BUILD / DESIGN: 3/5
The build materials used on the XZ2 are comparable to many other flagships of this year. However, The XZ2’s back glass is more slippery than any other flagship phone I’ve used within the past few years. Part of that is due to the contour of the back, rather than having a flatter profile like other well-known flagships. I find that I have to be more diligent in ensuring that I don’t drop it. The phone’s edges look to be aluminum, but are so smooth that I can’t get a proper grip on the phone. This leads to a premium-feeling device that you must absolutely be careful with while holding.
The placement of the fingerprint sensor is unnatural—at least for most people familiar with rear fingerprint sensors. Usually the fingerprint sensor is placed in a natural position such that your finger will naturally rest on it when you pick up your phone to use it. I tried holding the XZ2 the same way I’d hold any other recent flagship phone, and found that my finger rested on the camera lens, whereas on most other phones, my finger would rest near/on the fingerprint sensor. This decision practically forces you to hold the phone a bit differently, as the fingerprint sensor AND the power button are shifted closer to the middle of the phone, rather than the top quartile. This decision could have been made to prevent your finger from hovering over the camera while holding the phone in landscape mode. Alternatively, it could be that Sony wants you to hold your phone differently so that you are less likely to drop it. Either way, I think they created new problems rather than solving problems with the design of this phone.
My first impression of the display used in the XZ2 is that I loved how the colors popped. The panel seems to be very close to the glass, so everything just pops out. Keep in mind, it is not an OLED display, so it won’t have the power-saving features and always-on display settings like other phones, but it is still a very good-looking display which claims to “convert everything to near High Dynamic Range (HDR).” The display is an 18:9 aspect ratio, but does not boast an impressive screen-to-body ratio compared to other 18:9 phones. The large chin at the bottom seems to be there for the purpose of showing the SONY logo. Really Sony? It’s 2018.
At the same time, this display might be a deal-breaker. From my tests, too much heat or pressure applied to the display will begin to show horizontal parallel lines running across the display (see my picture). This means that if you play games that require a lot of swiping, you may see this more than others. This artifact presents itself over lighter colors rather than black. That being said, the lines slowly disappear—how long it takes depends on how much pressure you applied to the display. Sony needs to take steps to improve quality control over their manufacturing process to prevent this issue in the future.
SOFTWARE / PERFORMANCE: 5/5
Sony is using the latest Snapdragon 845 with 4GB and during my tests after finishing the setup process, this phone is very fast. Default animation transitions are faster than stock Android, so things move very quickly. You can multitask and have quite a few apps open before Android decides to close apps.
As far as the UI skin is concerned, I don’t have any problems with it. I personally prefer stock Android, so I’ve decided to use my own launcher, but the only major changes are the launcher, Sony’s added apps (you can disable these), some additional third-party apps (which you can also disable), and some additional functionality added into the settings menu.
As far as Sony’s extra apps (not including camera app, album app, etc.) are concerned, some are gimmicky and not critical to the functionality of the device. I don’t feel as though I’ll gain much value through through using them, but if you want more information on them, here’s a small summary:
- Xperia Assist: Teaches you the functionality of the XZ2 and helps you set up Xperia Actions.
- 3D Creator: Scan real-life objects or your face. Share/print or use them in the AR effect app.
- AR effect: Snapchat-like 3D filters and AR playgrounds.
- Bokeh: Poorly-implemented Bokeh effect for portrait-mode style photos.
- Xperia Lounge: A newsstand for offers, vouchers, tips, movies, music, sports
- Movie Creator: Automatically creates movies for you and notifies you
- PlayStation: Available on any smartphone, this is good for PlayStation Network functionality.
I’m happy to say that the battery life for the XZ2 is good. I was able to get somewhere around 6 hours of battery life of mixed use. If I had to use this as my daily phone, I don’t think I’d have issues with it dying on me. The fast-charging AC adapter also helps give you a quick battery boost during the day. I have not tested the wireless charging technology, but I assume it’d work as expected—albeit probably not as fast wired charging with the included AC adapter.
There is also a STAMINA and ULTRA STAMINA mode under the battery settings. The normal STAMINA mode allows you to gain some additional use time by turning off some pre-defined features. The ULTRA STAMINA mode turns your phone into a basic phone with a limited set of core apps. Probably good for times when you go areas where you have no data but can call/text. That, or a night out when you’ve forgotten to charge your phone, the battery is low and you need to make sure you can get a hold of your group if you get separated.
As far as the camera is concerned, it’s not going to win awards. For the average person, it’s a decent camera and will get the job done for simple situations. However, the auto-focus isn’t as fast as its competitors, low-light photography generates more noise in photos when compared to other phones, and the Bokeh app is limited to 8MP, has poor edge detection and thus introduces a lot of artifacts into your portrait shots. Sony makes great camera sensors, but they don’t seem to utilize them effectively in their own smartphones. Lack of optical image stabilization (OIS) means videos are shaky and jittery while photos can come out blurrier, even despite Sony’s efforts to use electronic image stabilization (EIS). Other flagships are using OIS and in some cases, both OIS and EIS.
From my experience, you have to do more work than relying on auto-mode to take a memorable picture with the XZ2. They say the best camera is the one you have in your pocket, but in this case, I’d rather carry my bulky DSLR if my only alternative was the XZ2. I’ve used many other flagship phones where I felt auto-mode was all I needed and that my DSLR wasn’t necessary, but the XZ2 isn’t going to pull any instagram-worthy shots unless you’re more camera-savvy than the average person. If I feel like I have to work hard to get a great shot with the XZ2, I might as well bring a camera that I can really control. The XZ2’s camera is simply not up to par with 2018 flagships. The reality is that the average person is a bad photographer, and other modern flagship phones are making it substantially easier for the average person to take beautiful, noteworthy photos that could rival photos taken with much more expensive gear.
The XZ2 has a set of front-firing stereo speakers. They’re not as loud as some other phones, but they’re clear while avoid distorting/clipping. There’s a dynamic vibration feature which will listen to whatever audio you’re playing and the phone will vibrate with the bass frequencies. It’s there to seemingly replicate a subwoofer, but its effectiveness is going to depend heavily on what audio you’re listening to. In short, you won’t get vibrations for bass kicks as often as you will bass synths and bass guitars.
As for the headphone jack—there isn’t one. The DAC and Amplifier, however, are integrated into the XZ2, rather than the dongle, itself. The dongle is simply an analog passthrough to the XZ2’s internal DAC and Amp. From my testing with a few headphones ($200 to $1000), the audio quality was comparable to a 3.5mm dongle (with DAC/Amp in the dongle). That being said, it isn’t going to provide enough power to drive high-impedance headphones to higher volumes. So while I wish the XZ2 had an audiophile headphone jack, I’m glad that they at least included their own DAC/Amp which requires a cheaper passthrough dongle, rather than something more expensive.
OTHER ISSUES & NOTES:
- I’ve noticed some finicky behavior with the GPS while driving on the highway. I’ve lost GPS signal a few times, something I’ve not had happen with other phones.
- While on T-Mobile, I’ve had some issues getting data in some areas, but not in others. This could be something to do with new LTE-Advanced spectrum in my area. This is my first LTE-Advanced phone. That being said, I’m only getting about < 5Mbps download on LTE-Advanced.
- No Wi-Fi Calling (this is a serious deal-breaker for many)
- Dual SIM functionality is limited, as with many Dual-SIM phones. The XZ2 has only one modem, which both SIMs share. You can specify which SIM handles calling, texting and data. You can also have calls be forwarded from one SIM to the other while one SIM card is unreachable.
Given how many cons I’ve had to list against the XZ2, I simply cannot recommend it to someone looking for a new smartphone in 2018. At its MSRP, it has quite a few flaws that I think are difficult to overlook. I would still recommend quite a few smartphones from 2017 over this 2018 flagship, and that’s quite unfortunate. It just goes to show that Sony’s Xperia design team needs to focus on delivering a design with features that truly rival the competition.