Why you can trust Tom's Guide
Once in a blue moon, a product comes around that inexplicably dazzles me. Sony's Xperia XZ2 Compact is one such device.
On paper, the slimmed-down, 5-inch version of Sony's flagship Xperia XZ2 seems like a perfectly fine phone, but not markedly different from other Android handsets. When I picked up this phone for the first time, however, I fell in love. It's just so damn cute.
Cute isn't a convincing reason to spend $600-plus on anything, but this pint-size phone has a lot going on under the hood, too. If you hate the giant notched displays that almost every 2018 flagship sports, the XZ2 Compact is worth considering. It's basically the iPhone SE of the Android world.
Price and Availability
You can buy the XZ2 Compact unlocked through Amazon and Best Buy. The device debuted at $649, but you can find one for $50 less in certain colors.
Like its bigger sibling, the 5.7-inch XZ2, the Compact is available in only one variant, with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, though you can expand that to up to 400GB with a microSD card. You can choose from four colors: Moss Green (which I tested for this review), Black, Coral Pink and White Silver. The phone is compatible with networks from AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, but not Sprint.
Design: An iPhone SE for Android users
In a sea of 6-inch phones, the Xperia XZ2 Compact feels positively tiny, and that's a huge part of its charm.
The back is a comfortable curved plastic that still manages to feel high-end thanks to its frosted sheen. The Moss Green model I tested was more of a soft teal, with a slight gold tint in some lighting. Compared to the glassy 6-inch slabs that have dominated the market in recent years, the phone feels more comfortable to hold, at least if you have small hands. The Compact actually fits in my jeans pocket, which is a tiny miracle.
Every time I picked up the Compact, it reminded me of my very first iPhone, the 3GS. Sony's latest device has a bigger display compared to the 3.5-inch screen on that 3GS, and the new phone leaves off the home button, so that the screen real estate can extend closer to the chin of the device. But the curved plastic back and the fit of the phone in my hand remind me of a time when smartphones were fun; no two devices looked the same, and each one felt like an expression of your personality rather than a utilitarian device attached to your hip.
The fit of the XZ2 Compact in my hand reminds me of a time when smartphones were fun.
With the XZ2 and XZ2 Compact, Sony finally added functional fingerprint sensors to its U.S. smartphone lineup. On the larger device, the sensor is awkwardly placed, but I didn't have an issue on the smaller Compact. (People with larger hands may have to curve their pointer fingers to unlock their phones.)
Sony isn't trying to break the mold with the XZ2 Compact display, but the company isn't following the trends either.
There's no notch on the screen. Sony is one of the few smartphone makers that still slaps its logo on the bottom bezel, which I could do without, but at least it's not too obtrusive. And this phone's 18:9 aspect ratio makes playing games and watching videos a good experience, even on a smaller, 5-inch display.
The Compact has the same LCD panel as the larger XZ2, and this screen is nothing to write home about. It covers 160.2 percent of the sRGB color gamut and earned a Delta-E score of 0.32. (Delta-E numbers closer to zero mean the screen is more accurate.) The iPhone 8, which has a 4.7-inch LCD panel, covered 119.6 percent of the color gamut and notched a color-accuracy rating of 0.89.
The XZ2 Compact has the same LCD panel as the larger XZ2, and this screen is nothing to write home about.=
In terms of brightness, the Compact reached a perfectly fine 520 nits on our light meter, in line with the phone's LCD-based sibling, the XZ2. But in general, OLED panels are just better: Black levels are perfect, you'll see a wider range of hues, and some of these screens are even brighter than LCD panels, whose brightness has previously been the main selling point.
Going from a 6-inch display (or even the 5.5-inch screen on my iPhone 7 Plus) to a 5-inch one is a challenge. Video games aren't quite as immersive, and watching Queen Beyoncé and her husband, Jay-Z, take over the Louvre in their surprise music video wasn't quite as awe-inspiring as it would be on a larger screen.
The smaller on-screen keyboard also takes some getting used to if you're accustomed to typing on a larger device. It's depressing to think that a 5-inch phone is almost too small. How did we manage for so many years?
Camera: Decent, though selfies need work
The Compact has the same camera system as the larger XZ2, with all the benefits and drawbacks those lenses offer. (Read more in our XZ2 review.)
I compared the Compact to a similarly priced phone, the OnePlus 6, to see which midprice handset gives you better images for your buck. The Compact won in a landslide, even though the OnePlus sports a dual-lens system. You won't get Portrait mode with the XZ2, but you will get richer, clearer, more true-to-life photos.
I took both devices out on a floating bar near Brooklyn Bridge Park to capture the downtown Manhattan skyline. Not only does the XZ2 get more buildings in the frame, but also, the lights in each skyscraper are brighter than in the OnePlus 6's photo and the colors of the sky are more dramatic.
Both cameras fare better in daylight. In side-by-side captures of yellow lilies in my garden, the XZ2 brought the tallest stem into focus, and the greenery of the surrounding leaves was richer than in the OnePlus shot.
Neither camera excels at selfies, but the OnePlus' front-facing lens gave my face a blue tint. The XZ2's 5-megapixel shooter is underwhelming, but the late-afternoon light streaming in through my office window was more accurate in that shot.
Like other Sony handsets, the Compact has a dedicated button for opening the Camera app when you long press it with the phone unlocked. While it's not entirely necessary, the dedicated camera button is more useful than an AI assistant button that we will probably never use (looking at you, LG G7 ThinQ).
Sony put its super-slow-motion video feature in the Compact model, which is more of a novelty than a useful way to capture clips. If Sony improved its phones' front-facing lenses and maybe added a dual-lens system, we would love these phones a whole lot more.
Performance: Snapdragon wins again
Sony put the same cutting-edge Snapdragon 845 processor in the XZ2 Compact as it did in the larger XZ2, placing the Compact on par with some of the premium Android devices currently available. That CPU, combined with 4GB of RAM, allows the XZ2 Compact to run multiple apps and switch between them with ease.
Playing PUBG Mobile was a breeze, even as I accidentally parachuted into a river and had to frantically swim to shore. As I procured weapons in abandoned homes and tried to figure out who was shooting at me, I noticed that the XZ2 Compact doesn't grow uncomfortably warm when you're playing this graphically intensive game, like other phones do (even flagships such as HTC's U12+).
Qualcomm's Snapdragon 845 CPU, combined with 4GB of RAM, allows the XZ2 Compact to run multiple apps and switch between them with ease.
On the Geekbench 4 test of overall system performance, the Compact's score of 8,485 can easily go toe to toe with Sony's flagship XZ2 (8,449). The Compact is light years ahead of Google's Pixel 2, which scored 6,282 in our benchmarking tests thanks to an older Snapdragon 835 processor. The $579 OnePlus 6 with 8GB of RAM scored 9,098 on Geekbench. (We didn't test the 6GB model, but it's even more affordable, at $529.)
On 3DMark's Sling Shot Extreme graphics benchmark, the Compact edged out the bigger XZ2 on the OpenGL ES 3.1 segment of the test, with a score of 4,699 versus 4,672. It couldn't quite match the cheaper OnePlus 6, which reached 5,124.
The Compact sailed through our real-world video-editing test, exporting a 2-minute 4K clip in Adobe Premiere in 2:35. That's faster than the Pixel 2 (2:55) and the OnePlus 6 (3:45), though the A11 Bionic-powered iPhone 8 remains the champ here, with a 42-second result.
Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact Specs
|Android Oreo 8.0
|Screen Size (Resolution)
|5-inch LCD (2160 x 1080)
|Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
|Battery Life (Hrs:Mins)
|Black, White Silver, Moss Green, Coral Pink
|5.3 x 2.6 x 0.5 inches
Battery: Better than average
Where many phones fall short is battery life, but Sony's XZ2 Compact easily outlasts more-expensive handsets.
In the Tom's Guide Battery Test, which involves continuous web-surfing over T-Mobile's LTE network, the Compact lasted 10 hours and 39 minutes. Compared to the smartphone average of 9:48, that's a respectable performance.
Where many phones fall short is battery life, but Sony's XZ2 Compact easily outlasts more-expensive handsets.
The Compact's battery isn't quite impressive enough for this device to finish among the longest-lasting smartphones. Other handsets, including the larger XZ2 (11:47) and Google's Pixel 2 (11:07), can last longer on a charge, but the Compact can almost match Samsung's Galaxy S9 (10:59).
Like the XZ2, the Compact helps helps your battery last longer with two software features: Qnovo Adaptive Charging and Battery Care. The former monitors your phone's battery health when you plug the device in, and the latter learns your charging habits and tops off your battery only when it knows you're about to unplug the phone. The device also supports quick charging, but not wireless charging.
Software: None of the XZ2's annoyances
What we didn't love about the XZ2 were its gimmicky software features, specifically the Dynamic Vibration system that makes haptic feedback extra strong. The Compact model doesn't have that, and it's better for lacking the feature.
The phone ships with Android Oreo 8.0 layered under Sony's skin. This OS is a little dated — OK, a lot dated — but rumor has it that Sony has a UI redesign planned for Android P's launch later this year. The XZ2 is slated to be upgraded to the latest version of Android, and we expect the Compact model will be, too.
It's hard to pinpoint why I'm smitten with the XZ2 Compact. Sure, it offers great performance and solid battery life, and it takes nice photos. But that's not unusual for a premium phone.
What really appeals to me is the way it feels. Today, too many smartphones are glassy slabs you couldn't pick out of a lineup. The XZ2 Compact isn't trying to be bold with an edge-to-edge display, a crazy lineup of colors or gimmicky software. Sony isn't buying in to the AI and AR hype or trying to compete with other phone makers. Instead, the XZ2 Compact stands out — not just in its size, but also in its simplicity.
Objectively, there are better phones you can buy, but this is my favorite phone of the year so far.
Credit: Tom's Guide
Get the BEST of Tom’s Guide daily right in your inbox: Sign up now!
Upgrade your life with the Tom’s Guide newsletter. Subscribe now for a daily dose of the biggest tech news, lifestyle hacks and hottest deals. Elevate your everyday with our curated analysis and be the first to know about cutting-edge gadgets.
Caitlin is a Senior editor for Gizmodo. She has also worked on Tom's Guide, Macworld, PCWorld and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. When she's not testing out the latest devices, you can find her running around the streets of Los Angeles, putting in morning miles or searching for the best tacos.