Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact review

Sony’s Compact line offers something different to most other high-end phones, as they fit high-end hardware into a small frame.

If you want top specs and a phone that won’t stretch your fingers or your pocket lining, the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact is one of your best options, as you don’t see hardware this impressive in other phones with 5-inch screens.

It becomes a bit of a tougher sell if you want a phone with a design that matches its premium cost, though. The Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact doesn’t feel or look as expensive as it is.

Update: We've added Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact US price and release date information to this review.

Its camera and chipset will smoke those of just about any other phone this size, but unless you go pixel-peeping at its photos or notice the milliseconds it shaves off app loads, you can get a similar experience for under half the price.

Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact price and availability

  • Costs £549 ($649/AU$1,000) SIM-free
  • Launching between April and June

The Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact is one of Sony’s top phones for 2018. It was announced at the MWC conference in February 2018, alongside its big brother the Sony Xperia XZ2.

In the UK, it's set to hit stores during quarter two (April-June) and costs what used to be the standard price for a high-end phone, before the ceiling rose to accommodate mobiles like the iPhone X and Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus. You’ll pay £549 (about AU$1,000) SIM-free.

In the US, it'll retail for $649 and initially launch exclusively through Best Buy on April 20. Amazon and other US retailers will carry the Xperia XZ2 compact on May 6. 

There aren't many direct rivals for the XZ2 Compact. No other big phone brand makes Android phones this small with top-end components. It’s just not done, giving it an amazing edge for those who still just don’t like big phones.

Key features

  • Compact build with high-end specs
  • Strong 19MP camera

The Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact shares many features with the larger, more expensive Xperia XZ2. It’s what makes this small phone so unusual.

These features include Qualcomm’s top-end Snapdragon 845 chipset, a 19MP camera, 64GB of storage and a screen capable of playing HDR video. That’s the kind of footage you might watch on a high-end TV.

You simply don’t get this sort of hardware in other phones this small. Your closest option from Samsung is the Galaxy S9, which is a little wider and a lot longer.

This combination of top-quality internals and a small frame is exactly what some are after. The issue is you won’t necessarily appreciate the quality of the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact unless you look deeper.

On the surface this phone is in danger of being interpreted as a cheap and friendly Android. And it is certainly not cheap.

Phones like the Moto G5S actually feel more high-end than the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact, which is quite alarming. However, even that budget favorite has a significantly larger footprint than this one.

This is a great phone for the right buyer, particularly as Sony has made real improvements to the camera performance this year. Well, aside from the front camera, which is surprisingly unremarkable. However, you do have to care, a lot, about its small, cuddly frame.

Design

  • Tubby and rounded rather than blocky
  • Plastic back doesn’t feel that expensive
  • Fingerprint reader yes, headphone jack no

Most phone-makers try to make their handsets as thin as they can. The design goal of the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact is not about thinness. A small footprint is at least 50% of the appeal here.

The Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact has the silhouette of a phone with a 4.5-inch screen. Its actual display measures five inches across, but this is only because it has a 'longer' 18:9 aspect display, like so many recent phones.

Screen shape aside, using the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact is a pleasant callback to years past, when we didn’t have to stretch our thumbs, like a baby in a pram reaching for a cookie, just to tap certain parts of the screen. This has been the key appeal of Sony’s Compact phones since the series began in 2013.

The Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact’s design is different to the Xperia XZ1 Compact, though. It’s no longer a rectangular brick, using much smoother curves across its back for a palm-hugging feel.

It’s oddly similar to the style of the very first Motorola Moto G, an instantly lovable budget classic. The obvious issue: that was a much cheaper phone.

The Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact has a plastic rear, which does not give it an immediately impressive feel. It’s also very chunky at 12.1mm thick. Few people handed this phone would assume it's as expensive as £549/$600.

Its sides are aluminum, but the feel is defined by the smooth, plastic curves.

Phones are status objects. There’s a certain swallowing of consumer pride necessary here. However, to an extent this has always been the case with Xperia Compact phones. They aren’t for show-offs.

Considering its thickness, it is disappointing the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact does not have a headphone jack. You have to use wireless headphones or an annoying little adaptor (included) that plugs into the USB-C socket on the bottom. It’s as clear a sign as any that phones with 3.5mm sockets are headed for extinction.

Claims it frees up space seem spurious in a phone this thick.

The Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact does have water resistance, though. It’s IP68 certified, meaning it can be dropped in water without damage.

There’s also a fingerprint scanner on the back, which has moved from Sony’s traditional side position in the Xperia XZ1 Compact. A rear scanner is more convenient, but the position is rather low. You need to move your finger down to reach it.

This, and the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact’s chunkiness, are costs of the phone’s ultra-small footprint.

Chalking up a gadget’s value is a big part of our job. That the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact is more expensive than it seems matters. However, it also trades on being different and earns back some credit with sheer likability. We don’t miss the days when many phones were as small as this, but it’s here for people who do.

Screen

  • 18:9 screen cuts down wasted space
  • Ultra-saturated color
  • Very bright

The Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact’s display is another aspect changed for this year. It’s an 18:9 aspect screen, leaving smaller screen-less borders at its top and bottom.

It is also a much higher-spec display than the XZ1 Compact’s. That phone has a 720p resolution. This is a wide Full HD screen, with a resolution of 1080 x 2160. It’s very sharp, with density of 483 pixels per inch.

The Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact also has the spec bragging points of the larger Xperia XZ2. It supports HDR, and Sony’s X-Reality engine upscales standard dynamic range content to HDR too.

Sure enough the screen has extremely vibrant color, excellent maximum brightness and great contrast for an LCD, although when tilted there is some visible greying of blacks.

If you find the out-of-the-box color too vibrant, or not vivid enough, you can change it too. The standard mode is a great balance of saturation and accuracy, but the Xperia XZ2 Compact also has a relaxed-looking sRGB mode and a Super Vivid one, dripping in color.

Such tech does seem wasted on such a small display, though. Watching Netflix or a long YouTube video is going to be more fun on a poorer-quality 6-inch screen than a high-end 5-inch one like this. Especially as standard 16:9 content leaves the extreme left and right parts of the screen unused, effectively reverting to a 4.5-inch-ish display size.

Let’s get real: all the tech in the world can’t make the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact’s small screen seem like a mini cinema. But, to be fair to Sony, it’s the best 18:9 screen around at this size.

Star rating update: This review was originally published with a star rating of 3.5. This was an error and has been updated to 4 stars.

Battery life

  • Acceptable stamina
  • Supports fast charging
  • But there’s no fast charger in the box

The Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact has a 2,870mAh battery, just a little larger than the 2,700mAh cell of the XZ1 Compact.

It sounds like a fairly big battery for a phone this small. It doesn’t hold up that well in our standard video test, though. We play a 90-minute video at maximum brightness and see how much the battery drains.

The Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact loses 26%. This is a lot worse than the 17% lost by the XZ1 Compact.

This phone’s higher-resolution screen seems to be quite the power sucker.

Day-to-day use provides better results. We’ve found it fairly easy to get through the day without charge running out before bed time. By 11pm it tends to have around 15% battery left, following plenty of WhatsApp and a few hours of podcast streaming sprinkled through the day.

Despite the fairly good battery capacity to size ratio, the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact is not a phone that will last many of you through two days. It’s an every-day charger.

While the phone supports fast charging, you don’t get a fast charger in the box. It’s a standard 5V, 1.5A plug, which isn’t fast by any standard. Considering the relatively high price, this is disappointing.

There’s also no wireless charging. The Sony Xperia XZ2 supports Qi, but this phone does not.

Camera

  • High resolution rear camera with decent night shooting
  • 4K HDR video capture
  • Just okay selfie camera

The Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact has a rear 19MP camera, the same resolution as the Xperia XZ1 Compact.

Some improvements have been made, though, and this phone is a far better camera than Sony flagships of a couple of years ago.

Standard procedure for older Sony top models was to use ultra-high resolution 23MP cameras, far too high resolution for their sensor size. In an attempt to patch this up, Sony used quite nasty image processing that left finely-knit natural textures looking scratchy and ugly.

Down at pixel level the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact’s images still look obviously processed, with a clear attempt to bring out fine detail like the far-away branches of trees. 

However, the result no longer deserved a “yeuuugh” response of disgust. And day-lit shots have loads of detail.

Sony has, more recently, also improved its Auto HDR algorithms, used to balance out bright skies and the foreground without blowing-out highlights. Is it a star? Not quite. We still saw numerous instances of general overexposure and a few blown highlights. However, performance is more consistent than previous years.

A few classic Sony traits remain, though. The Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact tends to overemphasize greens, making your nature shots look a little 'candied'. And purple tinges to textures are common, particularly in brown and near-black tones.

The Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact still lacks proper optical image stabilization too. Instead it uses a gyro-based system that times the exposure to when your hands are at their stillest.

This isn’t the best night shooter around, but it is one of the best among phones without optical image stabilization. Detail retrieval in dimly lit conditions is surprisingly good, with a fair amount of fine detail visible even at ISO 800. This is the sort of sensitivity the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact might use for a street-lit night scene.

At higher sensitivities, image quality predictably falls apart more noticeably. Like previous Xperia phones, the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact does its best to make very dark scenes look bright, commonly using ISO settings of up to 3200 in the Intelligent Auto mode.

Shooting like this you only get an outline rendering of a scene, as the noise reduction goes into overdrive, smoothing out the image in a much more aggressive manner.

However, in all conditions the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact avoids the ugly look of some older top-end Xperias. It’s pretty good.

If there’s one thing for Sony to improve other than incorporating true optical stabilization, it is exposure metering. In certain day-lit scenes the Xperia XZ2 Compact ups the exposure a little too much, making photos look washed-out.

This effect can be fixed by altering the mid-tone levels in post-processing, but who wants to do that?

Sony has cut down the number of extra modes in its app. You get a manual mode, a selection of creative filters and panorama. The mountain of modes seen in older models, including adding AR dinosaurs to your pics, has disappeared. It’s for the best.

There is a separate 3D-scanning app, though, called 3D Creator. This lets you make 3D models of your face, your friends’ faces and objects, by slowly moving around them with the camera. It’s mostly for fun, but you can make these models into 'Live' wallpapers that turn as you flick between home screens.

You can shoot video at up to 4K resolution with HDR and software stabilization. There’s a little video judder with everything turned on. And for the smoothest results you’ll want to shoot at 1080p, 60 frames per second.

There’s also 960fps super slow motion. It tends to make all but the fastest motion look boring, but is a great feature.

Around the front, the selfie camera is surprisingly basic. It has a 5MP sensor that can’t capture anything like the facial detail of the best, sharpest front cameras around. However, it does have a very wide-angle lens, which makes taking group selfies with friends very easy. No selfie stick required.

Camera samples

Interface and reliability

  • Runs Android Oreo overlaid with Sony's interface
  • Lots of pre-installed apps
  • Taking a photo stops audio

The Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact runs Android 8.0 Oreo with a custom Sony interface on top.

Sony’s used to be one of the less invasive UIs, but these days it’s quite different from standard Android. Google’s interface has a scrolling vertical apps menu. This one uses pages you flick through with left and right swipes.

Like previous versions of the Sony UI, you can re-skin this one with themes. Quite a lot of these cost money, but a handful are included.

Sony has also loaded up the XZ2 Compact with a handful of slightly bloat-like apps. There’s a folder's worth of Amazon apps, including Prime Video and Amazon Shopping. Kobo reader is pre-installed. It’s an alternative to the Amazon Kindle store.

The AVG virus protection suite is installed too, and it’ll try to upsell you a paid version of the service when you run it.

That’s just the third-party selection. Sony itself offers Lounge (an app packed with promotional offers) and two support apps. Xperia Assist is a help wizard dressed up as a digital assistant, Support a more conventional digital manual.

There are also Sony media apps, common to every Sony phone.

As the apps menu uses folders, the extent of these additional apps is not too apparent when you actually use the phone. General performance is excellent too.

The Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact feels fast and responsive. Only one thing annoys. When you take a photo with the camera, any audio playing seems to stop, and doesn’t re-start automatically. That’s just about the only issue we’ve encountered.

Movies, music and gaming

  • Decent speaker
  • Great gaming performance
  • But no small screen phone is that great for games

The Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact is as good a movies and games machine as a 5-inch phone can be. Let’s break it down.

First, it has a good amount of storage. There’s 64GB, leaving you with tens of gigabytes to fill with games and non-streamed films. A microSD slot in the SIM tray lets you add cards of up to 400GB.

The Snapdragon 845 chipset is extremely powerful too. While even mid-range chipsets perform well with 1080 x 2160 screens like this, the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact gets rid of any slight frame rate hitches in high-end games.

Asphalt 8 runs extremely well.

For a small phone the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact also has fairly good speakers. There’s a front-facing driver right at the bottom of the screen’s glass, and the earpiece works as a speaker too. It doesn’t just output tinny treble either.

Compared to most other small phones, the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact has thicker mids. This makes podcasts sound better. The speakers are not bass masters, though. Sound is decent, not exceptional.

The limits of gaming and movie-watching come down to the screen size. If you play games all the time or stream video on the way to work, it’s worth considering a bigger phone like the Samsung Galaxy A8. But that phone is 5mm wider and almost 15mm longer.

This highlights the odd contradiction of the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact. In many ways it’s a phone for demanding phone users, but its main appeal also limits how enjoyable things like gaming and movie-watching are.

Performance and benchmarks

  • Excellent benchmark performance
  • Snapdragon 845 is a top performer
  • Gigabit internet ready

The Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact has a Snapdragon 845 chipset. It has eight Kryo cores, in the standard arrangement. Four are performance cores, four are lower-clocked for everyday use.

It’s so powerful you have to wonder whether it’s slightly wasted on a phone with just an extra-long Full HD screen.

It scores 8,371 in Geekbench 4, comparable with the Samsung Galaxy S9. Many more phones are expected to use this chipset in 2018, including the HTC U12 and LG G7.

The Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact has 4GB of RAM. It’s fast dual-channel DDR4 according to our benchmarks. Not that anyone pays attention to RAM speed at the moment.

The Snapdragon 845 also has a 1.2Gbps modem. This is handy if you live in an area with incredibly fast 4G mobile internet. But in most places it doesn’t mean a great deal.

Verdict

The Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact is a solid step forward from the XZ1 Compact in several respects. It has more storage, a higher screen resolution and some camera improvements.

It’s the classic Compact blueprint, updated for 2018.

That said, it's far from perfect, with a cheap feel, disappointing front-facing camera and lack of headphone jack holding it back.

Who's this for?

The Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact is for people who want a small phone that is still powerful. Small and punchy it is, although make sure you are ready for its chunky build.

Should you buy it?

How much do you care about having a small phone? If that’s your primary concern the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact is the most tech-packed option out there. However, you do take a hit with the impressiveness of the build.

The Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact isn’t a phone we’d immediately recommend to everyone. High-powered specs and a small screen are an odd combo and it doesn’t look or feel that expensive.

However, like previous Compacts, it’s a refreshing phone that offers something different. It is quite the pocket rocket.

Not sold on Sony's latest Compact? Check out these three alternatives.

iPhone 8

Apple phones tend to exist on a plane of their own, but the iPhone 8 is a legitimate 'small' phone, with a 4.7-inch screen. The Sony is a couple of millimeters narrower still, though, because while it has a higher inch count, its display aspect is also wider/longer.

The iPhone is a lot slimmer and feels more expensive in-hand though. It’s also around $100/£100/AU$100 more expensive.

Google Pixel 2

The Pixel 2 sounds like it is similar to the Xperia XZ2 Compact on paper. Five-inch screen, high-end specs? Yep.

However, as the Google phone’s display is a 16:9 shape, it’s still a little wider, if also a lot less thick. The Pixel 2 wins for camera flexibility and overall image quality. It’s lighter and seems more expensive in person too. However, if less width matters most, the Sony clinches it.

Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact

What was the last phone in the series like? The Xperia XZ1 Compact does not have an 18:9 screen, so there is more space above and below the screen. Screen area is lesser too, with a 4.6-inch diagonal, and resolution much lower at 720p.

The older phone is thinner, but as it has a block-like shape, you don’t notice this benefit much. However, the screen is less of a battery sap.

First reviewed: March 2018

Andrew Williams
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