With Samsung’s Galaxy S9 showing the rest how it’s done, Sony’s Xperia XZ2 has a lot to live up to. It can’t be another also-ran – it needs to be special in its own right. With that in mind, Sony has used it telly know-how to inform almost every aspect of the XZ2, betting the house on High Dynamic Range, with a ‘world-first’ boast as the first smartphone to capture 4K HDR video. So does the HDR ‘wow factor’ truly translate into the palm of your hands? Click through to find out.
With its new ‘Ambient Flow’ design, the XZ2 is the best-looking Xperia phone to date, with a curved back panel that means it tapers at the edges to nuzzle more easily into your hand. It’s also the most durable, with a strong aluminium frame, IP65/68 water- and dustproofing and Gorilla Glass 5 front and back. That’s just as well, because it can be pretty slippery. The fingerprint scanner has been relocated to the back but it’s the same shape as the camera, so it’s easy to mix them up. It’s also a touch too low, so you might find yourself shifting your grip downwards to reach it.
The Xperia XZ2’s new 18:9 display means Sony has been able to squeeze an extra half-inch of screen in, up from 5.2in last year. Its 2160×1440 pixels also support HDR, but none of the compatible Netflix or Amazon content we tried to watch had the rich colours or detailed highlights you’d expect from HDR video. Skin tones looked good but the S9 still pips it on detail, colours and contrast.
So, is this 4K HDR video worth all the fuss? Results are impressive but Sony recommends turning off SteadyShot while using it, which introduces a lot of wobble to your shot. There’s also a 960fps slow-mo mode that now shoots in 1080p, although maximum length has been cut from six to three seconds. Just be sure to make sure your shots are well lit. The pics you’ll get from the XZ2’s 19MP snapper don’t quite match up to the S9 or Google’s Pixel 2 but it can still take great shots in the right circumstances, although in low light it suffers due to the lack of optical image stabilisation.
With Qualcomm’s octa-core Snapdragon 845 processor and 4GB RAM inside, the XZ2 blazes through every task you can throw at it – just moving around the menus feels slick.A 3180mAh battery will keep the phone going for a good day, unless you’re blitzing through 4K video and 3D gaming, with clever battery tech onboard to keep it going when you’re caught a bit short. You also get built-in wireless charging using the Qi standard, though as with most phones carrying this tech, you’ll need to fork out extra for the charging pad.
Ever wanted to create a 3D render of your own head using your phone? Not really? Well now you can! We struggled to get the XZ2’s 3D Creator to work effectively and the end result isn’t even animated. One to file in the drawer marked ‘disappointing’. There’s also a new Dynamic Vibration System, which injects haptic feedback into music, video and games for a more “immersive” experience. We turned it off for everything except gaming, where it can be quite effective. Just be prepared for it to have a knock-on effect on battery life.
The headphone port is nowhere to be found on the XZ2, which means you’re going to need a pair of wireless or USB-C compatible headphones to listen to your music, which it supports up to 24-bit/192kHz high resolution as usual. The stereo speakers here are better than ever, at least, and go louder, with Sony’s S-Force Front Surround Sound processing for a wider audio performance too. It works, and while the S9’s speakers are arguably weightier, they’re less detailed.
There’s no doubt that the Xperia XZ2 is easily Sony’s best phone to date. But as is so often the case with Sony’s handsets, its shortcomings are only emphasised by its competition’s ability to do everything that little bit better. While the Xperia XZ2 gets a thumbs-up for its improved design, powerful performance and great battery life, its camera performance puts its emphasis in the wrong place and its screen struggles to match up too. It might not be king of the kennel right now, but this Android underdog could finally be starting to biting back.