What is the Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium?
The Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium sits alongside the Xperia XZ3 at the top of the illustrious Japanese brand’s smartphone range, but it arrives to the UK a little late. It’s been out in the US since July, with some initial uncertainty concerning a wider rollout.
It’s not too difficult to see why. This is a niche, high-end handset aimed at media-consuming.
The spec list is undoubtedly impressive. Over and above the base Xperia XZ2 offering, you get a pin-sharp 4K display, 50% more RAM, and a sophisticated dual-camera setup.
All in all, the XZ2 Premium offers an uncompromisingly potent multimedia package. But the trade-offs in everyday usability and simple comfort are quite considerable.
Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium – Design
First impressions matter when switching to a new smartphone, but the impact is often temporary. Not so with the Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium.
You’ll typically acclimatise to a larger phone’s increased dimensions with time and use, but that just hasn’t happened for me with the Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium. I wince at its ungainliness every time I absent-mindedly pick it up from the table or slip it into a pocket.
The phone’s main design issues are brutally simple: it’s too bulky, too wide and too heavy. To be a little more scientific about this for a second, it’s 11.9mm thick around the middle, 80mm wide, and it weighs a whopping 236g.
Sony says that the XZ2 Premium has a “natural form”. Which I suppose is accurate, insomuch as it calls to mind a big chunk of obsidian.
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As with the plain XZ2, Sony has attempted to soften these brick-like dimensions with a curved glass back, which also facilitates wireless charging. In the svelter form of the XZ2 it marked a considerable step up from Sony’s recent utilitarian design work.
Here, it largely serves to make a very heavy phone extremely slippery and prone to skittering off any time you lay it down on a less-than-flat surface.
There are further design issues on the rear. The positioning of the dual-camera module quite far down the device undoubtedly helps with photography, as evidenced by the fact that I haven’t had a single ‘finger-in-shot’ moment during my time with the XZ2 Premium.
But this also forces the fingerprint sensor down to an unnaturally central position (level with the power button, which is also awkwardly placed). Combined with the fact that this biometric component feels very similar to the camera module, I’ve found that my finger tends to start on the latter before sliding down. You can imagine the smudges.
Still, it’s possible to justify this unwieldy positioning in light of the phone’s impressive camera credentials. It’s far tougher to justify the lack of a headphone jack, besides its likely contribution to an admittedly thorough IP65/68 rating.
That aside, it seems crazy that a device of this size doesn’t apparently have space for a headphone socket, especially given its audiophile credentials.
Talking of which, Sony has packed the XZ2 Premium with a set of stereo speakers (in landscape, naturally), whilst also packing support for LDAC and Hi-Res Audio.
A little less successful is the inclusion of what Sony calls its ‘Dynamic Vibration System’. This essentially ramps up the haptic feedback to accentuate audio output, almost creating the impression of a physical bass response.
That’s the theory. In practice it’s rather strange and gimmicky, creating an unwanted buzzing sound any time someone talks on a video. Thankfully, you can crank this down or – preferably – turn it off through the volume menu.
The feature is more welcome in gaming, so it isn’t quite a write-off. But as mentioned in the XZ2 review, it can combine with that slippery rear to send an unattended phone to the floor.
Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium – Display
The Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium’s screen is unusual for a couple of reasons. Most obviously, this 5.8-inch IPS LCD is one of the very few mobile displays to pack in a 4K resolution.
At 3840 x 2160 and 765ppi, it’s the most pixel-dense display of all the current big-hitters. This means that it’s the only 2018 flagship that can play 4K video content natively.
This is impressive, but more in a technical or back-of-the-box way than in reality. When it comes to day-to-day navigation, web browsing, or even video watching and intense gaming, the gains made by all those extra pixels are tough to pick up on.
The other unusual thing about this screen is its shape. We’ve grown accustomed to the stretched 18:9 (or thereabouts) aspect ratio as the new standard, even at the lower end of the market. Here, though, Sony has gone with old-fashioned 16:9.
This lends the phone’s wide feeling mentioned in the previous section. With an 18:9 aspect ratio, a 5.8-inch screen can – and frequently does – feel wieldy. Not so with the more stout 16:9 standard.
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In the Xperia XZ2 Premium’s defence, it does reflect the handset’s status as a media-playing powerhouse. There are no black borders or cut-off portions when viewing video content here. Every one of those 5.8 inches is put to use.
In terms of picture quality, the Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium is good. It might not have the sheer pop of the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 or iPhone X’s OLED screens (although you can shift to a more vibrant ‘Super-vivid’ mode in Settings), but it’s very colour-accurate, and it gets plenty bright. The screen also supports HDR content – premium Netflix subscribers take note.
One thing I’d point out is that the auto-brightness appears to be little off. I found that it would often flick between two very different brightness settings in certain situations, and would occasionally be way too dim for comfortable viewing. I ended up switching it off.
Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium – Performance
Running a top-end Snapdragon 845 CPU with a sizeable 6GB of RAM, you’d expect the Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium to be fast – although that 4K display provides a little reason for concern.
As it turns out, there’s no reason to worry. The XZ2 Premium is a flying machine that tackled any task I threw at it with ease.
General navigation and hopping between apps was pause-free, while using the fingerprint sensor to jump to the homescreen was near-instantaneous – when you can actually manage to put your finger on it first time, that is. Jumping straight to the camera app with the physical camera button (a feature we still love) proved similarly snappy.
In addition, any games I played on the XZ2 Premium pretty much flew. Asphalt 9 in High settings is a great test for any modern phone, and it ran flawlessly on the Sony.
Guns of Boom is a pretty scalable game across all kinds of modern hardware, but it looks and moves great in the forced 60fps mode here. PUBG, too, responded well to my pushing its graphical settings right up to the maximum ‘Ultra’ frame rate and ‘HDR’ settings.
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An average Geekbench 4 multicore score of 8433 reflects that mastery. That said, it’s interesting to note the difference that the XZ2 Premium’s display makes. The OnePlus 6 has the exact same CPU and RAM setup, but a far less intensive 1080p display, and it scored 9045 in our test.
Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium – Software
The XZ2 Premium comes with Android 8.0 Oreo out of the box, and it sticks with Sony’s customary approach to software customisation. Hopefully, they’ll be an update to Android 9 Pie soon.
On the one hand, the notification menu looks comfortingly familiar, and you can access Google’s feed by swiping to the left of the main homescreen. On the other hand, you get Sony’s own custom Music, Album, Video and Email apps on top of the often superior Google versions.
You also get a bunch of third-party applications preinstalled, which is never particularly welcome. There’s an entire folder given over to Amazon apps, although it contains only three items. You also get Facebook, AVG, and the mystifyingly superfluous Kobo Books.
Sony’s Xperia Assist app is included, and pretty much fills the role of an interactive tutorial app. Don’t worry, though: you’ve got the far more useful Google Assistant a long press of the virtual home button away.
Xperia Lounge, meanwhile, is a rather pointless ad app that throws Sony products at you. The fact that the first thing it sent me was a notification about the recently announced Sony Xperia XZ3 felt like a bit of a kick in the guts – or it would have, if I’d just spent £800 on the XZ2 Premium.
All in all, it’s an improvement if you’re coming from, say, the Huawei P20 with its gaudy custom software offering. But it’s a clear step back from the cleaner, bloatware-free approach of the OnePlus 6 or the Google Pixel 2.
Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium – Camera
Arguably the main feature of the Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium is its impressive photographic capabilities. This may be the first time Sony has attempted a dual-camera approach, but it’s certainly hit the ground running with the technology.
The combination of a 19-megapixel f/1.8 camera, a secondary 12-megapixel f/1.6 monochrome assistant (with large 1.55µm pixels), and a big 1/2.3-inch Exmor RS sensor leads to all-round accomplished results in a variety of lighting conditions.
There’s no OIS here, but all the shots I captured were crisp and detailed. Even in low-light conditions, images don’t get overly noisy, while dynamic range is generally on point.
That second camera also comes into play with portrait shots – or, as Sony calls it here, Bokeh mode. This is one of the more natural-looking dual-camera effects I’ve seen, with less of the edge-blurring side-effects of many systems. That said, the subject doesn’t tend to truly pop here – as much as it does with, say, Apple’s Portrait mode.
If it isn’t right up there with the very best smartphone cameras in terms of all-round eye-popping results, Sony’s first dual-camera is hovering just below the leading pack. Meanwhile, the presence of a physical camera button, coupled with a highly reliable autofocus system and speedy capture times, certainly gives the phone an edge when it comes to impromptu shots.
It also joins the Xperia XZ2 and Xperia XZ3 as the only smartphone camera to be capable of shooting 4K HDR video footage, while it can also manage 960fps super-slow-motion video at 1080p.
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Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium – Battery life
Given the size and weight of the Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium, as well as the extra demands of that 4K display, you might expect it to have a huge battery. Surprisingly, it doesn’t.
At 3540mAh, it’s hardly a small unit. But given that the Sony Xperia XZ2 with its 1080p display comes with a 3180mAh battery, it kind of feels like the bare minimum.
There are few complaints in practice, however. I found that a day of fairly light usage would see me end the day with as much as 40% battery life remaining. Bringing that up to moderate usage, with a few calls and some media streaming, will leave you with around half that.
When you hit the media hard, that figure will drop significantly. Playing an hour of Full HD video with the screen brightness cranked right up to max ate a fairly hefty 15% of the Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium’s charge.
Conversely, playing 15 minutes of Guns of Boom on half screen brightness sucked 5% – which isn’t too bad.
Whatever the power drain, you’ll be able to pump the juice back in fairly quickly thanks to the presence of Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0, while Qi wireless charging is also supported.
Why buy the Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium?
The Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium might seem to be a true flagship phone, but that would be to suggest that it’s a safe bet for more or less anyone with £800 to burn. That isn’t quite the case.
This is a niche, specialist device for a hardcore audience who demand the highest spec possible – even if that comes at the expense of basic usability.
This is a phone that can both shoot and display 4K HDR content, backed by cutting-edge performance and wireless charging. But it’s also excessively big and heavy, with unwieldy controls.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 has a better screen and camera; however, it does cost slightly more. Even Sony has superseded the Premium with the Xperia XZ3.
The Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium throws everything but the kitchen sink into its bulky body. It’s a highly accomplished device by most technical standards, but it simply doesn’t hang together as a friction-free, pleasant-to-use smartphone. Which should surely be the bare minimum requirement for a 2018 flagship.