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Sony Xperia XZ2 review (hands-on): New Sony flagship can record 10-bit HDR 4K video

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Update: Pre-orders for the Sony Xperia XZ2 and Xperia XZ2 Compact are now open at Three and Carphone Warehouse, as of 16 March. Sony has an incredible offer and is giving away a free PS4 and 12-month PS Plus membership, or a PSVR Starter Kit, with every pre-order of its flagship phone. The free PS Plus Membership is also available when you buy older models in the XZ range. 

Scroll down to our Sony Xperia XZ2 review, and you can read the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact review separately, and the rest of the Sony Xperia XZ2 deals will be updated as they go live. 

Original review continues below

You’d be forgiven for thinking MWC 2018 was the Samsung Galaxy S9 show but the Sony Xperia XZ2 has something to say about that. It’s the Japanese electronics firm’s new flagship smartphone and, for me, the surprise of this year’s show.

The headline is that Sony has moved to an 18:9 aspect ratio display, months after the rest of its major rivals, but it’s also worth noting it has, finally, transformed its design, shaved off the sharp corners and gone for a more conventional look.

READ NEXT: Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact review

Sony Xperia XZ2 review: Specifications and release date

Display

5in, 18:9 HD display(1,080 x 2,160) IPS display

Processor

Octa-core 2.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor

RAM

4GB of RAM

Storage

64GB with microSD expansion support of up to 400GB

Rear camera

19MP f/2, 10-bit 4K HDR video recording, 960fps super slow motion at 1080p

Front camera

5MP

Battery

2,870mAh

Price

£699

Release date

Launches first week of March; ships beginning of April

Sony Xperia XZ2 review: Design, key features and first impressions

To be clear, a more conventional design is definitely a good thing. Good, because the Xperia XZ2 is now less likely to tear a hole in your pocket, and good because the screen fills more of the front panel. 

Some will bemoan the steady homogenisation of smartphone design but I think the phone looks great. The Xperia XZ2’s 5.7in FHD+ display (1,080 x 2,160) is coated in Gorilla Glass 5 while the handset’s rear uses 3D glass that gently curves around the edges. The fingerprint reader is easy to reach for both left and right handers and with the camera, fingerprint reader, sensors and flash all arranged in a vertical line, it looks rather neat.

The Xperia XZ2 is available in black, silver, blue and pink and it’s IP68 dust and water-resistant. In fact, the only complaint I have is that, as many other big manufacturers have done, Sony has removed the 3.5mm headphone jack – although it does include an adapter in the box. So that’s okay, then.

The one unique and defining element Sony has retained is its two-stage camera button. The firm still wants to be known for its camera tech and the XZ2 follows through on that in style. Although the hardware itself is no different to last year’s Sony Xperia XZ and Xperia XZ Premium, the phone’s new Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chip enables a number of breakthrough features.

The first of these Sony is calling “true” 4K HDR recording and it claims the XZ2 is the first phone to do this. What this actually means is that the XZ2 can record 4K in full 10-bit HDR in HLG format, which should lead to much better dynamic range, richer colours and more detail in dark and bright areas of a scene.

READ NEXT: What is 4K?

When I tried it out at the launch event it looked very effective indeed, picking up details in shadows and the sky that I hadn’t expected it to. I can’t wait to give it a more intensive workout when I lay my hands on a review sample.

The second step forwards is a smaller one, but it’s another area where Sony can claim victory over Samsung. The Sony Xperia XZ2’s snapper can now capture 960fps super slow motion footage at a resolution of 1080p, up from the 720p of the previous model. That’s better than the Samsung Galaxy S9’s 960fps at 720p, too.

For video at least, the Sony Xperia XZ2 looks to have the S9 beaten and it may be competitive on stills as well, thanks to a new “BIONZ for mobile” image processor, developed in partnership with Qualcomm.

Other improvements are less exciting but mostly positive. The phone’s stereo speakers are now 20% louder than they were before and support Dolby Atmos. Both upgrades make a significant difference, particularly the Atmos support. In a side-by-side test – the Atmos-enabled playback versus regular audio – the Atmos audio sounded richer, broader and more immersive.

There’s a larger, more powerful vibration motor for the phone’s new dynamic haptic feedback system, too. A good thing if you tend to miss your notifications. However, I’m unconvinced by the “dynamic” part. Effectively, the phone is able to analyse and respond with variable degrees of haptic feedback to audio “events” that occur as you watch movies or play games.

I tested this on a quick Angry Birds session and found that the vibrations lagged hugely behind the onscreen action and didn’t feel particularly sharp or progressive in terms of feedback either. Perhaps Sony has some more development to do, or perhaps it’s a little bit pointless. Either way, it’s good to know that the phone’s dynamic vibration isn’t enabled by default. Instead, the first time you launch an app the phone thinks can be “enhanced” in this way, it will ask you if you want to turn it on. I’d decline on this evidence.

Likewise, the 3D scanning capability first seen on last year’s Xperia smartphones, and now extended to the front-facing shutter, is little more than a gimmick. Yes, you can now post your face scan to your Facebook feed and, yes, it is more effective than it was the last time I tried the system, but once you’ve done it the first time, I suspect the novelty will wear off quite quickly.

Still, there’s nothing to complain about when it comes to the phone’s software and internal components. It runs Sony’s launcher on top of Android 8 Oreo. It has an octa-core Qualcomm 845 processor, which should ensure snappy, responsive multitasking and gaming, there’s also 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage and a microSD card slot that will take cards up to 400GB in capacity. There’s also dual-SIM capability although you sacrifice the microSD expansion if you use it.

Sony Xperia XZ2 review: Early verdict

Despite the missteps and slightly bizarre dynamic vibration system, there’s plenty to like with the Sony Xperia XZ2. I, for one, can’t wait to try out the 4K HDR recording, which has the potential to blow every other smartphone’s video capture capability out of the water, and the design, look, feel and specification all look top notch.

The phone launches in the first week of March and ships to customers at the beginning of April at roughly the same time as the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ and, for once, its flagship stands a chance of competing. Like the Xperia XA2 and XA2 Ultra, both launched at CES 2018, it looks like it’s one of the best phones Sony has launched in ages.

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