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Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact review: Sony's tiny powerhouse is the best small phone around

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The Sony XZ2 Compact is a rare beast. It's an absolute powerhouse of a phone, with a cracking camera and a great screen, but with only a 5-inch screen, it fits comfortably in the palm of your hand.

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Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact

The Good

The Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact is a mini flagship phone you can actually use with one hand. Strong specs across the board keep compromises to a minimum.

The Bad

The design is dull as a paving slab, there's no headphone jack and the front-facing camera isn't anything to get excited about.

The Bottom Line

The Sony XZ2 Compact's flagship-level performance and pocketable size makes it the phone to get if you want something smaller that doesn't skimp on the goodies.

A supercharged small phone is something that no other Android manufacturer offers. And at $650, £529 or AU$830, it's not badly priced either when you consider Samsung's Galaxy S9 will set you back $720 to $800 and the iPhone X starts at $999.

Whether price is important or not, the fact remains that it's actually the only small flagship-level Android phone around. Apple does its own smaller phone -- the iPhone SE, and the rumoured iPhone SE2, potentially coming later this year -- which is the only other compact handset around to consider. If you're not keen on switching to Apple and you're not taken with the XZ2 Compact, you'll need to work on those thumb exercises as they'll have to stretch further on a bigger phone.

The powerful, pocketable Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact

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While other flagships seem hell-bent on stretching out our thumbs beyond what's physically possible -- I'm looking at you, 6.3-inch Galaxy Note 8 -- the 5-inch XZ2 Compact is tiny by comparison. That diminutive size makes it comfortable to hold and use with one hand and easy to slide into the pocket of even your skinniest jeans.

The display is larger than the 4.6-inch one on the previous Compact, but the tiny bezels around it mean that the body hasn't had to expand much to accommodate it. It's water-resistant too and while its polycarbonate design is yawn-inducingly plain, particularly in the dull black version I reviewed, it feels satisfyingly solid to hold. Sadly, Sony has sacrificed the headphone jack on the Compact, so you'll need to get yourself a set of wireless headphones or use the supplied dongle in the box if you want to use your favorite pair of earbuds or cans.

Like a hamster that's swallowed a fusion reactor, the XZ2 Compact is a tiny thing packing some serious power. Running Qualcomm's 845 processor, it made light work of gaming, photo editing and gave some blistering scores on our set of benchmark tests -- on par with the Galaxy S9 Plus and comfortably beating the Google Pixel 2. There's nothing you'd throw at a larger phone that the Compact won't also happily eat up.

Xperia XZ2 Compact camera performance

The camera puts in a great performance too. Outdoor shots are vibrant, well exposed and sharp thanks to the 19-megapixel sensor. There's no dual camera for zooming, black and white shots or proper portrait blurring, so it's not as fully featured as cameras on the S9 Plus or the Huawei P20. It takes great snaps though and there's a super slow-motion video mode that captures 960 frame-per-second footage in full HD -- that's better quality than the slow-motion mode on the Galaxy S9.

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Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact outdoor camera test.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET
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Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact outdoor camera test.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET
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Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact front-facing camera test.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Selfies from the front 5-megapixel camera aren't as crisp as on rival phones (as you'd expect, given the relatively low resolution), but it's good enough to post boastful holiday selfies to Instagram. It shoots video in 4K and can do slow-motion at 960 frames per second in full HD, one-upping the Galaxy S9 which only shoots slow-mo at 720p.

Xperia XZ2 Compact battery life

Testing the phone's battery has been challenging. On multiple runs of our standard battery drain test (we loop a video on airplane mode), the Compact achieved times ranging from an impressive 17 hours down to as little as 9 hours on two separate review units. There's no consistency to the results on either phone and it's difficult to say why that is.

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The rounded back is comfortable to hold

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

After observing the phone's battery drain while using it in my day-to-day, the Compact's battery life is best described as "fair". From a day of use that includes some photo taking, podcast streaming, a bit of gaming and some emailing (what I would consider "regular" use in an average day), the battery had dropped to around the 20 percent mark. While it might make it into the second day, you won't get much past reading the morning news, so it's best to give this phone a full recharge every night.

Is the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact the right phone for you?

The final thing we need to talk about is the 5-inch screen. The Xperia XZ2's 2,160x1,080-pixel resolution makes the display crisp and it's very bright too. Sony boasts that it's HDR-enabled, and certainly colours look punchy and vibrant to my eye. But I'd question the point of such cinematic screen tech on something so small. You're unlikely to want to sit back and enjoy a whole movie and even if you do, no amount of display technology is going to make you feel fully immersed.

And that's the decision you need to make here -- do you want a small phone, or something you can enjoy movies and games on? If size is your main factor, go for the XZ2 Compact. Nothing else comes close because, well, most phones are made big these days so you won't have to squint your eyes reading the news, looking at photos or watching video clips.

The only other small option to consider is the Apple iPhone SE, which at 4 inches is even more thumb-friendly than the Sony. If you're not in a rush then it's worth waiting, however, as the iPhone SE2 is rumoured to be getting a refresh later this year. The Google Pixel 2 has a 5-inch display, packed into a slightly larger body than the XZ2 Compact, making it not quite as pocketable overall. It's still smaller than other flagships though and it's got a great camera, though you'll have to dispense with waterproofing.

But if you can bear to stretch your thumb further, Samsung's 5.8-inch Galaxy S9 is worth a look. Yes, it's larger and more expensive, but it's considerably more beautiful, has a cracking camera front and back and it won't make you ditch the headphone jack.

Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact specs comparison chart


Sony Xperia XZ2 CompactSony Xperia XZ2Apple iPhone SEOnePlus 6
Display size, resolution 5-inch; 1,080x2,160 pixels5.7-inch; 2,160x1,080 pixels4-inch; 1,136x640 pixels6.28-inch OLED; 2,280x1,080 pixels
Pixel density 483ppi424 ppi326ppi402ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 5.31x2.56x0.48 in6.02x2.83x0.44 in4.87x2.31x0.3 in6.13x2.97x0.31 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 135x65x12.1 mm153x72x11.1 mm123x58x7.6 mm155.7x75.4x7.75 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 5.93 oz; 168g6.98oz; 198g3.99 oz; 113g6.2 oz; 177g
Mobile software Android 8.0Android 8.0 OreoiOS 9.3Android 8.1 Oreo
Camera 19-megapixel19-megapixel12-megapixel16-megapixel standard, 20-megapixel telephoto
Front-facing camera 5-megapixel5-megapixel1.2-megapixels16-megapixel
Video capture 4K4K4K4K
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 8452.7GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845Apple A9 chip (64-bit) with M9 motion co-processor2.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
Storage 64GB64GB16GB, 64GB64GB, 128GB, 256GB
RAM 4GB4GB/6GBTBA6GB, 8GB
Expandable storage up to 400GB400GBNoneNone
Battery 2,870mAh3,180mAh
3,300mAh
Fingerprint sensor Back of phoneBackHome buttonBack
Connector USB-CUSB-CLightningUSB-C
Headphone jack NoNo
Yes
Special features Super slow-motion video (960fps), IP68 water resistant960fps super slow-motion in 1080p or 720p resolution$399 (16GB); $499 (64GB)Portrait mode, notifications toggle, dual-SIM, Dash Charging
Price off-contract (USD) $650$799£359 (16GB) £439 (64GB)$529 (64GB), $579 (128GB), $629 (256GB)
Price (GBP) £529£699AU$679 (16GB); AU$829 (64GB)£469 (64GB), £519 (128GB), £569 (256GB)
Price (AUD) AU$830Converts to AU$780
AU$702 (64GB), AU$769 (128GB), AU$835 (256GB)
sony-xperia-xz2-compact
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Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 8Performance 9Camera 7Battery 7