Sony XZ2 is superb as you would suspect (review)

The Sony XZ2 is superb in every way except one – it is a slippery little Sony.

I am not kidding. Place it on an apparently flat fabric couch or glass table, and it will eventually slide off all on its own. It is a by-product of the smooth curved glass back, so I turned it over. Sure enough, the highly polished front glass eventually succumbed to gravity and slid off as well. Buy a case!

That is the worst thing I can say. This is a true flagship class phone that matches comers like Samsung’s S9 and Huawei’s P20 feature for feature. And there is a 5-inch Compact version as well.

Specifications: Sony XZ2 Australian Model H8266 (Dual sim 4GB)

(Compact differences are shown)

Note: Other models not for Australia include H8216 (single sim), H8276 (unknown) and H8296 (Dual sim 6GB)

Screen 5.7-inch, 2160 x 1080, 424ppi, 18:9, IPS LCD covered in Gorilla Glass 5 front and back. 76.1% S-T-B-R
(Compact: 5-inch, 2160 x 1080, 483ppi, 18:9, IPS LCD covered in Gorilla Glass 5, polycarbonate back. 73.5% S-T-B-R)
Both screens have Triluminos Display, X-Reality Engine, HDR BT.2020
Processor 10nm Qualcomm SDM845 Snapdragon 845, eight-core
GPU Adreno 630
RAM RAM/Storage: 4GB; 64GB UFS (48GB usable); microSD to 400GB (second sim slot), OTG
Rear Camera 19 MP (f/2.0, 25mm, 1/2.3″, 1.22µm)
IMX400 ExmorRS, Motion Eye camera, predictive phase detection (PDAF) and laser autofocus, LED flash, 8x digital zoom, 960fps super slo-mo
SteadyShot with Intelligent Active Mode (5-axis stabilisation – note this is electronic, not optical image stabilisation)
[email protected] HDR recording
3D Creator
Front Camera 5 MP (f/2.2, 23mm, 1/5″), gyro EIS, 1080p
Comms Wi-Fi AC, dual-band, Wi-Di, Google Cast, DNLA
Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX HD and LDAC support
NFC
USB 3.1 (Gen 1 5Gb/s)
Sound Stereo speakers (earpiece and concealed bottom front)
S-Force surround and Dynamic vibration system (not on Compact)
Dual mic with ANC and stereo recording
USB-C to 3.5mm adapter
IP Rating IP 65/68 (1.5m water for 30 minutes)
Other Fingerprint sensor on the rear – fast but not intuitively placed
Dual sim (second for microSD)
PS4 remote play
Battery 3,180mAh, USB-C, 5VC/1.5A standard charger supplied.
Compatible with Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 at extra cost, Qi wireless charge (Qi Charge pad required), Qnovo adaptive charging, USB power delivery.Endurance rating 88 hours.
LTE Cat 18, 1.2Gb/s; World phone bands; supports VoLTE
Dimensions 153 x 72 x 11.1 mm x 198g
(Compact: 135 x 65x 12.1mm x 168g)
OS Android 8.x
Colours XZ2 Liquid black, Liquid silver, Deep Green, Ash Pink
XZ2 Compact Black, Moss Green, Coral Pink, White Silver
(not all may be available)
Missing 3.5mm audio jack but USB-C to 3.5mm adapter provided
Price XZ2 $1099 from Sony online  or major retailers
XZ2 Compact $949 from Sony online or major retailers
Website XZ2  website
XZ2 Compact website

In the box – Sony XZ2 Model H8266

Sony XZ2

  • 4/64GB Sony XZ2
  • Standard USB-C charger 5V/1.5A (QuickCharge 3.0 is an optional extra)
  • USB-C to USB-A cable
  • USB-C to 3.5mm adaptor (optional EC270 Y-type USB-C with pass-through power on website)
  • Sony standard earbuds/mic (Hi-Res buds/phones required for Hi-Res playback)

The first impression is a sleek, svelte, glossy, glass slab with a curved back. It is an incredible fingerprint magnet and very slippery. Hence my earlier warning to get a case.

It exudes Sony quality and a perfect finish. Sony is desirable again.

But that was not always the case

Sony XZ2Several years ago, the company had a £3bn loss and steadily lost ground. Reports state that it sold 33 million smartphones way back in 2012 and now it is around half that.

It has been a long time in ‘catching’ up to Samsung. Sure, it has made some exciting phones, 4K screens, and more but the je ne sais quoi (unaccountable) Sony factor has been lacking. It is back with a definite attitude as to what is good for smartphones.

For example, it has not slavishly followed the dual camera craze. One lens with the right Sony image sensor and the Qualcomm 845’s impressive image processing power is all it needs to get top images.

It has added a Dynamic Vibration (haptic feedback) system that helps improve multi-media experiences. It uses the Sony LDAC codec for streaming up to 990 kbit/s at 24bit/96khz.

If you use the excellent Sony WI-1000X earbud or WH-1000XMS headphones you can hear the difference.

It has also managed to add considerable value in providing a full suite of diagnostics and Xperia

  • Transfer mobile Android, iOS, Windows and Other via Wi-Di, Cloud or SD card
  • Assist – actions, settings, stamina mode, battery care, smart cleaner
  • Actions, Good night, focus, commute, gaming, abroad customise to what you are doing

Overall it is a complete Sony flagship. It even has Qi charging. Although I had trouble with some Qi chargers – uses Sony’s.

Screen

I can forgive Sony for using an IPS LCD because it is a great screen. I can forgive them for only going FHD+ (2160 x 1080) because even other brands of so-called 4K screens default to this for power management. In other words, it took a tried and tested route here.

Screen brightness is good – over 600 nits. Contrast is over 1800:1. Blacks are average – not inky as only OLED can do. Still, it is an improvement over the XZ Premium, and I thought that screen was pretty good too.

Sunlight legibility is OK. You will find the best setting for all conditions is 100% brightness.

Colour accuracy depends on the pre-set although there is always a slightly cold tint.

  • Standard (TRILUMINOUS) adapts and shows what it thinks you want to see
  • Professional sRGB (quite close to real colours – lacks punch)
  • Super-vivid oversaturated (Asians love this)

The screen is HDR certified for 10-bit colour to the BT.2020 standard. Of course, HDR is dependent on content from the likes of Netflix. The Advanced X-Reality engine will upscale 720/1080 content – it does a reasonable job.

Sound

Sony has an earpiece speaker and what appears to be a concealed speaker below the lower bezel. It uses S-Force surround sound (more marketing terms) but does a reasonable job at spatial separation.

Add to that the Dynamic Vibration system (think of it as haptic feedback linked to the lower bass registers) and you have an enhanced viewing experience. This is not a feature of the Compact.

In our tests the ringer volume exceeded 78dB. Voice, e.g. hands-free was 66dB and music was just over 70dB. It was clear, but we could have done with more volume.

To put this in perspective, a Google Pixel 2 XL records almost identical scores. But it is a fair way off 70/80/90db that some flagships achieve.

Putting sheer volume aside the XZ2 has a terrific flat frequency response from 20Hz-10Khz with low total harmonic distortion. Coupled with an LDAC Sony headset, it produced some of the clearest music from a smartphone that I have ever heard.

Battery

The 3,180mAh battery lasted about one day of hard testing. That means up to two of normal use.

But come on Sony – why save a few lousy dollars by providing a standard 5V/1.5A charger that takes ages to recharge (try 3.5 hours!). Fortunately, I have a Qualcomm 3.0 Quick Charger (Thanks Samsung, Nokia et al.) and you can get 45% in 30 minutes – 100% takes about 1.5 hours.

Qi charging was good – it uses 9W charging (5W to 15W will work). I had issues with a range of Qi charger pads simply because of the slippery glass curved back. Just make sure there is a non-slip rubber surface for safety.

Sony also has software based Qnovo adaptive charging analytics. This is battery care to prolong battery life. It takes some time, days to months, to kick in.

Video and GPS use will severely drain the battery. During 4K HRD tests we went from 100% to 25% in four hours, and the phone got quite hot.

Performance

The new 10nm Qualcomm 845 is a fantastic chip. It is quite an advancement over the 835 regarding speed, power management, video performance (30% more) and using all the advances in Sony Exmore camera sensors. Any phone with an 845 will give great performance.

And it matches the Samsung S9 (with the 845) on multi-core performance. It is a little behind on single-core meaning Sony has some more tuning to do. And I am sure it will.

I was surprised that it came with 4GB RAM (some markets get 6GB) and 64GB UFS storage but the 400GB micro-SD support compensates.

Camera

Other flagships and even mid-range phones have gone dual or even triple cameras. Sony has stuck to the single rear camera a.k.a. Google Pixel 2.

The IMX400 Exmor Rs is a triple-layer-stacked, 19.1MP, 1.22 μm sensor supporting PDAF and Laser autofocus with 1GB memory. That allows it to take multiple stacked images and combine for the best one. Maximum res is 19MP, 5056 x 3792 in 4:3 and 17MP, 5,504 x 3,096. It is impressive in the amount of detail it is can collect.

It is the same sensor used in last year’s Xperia XZ Premium. This sensor enables [email protected] super slo-mo due to it being able to read the full 19MP in under 1/120 second.

While it can do [email protected] HDR, it is far more flexible at [email protected] where the sensor has the power to spare.

Coupled with the Qualcomm Spectra 280 ISP, this is a top-drawer single lens solution with one caveat. Gyro EIS is not as good as optical image stabilisation, and blur was evident in many shots. You get far better results with a tripod or by taking more care.

We test everything on full auto so here goes.

Daylight – overcast

Realistic colours, good detail and dynamic range. Sony’s BIONZ processing algorithm is hard at work reducing noise. The result is that is it easy to take a great photo.

It is quite a wide-angle lens yet captures great details. On my colour calibrated screen I can blow the image up 200% and before it starts to become pixelated.

Images sizes are large – nearly 9MB. The below was at ISO40, f/2.0 and 1/640s.

Sony XZ2

Indoors office light

The image below is 5.12MB. It was at ISO80, f/2.0 and 1/50s. Even though there was office lighting, it was a dull day outside, so ambient light was lower.

Sony XZ2

 

Colours, especially the red Sodoku book are very accurate. There is fine detail in the dog fur and even lighting sans flash.

Indoor low light

Sony XZ2

Here ISO bumps up to 250, f/2.0 and 1/16second exposure. The 1.22 μm pixels are not overly large, so it’s relying a lot on post-processing. Colours are muted but accurate. It picks up the ribbon bar of the Word document on the screen but burns out the text. I later reshot with manual settings and could see traces of text.

Overall its low-light performance is better than the XZ Premium. I shot the same images on the Huawei P20 Pro, Google Pixel 2 XL, and Samsung S9+. As far as my [trained] eye can see they are all pretty good.

Panorama

3840 high. Good stitching.

Bokeh (changing focus)

Done post-processing as it does not use a second lens. This requires software to identify the main foreground image and blur the background. It is fine – not perfect.

Selfies

The 5MP, f/2.2 lens is OK but lacking autofocus; the results are average. Colours and detail are excellent.

Video

Sony espouses that it has 1080p/960fps super slo-mo but its only for a fraction of a second. I found the timing to tight to take useful shots and went back to 720p to get more frames.

The 4K recording was interesting. It looked good on the Sony display, but all I could get was [email protected] Colour was good, but the detail was not as sharp as I expected. I later found that there no post-processing sharpening in video.

[email protected] is extremely good with EIS kicking in, HDR active and good post-processing.

Camera summary: As good as it gets with current technology. The Sony XZ2 does a remarkable job for a single lens.

Android

It has Android 8.x. Sony has overlaid its UI, and that adds value without taking away from Android. Android 9 is on its way.

Sony offers a large range of its apps. I did not test them.

GadgetGuy’s take – yes, I am taken with the Sony XZ2

This is the Sony that renews my confidence in the brand. It can make a desirable flagship that I would be happy to own. I am not keen on the ‘ambient flow’ glass, but as I always use a case, it is not an issue.

It’s time to march into JB Hi-Fi and compare the Samsung S9, Huawei P20 Pro, Google Pixel 2 (well wait for the Pixel 3) and HTC U12 Pro. My gut feel is that it will make the final two cut then your heart takes over. Great job Sony.

If you want a smaller 5-inch phone, the Sony XZ2 Compact is just as good sans Dynamic Vibration and a glass back cover.

Pro

  • Above average camera – Motion Eye Mark II
  • 2020 HDR colour space and 18:9 screen
  • Dynamic Vibration enhances the viewing experience
  • Qi charge
  • IP65/68 certified
  • Good battery life

Con

  • Way to slippery – you feel like it will slip out of your hand
  • No fast charger supplied – tightwads
  • No 3.5mm jack (adapter supplied)
  • I gave up trying to capture good slo-mo
  • Selfie camera is meh!
  • The fingerprint scanner is a little too low down – you have to be careful
  • No OIS on the camera. Intelligent Active Steady Shot works but not as well

Ratings

  • Overall: 4.4  out of 5
  • Features: 4.5 out of 5 – got it all expect OIS
  • Value for Money: 4.5 out of 5 – a tad below comparable flagships
  • Performance: 4.5 out of 5 – No lag
  • Ease of Use: 4.5 out of 5 – You will need to learn EMUI
  • Design: 4 out of 5 – slippery little Sony XZ2