so thick and heavy. It is a 3190mAh cell, which is only marginally bigger than the one found in the Galaxy S9. For comparison, the Huawei P20 is just 7.7mm thick and has a 3400mAh battery.
Camera: Yes. Singular — on a flagship?
Despite rivals having two or even three rear cameras (Huawei P20 Pro, anyone?), the XZ2 has a lone 19MP camera and there’s no optical image stabilisation included. Huh?Sony promises that the camera in the XZ2 has reduced noise, better colour reproduction, and improved contrast when compared to the XZ1, with the help on a specially designed processor. Unfortunately they not only have to top their previous device in the range, but also competitors’ devices. And this is where the Sony loses its grip a bit.
There is one big thing the camera can’t do well: portrait mode. The blurred background bokeh effect is one of the big selling points of dual-lens cameras for most, and the XZ2 can’t offer an alternative – there’s not even a software portrait effect built into the main camera app, despite Google including it with the Pixel 2 and Apple making it one of the core features of the iPhone X.
Features such as predictive capture — which automatically detects motion or smiles – and autofocus burst are handy, though. We also like that Sony still offers a dedicated two-stage button on the side for photography. The combined phase detection and laser autofocus is speedy, too.Overall, the camera is decent enough but can’t stand up to rivals at similar or even lower prices, which is a bit disappointing considering Sony supplies more advanced camera sensors for rival phones. Bummer.
If you’re just after general snaps for social media then the XZ2 is easily good enough, but if you’re serious about phone photography then a number of rivals including the Galaxy S9 and iPhone X are better.
Perhaps more importantly, this is also the first smartphone from any manufacturer capable of recording 4K HDR video footage, while the 960fps super slow motion that Sony pioneered will now be available up to 1080p, compared to the previous cap of 720p.
However, the super slow motion in Full HD means a shorter burst of the high frame rate, even if you can fit more in the frame. It’s also still difficult to hit the button at the right time for things that aren’t happening continuously. Samsung’s new motion detect feature is a much better option.We’ve still got 3D scanning tech built in, because Sony probably thinks everyone scans and prints 3D models. Although it is a nice-to-have, it’s extremely gimmicky and the company just keeps rolling with it. Now you even have it built in to the selfie camera. For scanning… faces, we guess?
Sony XZ2 Verdict
If you look past the very un-Sony design, this handset is very typically Sony, boasting quality features with selected upgrades done to make it worthy of the XZ2 name.
On the other hand, Sony will need to step up their game a bit if they want to run with the big boys in flagship devices at the moment. But it’s safe to say the XZ2 will make users very happy with extremely snappy responses, an absolutely brilliant screen, and great front-facing speakers.
If you are a mobile gamer, and do not want to lob out two months’ salary for a Razer phone, this is a great route to go — this handset comes with an RRP of R14,000, which isn’t iPhone X territory by any means. We’ll just suggest buying yourself a grippy protector once the XZ2 has been taken out of the box, because we foresee many Sony XZ2-related freak accidents with this slippery device.