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Sony Xperia XZ2 Hands-On: The Compact Steals the Show

Editors' Note: This hands-on was first published on Feb. 26, 2018, when Sony unveiled the Xperia XZ2 and XZ2 Compact. We've updated the story now that Sony has announced pricing and availability in the U.S.

Sony’s smartphones are entertainment powerhouses held back by outdated design. That’s about to change with the Xperia XZ2, an overhauled Android flagship with slimmer bezels, rounded edges and a fingerprint sensor that finally works in the U.S. It still feels like Sony’s playing catch-up with the Galaxy S8 (never mind the new Galaxy S9), but the company is finally giving your content the real estate it deserves.

The XZ2 is joining Samsung's S9 as one of the first phones with Qualcomm’s powerful Snapdragon 845 processor, which should make it a powerhouse if our benchmark results of the new CPU are any indication.

But the Xperia XZ2 Compact that was the more pleasant surprise in my hands-on time with Sony’s new devices. The 5-inch phone lacks a lot of the bells and whistles in the larger XZ2, such as wireless charging and a dynamic vibration system, but it packs the same fast CPU and  a giant full HD display in a pint-sized frame that is a dream to hold. The iPhone SE should take notes.

Pricing and Availability

After previewing the phones at Mobile World Congress in February, the latest Xperias are about to hit U.S. retail shelves. Sony says pre-orders on the Xperia XZ2 and Xperia XZ2 Compact begin this Friday, April 13, at Best Buy. You'll be able to buy both phones online at Best Buy starting April 20, with the phones arriving in brick-and-mortar Best Buy outlets on May 6. Other retailers will start offering the phone on May 20.

Expect to play flagship prices for either model. The larger Xperia XZ2 will cost $799.99 — the same price as Apple's iPhone 8 Plus. The XZ2 Compact will sell for $649.99, which is $50 less than the iPhone 8.

Xperia XZ2 and XZ2 Compact Specs

Model
Xperia XZ2
Xperia XZ2 Compact
Price
$799
$649
Display
5.7 inches
5 inches
Rear Camera
19-MP (f/2.0)
19-MP (f/2.0)
Front Camera
5-MP (f/2.2)
5-MP (f/2.2)
CPU
Snapdragon 845
Snapdragon 845
RAM
4GB
4GB
Storage
64GB
64GB
microSD
Up to 400GB
Up to 400GB
Battery
3,180 mAh
2,870 mAh
Colors
Liquid Black, Liquid Silver, Deep Green, Ash PinkWhite Silver, Black, Moss Green, Coral Pink
Size
6 x 2.8 x 0.43 inches
5.3 x 2.6 x 0.48 inches
Weight
6.98 ounces
5.93 ounces

Design: Bigger screen gets its due

Sony has been doing its displays no favors by putting them in slab-like rectangles with sharp edges and ultra-thick bezels. The XZ2 sports a 5.7-inch display with an 18:9 aspect ratio, putting a 13 percent larger screen in a more narrow body than the Xperia XZ1.

The XZ2 is clad in Corning Gorilla Glass 5 from front to back, which gives it Qi wireless charging capability. That also means the XZ2 is a fingerprint magnet, like the Xperia XZ Premium before it.

MORE: Phones With the Best Quality Cameras

In all, Sony’s new supersized flagship feels more like a Galaxy S9 than a design update of its predecessors, the XZ1 or XZ Premium. That’s a very good thing. The XZ2 has thicker bezels on the top and bottom than the S8 does, and it also lacks the curved glass that makes the S8’s infinity display seem almost completely bezel-free. But Sony is getting there.

The 5-inch XZ2 Compact trades in the blocky look of Sony’s older small phones for a curved polycarbonate plastic body that feels more high-end than it sounds. Thin bezels on the top and bottom mimic the look of the larger XZ2 and keep the display from being truly edge-to-edge, but it’s a noticeable improvement over similarly sized phones with tiny screens.

XZ2 Compact: This 5-inch phone shines

I was able to spend about an hour using the Xperia XZ2 and the XZ2 Compact, and I kept coming back to the Compact despite the higher-end phone’s premium feel.

I cupped the curved X2 Compact in one hand, playing with some new camera features (more on that later) and switching between apps with ease. Compared to a 4-inch iPhone SE, which is one of our favorite small phones, the X2 Compact’s 5-inch display feels like a huge upgrade. And with a fingerprint sensor on the back of the device, under the camera lens, the XZ2 Compact feels like it’s all screen and no bezels. I expect this phone to be a breakout hit.

Camera: Small tweaks, but still no dual lens

Sony didn’t dramatically overhaul its camera system, which features a 19-megapixel rear shooter and a 5-MP front-facing lens. An Android flagship without a dual-lens camera seems like a missed opportunity, although the XZ2 applies effects using back-end image processing. In my hands-on time shooting a portrait of my colleague Adam, the XZ2’s bokeh effect had uneven results, even in a sunlit room with plenty of contrast.

The XZ2 shoots super slow-motion video in 960 frames per second, just like last year’s XZ Premium model, but Sony is upgrading the resolution. Now you can shoot 0.09 seconds, slowed down to three seconds, at 960fps in 1080p, an upgrade from the 720p-only option in the XZ Premium. This change also means the camera won’t automatically zoom in on the video subject when shooting. If you want a longer slow-mo clip, you can shoot six seconds in 720p.

The new Galaxy S9 also shoots 960 fps as well but only at 720p resolution. Still, Samsung’s phone can automatically detect motion in the frame while Sony’s can't.

Super slow-motion video seems gimmicky, at least in the case of the XZ2, because you have to anticipate when the action you’ll want to slow down will occur. I still don’t love it, but higher-quality video clips could make this version more enticing than Samsung’s device.

Sony also improved its 3D Creator, which captures an augmented reality model of your face, by giving you the ability to use it with the XZ2’s front-facing lens. With the XZ1, you had to get someone else to shoot you.

Outlook

With Apple, Google and Samsung competing for your dollars with a slew of premium features, including impressive cameras and edge-to-edge displays, Sony’s Xperia XZ2 still lags behind. Its new design is better, yes, but still not free of bezels. It lacks a dual-lens camera, and its image processing software failed to impress.

But the XZ2 Compact should not be overlooked for fans of small phones who also want a big display. Stay tuned for our full review of both devices as we get closer to their U.S. launch this month.

Image Credits: Tom's Guide