The Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact is a lot of smartphone for the money, with a powerful CPU/GPU, sharp and bright screen, and long battery life. While its aesthetics could be better, it's the device's weight, more than its fatness, that prevents it from getting a full five-out-of-five.
The Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact is, internally, a big upgrade on the XZ1 Compact, powered by the finest Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU money can buy. The camera is excellent, as is Sony support, which should see it getting regular upgrades. And the price is definitely right, too.
The Xperia XZ2 Compact is fatter and heavier than the XZ1 Compact - noticeably and uncomfortably so. In addition, if you're into taking selfies, you'll be disappointed with the front-camera downgrade, but it's still a decent unit.
WHEN WE REVIEWED the Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact last year, our first impressions weren't great: chunky and angular, it also seemed fatter than many of its rivals and looked like a blast from the past.
However, what was inside, combined with the fact that there aren't too many premium smartphones that haven't put on an inch or two over the years (as we all do) helped endear us to the XZ1 Compact the longer we used it.
Since, Sony has released the Xperia XZ2 Compact and, this time, it seems as if a bit more thought has gone into the style. But is the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact a smartphone that should go on the shortlist of anyone in the market for a £530 smartphone?
The front of the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact (right) alongside the XZ1
The rear of the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact (right) alongside the XZ1
Design, display and battery
It's clear that Sony has listened to complaints over the angular chunkiness of the XZ1 Compact. Chisels have been taken to edges and the back of the phone is now curved, rather than flat. On the surface, it looks smarter - and the silver colour certainly creates a better impression than the wishy-washy green XZ1 Compact that Sony sent us last year.
However, the problem is that it's both significantly fatter and heavier. We're not talking back to 2008 fatter and heavier, but it's certainly a surprise to review a device in 2018 that is less svelte - by two whole millimetres - and noticeably heavier in the hand than the 2017 model.
On our scales, the XZ2 Compact proved 27 grams heavier than the XZ1 Compact. Officially, the XZ1 is 140g (our scales said 142g) to the XZ2's 168g (our scales said 169g). That may not sound like much, but the difference, with the devices in hand, was clear.
The Xperia XZ2 Compact is a couple of millimetres thicker than the XZ1
As such, in one-handed use, the weight not only makes it feel onerous in extended use, but also unbalanced; so much so as to make it feel liable to fall forward out of your hand. And that's not a good start.
However, while 8mm longer, it packs an 11mm longer screen thanks to smaller bezels, top and bottom. The width of the screen remains the same.
Another significant change is the relocation of the fingerprint reader. On the XZ1 Compact this is built-in to the on-off switch sunk discretely into the right-hand side of the device. Hence, you can turn the device on an off with a light depress of the button and a small swipe of your right thumb, both at the same time.
We felt this was both smart and elegant, but not everyone agreed. The XZ2 Compact now has a bog-standard fingerprint reader on the back, where everyone else puts them, that in our opinion isn't quite as fast and accurate as the fingerprint reader on the XZ1 Compact.
Furthermore, combined with its weight, it makes it somewhat awkward to switch on in one-handed (right handed, that is) operation - thumb on button, fingerprint on sensor, then re-orientate grip to ensure it doesn't fall out of the hand.
Also in terms of design, Sony has ditched the on-off button embedded discretely in the side of the device and stuck a bog-standard on-off button on its place. This protrudes significantly, causing the XZ2 Compact to be frequently switched on by accident. Again, the XZ1 Compact was better in this regard.
Both, though, make it mercifully easy to insert or remove SIM cards and Micro SD cards by simply pulling out the tray on the left-hand side, which is vastly preferable to the ‘stick a pin into the tiny hole' method fruitier manufacturers seem to like.
Meanwhile, the larger display on the XZ2 Compact enables an extra row of icons to be displayed on the home page, which should please power users who feel the need to switch between lots of apps.
But we felt a little disappointed with the screen. While the XZ1 Compact's screen is bright and colourful, the XZ2 Compact's screen seems a touch duller, when the two devices are put side-to-side - despite the fact that on paper it's a better screen, offering FullHD+ (1080x2160 pixels) and 483 pixels per inch against the XZ1's 720x1280 and a ‘mere' 319ppi density.
Another problem we found with the XZ2 Compact was that, on a number of occasions, its automatic brightness control didn't respond correctly, leaving the screen dark when it needed to be bright.
The viewing angles, though, are excellent on both devices. Overall, a XZ2 Compact owner will have few quibbles with screen quality.
Nor should they have any quibbles with the battery life on the XZ2 Compact: a smaller screen combined with a reasonably beefy battery make for a device that, like the XZ1 Compact, can go for up to three days on moderate (non-video) usage, and easily last all day if you cane it.
With the XZ2, Sony's squeezed in a slightly bigger battery - 2,870mAh to 2,700mAh - which is presumably where some of the extra size and weight is going.
Software and performance
Sony certainly wasted no time in bunging the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chip into its XZ2 Compact, an upgrade on the Snapdragon 835 of the XZ1, and with the Snapdragon 845 comes an upgrade in GPU, too, from the Qualcomm Adreno 540 to the Qualcomm Adreno 630.
This isn't a trivial upgrade. Qualcomm claims the Snapdragon 845 is 30 per cent more powerful than the Snapdragon 835 - 737 gigaflops to 540 gigaflops.
In terms of performance, the Xperia XZ1 Compact was no slouch. Indeed, it was a notably nippy device, scoring a respectable 155,426 on the Antutu 3DBench, performing competently across the board.
This time, we ran Antutu Benchmark, rather than 3DBench, on both of them so we could pit them head-to-head.
The XZ2 Compact was a touch smoother running the 3D graphics benchmarks, but there really wasn't a lot between them - at least as far as the naked eye is concerned. However, the speed with which some of the tests were loaded on the XZ2 Compact compared to the XZ1 was very noticeable indeed.
The result? The XZ2 Compact scored 264,105 against the XZ1 Compact's 206,885. While this shouldn't be a surprise in view of the improved Qualcomm processor and GPU running in the XZ2, it does represent a 27 per cent leap in performance achieved in just six or so months - the XZ2 is, hence, a considerably more powerful device.
Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact (left) versus the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact (right)
Both also comfortably passed my personal PUBG test. That is to say, they both played the mobile version of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds perfectly smoothly, although the sound from the speakers of both devices is disappointingly tinny, quiet and, frankly, not very pleasant.
The PUBG test took many, many afternoons of hard work to complete (Screenshot from XZ2 Compact)
In terms of software, both are pre-loaded with Android 8.0 and Sony is excellent when it comes to support and pumping out the latest updates. Sony, in common with other manufacturers, seems to have got over its obsession with ‘customising' Android too severely, and the user experience on both devices is therefore almost identical.
Obviously, you get Sony's Xperia Lounge, the purpose of which eludes me, as well as Sony's 3D Creator app for those times when you literally have nothing to do. Both come with trial versions of AVG anti-virus and there's also a Facebook app pre-loaded for you to disable.
Other Sony software bundled with both devices includes Xperia Assist, Xperia Transfer Mobile, Xperia Actions, Xperia Home, Xperia Assist, and Sony Auto Installs configuration. And, of course, if you have a Sony Playstation 4 it comes with the Android PlayStation app, which enables you to do everything with your PS4 account on your phone - except play games on the move.
Camera, connectivity and storage
Sony knows how to make cameras, so its smartphones ought to be well-provided for in terms of photos and videos.
Indeed, we were impressed with the camera aboard the XZ1 Compact and are similarly impressed with the camera work of the XZ2 Compact, largely because they are exactly the same - the front-facing 'selfie' camera notwithstanding which, for some reason, has been downgraded, not upgraded.
That means your selfies won't be quite as good and it's not, in this instance, because you've got uglier (although that can't be completely ruled out), but because Sony has opted to swap out the 8MP f/2.4 1080p front-facing camera of the XZ1 for a 5MP f/2.2 1080p camera in the XZ2.
An evening of beers in 'spoons with the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact (the hot sauce is revolting, by the way)
Nevertheless, for snapping anything other than yourself, the Xperia XZ2 camera is fast and sharp, and competent at the more challenging snaps, too: for example, scenes with a strong contrast of light and dark, such as bright sunlight and shade; and, taking pictures in low light and evening.
Sony claims that it put its very latest and best f/2.0 sensor into the XZ1 and it certainly excels, too, in the XZ2, although I did notice that one or two pics on a big day out to Wembley (for the FA Trophy final, since you ask) were a little granulated. Most pictures, though, were excellent, notwithstanding the ability of the photographer.
On the surface, the camera on the XZ2 Compact makes for sharp and bright images
But on closer examination, it's not always as good as it should be, perhaps
Perhaps more impressive than the camera, though, is the 4K HDR video recording, which Sony claims as a world first. Like the camera, colours are well captured and contrasts in colours well handled. It can also offer 'super slow motion' at 960 frames per second, but they're also super short.
However, taking videos at 960fps is somewhat convoluted and will require budding Dickie Attenboroughs to prepare their shots carefully. Or just not bother.
Storage is another area where the XZ2 has had a generous upgrade, with Sony doubling storage from 32GB to 64GB. If that's not enough, you can also slot-in a microSD card to add up to 400GB more in the dual-SIM XZ2.
Connectivity both in terms of voice connections, as well as mobile data and WiFi, proved reliable.
First impressions of the XZ1 Compact weren't great, but grew over time. It's a nippy, compact device in a world of ever-larger smartphones. The XZ2 Compact, meanwhile, also offers an alternative in a market crowded with what used to be called ‘phablets', but is disappointingly let down by its weight.
The curved underside, too, also means it has a habit of slipping off of crowded surfaces.
The XZ2 Compact is an undeniably solid handset, with a sharp screen, long battery life, smoother lines and a great specification for the money. Its styling has also been tidied up. And yet, it still feels as if Sony could've made it sleeker as well as lighter.
It simply doesn't feel special and, alongside the Xperia XZ1 Compact it actually feels like a retrograde step - noticeably heavier, unbalanced when used in one hand, but the upgraded CPU doesn't make a noticeable difference in everyday use.
And it's the same with the screen, which doesn't appear better to the naked eye, even though it is considerably more highly specified. You'll also need a dongle to plug-in your Bose headphones as Sony's fallen for the USB-C only craze.
Sure, there's a number of solid improvements over the XZ1 Compact - a faster CPU/GPU, higher resolution screen, twice the storage - but most of these don't feel like they make much of a difference in everyday usage, while its overall design feels like a small step back, not forward.
Pricing, though, is competitive. The XZ1 Compact has been discounted from £500 and can now be had for £350-£400, which is a bargain, while the XZ2 Compact offers a lot of smartphone for a very reasonable price - especially when compared to other vendors' increasingly expensive flagship devices.
Buyers of the XZ1 Compact also seem to be very happy with their purchases, if Vodafone website reviews are any guide, so there's no reason to suppose that buyers of the Xperia XZ2 Compact will, likewise, be anything less than happy.
If only Sony could nail the aesthetics. µ