Advertisement


Sony Xperia XZ2 review: Modern touches, yet thick like a brick

by Justin Herrick | June 10, 2018

The modern smartphone was ignored by Sony up until this year. With the introduction of the Xperia XZ2, the company shows it learned it should embrace what’s popular rather than stick to its history. The Xperia XZ2 ships with many qualities that you’d expect on a flagship released in 2018.

Sony always seemed out of touch with the direction of the mobile industry. The Xperia XZ2 is different yet still not enough.

Unless you’re a longtime fan, the Xperia XZ2 probably won’t earn your consideration. That’s understandable because, over the years, Sony’s mobile devices have faded into obscurity. While there’s some loyalty left in Europe and Asia, the brand’s mobile division is borderline nonexistent in the United States.

Though the Xperia XZ2 deserves to be acknowledged, the phone comes with errors too big to get by. Sony’s struggles are puzzling, too, because the company is so successful in other businesses. Sony made a better flagship, but the Xperia XZ2 is far from the best flagship.

Advertisement

Sony retooled itself, shifting from an industrial to an elegant viewpoint. The design language, known as Ambient Flow, offers smoothness and curves as key elements. In reality, the Xperia XZ2 isn’t on the same level as the iPhone X and the Galaxy S9. Sony’s Xperia XZ2 looks, well, plain.

The top and bottom bezels are significantly smaller than ever, which is an instant win. Sony’s always been laughed out for putting massive foreheads and chins on its phones. So the Xperia XZ2 easily outshines its predecessors. There’s also a curved backside to make the phone sit comfortably in your hands. What weighs down the Xperia XZ2, unfortunately, is that it’s literally weighing you down.

Not only does the Xperia XZ2 feel like a brick but it also looks like one. Sony’s flagship is large and in charge, weighing in at 198g. Google’s Pixel 2 XL carries like a feather compared to this phone despite being larger overall.

The frame is made of anti-warping aluminum, so at least you won’t bend it in your skinny jeans. You’ll know it’s there, though. The Xperia XZ2’s is bottom-heavy and noticeably so. The thickness, too, is obvious. Why is the Xperia XZ2 is built like a brick? That answer seems unexplainable.

Up front and around the back, meanwhile, Sony tapped Corning for Gorilla Glass 5. Once again, durability is at the forefront. Still, the all-glass back made me anxious about collecting scratches and fingerprints.

Sony brought back its usual rotation of buttons. The positioning is weird, though. While the power button is in the dead center of the right side, the volume rocker all the way near the top. If you’re moving fingers from one to the other, be prepared to shift the phone around in your hand. The stickiness of the glass back doesn’t help.

What I absolutely can’t get over is the awful placement of the rear camera and fingerprint scanner. Most phones have them in the top half or no lower than the second quarter. Sony moved those two components into a spot where your hands and fingers normally are.

Your index finger obstructs the view of the lens if taking a photo or video in portrait mode. Sony defends the decision by saying it’s more comfortable for landscape mode, but this seriously disregards portrait mode like Snapchat and selfies don’t exist. Mind you, it also makes the fingerprint scanner impossible to touch intuitively.

The Xperia XZ2 represents a massive step forward for Sony, and maybe that’s all we can ask for right now.

As uninspired and overweight as I find the phone, the Xperia XZ2 isn’t ugly. Sony’s last few flagships were ugly. This is merely average in appearance and heavy to hold. The Xperia XZ series now needs a strict diet along with a handful of cosmetic tweaks.

Advertisement

Any promotions you’ve seen for the Xperia XZ2 have pushed the phone as an entertainment-first product. It’s smart considering Sony’s experience in movies, television, and music. Sony allows its mobile devices to take advantage of technologies utilized elsewhere within the company. Starting with the display, the Xperia XZ2 lets you know the company’s Bravia televisions have influenced it.

Sony says the phone automatically upscales everything on the display with “movie-quality contrast, clarity, and color.” To my surprise, the company wasn’t kidding around. Anything you watch on the Xperia XZ2 dazzles in richness.

The Xperia XZ2 features a 5.7-inch Full HD+ (2160×1080) IPS LCD display. LCD panels can turn out lifeless results, but colors on this particular panel are deep. That’s because Sony included high dynamic range (HDR), the X-Reality Mobile Engine, and Triluminous color-mapping.

There are pluses beyond the display on the entertainment side, and some of them you can’t find anywhere else.

Sony’s Xperia XZ2 ships with the Dynamic Vibration System. Inside the phone, there’s actually a larger-than-usual motor that responds to videos and music. The Xperia XZ2 takes audio data and rumbles its body so you feel what you’re seeing and hearing.

Throw in the stereo speakers with the company’s S-Force technology, and you’re in for an immersive experience. The Dynamic Vibration System impressed because, honestly, I thought it came off as gimmicky at launch. It’s strange using while listening to music, but for videos and gaming the feedback is enjoyed. You do feel more engaged with your content when the Dynamic Vibration System starts rumbling the phone in specific areas.

The problem, however, is that not every app will activate the Dynamic Vibration System. It would’ve been great if Sony was able to have it live for every app, but life isn’t that easy. Third-party apps need updating on behalf of Xperia XZ2 owners.

Between the Snapdragon 845 and 4GB of memory, the Xperia XZ2 doesn’t sweat under pressure. The phone jumps between apps and opens new ones at lighting-fast speed. Based on everything I’ve used recently, the Xperia XZ2 seems to be among the fastest phones available today.

Sony and Qualcomm should be applauded for unlocking such a snappy pace. Samsung’s Galaxy S9 is also quick, but the Xperia XZ2 gives a speed we often see only on Google’s and OnePlus’ phones. This is the type of optimization Qualcomm should give every partner.

Qualcomm’s top-of-the-line chip also improves efficiency. The 3180mAh battery seems puny when you remember heavy and thick the phone is, but it executes on the all-day battery life promised by Sony.

Sony ditched the headphone jack, so your USB-C port will be pulling double-duty. You do, however, get to enjoy wireless charging since the back is glass rather than metal.

When your Xperia XZ2 begs for juice again, grab a Quick Charge 3.0 charger. Before hitting desperation, you could also switch to Stamina Mode to extend use under limited circumstances. Both mean you can really stretch out battery life on a single charge and then recharge quickly to go again.

Advertisement

Sony stands with the dwindling number of companies who’ve resisted dual-camera setups. The Xperia XZ2 ships with a single 19MP lens, and it’s chock full of goodies to please any photographer.

You’re able to shoot in 4K HDR, capturing every detail as the naked eye sees it. Then there’s slow-motion, but it’s not capped at a paltry resolution. Sony’s Motion Eye technology lets you get slow-motion video in Full HD at 960 frames per second. Standard shots benefit from features like Predictive Capture and Autofocus Burst, their names telling you exactly what they do.

The Xperia XZ2’s Motion Eye camera was born from the company’s Alpha and Cybershot series. Sony tossed in Exmore RS, G Lens, and BIONZ. Marketing terms? Yes, but they have a purpose. Each results in faster and clearer shots in any environment.

As was the case with last year’s Xperia XZ1, the Xperia XZ2 doesn’t blow you away with stunning photos. They’re nice, but I prefer what the Pixel and iPhone pull off. From afar, things look fine. Up close, photos drastically lose quality.

Given the history Sony has in making cameras for film studios and everyday people, I was hoping the Xperia XZ2 would be a step above the field.

The software overlay on the Xperia XZ2 isn’t a grand departure from what we saw on the Xperia XZ1. Sony is using Android 8.0 Oreo, but there’s that same clash of colors and styles going on. Rather than making something bright and fluid, the software feels dark and dated.

Sony rocks a black and white theme in some areas, and then others are splashed with colors. It doesn’t make sense. The graphics and animations also remind me of Android’s pre-Material Design days.

The Xperia XZ2 does have its fair share of bloatware. Sony added nothing of value, and its 3D Creator app is an odd approach to promoting augmented reality. The phone’s cameras scan your face or any other object to recreate it and… that’s it. This is a lame ripoff of Apple’s Animoji and Samsung’s AR Emoji.

Another complaint I have is the lack of an always-on feature. The Xperia XZ2 will serve information at a glance when you pick up the phone but not on an around-the-clock basis. All flagships should show you the time, date, and notifications without having to turn on the display. Maybe this will be realized by Sony in six months when the Xperia XZ3 hits.

Those who do muster up the strength to pull the trigger on the Xperia XZ2 will be rewarded with Android P. After participating in the beta program, the upcoming version of Android should receive the major upgrade early on.

In 2018, Sony shows it’s making an effort. The Xperia XZ2 doesn’t look old, and we couldn’t say that about an Xperia-branded flagship for several years. But the phone also lacks a sleek and sexy profile. Sony’s released an outclassed flagship with unnecessary bulk.

The truth is that, after being pleasantly surprised by how refreshing the Xperia XZ2 seemed out of the gate, this isn’t a very good flagship. Sony outdid itself, but there’s no reason to choose the Xperia XZ2 over other flagships on the market.

Go with a brand who knows what consumers want and need, not a brand who only seems to listen to itself until it’s too late.

Think about the price, too. Sony’s flagship is $800, but the Galaxy S9 and Pixel 2 are less expansive. The OnePlus 6 is also hundreds of dollars cheaper. Sony is living a false reality. Samsung, Apple, and Google are in a league of their own, and the Xperia XZ2 is being forced to fight their flagships when it just doesn’t belong.

Editor’s Note: The Xperia XZ2 was provided by Sony, and TechnoBuffalo used it for approximately 2.5 weeks before returning the unit.

Advertisement


Advertisement


Justin Herrick

Justin is easily attracted to power buttons. His interest in technology started as a child in the 1990s with the original PlayStation, and two...Justin is easily attracted to power buttons. His interest in technology started as a child in the 1990s with the original PlayStation, and two...


Advertisement

Advertisement