There was a time not that many years ago when Sony was trusted implicitly by consumers all over the world. You knew if you bought a Sony product, you were getting the best, and people were willing to pay more for that peace of mind. However, Sony has struggled to find its place in today's hyper-competitive world, particularly when it comes to smartphones. Sony makes phones that are good in some ways, but the issues often outweigh the strengths. Through it all, the price is still consistently higher than competing devices.
And that brings us to the Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium, which is the most "Sony" Sony phone I've ever used. It's absolutely jam-packed with impressive hardware and has a price tag to reflect that. However, many of the features that are supposed to make this device stand out simply don't matter, and phones that cost half as much do a lot of things better. With the clunky design and dated UI, I have trouble taking this phone seriously at $1,000.
|4K display||The LCD looks nice, and the phone understands that it has a 4K panel. Thus, you can watch 4K content in apps like YouTube.|
|Camera||Daytime photos are fantastic. Low-light could be better, but the ultra-sensitive photo mode is sometimes handy.|
|Battery life||The XZ2 Premium lasts me about a day and a half of light use with around five hours of screen time. With heavy use, you'll eke out a day. That's solid for a 4K screen.|
|4K display again||This does not matter on a phone. A 1440p display looks just as good to me, and probably will to you as well.|
|Design||This phone is heavy, thick, and slippery. That's a recipe for accidentally dropping it on your face in bed.|
|Fingerprint sensor||The placement is far too low on the back. I never adjusted to it because tapping in that location feels so unnatural.|
|Software||Sony spent time developing strange features like Dynamic Vibration, but it screwed up simple things like making sure the status icons don't jiggle around constantly.|
|Headphone jack||There isn't one.|
|Price||The $1,000 asking price is too high considering there are cheaper phones that offer a better experience.|
Design, hardware, what's in the box
The Xperia XZ2 Premium definitely looks like a Sony phone, but it's a new kind of Sony phone. Not all those new things are good—it's heavier, rounder, and made of glass. The rear glass panel is slippery and picks up fingerprints immediately after you touch the phone. The glass curves to meet up with a glossy aluminum frame. The dual camera array on the back is much farther down than it is on most phones, and as a result, the fingerprint sensor is in roughly the middle of the device.
The buttons are all arrayed on the right edge of the phone, and they too are oddly placed. The volume rocker is very high, and the power button is in the middle of the chassis (quite low). There's also a physical camera button at the very bottom, which is the right side when you hold the phone in landscape. The USB Type-C port is on the bottom, and that's the only port—no headphone jack.
The centerpiece of this phone is the 5.8-inch 4K display with a resolution of 3840 x 2160. That works out to a whopping 765 pixels per inch. This is a 16:9 panel and the bezels around it are rather large. Inside, this phone packs a Snapdragon 845, 6GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage. It's all par for a high-end phone in 2018. The battery is a bit larger than competing devices at 3,540mAh (gotta power that 4K screen).
Sony has launched the XZ2 Premium with Android 8.0 rather than 8.1. (I've heard this may be a Qualcomm limitation on certain 800-series devices). The UI looks stock at first, but Sony has gone through and changed everything just a bit. The XZ2 also includes a raft of pre-installed Sony apps.
You might expect a $1,000 phone to include a lot of extras in the box. Well, prepare to be surprised. In addition to the phone, you get a USB A-to-C cable, a Type-C to 3.5mm adapter, a charger (QC 3.0 and USB-PD) that can do about 16W, and the usual bundle of manuals and warranty cards. There's a spot in the box that could be intended for headphones, but mine was empty. It would have been nice to toss in a case for this exorbitant sum.
The Xperia XZ2 Premium is Sony's first dual-camera flagship, sporting a 12MP main sensor and 20MP secondary. It can use that secondary lens to add detail to shots, take portrait mode photos, and pull in more light for ultra-high sensitivity mode photos. Here are some samples of what it can do.
Should you buy it? Definitely not. There are some real problems with the XZ2 Premium, but I could forgive most of them if the price was not so outlandish. There's just no reason to spend a thousand bucks on a phone that can't keep up with devices that cost hundreds of dollars less.
From a purely industrial design standpoint, it's cool how the glass panel curves on all four sides to meet up with the aluminum frame. However, there's not much else good I can say about the XZ2 Premium as a piece of hardware. The phone is extremely thick in spite of the aggressively tapered back—it's 11.9mm thick in the middle, and you'll feel it. It's also among the heaviest phones I've ever used, tipping the scales at 236g. By comparison, the Pixel 2XL is 175g, and the OnePlus 6 is 177g. The phone is slippery, and I constantly feel like I'm going to drop it because it's such a little porker.
I don't think I've ever nailed the fingerprint sensor right on the first try. I end up touching the camera lens every time, even when I think I've adjusted my grip to land low enough. It's just a terrible spot. I'm not fond of how low the power button is on the side, either.
I am happier with the camera on this phone than I expected. Despite making some of the best sensor hardware, Sony's camera performance has disappointed in the past. I would not say this is a great camera, but it's good. In bright outdoor light and moderate indoor light, the Xperia XZ2 Premium produces evenly exposed shots with accurate color and a ton of crisp detail. There's none of that watercolor processing that plagues other phones, but shutter lag is detectable. I don't know if I'd trust this phone to take pics of a moving subject. Sometimes, the smart capture feature will suggest an alternate photo that isn't blurry, but I don't want to rely on that. It also seems prone to lens flare from bright out-of-frame light sources.
There's just no reason to spend a thousand bucks on a phone that can't keep up with devices that cost hundreds of dollars less.
The low-light images are very forgettable until you get to extreme low-light (I'll cover that in a second). The white balance is too warm, and shutter lag starts to get annoyingly long. With middling light, you'll end up with lots of fuzzy shots. Similar to the P20 Pro, the XZ2 Premium engages an ultra-high sensitivity mode when you get to extreme low-light. Captures take a couple of seconds, but you can get a lot of detail in almost pitch black conditions with an effective ISO of 51,400. The photos are seriously noisy, but that's probably better than a mass of grayish blobs.
The 4K LCD is a very nice panel with accurate colors and sufficient brightness to use outside. Unlike some past 4K Sony phones, this one understands that it's a 4K phone. Thus, you can watch 4K video in apps like YouTube, and it even supports HDR. While the video does look stunning, it's exactly as stunning to my eye as 1440p HDR video. Even getting my face right up next to the screen, there's no detectable difference between a 1440p panel and the 4K XZ2 Premium. The added expense and weight don't get you anything useful. This is also a 16:9 panel, so it's uncomfortably wide now that I'm used to 18:9 screens.
Performance on the XZ2 Premium has been solid. The phone hasn't lagged unexpectedly, and the battery life is average. I'm seeing around five hours of screen time over about a day and a half. That's a minor victory with a 4K screen.
Sony doesn't do a full UI transformation in its Android build like Samsung or Huawei. However, it does seem to make innumerable little tweaks throughout the OS. I don't think any of these have made the phone better, and a few of them have definitely made it worse. Case in point: look at this GIF. Look. At. It.
The data activity arrows pop up like that constantly while you use the phone, and they move the other status bar icons every time. You might say this is a minor thing, but let me tell you, it's hugely annoying. I always feel like something is trying to get my attention near the top of the screen, but no, just the arrows again.
The arrow situation is very representative of the state of Android on this phone. Sony's version of Oreo shows a lack of attention to detail. There are app suggestions in the home screen search UI that are basically ads, and the stock home screen has the absolute worst widget picker I've ever used. Then there's the Dynamic Vibration feature, which triggers the vibration motor based on the sound in a music/video player or game. I can't think of any reason I would want this. It's just silly. The vibration motor isn't even very good—it feels loose to me.
It comes down to the price. Sony wants $1,000 for this phone, and it's not remotely worth that much. Sure you can point to the 4K screen to justify the cost, but there's no user benefit to that many pixels on a phone. The camera is good, but not as good as phones that cost $600-900. Then there's the software, which feels amateurish at times. The Xperia XZ2 Premium seems to exist only so Sony can say it makes a phone with a 4K screen. You should not purchase this phone, and I'm not even sure you're meant to.
You're independently wealthy and are curious what it's like to use a 4K phone. You're in it for the bragging rights, just like Sony.
Don't buy it:
You like saving money and want a better version of Android, more capable camera, and smarter design. You realize 4K is just a bullet point on the spec sheet and won't improve your smartphone experience in any way.