When Sony exec Hideyuki Furumi introduced the XZ2 and XZ2 Compact onstage at Mobile World Congress, he referred to them not as smartphones, but "entertainment devices." It's marketing-speak, obviously, but there are some design choices backing this classification up. Most notably, the XZ2's big 5.7-inch HDR display. It's an LCD panel, so blacks aren't OLED deep, but otherwise it's very pretty indeed, with rich, vibrant colors. It's paired with Sony's X-Reality engine, which "upscales" everything onscreen from normal dynamic range to HDR (if it isn't HDR already). Switching the enhancement mode on and off, you can see the extra contrast and depth it adds to, say, the latest Deadpool 2 trailer on YouTube. It definitely works, but it is quite subtle, so it's not something I expect people will be lining up to get their hands on.
The display doesn't hold up that well in direct sunlight. It seems the panel just doesn't have enough power available to it to completely eliminate glare on a bright day, but power is a precious commodity on the XZ2. The display absolutely hammers the battery, being responsible for around 70 percent of drain per charge, in my experience. The phone actually has a pretty big battery hidden beneath its glossy exterior, and I dare say that if it sat on a desk all day, you'd get perhaps a day and a half of mild use out of it. Maybe more. But obviously I've been playing around with it a lot, taking pictures, playing games and everything else you do to get really familiar with a new smartphone.
Every time the screen is on with the brightness cranked up, you can see the charge percentage ticking down like a clock (I'm exaggerating, but you get the idea). And, no, I haven't just been playing 3D games for hours and then gone searching for something else to blame the battery life on. Just having the viewfinder open to shoot the sample photos necessary for this review gulped down the best part of a charge. Naturally, there are modes that extend battery life, but if you're a power user, be prepared to charge the XZ2 regularly. The phone supports wireless charging, but I'd recommend plugging the thing into a wall to take advantage of fast charging. At low percentages, I was able to get a good 30 percent boost in only 20 minutes, so there's that at least.
Anyway, back to the entertainment. Hi-res audio support is a given -- Sony's been making a point of this for years now -- but not so common are the stereo speakers the XZ2 has up front. They're ... not good. They get real loud, but the highs are raspy, and the bass tones empty. It's fine for a YouTube clip or whatever, and only bus menaces play music out of their phones anyway.
Undeniably the XZ2's strangest feature is "Dynamic Vibration." What Sony's done, basically, is install an oversize haptic actuator, which is the vibrating component of the phone. Pair that with some software that turns audio in rumbles and you've got Dynamic Vibration. It doesn't work very consistently, though. Not all apps feed audio into Android in the same way, so only those that pass through the media volume channel can be remixed into vibrations. It doesn't work in Twitch unless there's some loud gunfire onscreen. Most games I've been trying are incompatible, too. I'd love it if the thing would rumble when I'm getting shot in the back in PUBG Mobile, but it doesn't. If for some reason you want numb hands in five minutes, you can turn the vibration setting to max and put on a bass-heavy track on YouTube. It's pretty damn gimmicky, though, especially when it's a coin flip as to whether an app uses the right type of audio.
This is where it gets interesting. Under the XZ2's hood is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, the best chip money can buy right now. It's the first phone I've played with in a while that completely encapsulates that new-computer feel -- when you turn a laptop on for the first time and everything is effortless and lightning fast. That's what using the XZ2 is like. Everything happens instantly and it all moves smooth as butter. Every game plays flawlessly at the highest possible settings. It never gets too hot. No gremlins, no crashes, no weirdness. As close to perfection as I've seen. That's all you need to know, really. And bear in mind that my review unit has only 4GB of RAM, not the 6GB some Asia-only XZ2 phones get.
Sometimes the skins that manufacturers layer on top of Android can slow things down a little, but that's not an issue here. Sony's augments to Android 8.0 Oreo are few, and mostly geared toward visual personalization, but there are a few duplicate apps, like Sony's own email client, gallery and video-specific gallery that needn't exist. I don't have much love for the pre-installed Xperia Lounge, AVG Protection, Kobo or Amazon apps either. Xperia Assist is quite handy, though, popping up whenever I was trying out new features like Dynamic Vibration to explain it to me by way of chatbot. Sony's additions are inoffensive on the whole.
Unfortunately, Sony has yet to provide me with concrete US pricing and availability details. What I do know is that the XZ2 goes on sale in the UK on April 6th for £699. Considering that it's not yet up for pre-order in the US, we can assume a slightly later launch -- late April/early May, perhaps -- and hazard a guess at roughly a $750 to $800 price tag. That assumption's based on both the UK price and the fact that Sony phones are typically on the expensive side no matter what kind of price band they fall into.
Obviously, there are a plethora of phones you can buy with this kind of money, but trust me when I say you want to put your dough toward a 2018 device with a Snapdragon 845 inside. The general user experience is too good to pass up. Now, the 845 party is going to get a lot more crowded as the year rolls on -- the LG G7, ASUS Zenphone 5Z and HTC U12 have been invited, to name a few -- but right now the Samsung Galaxy S9 is the nemesis of the Xperia XZ2. And that's where Sony might have a problem.
While I prefer the glossy look of the XZ2, the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus both carry better, higher-resolution displays than their Sony rival. They also have larger, 8-megapixel front-facing cameras for selfies and socials, and the S9 Plus comes with 6GB of RAM as standard, whereas the 6GB XZ2 is reserved for select Asian markets. What's more, features that are relatively unique to the S9 duo, such as variable aperture cameras and AR emoji, are things that resonate more with consumers than 4K HDR video recording.
The feature sets of all three phones are otherwise very similar, but when the S9 is $720, the S9 Plus is $840 and the XZ2 is probably somewhere in between, you really have to be sold on the design of the XZ2 to ignore the obvious shortcomings on the spec sheet.
There's always the Xperia XZ2 Compact, of course, which is almost exactly the same phone in a smaller, 5-inch package. You'll save yourself a good chunk of change downsizing, too. US pricing hasn't been confirmed, but in the UK the Compact will retail for £549 -- significantly cheaper than the £699 asking price of the XZ2.
The Xperia XZ2 has a number of desirable characteristics, but it's far from perfect. All that glass looks and feels beautiful, even if the fingerprint reader placement is a little off. The main camera takes pictures rich in detail and color. The HDR display is vibrant, but crank up the brightness and battery life really suffers. Performance-wise, it's faultless.
The features that really differentiate the XZ2 from its competition are easily overlooked, though: Dynamic Vibration, super-slow-mo at 1080p and 4K HDR video. These aren't things you are going to use very often, if at all.
Assuming a price of roughly $750 to $800 is accurate, the XZ2 is in danger of being overshadowed by the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus. I personally prefer the look of the XZ2, and you might too. But would you be happy spending the best part of a grand on one when you know there's something that little bit better out there for the same kind of money?