Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact review: Dinky smartphone is currently on offer

Jose Simpton

You’ve got to applaud Sony for keeping small-form-factor smartphones afloat. The XZ1 Compact , which appeared at the tail end of 2017, was a diminutive 5.2in handset that didn’t scrimp on specs. Arguably, it was one of the most impressive launches of the year, going toe to toe with £600-ish flagships at a fraction of the price. (Let’s just forget about that naff 3D image scanning tech, eh?)

Now, with 2018 in full swing, Sony has done it again. A mere six months after launching the high-end Xperia XZ1, it’s followed up with the XZ2 Compact – another phone that's small in size but big on features, with a couple of nifty tricks hidden up its metaphorical sleeves.

Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact review: What you need to know

As the name suggests, the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact is a close relative to the regular Xperia XZ2 . The two phones share identical internals – the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of expandable storage – but while the Compact keeps the 18:9 display, it shrinks it down to a modest 5in across the diagonal.

Another thing that’s special about this smartphone is its 19-megapixel rear camera, which is capable of recording HDR video footage at 4K resolution. This is the first smartphone ever to achieve such a feat, and is likely one of the reasons you’re reading this review in the first place.

Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact review: Price and competition

The pocket-friendly XZ2 Compact costs £529 to buy outright; that’s £171 less than its regular-sized counterpart , but £29 more than last year’s model originally launched at. Indeed, you can now buy the XZ1 Compact on Amazon for only £370 .

If size isn’t a priority, there are plenty of other great handsets that can be had for a similar price, notably the excellent mid-range OnePlus 5T ( £449 ) and the Huawei P20 ( £570 ). Samsung’s Galaxy S8 can nowadays be picked up for around £450 too.

Best Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact contract and SIM-free deals

Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact review: Design

The XZ2 Compact looks just like the regular XZ2, only smaller. With its smoothed corners and sides, and slightly curved rear, it also calls to mind the Nokia 8 and the HTC U11 Plus . It fits snugly in your palm, although it feels a little chunkier than its non-Compact counterpart, and comes in Black, White Silver, Moss Green and Coral Pink finishes.

One subtle design difference is that the Compact doesn’t have the reflective glass rear of the XZ2; instead, it comes with an anti-scratch, polycarbonate coating over its aluminium frame. The front is still protected by Gorilla Glass 5, though, and the whole thing is IP65/68 dust- and water-resistant.

The fingerprint reader, which used to do double duty with the right-side power button, has moved too. It’s now on the rear, just below the camera, while the dedicated camera shutter button remains on the right edge.

Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact review: Display

Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the XZ2 Compact is its screen. This is the first small-form-factor phone to sport an 18:9 display, and it works brilliantly. The 5in Full HD+ (2,160 x 1,080) panel is a comfortable size, and offers nice wide viewing angles.

It’s technically impressive too. Our X-rite i1Display Pro colorimeter confirmed that in the phone’s “professional” display mode – which targets the sRGB colour profile – the XZ2 Compact’s screen covered 87.9% of the sRGB colour gamut. Colour accuracy is superb too – we measured an average Delta E of 1.27 – and it’s very readable in sunny conditions, with a peak brightness of 600cd/m2.

There are two other display modes to choose from, but we’re not great fans of either: the default “Super-Vivid” display mode pumps up the saturation to extreme levels, while the standard mode, conversely, produced colours a bit too muted for my liking.

Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact review: Performance and battery life

The XZ2 Compact is powered by Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 845 processor – the same chip that you’ll find inside most of 2018’s flagships – and it’s supported by 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, expandable up to 400GB via microSD.

That makes this a very speedy phone. Sony claims that both CPU and GPU performance are up to 30% faster than last year’s model, and our benchmark tests largely bore that out. With a single-core Geekbench 4 result of 2,379 and a multi-core score of 8,559, the XZ2 Compact delivered a massive 24% jump in overall performance over the XZ1 Compact.

Battery life is up to snuff, too. The XZ2 Compact made it through 14hrs and 10mins of continuous video playback before needing to recharge. That’s a very respectable result, indicating that you should comfortably get a day’s use out of a single charge with moderate usage.

Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact review: Camera

Photography is one area where the XZ2 Compact represents a big step forward from its predecessor. Like its full-sized counterpart, the Compact comes with a 13-megapixel rear camera that can record 4K video footage with full 10-bit HDR processing. That means masses of tonal detail, while electronic image stabilisation (EIS) helps keep captured footage smooth and judder-free.

In practice, it produces impressive results. I found that 4K video recorded with HDR enabled looked excellent, with strong colours and a richer, more balanced overall exposure than we normally see from smartphone footage. The 960fps slow-mo mode has been upgraded too: on the XZ1 Compact this was limited to 720p resolution, but the XZ2 supports Full HD.

Unfortunately, there’s one big problem: 4K HDR footage suffers from juddery frame rates. A certain jerkiness is obvious when you pan the camera across a scene with SteadyShot turned off – and it gets much worse when you flick the setting on. That greatly undermines the XZ2 Compact’s appeal as a high-end camcorder.

When it comes to stills, the camera’s specifications may look unexceptional – the 19-megapixel rear camera has a sensor size of 1 / 2.3in, an f/2 aperture and hybrid phase detect/laser autofocus. Image quality is better than you’d expect, though: shots taken in low light with the phone’s Intelligent Auto shooting mode look great, especially with HDR enabled. As usual with Sony phones, though, there’s a little more grain and noise than you’d get with some other cameras.

Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact review: Verdict

Sony’s Xperia XZ2 Compact has a lot going for it: a welcome new design, speedier internals and a dominating 18:9 display are big improvements on what was already a great little smartphone. Unfortunately, the rear camera lets it down. On paper, it’s far more capable of high-quality video capture than its predecessor, but the frame-rate issues we encountered are hard to live with.

There’s also a question about what the future might hold. Sony has recently been showing off new dual-camera technology, which should bring better low-light performance to its smartphone family in the not-too-distant future. The XZ2 certainly has its strengths, but if you're not in a rush, it could be worth holding fire to see what Sony does next.