A note to the reader: I originally wrote this review in July 2018; the content herein was migrated from my previous blog site.
There’s just something about it.
As you may have seen in previous reviews, you know I’m a pretty big Apple fan. Recently I did a review comparing two great phones, the iPhone X and the Pixel 2 XL, both of which I still use on a regular basis…and because of that, it’s safe to say that my cell phone standards are pretty high.
But over the last year or two, we’ve seen a lot of great phones hit the market that don’t require you to take out a second mortgage on your house. People have become cell phone crazy, and with a willingness to pay top dollar for the best, most exciting phone, other manufacturers are also taking the opportunity to release some mid-range phones with really great specs in the $300 – $700 range. One example is the Essential phone, released last year, that is a great phone that missed the mark in one major way, its camera. Still, for around $500, you could get your hands on a phone with a great design and snappy performance that definitely turns heads.
This year, Sony is releasing its second generation XZ phones (suitably called the XZ2’s) which include a number of different choices, so many that perhaps Samsung is a little jealous. All joking aside, Sony’s line of cell phones, tablets and laptops have always had a soft spot because of their design; if your Samsung Galaxy S9 is in a sport coat, the XZ2 might be in a tuxedo. Sony’s design has always been what I would call “smart.”
All of the different players in the XZ2 line conform to some specific feature that make that phone the best for the choice: The XZ2 has a big screen, the XZ2 Premium has a 4K display, and the XZ2 Compact is, well, smaller than all the others. Yes, in a world with increasingly large screens, Sony still has the gall to release a product with a 5-inch screen.
This phone is more than just a 5-inch screen, though. The previously-mentioned “smart” design seen in many Sony products carriers through here, but does so in an incredibly compact body. Many smaller-screen phones still being released are put on the market with large bezels, but the XZ2 Compact’s bezels are smaller than the competition; the side bezels are tiny, and the chin and forehead are small enough to make this phone look like it might have been released recently (compared to, for instance, the Pixel 2 or the iPhone 8).
The screen itself has sharp corners, which is nice to see again, and the Corning Gorilla Glass 5 front sits very slightly above the metal edges of the phone. This is one of the first small-screen phones that I’ve seen in an 18:9 aspect ratio, and the screen itself is full HD+ at a 2160×1080 resolution. The sides and back are all metal which give this phone a great premium look and feel; the materials also add to its considerable (but extremely pleasant) heft. And speaking of heft, the alleged ‘compact’ phone is extremely thick, coming in at a half-inch, probably due to the ample 2,870 mAh battery.
Some additional features to mention–a 19MP single-lens camera with a dedicated shutter button, a “snappy” Snapdragon 845 processor, expandable storage supporting up to 400GB micro SD cards, 4GB RAM and 64GB onboard memory, Bluetooth 5.0, USB-C charging and stereo speakers. Pair that with the previously-mentioned beefy battery, and you have a pretty good package for $600.
So what’s wrong with it? Well, nothing, really. Sony’s software overlay on Android 8.0 is minimal, almost non-existent, and the fingerprint sensor on the back is pretty fast. The 19MP camera isn’t a gimmick and performs well enough for most users, and has a ton of manual setting options as well as super slow motion 960FPS video capture. And, the processor and memory combo help it handle tasks with ease. The battery, which drives the relatively small screen, does so impressively; I went almost two days between charging on days with light-to-moderate use. It’s a small, zippy phone that’s a joy to use.
If there’s anything in 2018 that is wrong with this phone, it’s the screen size, which is kind of crazy. I’m used to big screen phones, so the first couple days with the XZ2 Compact were pretty rough–and I found myself having to shrink text just to get more to fit on a screen that 5 years ago was perfectly adequate for everyday use. And while I may go back to using my iPhone X soon, I do have to admit, there’s just something special about this phone.
Big phones are not for everyone, and that’s the sweet spot where the XZ2 Compact performs best. The camera is great, and I love the fact that it has a dedicated shutter button (although I’m less excited about the power button and shutter button both being shortcuts that turn on the screen and take you directly to the camera app). I love using a phone that again fits into my front pants pocket, or my front shirt pocket without looking ridiculous. And I absolutely love the way the thing feels in the hand. But the other thing to consider is, small phones are alsonot for everyone.
Sitting on a table in front of you, you’re sure to get criticisms: “Where did you get that 10 year old phone from?” one coworker asked me. But once you spend some time with it–hold it, use it, and experience some of the major advantages in smaller phones that you may have forgotten about–the XZ2 compact is definitely worth considering. And for $600, it’s not a bad package deal. I’m sure that carriers will discount it as it is not going to be in the top 5 selling smartphones over the next 6 months, and that would be the ideal time to pick one up.