Sony’s Xperia XZ2 brings 4K, HDR video recording to smartphones, but is this the new flagship to beat?

Pros
Excellent new design
Superb performance
Long-lasting battery life
Cons
Framerate issues with 4K HDR recording

Sony isn’t afraid to push boundaries when it comes to its smartphones. IP-rated waterproofing, 4K displays, 960fps video capture and gigabit download speeds are just a few of the many innovations that Sony can claim to have introduced to the market – and there’s another on the way.

Sony’s Xperia XZ2, announced at this year’s MWC, is the first smartphone to offer proper 4K, HDR video recording. It also adds Full HD slow-motion video capture to the roster, as well as 3D facial capture for the selfie camera – and an 18:9 display, too.

Sony Xperia XZ2 review: What you need to know

The Xperia XZ2 is Sony’s latest flagship smartphone. Designed to go toe to toe with Samsung’s Galaxy S9 and Apple’s iPhone X, this phone is equipped with the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor – the same chip powering most of 2018’s flagship handsets – with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of expandable storage via microSD.

It has a fresh new look, complete with an 18:9 display on the front and, as I said above, its 19-megapixel rear camera is capable of shooting 4K, HDR video and 960fps slow-motion footage at Full HD resolution – two feathers in Sony’s mobile cap.

Sony Xperia XZ2 review: Price and competition

The price of £699 is exactly what you’d expect for a flagship smartphone. You might think it’s a little steep – especially considering its predecessor was £100 cheaper only six months ago – but don’t let that fool you: the Xperia XZ2 is every bit a flagship device, and these new features may be worth the added price.

At this price, the XZ2 faces firm competition from Samsung’s Galaxy S9 (£739), Huawei’s P20 (£599) and, if iOS is more your thing, Apple’s iPhone 8 (£699).

Sony Xperia XZ2 review: Design

After the harsh, box-like design of Sony’s recent smartphones, the XZ2 brings a welcome reprieve on the design front. Sony says that with its latest handsets, it’s time for – brace yourself – “ambient flow”.

That may be gobbledygook, but there’s no denying that the XZ2 is an absolute stunner, with an aluminium unibody design that calls to mind last year’s Nokia 8 – complete with a slightly curved rear and softly rounded edges and corners. It fits comfortably in your palm, and it won’t make an enemy of your jean pockets, either.

What’s more, as with HTC’s U11 Plus, the mirror-finish back is subtly reflective. Depending on your choice of colour – you can choose from liquid black, liquid silver, petrol blue and ash pink – it can be a dazzling sight when your handset catches the light.

Elsewhere, the volume rocker, power button and dedicated camera shutter button sit side b side on the right edge, with a microSD card and nano-SIM tray on the left. Cast your eyes downward and you’ll spot the solitary USB Type-C port for charging; alas, there’s no 3.5mm headphone jack.

On the back, the rear camera sits above a circular fingerprint reader (on previous Sony phones this was embedded in the right-hand power button, but no longer). The phone is IP65/68 rated for dust and water resistance, and Gorilla Glass 5 protects both the front and back.

Sony Xperia XZ2 review: Display

The real centre of attention, of course, is the 5.7in, 2,160 x 1,080 display. The XZ2 – and its smaller cousin, the XZ2 Compact – represent Sony’s first foray into 18:9 screens. It helps that the display is bright and clear and, technically speaking, is exactly what we’d expect to find on a flagship phone.

It’s so bright, in fact, that the Xperia XZ2 is positively dazzling. A max brightness of 590cd/m2 is more than suitable for even the brightest of sunny days, and you’ll never have to squint at your phone again.

As for colour accuracy, the XZ2 is perfectly poised in that department, too. An sRGB colour gamut coverage of 89.1% – as measured on the phone’s “professional” display setting by our X-Rite colour calibrator – is as good as any flagship screen, and an average Delta E of 1.79 points at a display that’s well worth your time.

Image of Sony Xperia XZ2 Dual SIM, 4GB RAM, 64GB UFS internal memory - UK SIM-Free Smartphone - Liquid Black (Exclusive to Amazon) [UK]

Sony Xperia XZ2 Dual SIM, 4GB RAM, 64GB UFS internal memory – UK SIM-Free Smartphone – Liquid Black (Exclusive to Amazon) [UK]

£629.00

Sony Xperia XZ2 review: Performance and battery life

Inside, you’ll find Qualcomm’s latest flagship processor, the Snapdragon 845. This is a 10nm octa-core chip, with four “efficiency cores” running at 1.8GHz and four more powerful cores running at 2.8GHz. You’ll find it powers most of 2018’s flagships, and here it’s paired with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of onboard storage, expandable up to 400GB via microSD.

It probably won’t surprise you to hear, then, that this is one speedy handset. In fact, as this is the first top-end Snapdragon 845-equipped smartphone to reach our offices, there’s very little in the way of competition when it comes to raw processing grunt. At the time of writing, only Apple’s iPhone X nudges ahead. Here’s what the XZ2’s CPU and GPU performance figures represent when placed against its rivals:

Battery life hasn’t taken a hit either, with the XZ2 outperforming key rivals like the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Huawei Mate 10 Pro in our video-rundown test. You can see how the XZ2 fared in the chart below, but in real-world figures you can expect roughly a day and a half’s use on a single charge.

Sony Xperia XZ2 review: Camera

Another exciting thing about the Snapdragon chip is its implications for photography. The XZ2’s 19-megapixel camera is basically the same as last year’s XZ1, with electronic image stabilisation (EIS) and predictive phase-detection and laser autofocus – but thanks to the Snapdragon 845 (and a new image signal processor), the XZ2 can also now record 4K HDR video footage.

And there’s no doubt the quality of the footage captured in this shooting mode is exceptional. Scenes are richly coloured and perfectly exposed, especially with HDR enabled. However, this serious bump in quality isn’t without fault.

The issue is with the video’s choppy frame rate. Unfortunately, like its pint-sized alternative, the XZ2 suffers from some seriously inconsistent frame drops when shooting video in 4K with HDR enabled. It doesn’t reflect well on Sony’s hallmark feature.

Still, the XZ2 is also capable of capturing 960fps footage at Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) resolution, rather than being limited to 720p as the XZ1 was. Sony’s slightly finicky 3D-capture tech, meanwhile, has also been upgraded, so you can now use the 5-megapixel selfie camera to create a 3D image of your face.

When it comes to camera stills, Sony’s latest flagship is a perfectly capable Instagram companion. Shots taken outdoors with plenty of light are excellent, picking up plenty of detail in neighbouring brickwork in our test shots, and wispy cloud layers, too. The 19-megapixel camera suffers in low-light conditions, however, with noticeable visual noise obscuring finer details.

Image of Sony Xperia XZ2 Dual SIM, 4GB RAM, 64GB UFS internal memory - UK SIM-Free Smartphone - Liquid Black (Exclusive to Amazon) [UK]

Sony Xperia XZ2 Dual SIM, 4GB RAM, 64GB UFS internal memory – UK SIM-Free Smartphone – Liquid Black (Exclusive to Amazon) [UK]

£629.00

Sony Xperia XZ2 review: Verdict

Successfully combining top-end specs with a new design and long-lasting battery life, the XZ2 is an appealing biannual upgrade. Sony’s flagship would have been a shoo-in, though, if it weren’t for the egregious issues with its video capabilities.

That’s a shame. Not only was I impressed at the phone’s MWC launch, but at £699 the XZ2 was shaping up to be a well-priced choice. As it stands, Sony’s latest flagship doesn’t do quite enough to justify buying over Samsung’s Galaxy S9.

Hardware
Processor Octa-core 2.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
RAM 4GB
Screen size 5.7in
Screen resolution 2,160 x 1,080
Screen type IPS
Front camera 5-megapixel
Rear camera 19-megapixel
Flash LED
GPS Yes
Compass Yes
Storage (free) 64GB
Memory card slot (supplied) microSD
Wi-Fi 802.11ac
Bluetooth 5.0
NFC Yes
Wireless data 4G
Dimensions 153 x 72 x 11.1 mm
Weight 198g
Features
Operating system Android 8.0 Oreo
Battery size 3,180mAh

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