Imagine you had a time machine and your first impulse was, for some reason, to travel back to 2011. People would likely look admiringly at Sony’s latest phone poking out of your pocket as you tried to blend in. “What’s that handsome-looking phone?” someone would invariably ask. “Why, it’s the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact,” you’d reply. They’d frown: “Doesn’t look very compact to me,” they’d say, finally.
They’d have a point. 2011 was the year that Samsung launched its Galaxy Note line of phablets. Do you know how big the screen of the Samsung Galaxy Note was without Googling? 5.3in. The Xperia XZ2 Compact is, despite its name, just 0.3in smaller than a phone which many thought would be far too big to be practical. Our own Jonathan Bray said its “huge size means it’s unlikely to extend beyond niche appeal”.
How times have changed. A 5in handset is now considered positively fiddly. And compared to the other leading handsets it is. In the past though, ‘Mini’ versions of handsets have scrimped on the internals – so is the “Compact” in the name just a synonym for “cheap”?
Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact review: Design
There’s another reason our hypothetical figure from 2011 would be sceptical of your words: this doesn’t look like a Sony phone. If you were to choose a single word to describe Sony’s phone design ethos from the last few years, you’d probably settle on “angular.”
That is no longer the case. The XZ2 Compact is, like its bigger brother, all smooth corners and sides, with a slightly curved back. If you were to cover the Sony Xperia logos, it might pass for a Nokia, or an HTC handset. It’s very nice looking overall, though one key difference between the Compact and the full-sized XZ2 is the backplate which is an anti-scratch, polycarbonate coating, rather than reflective glass.
The change of style is generally for the better, and the new design feels comfortable in the palm, but one slight drawback of the curvy redesign is the relocation of the fingerprint reader. Older Sony phones used to have this as part of the power button on the side of the handset, but now it’s slightly harder to reach on the back plate.
A less forgivable casualty? No more 3.5mm headphone jack. Et tu, Sony?
Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact review: Screen
Perhaps surprisingly, considering its diminutive branding, the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact comes with an 18:9 screen. This change of aspect ratio is not only a first for Sony, but also a first for a smaller handset. Any fears that this wouldn’t work are quickly allayed: it performs brilliantly. The 5in 2,160×1,080 IPS panel is a comfy size and offers generous viewing angles to even the most discerning eye.
Those anecdotal feelings are quickly confirmed by a hardware analysis. Using our X-rite i1Display Pro colourimeter, we found that using the phone’s “professional” display settings, the XZ2 Compact’s screen covered 87.9% of the sRGB colour gamut. Accuracy is excellent to boot, with a Delta E of 1.27, and with a peak brightness of 600cd/m2, you won’t struggle to read it in bright conditions.
You can find better screens, sharper screens, but this is very good indeed, and perfectly fine for the size. Some may quibble with the 1080p display, but honestly unless you’re planning on spending a lot of time using it as a VR headset, you won’t notice the difference. I for one am delighted that Sony is no longer pursuing it’s “magic beans” 4K phone strategy.
Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact review: Performance
As I said at the start of the review, there was a time when producing mini versions of flagships was a way of keeping the brand cache without needing to bother with quality. To be entirely fair to Sony, its Compact phones have never done that, and the XZ2 Compact follows suit: it really is just the XZ2 in a smaller frame. That means you get the top of the range Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor supported by 4GB RAM and 64GB storage. If that’s not enough you can put in an extra 400GB with a suitably vast microSD card.
With the fastest mobile processor on the planet powering things, differences between this and other 2018 flagships are always going to be marginal – and the benchmarks prove that. Overall, Geekbench 4’s single-core score of 2,379 and multi-core total of 8,559 means you’re looking at a 24% jump in performance over last year’s XZ1 Compact. Not bad at all.
Graphically it’s no slouch either, offering even better performance in GFXBench GL’s off-screen and onscreen Manhattan 3.0 tests than the Samsung Galaxy S9 – though the differences would be negligible in real world conditions.
You may worry that with less physical space for a battery, the Xperia XZ2’s stamina would suffer. While it doesn’t have the longest battery life, it’s certainly not the worst, lasting 14hrs and 10mins in our 720p video loop, at 170cd/m2 brightness. That puts it 39 minutes behind last year’s model, and just 13 minutes behind the Samsung Galaxy S9.
Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact review: Camera
Video capture has got a big update since Sony’s last flagship outing. Not only has the XZ1 Compact’s party trick of 960fps super slow motion video capture been upgraded to Full HD, but both XZ2s come with a 19-megapixel rear camera than can record 4K video with 10-bit HDR processing. That means you’re looking at oodles of tonal detail, and the electronic image stabilisation (EIS) keeps the footage smooth and free of jarring shakes.
There’s a big but, though: 4K HDR footage suffers from uneven frame rates. Pan across a scene with SteadyShot switched off and you can’t help but notice some jerkiness. Switch it on, and things get much worse – which really lets the XZ2 Compact down as a video camera.
That’s a shame, because 4K video captured with HDR enabled looked hugely impressive, with strong colours and a rich, balanced overall exposure rarely seen in smartphone footage. But the framerate issue means you wouldn’t want to rely on it – unless Sony can improve things with a software update.
If you’re only interested in stills, though, you could do much worse. On paper, the camera’s specifications look middling: a 19-megapixel rear camera with a sensor size of 1/2.3in, an f/2 aperture and hybrid phase detect/laser autofocus. In practice, the results are pretty good: even in low light, shots taken with the phone’s Intelligent Auto shooting mode look excellent, especially with HDR enabled. There’s perhaps a little more grain and noise than you get with the best smartphone cameras around, but this isn’t a bad effort from Sony.
Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact review: Verdict
Despite the slight video concerns, to me, the Sony Xperia XZ2 remains a smartphone that warrants some serious consideration. For a RRP of £529, you’re looking at a handset with performance to match the most powerful phone out there – the £739 Samsung Galaxy S9.
Yes, the screen isn’t quite as good, and the camera is a way behind, but if speed is your main priority, then the XZ2 Compact is definitely worth considering as a more diminutive alternative. Sony’s pint-sized powerhouse may take up a bit more pocket space than previous Xperias, but it’s still a quality phone.
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