Sony Xperia XZ2 review: the sleeper hit of 2018?

Sony's flagship gets a radical (and much needed) redesign, as well as a few exclusive, world-first capabilities

TODO alt text

T3 Verdict

Sony has removed the design shackles it had laden itself with over recent years to produce a phone in the Sony Xperia XZ2 that now looks better than it ever has, comes equipped with some standout hardware and features (it's the first phone on the market to deliver 4K, HDR recording), and is technically just as powerful if not more so than rival devices. Those bezels are still there though, despite being reduced, and it remains the more head-not-heart choice out of the Android flagships.

Reasons to buy

  • +

    Bold, refreshing new design

  • +

    Powerful hardware spec

  • +

    4K, HDR video capture

  • +

    Good battery life

  • +

    1080p super slow-mo footage

Reasons to avoid

  • -

    Bezels are pronounced

  • -

    3D Creator tool is janky

  • -

    Fingerprint magnet

Sony Xperia XZ2 specs

Dimensions: 153 x 72 x 11.1 mm

Weight: 198g

Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 845

RAM: 4GB

Storage: 64GB

Display: 5.7", 18:9 Full HD+ (1080 x 2160) HDR

Rear camera:  19MP (F2.0)

Front camera: 5MP (F2.2)

Battery: 3,180 mAh

OS: Android 8.0 Oreo

So the Sony Xperia XZ2 is here, fully unveiled at Mobile World Congress 2018, and after spending a good portion of the time since testing the phone, it is evident that it is a competitive match for 2018's other Android flagships.

The XZ2 delivers a top all-round hardware package, with a powerful Snapdragon 845 processor partnered with 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage, and a vibrant 5.7-inch, 18:9, HDR Full HD+ display. The phone is also loaded with a technically impressive camera system, too, and one that on top of good picture taking credentials also delivers a super-impressive world-first for a smartphone: the ability to record 4K, HDR video.

There's some interesting, unique features packed into the latest flagship Xperia as well, such as its Dynamic Vibration system.

However, all of these qualities are of significantly less importance than the phone's design, and specifically whether Sony could finally ditch the massive bezels that have haunted its devices over recent years (especially in light of the bezel-less Samsung Galaxy S9 and Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus beauties).

To find out whether or not Sony has finally caught up with the market in terms of looks and feel, which is so important to people when choosing a smartphone, read on. Before getting to the all-important details of the review, though, check out the Sony Xperia XZ2's hype-tastic launch trailer:

Sony Xperia XZ2 review: price, release date and colours

Sony Xperia XZ2 review

The four XZ2 colours to choose from: black, silver, blue, and pink

The Sony Xperia XZ2 is available to buy in the UK from April 6, 2018. The phone is available in four different colour schemes, including Liquid Black, Liquid Silver, Petrol Blue (the model tested), and Ash Pink.

The Sony Xperia XZ2 costs £699 SIM-free in the UK. The phone is available directly from Sony, as well as select retail partners such as Carphone Warehouse and Amazon.

Sony Xperia XZ2 review: design and screen

Sony Xperia XZ2 review

The XZ2 has a markedly curved back with a shiny gloss finish.

It's OK, you can breathe a sigh of relief, Sony has finally delivered the bold design overhaul its Xperia range so badly needed, with its new "Ambient Flow" design language delivering a device that is curvier and more fluid than ever before. In terms of pure looks, the XZ2's shiny mirror-gloss finish is just lovely.

Yes, gone is the blocky, chunky aesthetic and in is the Sony Xperia XZ2, a phone with few sharp edges and a look that is not too dissimilar from the attractive HTC U11+. The phone feels smooth and comfortable in the hand, even though its front and back Gorilla Glass 5 build is a monstrous fingerprint magnet, and it slips into and out of a pocket very easily.

Sony has finally delivered the bold design overhaul its Xperia range so badly needed

Phone critics have spent years complaining about the massive bezels on Sony phones and, thankfully, while still in residence with the Xperia XZ2, they are far reduced from last year's offerings. Their presence does leave the XZ2 looking not quite so futuristic as Samsung, Huawei, or HTC's latest offerings, but overall the phone definitely has a more attractive new look.

Interestingly, the Xperia XZ2 is not equipped with the 4K display we saw on the Xperia XZ Premium, with Sony plumping instead for just a Full HD+ (1080 x 2160) display. Last year T3 said that the Premium's 4K screen was overkill and after using the crisp screen on the XZ2 over a variety of applications, it is easy to agree, as at no point did it lead to a desire for a bigger resolution. Plus, the Xperia XZ2's screen is HDR, and benefits from Sony's X-Reality Dynamic Contrast Enhancer, too, meaning images and video look very vibrant.

Sony Xperia XZ2 review: hardware and features

Sony Xperia XZ2 review

The XZ1's Snapdragon 835 processor has been upgraded to a 845 in the XZ2.

Sony normally knocks it out of the park with internal hardware spec, and with the Xperia XZ2 the story is the same, with the phone rocking a great all round hardware package that includes the rapid Snapdragon 845 processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage space, and a 3,180mAh battery that supports wireless fast charging capabilities.

Compare this spec to the other Android flagships and it compares favourably

Compare this spec to the other Android flagships and it compares favourably – for example, it shares the same RAM, processor (in the US) and storage spec as Samsung's new Galaxy S9, while also out-doing it slightly in terms of battery life. Simply put, there is absolutely no issue with the XZ2's power as a flagship device, as it either matches or exceeds its rivals.

Sony Xperia XZ2 review

Gaming on the XZ2, such as playing versus fighter Tekken, is a smooth, immersive experience.

Notable new hardware features include a powerful new Dynamic Vibration system, which is no doubt influenced by Apple's haptic engine. This system allows detailed vibration feedback in music, games and movies, with the phone vibrating in varying degrees of strength (for example, if you get hit by a light attack in Tekken then you get a light vibration feedback, while if you get hit with a heavy attack then you get a stronger vibration).

Dynamic Vibration can be activated or deactivated in the settings menu, but it is also prompted for use upon starting certain games and apps, with a pop-up notifying you of the functionality. More information is also supplied if necessary via Xperia Chat.

Sony Xperia XZ2 review

Dynamic Feedback is available in games, videos and music. It can be enabled and disabled easily.

The XZ2 has a fingerprint sensor, too, although it is located right next to the camera system and it isn't quite as comfortable to use as the offerings tested from HTC and Samsung. We're not sure you'll end up frequently smudging the XZ2's camera lens as well, as the two are positioned a decent distance from each other (this was a common complaint on the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus, which located the two far too close together).

And, talking of the Sony Xperia XZ2's camera system...

Sony Xperia XZ2 review: camera

Sony Xperia XZ2 review

An exploded breakdown of the XZ2's 19MP Motion Eye camera.

As you would expect from Sony, the Xperia XZ2 has a very strong camera hardware offering, even though the unit is the same one delivered last year in the Xperia XZ1. The XZ2's camera system isn't identical, though, as there's a 19MP single-sensor camera on the rear that can shoot in 4K HDR. This is definitely a major step forward for smartphones, as it was only recently that such capabilities were the preserve of expensive dedicated camera equipment, so the fact that you can now carry that capability around in your pocket is fantastic.

Sony has trumped Samsung by allowing 960fps recording at not just 720p, but a Full HD 1080p

Also, almost as a reminder to the industry about who actually brought 960fps slow-motion recording capabilities to market first (hint: it was Sony last year), Sony has trumped the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus' offerings by allowing 960fps recording at not just 720p, but a Full HD 1080p. This is a fantastic achievement, even if you are limited to only three seconds of super slow-mo recording time per video. Naturally, you can also shoot 120fps standard slow-motion videos as well.

Sony Xperia XZ2 camera images gallery

Image 1 of 10

Sony Xperia XZ2 camera images gallery

Image 2 of 10

Sony Xperia XZ2 camera images gallery

Image 3 of 10

Sony Xperia XZ2 camera images gallery

Image 4 of 10

Sony Xperia XZ2 camera images gallery

Image 5 of 10

Sony Xperia XZ2 camera images gallery

Image 6 of 10

Sony Xperia XZ2 camera images gallery

Image 7 of 10

Sony Xperia XZ2 camera images gallery

Image 8 of 10

Sony Xperia XZ2 camera images gallery

Image 9 of 10

Sony Xperia XZ2 camera images gallery

Image 10 of 10

Sony has also but some extra effort into improving the XZ2's low-light performance, with a memory packed Exmor RS image sensor and wide ISO range to play with. There's also faster image processing on the Xperia XZ2 thanks to an upgraded BIONZ image processor.

As you can see from the above images, which were captured on T3's XZ2 review unit, detail is definitely a strength for the XZ2, with shots packing plenty of depth. Colour reproduction is good, too, with clean vibrant distinction, and we're still huge fans of the Xperia's dedicated right-hand-side mounted camera button, which allows immediate booting into the camera app with a single long press.

Sony Xperia XZ2 review

The XZ2's camera is much higher than its fingerprint sensor, meaning you don't end up smudging its lens.

The actual camera app on the XZ2 is very similar to that which featured on the XZ1, and offers plenty of creative and specialist shooting modes, such as Bokeh, Panorama, AR effect (allows you to place AR objects or tiny creatures on things) and Manual. Navigation in the camera app isn't the fastest we've tested but is perfectly usable, and we didn't suffer any app glitches or crashes during the testing period.

The only aspect of the XZ2's camera system that we feel is definitely second best in comparison to the Samsung Galaxy S9, which is now considered the new benchmark for flagship Android smartphones, is in its image grain and, in some images, noise when zooming in up close.

Sony Xperia XZ2 review: 3D Creator

Sony Xperia XZ2 review

The detail delivered by the scanning is impressive, however, getting a good scan takes a while and is finickity.

Sony's version of Apple's Animoji and Samsung's AR Emoji comes via its 3D Creator tool, which allows you to scan faces, heads, food and freeform objects, before then having a 3D model spat out for use, sharing or even printing.

Unlike Animoji, whereby the pre-set creatures simply mimic your expression and lip movement, or AR Emoji, which allows you to create your virtual avatar simply by holding the camera up to your face for a moment, the facial and head scans from 3D Creator require calibration, scanning and sculpting before they are usable.

Sony Xperia XZ2 review

A slide from the 3D Creator's face-scanning tutorial.

This not only requires a multi-slide tutorial with learning videos, but also a definite trial and error process to get a good representation, with T3 suffering a series of less-than-flattering misfires before getting something that looked passable. Also, unlike Apple and Samsung's rival systems, you can't live pose the created avatar - so I am afraid if you want to send kissy-face avatar to your significant other then you'll need to do a new scan.

We've got to be honest, despite the detail of scanning being impressive and beyond its rivals, we got frustrated with the 3D Creator tool out of the box. It definitely feels like it could do with another development and polishing pass to make it easier to use and more integrated, as we feel only the most patient, avatar-loving users will find it genuinely useful at the moment.

Sony Xperia XZ2 review: battery life, audio and OS

Sony Xperia XZ2 review

Corning Gorilla Glass 5 lines the front and back of the XZ2.

The Sony Xperia XZ2 comes equipped with some seriously good audio credentials, too. Hi-Resolution Audio is delivered, along with DSEE HX technology that upscales files, and there's also a pair of stereo speakers that have been specifically tuned to reduce distortion at higher volumes.

I enjoyed listening to a wide variety of albums on the XZ2, ranging from Soft Sounds From Another Planet by Japanese Breakfast, Automaton by Jamiroquai, Risotto by Fluke, the Wolf Hall soundtrack by Debbie Wiseman, and Solace by Jean Baudin and I was very impressed with the audio quality delivered.

Sony Xperia XZ2 review

Were the XZ2's upgraded stereo speakers good enough for me to play my music through them while writing, cooking and cleaning? Not by a long shot, and I'm sure that anyone with a modicum of Hi-Fi in their blood would think the same. There is no doubting though that they sound louder and cleaner than those on the XZ1, though, and youngsters who wish to annoy people on public transport will no doubt have a ball.

Pleasingly, the Sony Xperia XZ2 comes with Android 8.0 Oreo out of the box, and while the UI isn't stock, it is very lightly skinned, meaning it feels familiar and comfortable to use.

Sony Xperia XZ2 review

Sony's Battery Care feature reduces the amount of time the phone's battery is charged over 90 per cent in order to extend the cell's lifespan.

The Xperia XZ2 comes equipped with a 3,180mAh battery. From T3's testing period this battery held up very well in day-to-day usage scenarios, with medium usage leading to the phone losing just over 50 per cent of its battery power over 24 hours.

Charging was also rapid, especially from a low-level starting point, and took about 40 minutes to attain two-thirds battery life. The now widespread Qi wireless charging is also enabled on the Xperia XZ2 and from our testing period the Sony flagship consistently made a connection at a variety of placement angles.

Sony Xperia XZ2 review: verdict

Sony Xperia XZ2 review

The XZ2 sports an IP65/68 water resistance rating.

I'm not sure whether the Xperia XZ2 is going to be underrated this year and struggle to sell, or if it will be a run-away sleeper hit for Sony. The phone delivers on every hardware front and even comes packing some world-first exclusive features to help separate it from the crowd. Its screen, too, despite taking a step down in resolution from the XZ Premium's 4K offering, is incredibly vibrant and pleasurable to look at.

Sony has also made a big push to redesign the look of the Xperia phone, with a new curved, sleeker design that feels far more at home among its competitors offerings. Yes, Sony hasn't been able to fully let go of those bezels yet, but they are much smaller and the overall look and feel of the phone is very nice indeed.

The phone, priced SIM-free in the UK at  £699, is also less than Samsung's S9 and competitive considering the great specs, which either match or exceed rival flagships, so that is also a boon for Sony.

However, despite all this great work, it's easy to remain unsure how much star power the Sony Xperia XZ2 has. Will the strong hardware package and camera system, as well as solid redesign be enough to win people over, as it did here at T3.com? Only time will tell.