Sony takes a [small] step in the right direction

Today at MWC 2018 in Barcelona Sony announced its latest flagship Android phones, the Xperia XZ2 and XZ2 Compact. Looking at them without context, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were released a couple of years ago. Yet these are Sony’s most modern smartphone designs ever, with curved 3D glass and much smaller bezels than previous Xperia devices.

The larger XZ2 undeniably feels very nice in the hand. Its glass back makes the phone plenty grippy, and the aluminum sides are curved just enough to look good without causing it to slip out of your hand too easily. At 5.7 inches the Full HD HDR display is marginally smaller than competing flagships, but it does go with the stretched 18:9 trend and feels just as modern as the HTC U11+ I’m currently using as my daily driver. Sony branding on the front is disappointing but not unexpected, as is the removal of the headphone jack.

It’s clear from using the phone that it’s a pre-production model as it bugged out a couple of times on me. It was still snappy when switching between multiple intensive apps, as it should be since it’s using Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 845 chip with 4GB of RAM. The final version will ship with Android 8.0 Oreo and should be expected to perform exceedingly well.

A key feature for the XZ2 is 4K HDR video recording, which is something Samsung didn’t include in the new Galaxy S9/S9+. In my brief testing, this seemed pretty janky, however. There was a substantial amount of stutter, but the final production model hopefully won’t drop frames to quite the same extent. Like the new Galaxy devices, the XZ2 and XZ2 compact both have 960fps super-slow-motion video recording in full HD. You can hit a button during any video recording to trigger it, which wasn’t especially intuitive at first but worked well eventually.

Another feature talked up by Sony at this morning’s press conference was the Dynamic Vibration System. Only available on the bigger XZ2, it combines bass-simulating haptics with the HD audio output of the front-facing stereo speakers. There were only two songs on the demo model I used with which I could test this, and both times it felt pretty uninspiring. I’d hate to pass judgment before a full review, but this is likely to fall into the ‘gimmick’ category. It’s adjusted in a separate bar next to the volume slider, but I would hope that can be removed if you want to.

The smaller XZ2 Compact shares most of the same hardware and software aside from the vibration thing. It can be distinguished only by its smaller 5.0″ display and 2870mAh battery (compared to 3180mAh). It’s also considerably thicker than the regular Xz2, as you can see from the photo below. Even so, it feels great in the hand – Ryne was particularly enamored by it.

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