Sony’s somewhat baffling roadmap and naming system for mobile phones continues and the latest to get the premium treatment is the XZ2. It’s the first Sony Xperia with dual rear cameras but at some serious cost. Find out why in our full Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium review.
It’s normal for Sony to announce the Premium version a few months after the regular model, but the XZ2 Premium has taken a while to arrive since being announced in April – so it’s almost gone on sale the same day as the XZ3 was revealed at IFA 2018.
So that leaves us, and probably you, a bit confused because we have two new Sony flagships at the same time. We’ll point out the key differences as we go to help get your head round it. You can also read our XZ2 vs XZ3 comparison.
Xperia XZ2 Premium: Price and availability
Sony announced the XZ3 on 30 August in Berlin and the XZ2 Premium went on sale the day after on 31 August – go figure.
So you can buy it now and despite rumours of it costing a thousand pounds, the XZ2 Premium price is a more reasonable £799. However, it is $999 in the US. You can buy it direct from Sony.
That might be cheaper than some phones on the market like the iPhone X and Samsung Galaxy Note 9 but there are several at the same price or lower so the competition is tough. For example, the outstanding Huawei P20 Pro is also £799 and the Galaxy S9 is £739.
We’re talking RRP so many are available for less, especially the ones that have been on the market for a few months or more.
The Xperia XZ3 is newer and has a lower price of £699, but doesn’t come with all the features found here.
Xperia XZ2 Premium: Design and build
It was the XZ2 (and Compact) that introduced Sony’s latest design so it’s no surprise that the Premium model is generally very similar. The firm moved on from the boxy, square design that was used for a long time.
You will notice a drop in screen-to-body ratio if you’re familiar with the XZ2 and this is due to the display being 16:9 rather than the fashionable 18:9. We’ll explain why later, but for now it does mean slightly chunkier bezels.
A much bigger issue here, quite literally, is the size of the XZ2 Premium. We gave the XZ2 a pretty good slamming for being 11.1mm and 198g and somehow both have increased for the Premium model.
So the Premium is 11.9mm and a whopping 236g – we’re pretty sure that makes it the heaviest smartphone we’ve ever tested.
Now this wouldn’t be so bad if there was one big reason for it, or a number of smaller reasons. We’ve often said we’d rather have a thicker phone if the battery is a lot bigger, but the XZ2 Premium doesn’t, nor anything else particularly noteworthy.
Sony told us that the Xperia XZ3 doesn’t have dual cameras due to space restraints, implying that’s a key reason this phone is so fat. There might not be a camera bump, but plenty of other phones have dual or even triple rear cameras without being unthinkably hefty so we’re miffed.
Furthermore, the Premium has other issues which haven’t been rectified since the XZ2 including the rounded glass back which rocks when you try and use it on a flat surface. Our Chrome Black model with its mirror-like finish got covered in fingerprints just minutes after taking it out of the box (we cleaned it for the photos). There’s also Chrome Silver but that’s likely to be even worse.
And yes, like many phones on the market, the XZ2 Premium is very slippery so taking it out of your pocket or leaving it on even a slightly curved sofa arm is risky business.
With the XZ2, the fingerprint scanner moved from the power button on the side, which we loved, to the back. That’s pretty normal but the Premium also has it too low down for comfort. The natural resting place when holding the phone is the camera so that gets smudged up instead.
Sony would have been better off moving the flash and auto focus elements to the side of the camera so everything could be moved up.
The phone does carry an IP68 waterproof rating but that’s no longer something that makes Sony stand out in the market. What’s shocking is the lack of a headphone jack considering how think the XZ2 Premium is.
Possibly the only good thing to say about the design is that Sony continues to offer a dedicated camera/shutter button on the side. Otherwise, this is one of the worst collections of design choices we’ve ever seen on a smartphone.
Sony does pitch the device heavily on the hardware features, though, so maybe it can pull things back as we continue.
Xperia XZ2 Premium: Specs and features
Sony describes the XZ2 Premium as ‘the ultimate creation machine’ so there’s a focus on the cameras here but also on the screen which ‘brings entertainment to life’.
So the display is the first key feature here, as Sony offers something you might be more used to seeing advertised for TVs. We were blown away by the original Xperia Z offering a Full HD screen but the XZ2 Premium is both 4K and HDR.
Whether you need a phone with an Ultra HD resolution is up for debate, especially on a 5.8in screen, and generally we say that Quad HD is enough. However, watching 4K HDR content on YouTube or other apps where it’s available is rather stunning.
There’s detail in abundance and colours are incredibly rich. Comparing to a phone like the Galaxy Note 9 which is also HDR compatible, we don’t notice a difference in the resolution but we prefer the more natural colours on Sony’s LCD display.
Samsung tends to get a bit oversaturated resulting in an unnatural look. You may prefer them the other way around, though.
One interesting thing to note is that Sony has opted for the more traditional 16:9 aspect ratio here rather than the modern 18:9 which you’ll find on the XZ3. We’re not too fussed about this, especially considering the black lines you’ll get on a taller screen when watching a video unless you zoom to fill.
Going by various online comments we’ve seen, the Sony fans out there will actually prefer this aspect ratio and the resulting larger bezels.
Overall then, the display is up there with the best but not because it’s 4K if you ask us so it’s worth bearing in mind that there are cheaper HDR compatible phone out there if you’re open to a non-Sony handset.
We haven’t had them side-by-side to compare but the Xperia XZ3 offers something different. It’s HDR but Quad HD and OLED – at a cheaper price, too.
Processor, memory and storage
The Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium is pretty standard though, and you get what you’d expect for the premium price. So you get a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. There’s also a microSD card slot for adding more if you need it, up to 400GB.
With that combination, it’s not much of a surprise that performance is good. What’s surprising is the impressive GFXBench results considering the 4K display. This, we’re pretty certain, is down to the phone running the app in a lower resolution. We’ve reached out to Sony for some clarification.
Connectivity and audio
A premium phone, by price or name, should be well connected and the XZ2 Premium is just that. It’s got dual-band 11ac Wi-Fi, GPS, NFC, USB-C and Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX HD.
Despite the lack of an audio jack (a USB-C adapter is supplied), the XZ2 Premium is quite strong in the audio department. The phone still has stereo speakers and unlike many rivals, they actually both face forwards. This means you don’t cover either when holding the phone in landscape.
It’s one of the best phones for speaker sound with plenty of oomph available – the loudest Xperia to date, according to Sony. You can also try out the relatively new Dynamic Vibration System which is essentially haptic feedback when you’re listening to music or watching videos. We think it’s a gimmick but you might like it.
It feels surreal writing it, but the XZ2 Premium is the first Sony Xperia with dual rear cameras. It’s bizarre considering we’re now used it at even the budget end of the market and the fact Sony supplies most rivals for phone cameras. Note, the XZ3 doesn’t have dual cameras.
It’s a similar camera to the XZ2, so 19Mp with dual PDAF and laser autofocus – however, it has an f/1.8 aperture. The second is a 12Mp monochrome sensor and will a small icon in the camera app you can choose whether this is used for a bokeh depth effect or simply a black and white photo.
Photos are excellent in all manner of conditions and shooting it a pleasant experience both in the app and by way of the dedicated two-stage camera button on the side. We hope Sony never ditches that. You’ll get speedy and great looking results by using the Superior Auto mode but there’s a Manual mode if you like.
What’s particularly impressive is low light performance, thanks to a combination of the wide aperture, dedicated “Aube” fusion image processor and a possible ISO of 51200. You’ll be forgiven for thinking our low light test environment was set up wrong, be we promise it wasn’t.
Our main quibble is the bokeh mode constantly telling us to move further away from the subject. The selfie camera is also decent at 13Mp with an f/2.0 aperture. There’s no LED flash on the front but the phone can use the display to provide light if needed.
In terms of video, the XZ2 Premium is able to capture 4K resolution footage in HDR – a rare feature for a phone. Sony says it’s the world’s first to do so, specifically in the 10-bit in HLG format. You can then, of course, watch it back on the 4K HDR screen.
It does a good job of levelling out the dynamic range in videos, we just wish there was optical image stabilisation because SteadyShot doesn’t always do a good job.
Whether HDR video in 4K is a big deal for you is a key question when buying this phone. It might be something other phones can’t do, but whether you will really benefit from it is another matter. For the average consumer, we thing not, but if you’re really into your video creation then this might be the best thing since sliced bread.
Let’s not forget that you can record super slow motion is 960fps and you can do that in Full HD. When you get it right, the results can be spectacular.
As we mentioned earlier, we wouldn’t mind the XZ2 Premium being so big and heavy if it had a gigantic battery. However, at 3540mAh it’s above average and slightly higher capacity than the regular XZ2 but nothing to write home about. The Huawei P20 Pro’s is 4000mAh and the phone weighs 180g.
You do get wireless charging and the phone also supports Quick Charge 3.0 over USB-C and in our test managed to get 42 percent in 30 minutes which is pretty good.
In our battery test which is done using Geekbench 4, the XZ2 Premium managed a middle of the road six hours and 15 minutes. A number of phones with smaller batteries have done better and in other words, you’re likely to be charging every night.
Xperia XZ2 Premium: Software and apps
Onto software and this is a fairly simple affair with the XZ2 Premium coming with Android 8.0 Oreo and Sony’s own user interface.
The skin is very close to stock Android these days and that’s a good thing for us. It means the phone is simple and easy to use, whether you’re a long time Android user or a complete newbie. Xperia Assist will help you out if you are unfamiliar, albeit in a slightly odd chatbot style.
Google is at the heart so you can access your personal feed by swiping right from the main homescreen or summoning the Google Assistant at any point by long pressing the on-screen home button.
Sony add a number of its own apps like 3D Creator and Sketch but most will find the PlayStation app the most useful. It’s a shame to see a few pre-installed third-party apps like Kobo, AVG and a trio from Amazon. You can only disable them, not properly delete.
5.8in in 2018 isn’t that large for a screen but the size of the phone itself may mean you find the display tricky to use one handed. To help tackle this you can put the interface into a one-handed mode by swiping across the navigation buttons. It makes the interface a fair bit smaller so you can reach things easier.