Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact initial review: Potent little package

If you're looking for power without having to lug around a massive screen, then Sony's Xperia Compact has often been the device of choice.

Alongside a new Xperia XZ2, there's also the Xperia XZ2 Compact, which carries pretty much all the power of its larger stablemate, but in a form factor that's significantly smaller. 

Some companies hobble smaller phones, cutting then down to a mid-range model, but not so with the Compact: this is a fully-featured flagship grade phone.

Refreshed Xperia design 

  • 135 x 65 x 12.1mm, 168g
  • Polycarbonate rear panel
  • IP65/68 waterproofing

Sony has torn up the Xperia design guide and moved on from that old blocky, monolithic look that typified Xperia devices of the past. A new design ethos has been ushered in for the XZ2 models, called Ambient Flow. 

That name means as little as OmniBalance did, but what it offers is a change from squared design to curves. Some of these curves around the edges had been moving in over the past few years, but the big shift is a curved back.

sony xperia xz2 compact

It's a nod to the sort of "human" design that's typified devices from HTC or LG, the curve is supposed to make it sit in your hand better. With that curve, Sony is aligning the rear elements down the centre - the camera and the fingerprint scanner. 

What Sony is hanging onto is the sort of quality you expect: there's an aluminium core with a Gorilla Glass 5 front, while the rear is polycarbonate. Ok, it's plastic not glass like the larger XZ2 and this has often been the case on Xperia Compact models. 

You don't get the same glossy finish with depth, instead there's a frosted glass-like look. We've seen this sort of finish from Sony before and the large and smaller models very much have that design relationship that they always have. The Xperia Compact is waterproof with an IP65/68 rating.

sony xperia xz2 compact

On the whole we're pleased to see Sony finally making a significant design change, but this phone is a bit of a fatty. That may pay dividends when it comes to battery life, but we'll have to wait until we review it fully to determine that.

A step up in Compact display

  • 5-inch Full HD+ display, 483ppi
  • HDR compatible with upscaling
  • 18:9 aspect

Along with that refreshing design shift, Sony Mobile is also moving the display to an 18:9 aspect. This very much follows the recent trend in smartphones, but it's also allowed Sony to move this display up to 5-inches without swelling the handset size - it's the same width as the phone it replaces.

That's the advantage that 18:9 offers, giving you a taller display without adding width, while also giving Sony the chance to reduce those top and bottom bezels. At the same time, Sony is stepping this display away from 720p that this phone has offered for some time. For Compact fans, this is likely to be a big deal, as it's now 1080p, Full HD+.

sony xperia xz2 compact

Of course, it will be expanding to 2160 x 1080 to support that 18:9 aspect, but you're now getting more detail crammed in, with an impressive 483ppi. Not only are you getting more detail, but is also a display that supports HDR. HDR is a big part of the Xperia XZ2 family story, offering to upconvert your SDR content to HDR using X-Reality.

X-Reality has been on Sony phones for years offering to boost your photos and videos and now it's claiming to deliver HDR from all your sources - local video or content that you stream. With this phone also offering HDR video capture through the camera - which we'll talk about in a second - there's a lot of HDR love.

Given pre-production hardware and pre-release software its difficult to gauge exactly how good the display is; first impressions are of a vibrant LCD and this offers the choice of colour saturation, as well as various other tweaks to get the look you want. We'll bring more details on the display closer to launch.

XZ2 Compact hardware, flagship level

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, 4G RAM
  • 64GB storage + microSD
  • 2870mAh battery and USB Type-C

The Xperia XZ2 Compact gets the same flagship hardware as the big version of this phone, meaning that this is likely to be one of the most powerful small-format devices of 2018. Powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, it offers microSD expansion. 

There's no 3.5mm headphone socket on this model which will irritate some, so you'll have to use the USB Type-C to listen to music and charge the 2870mAh battery. It will support quick charging, as well as Qi wireless charging.

sony xperia xz2 compact

There's full support for Hi-Res audio, with aptX HD and LDAC support for high fidelity wireless connections, as well as boost to the stereo speakers in the phone, which promise to offer a surround sound effect when watching movies.

This is combined with what Sony is calling a Dynamic Vibration System. Basically, it's a device-wide haptics system that will add vibration (if you want it) to a wider range of content, like games or movies. This works a little like Sony's Dual Shock controller, giving you vibrations to match the content and make things feel a little more immersive. It's an interesting idea - and you can choose where you want it or don't want it.

But one of the bigger elements of the hardware is a custom image signal processor that Sony has co-developed with Qualcomm, providing more power for the camera. Which we'll discuss now.

Sony camera offers 4K HDR video, 960fps slow-mo 

  • 19-megapixel Motion Eye camera
  • 4K HDR video capture
  • 960fps slow-mo at full HD

Sony is sticking to the Motion Eye camera that it launched on the Xperia XZ1. This 19-megapixel sensor enables some advanced functions because of its stacked design, with RAM being included in the sensor, so that data can be processed much faster than a conventional sensor design.

That's paired with that custom ISP to take things up a notch over the XZ1 camera. The more advanced processing power means that the XZ2 is better at handling noise reduction and better with edge enhancement, for example, so it will produce better photos in all conditions.

sony xperia xz2 compact

But there are two areas where the Xperia XZ2 Compact really hits the ball out of the park. The first is offering HDR video capture - that's 4K HDR captured in hybrid log gamma, making Sony the first company to offer this in a phone. 

What difference does that make? From the samples we've seen, HDR video brings tonality and balance that SDR (standard dynamic range) content lacks. For example, the HDR will preserve shadow detail and highlights, where SDR video will give you one or the other. As the phone supports HDR you'll be able to watch it on the phone, but otherwise you'll need to an HDR TV to see the best quality from the video you capture.

sony xperia xz2 compact

Sticking with video, Sony has also boosted the 960fps slow motion offering. Previously this was only available at 720p - HD - but now this has been boosted to 1080p, or full HD. Again, this is quite a step up. The problem that this slow-motion capture presents is being able to get it to film the exact moment you want - something that Samsung has cleverly cracked with automatic motion detection on the Galaxy S9. 

We can't judge the performance of these new features until we get more time with the phones with final hardware and software. What we've seen so far is impressive.

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Friday, March 16, 2018 - 07:04