Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact review: The new standard for small
I love being surprised by tech. After doing this job for nearly 10 years, that’s getting harder and harder to achieve, so when it happens I savor and nourish that feeling.
The Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact surprised me. I’ve admittedly always been a fan of the diminutive form factor and pleased that Sony, a company whose smartphone has struggled over the past few generations, has maintained its cadence along with larger Xperia kin. This time around, the Compact doesn’t match the larger XZ2 in build quality or features, but it excels tremendously in the core competencies of what to expect with a modern Android phone, and stands apart by offering a relatively capacious screen in a body so, so one hand-friendly.
But first, the specifications
The Xperia XZ2 Compact is smaller and more plasticky than its larger counterpart, but internally they’re pretty similar.
|Operating System||Android 8.0 Oreo||Android 8.0 Oreo|
|Display||5.7-inch LCD, 2160x1080Gorilla Glass 5 18:9 aspect ratio||5-inch LCD, 2160x1080Gorilla Glass 5 18:9|
|Processor||Snapdragon 845 64-bitAdreno 630||Snapdragon 845 64-bitAdreno 630|
|Expandable||microSD up to 400GB||microSD up to 400GB|
|Rear Camera||19MP Exmor RS, hybrid AF960FPS FHD slow-mo, 4K HDR video||19MP Exmor RS, hybrid AF960 fps slow-mo, 4K HDR video|
|Front Camera||5MP f/2.2 23mm wide-angle||5MP f/2.2 23mm super wide-angle|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, USB 3.1, GPS||Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, USB 3.1, GPS|
|Charging||USB-CQuick Charge 3.0Qnovo Adaptive Charging Qi wireless charging||USB-CQuick Charge 3.0Qnovo Adaptive Charging|
|Sound||Stereo S-Force front speakers||Stereo S-Force front speakers|
|Security||Rear fingerprint sensor||Rear fingerprint sensor|
|Dimensions||153 x 72 x 11.1mm||135 x 65 x 12.1mm|
|Weight||198 g||168 g|
|Network||1.2Gbps (Cat18 LTE)||800Mbps (Cat15 LTE)|
|Colors||Liquid Black, Liquid Silver, Deep Green, Ash Pink||White Silver, Black, Moss Green, Coral Pink|
There are three significant differences between the larger and smaller of this Xperia generation: the XZ2 is glass and metal whereas the Compact is metal and plastic; that plastic means the Compact lacks the XZ2’s wireless charging; and the smaller chassis of the Compact means there’s no space for the so-called Dynamic Vibration System.
There are other minor differences, like the smaller battery (obviously) and slower cellular connectivity, but by and large, this is the same phone shrunk down to pint-sized proportions. And it’s glorious.
All the small things
When I review a phone like this, which is just like another phone but marketed at a specific niche, I have to ask myself: were it not for this one differentiating feature, would it be a good phone? Thankfully, with the Xperia XZ2 Compact, the answer is decidedly yes. While the frosted plastic back of the phone looks a little downmarket, the Compact feels every bit a flagship. Dense and perfectly weighted throughout, it’s a joy to hold and even nicer to use, especially if you are, like me, someone who prefers swiping across a virtual keyboard.
The Compact feels every bit a flagship, even though the back is made of plastic.
The Xperia XZ2 Compact is the first of the series to cross the 5-inch mark, and that’s done without aggravating the dimensions. While the phone isn’t completely free of bezel, the now-18:9 LCD display is surrounded by the slimmest found to date on a phone bearing Sony’s name (the logo of which is unfortunately emblazoned on the front of the phone — bad Sony!) and while it works on larger phones to make them easier to grip, it works doubly well here.
The phone is both narrow and comparatively tall, but not too tall for the average thumb to easily reach the top. After using the 5-inch Pixel 2 and the 5.8-inch Galaxy S8 (which are basically the same physical height), using the Compact is like a dream.
There’s also a fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone, a hallmark of Sony’s new Ambient Flow design that unabashedly thickens the phone with a rear bulge that pushes the Z-axis to 12.1mm. To be honest, it’s a fair compromise given the extraordinary battery life to be gleaned from the 2870mAh cell, and that fingerprint sensor — this year it actually works in the U.S.
What’s missing is a headphone jack, but Sony sort of makes up for it by offering stereo speakers that sound really good, especially from a phone of this size. That refrain will keep coming up, too: it’s hard to believe Sony fit so much hardware into a device this small.
The right stuff
The Xperia XZ2 Compact shares the same basic hardware as both its larger counterpart and the rest of 2018’s flagships: a Snapdragon 845, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of base storage. Its 5-inch display is an IPS LCD panel, and while it’s not bad, it’s not great, either.
The issue is neither sharpness — the 2160×1080 resolution makes it quite dense, actually — nor viewing angles or color reproduction but refresh rate: the screen ghosts. That means when scrolling quickly through a web page or Twitter feed, you can see a wisp of the previous image fading into the background. It’s not always perceptible, but coming from the high-quality OLED panel of the Galaxy S9, it’s clear this is not a comparatively high-quality display.
Like almost every other Sony flagship over the last few years, this one is rated IP68 water resistant and dustproof; like high-end phones from many other companies, it lacks a headphone jack. At $649, this is certainly the cheapest way to buy a Snapdragon 845-powered phone at the moment, and there are no major compromises to speak of, which I appreciate.
It would have been nice to see a headphone jack in a phone that purports to be a music lover’s dream phone — from LDAC to ClearAudio+ to DSEE HX, there are more than enough hyperbolic acronyms to go around —but at least Sony’s selling this awkward and amusing charging-headphone jack dongle.
Every year, Sony says its phone cameras are among the best in the business, and every year they’re… not. This time around, Sony is using the same 19MP MotionEye sensor as the Xperia XZ1 series, along with the same ƒ/2.0 G Lens that we’ve seen in its phones for years, but the photos look great — a lot better than last year’s models.
The camera’s not perfect, but you’re going to be happy with these photos.
Why is that? Because Sony decided to work with Qualcomm to optimize the camera for the Snapdragon’s Spectra image signal processor (ISP). Increasingly, phone makers are utilizing computational photography algorithms — essentially math — to output better photos in all types of challenging lighting conditions.
The gist is that in most situations, the Compact works great and produces wonderfully detailed photos that stand up to any flagship on the market. There is some softness in the corners, but the subject in focus, even in dim conditions is usually in focus with plenty of detail.
The main improvement over previous Xperias that I’ve seen in my time with the Compact is that, perhaps thanks to the upgraded ISP, low-light photos aren’t smeared by overzealous smoothing as a way to cut down on grain. Photos taken in dim conditions ramp up the light sensitivity to compensate for lack of stabilization, but better processing makes the grain barely noticeable.
Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact (left) | Samsung Galaxy S9 (right)
Of course, without optical stabilization or a wider lens, the Xperia XZ2 Compact can’t quite compete with the Galaxy S9 and Huawei P20 for overall low-light fidelity, but given its physical constraints, I’m quite happy with the results. In fact, a few of the low-light photos from the Compact look as good or better than the Galaxy S9 equivalent. The Compact isn’t great at tap metering — the effect of tapping the screen to adjust the exposure level of a scene — but it is not phased by most other situations.
If you’re a videographer, however, you’re probably going to want to think about whether the Compact is for you; it can shoot 4K HDR video, which is great, but the electronic stabilization pales in comparison to the aforementioned competition, and the finicky 960FPS super slow motion doesn’t quite make up for it.
That’s because even though the phone supports 1080p slow motion video (the S9 can only do 720p), the capturing process is entirely manual, which requires quick reflexes and a lot of luck.
Battery for day(s)
It’s quite remarkable that Sony was able to fix a 2870mAh battery cell in a phone this, well, compact, but it’s there and it lasts awhile. In fact, I couldn’t once get the phone to die before the end of the day, which is quite a feat. (The Galaxy S9, for a comparative data point, barely gets me through the afternoon.)
Sony’s always managed to eke as much battery life from its phones as possible, but given the Compact’s size, its longevity is a remarkable achievement.
The Xperia XZ2 Compact arrives with Android 8.0 Oreo, and it looks and feels both familiar and outdated. Sony hasn’t given its software an overhaul for a couple of years, though it’s done a fairly sticking with Google’s Material Design guidelines for its launcher and apps. There’s very little about the software that’s opinionated, and that suits me just fine — I tend to install Nova Launcher and move on with my life.
This is Sony’s best small phone ever, and one of its best releases to date.
Admittedly, it’s disappointing not to have a swipe-for-notifications gesture on the fingerprint sensor, and there’s no face unlock option — both of which are becoming increasingly common — but those are minor omissions in an otherwise excellent experience. Similarly, many will scoff at the phone’s lack of a headphone jack, but Bluetooth (and USB-C) audio sounds so good, I find it difficult to care. There’s an adapter in the box, too.
- Incredible form factor
- Improved design over previous Xperias
- Good build quality
- Quality photos in almost all conditions
- Fingerprint sensor! In the U.S.!
- I missed the glass back of its Xperia XZ2 sibling
- Lacks optical stabilization, which affects video more than stills
- No carrier partners, or Verizon/Sprint compatibility
- Screen quality lags behind the similarly-priced competition
At $649, the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact isn’t cheap — it’s the same price as the Pixel 2 and $50 more than the Honor View 10 — but it’s the best small phone you can buy. It’s not necessarily a better phone than, say, the Pixel 2, since the camera doesn’t quite match up and it won’t be updated as quickly, but it stands up quite well.
On the other hand, it’s not available at any U.S. carriers, so you can only buy it unlocked from Best Buy right now, with Amazon jumping on board in a month or so. It also doesn’t work with Verizon or Sprint, so it’s T-Mobile and AT&T and their various partners. (In Canada, the Xperia XZ2 Compact will be sold exclusively through Quebec-based Videotron starting on April 18.) Not a dealbreaker, but something to consider. It’s also unclear whether you’ll get things like VoLTE or VoWifi (though I’d expect not).
If you can stomach those compromises, I can heartily recommend this fantastic pint-sized phone.
See at Best Buy