Sony Xperia XZ2: A Sony phone we’re excited for is finally here
It’s been too long since I have been excited about a phone from Sony, but that has all changed with the Xperia XZ2. It’s signals a new design direction with a much thinner bezel, but it also adds in proper 4K HDR video recording and new vibration engine.
The changes are obvious on first sight of the Xperia XZ2. Gone is that huge bezel surrounding the display, replaced by a stretched out 18:9 display. And this small change makes quite the difference; the Xperia XZ2 feels like the most modern phone I’ve used from Sony in as long as I can remember.
While the bezel has been minimised, it remains noticeable and larger than that of the iPhone X and Samsung Galaxy S9. I don’t mind this, especially since the space is used to house some fantastic-sounding stereo speakers. Sony says these are 20% louder than those that feature on the XZ1; I’d say they’re much better sounding too.
It isn’t only the front of the device that sees changes; this is a complete rework of the Xperia look-and-feel. The rear uses 3D Gorilla Glass 5 to create a curved finish that feels comfortable to hold, while the sides too are far more rounded. Previous Xperia models were so sharp they’d dig into your palms, but this won’t be an issue anymore.
The fingerprint scanner now sits on the back, below the 19-megapixel camera – and it will be unlocked on all devices including those purchased in the US.
It probably isn’t much of surprise, but Sony has ditched the headphone jack. The package will include a dongle in the box and Sony will also sell an accessory that lets you listen and charge simultaneously. However, this is unlikely to console those of you who continue to hope that the doomed jack lives on. Despite the omission of the 3.5 port, Sony is continues to focus on sound, offering support for LDAC and Hi-Res audio.
One of the quirkier features of the Xperia XZ2 is a completely new vibration engine (nattily labelled ‘Sony Dynamic Vibration System’). In some ways it’s similar to the haptic engine inside a Dualshock 4 PS4 controller. There’s now a much more pronounced rumble when you receive a notification, and this feature can also be used when you’re playing games and viewing films.
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I played a demo of Angry Birds with it turned on (it’s off by default) and the phone did a good job of rumbling about when something relevant happened on-screen. I can see a use for gaming, but it felt super-odd with video and music. Do I want my phone to vibrate in all manner of ways when I’m watching the trailer for Jumanji? After trying it out briefly, I’d say no. Thankfully, this feature can be customised and tweaked to only burst into life in certain apps.
Previous XZ phones have shipped with screens of about 5.1 inches, but Sony has been able to up that here thanks to the reduction of the bezel. The XZ2 is about the same size as the XZ1, but the screen is 13% larger at 5.7 inches.
The LCD panel itself is lovely: bright, colourful and it offers support for HDR. It will even try to upscale SDR content to HDR; the results were mixed, however. At least proper HDR viewing through sources such as Amazon and Netflix is supported.
You’ll also be able to watch content shot on the phone, since there’s support for 4K HDR recording. You can toggle this on and off in the camera app – important, since there are likely be some compatibility issues with HEVC format in certain apps – and the results looked pretty good.
Colours were noticeably brighter and the dynamic range far better, but it did seem to oversaturate certain parts of the image. I’ll put this down to early software, and revisit it when I have a retail sample in for review. The HDR footage is captured with 10-bit depth and BT.2020 colour, both of which are impressive for a phone. For comparison, typical FHD video captures 8-bit colour and BT.709 colour.
You’ll also be able to shoot in 960fps slow-mo but this is no longer limited to 720p; instead it’s 1080p. Saying that, you’ll still only be able to turn about 3 seconds of video into this slow-mo format.
The rest of the camera is similar to last year: 19-megapixel sensor with added memory, 3D facial scans and predictive capture. That 3D stuff has been added to the 5-megapixel selfie camera, too – but it’s still super gimmicky in my view.
Sony did say that is has worked with Qualcomm to build a new ISP that will be exclusive to the Xperia XZ series, but I’ll need to spend more time with the phone to evaluate the impact on pictures – and whether they can match those of the iPhone X and Google Pixel 2. Improvements include reduced noise, better low-light performance and superior colour reproduction.
Other specs include a Snapdragon 845 mobile platform to keep things running, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. If you plan to shoot HDR video then you’ll probably want to utilise the microSD slot, which now supports cards up to 400GB.
NFC, Bluetooth 5.0 and Qi wireless charging are all onboard, too. The body of the XZ2 is IP68-rated for water-resistance and there’s a 3180mAh battery inside. Android 8 Oreo will come as standard, but with Sony’s slightly old-fashioned skin, which is a bit clunky and jammed with Sony’s own duplicate apps. It’s ugly in the same way Huawei’s EMUI is.
I’ve long criticised Sony for playing it safe with its Xperia phones, offering a boring design and a middling camera. With the XZ2, at least one of those concerns has been addressed.
The new vibration motor is intriguing, the 4K HDR recording neat, and the phone’s audio sounds excellent. If the camera manages to match up to its lofty ambitions then Sony could, and probably should, have a big hit on its hands.