Sony Xperia Z2 vs Samsung Galaxy S5

April 16, 2014
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Evolution, not revolution, has been the order of the day as far as the latest crop of flagships from Samsung, Sony, and HTC are concerned. You do get the obligatory specifications bump and an upgraded software experience. But especially when it comes to the design language, refined is the best way to describe the HTC One (M8), Sony Xperia Z2, and Samsung Galaxy S5. We’ve already taken a look at the Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One (M8), and now it’s time to pit the Samsung flagship against the latest high-end offering from Sony.

Sony has come a long way from just a couple of years ago, continuing to add to and refine what was a fantastic starting point with the Xperia Z. Samsung on the other hand, has been following its tried and tested policy for years now, albeit with enough new and somewhat intriguing elements to keep things interesting and capture the imagination of consumers.

Either way, we have two amazing smartphones on our hands, and I’m sure you’re curious to see how they compare. Here’s the Sony Xperia Z2 vs Samsung Galaxy S5!

Design

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When it comes to the design, not much has changed with either smartphone as far as design esthetics are concerned, with many of the elements you may be familiar with from previous iterations making a return. As was the case with the comparison of their predecessors, the debate opposing Samsung’s plastic build and Sony’s tempered glass comes up once again.

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With the Samsung Galaxy S5, you get the slightly rounded corners around what is overall a pretty flat profile, and is a design language that will feel all too familiar, which is either a good thing, or too played out, depending on your point of view. The same button layout appears on the front, with a physical home button flanked by two capacitive keys. There are a couple of major changes when it comes to these buttons though — the menu key of old was replaced by a recent apps capacitive key, and the home button now feature an integrated fingerprint scanner.

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The Sony Xperia Z2 features the same angular design that was found with the Xperia Z1 and the Xperia Z before it. Once again, a lot of the design language remains the same, including the iconic large silver power button on the side, atop the volume rocker, along with a dedicated camera button further below that, placed perfectly to easily snap pictures if you’re holding the phone in the landscape orientation.

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The aluminium frame and the tempered glass on the front and back, give the Xperia Z2 a classy, elegant look. With the Samsung Galaxy S5 on the other hand, the company has moved on from glossy plastic, in favour of a soft touch finish resembling the finish of the Nexus 7 (2012). This design feature has been received with mixed reactions; some find it a step back from the look and feel of the faux leather back first introduced with the Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

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Another addition to the Samsung Galaxy S5 is a plastic flap that covers the microUSB port, along with a back cover that snaps in a lot more securely, both necessary requirements for the phone’s resistance to water (IP67), a first for the Galaxy S line. The Xperia Z2 is, of course, dust and water resistant as well, a standard feature of the high-end Xperia line since the Sony Xperia Z. As such, the Z2 comes with protective covers for the microUSB port, SIM slot, and microSD slot.

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The Sony Xperia Z2 is definitely larger than the Galaxy S5 overall, in part due to the fact that it features a display that’s 0.1 inches bigger. Also, while the bezels of the Sony flagship have been shrunk down compared to the Xperia Z1, there is still quite a significant border at the top and bottom of the display. This difference in size does result in a slight difference in the ease of one-handed use. The Xperia Z2 definitely requires more of a stretch when it comes to reaching across the device, while the Samsung Galaxy S5 retains the in-hand experience that was found with the Galaxy S4 for the most part, and is still quite comfortable to use with one hand. Because of the build material, the Sony Xperia Z2 is also comparatively heavier than the Samsung Galaxy S5.

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Overall, if you liked the design and handling of the previous versions of these two smartphones, you’re definitely going to like what you get this time around. You get the battle of glass versus plastic, with both phones featuring highly distinctive designs and good build quality. Which one is better for you will depend on your tastes.

Display

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When it comes to the display, you do get a slight bump in size for both of these smartphones, with a 0.1-inch increase for the Samsung Galaxy S5 and a 0.2-inch change in the Xperia Z2, but either way, you get two great quality displays.

The Samsung Galaxy S5 features a 5.1-inch display with a 1080p resolution (432 ppi) and gives you everything you’d expect from a high-quality Samsung display. Crispness, colour vibrancy, contrast, and brightness are all there, and as expected, the saturation is so high that colours seem to pop. This display really lets the bright and colourful TouchWiz UI shine through, and the viewing angles are fantastic as well, with practically no loss in clarity even at steep angles.

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The Sony Xperia Z2 also features a 1080p display, at a slightly larger 5.2-inch size, resulting in a pixel density of 424 ppi. There were quite a few issues with the display of the Xperia Z1, and in order to fix that, Sony introduced Live Colour LED technology alongside the Triluminos and X-Reality engine. Basically what this means is that extra colours have been added to the LED matrix, resulting in a display with an even wider colour gamut. Colours that were once slightly washed out are now incredibly vivid, and the viewing angles are much better as well, which was a prominent issue with both the Xperia Z1 and the Xperia Z.

The Sony Xperia Z2 shows a massive improvement over previous iterations of the flagship device, however Samsung’s faith in the Super AMOLED technology is upheld by another fantastic display in the Galaxy S5. Even if size is your biggest selling point, a difference of 0.1-inch isn’t that much anyway, so it is a bit of a toss up here, as you might get a better saturation of colours on the Galaxy S5, but the display of the Xperia Z2 is no slouch either.

Performance

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When it comes to performance, we get what’s pretty much expected from either of these smartphones, or any current flagship device for that matter. Both devices feature the best processing package currently available. The quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor is clocked at 2.5 GHz in the case of the Samsung Galaxy S5, compared to the 2.3 GHz of the Xperia Z2, with the Adreno 330 GPU ably supporting both. You do get 3 GB of RAM with the Xperia Z2 though, while the Galaxy S5 packs 2 gigs of RAM, but both will handle all your multi-tasking requirements very easily.

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In the case of the Sony Xperia Z2, great performance is helped along by the minimalist Xperia UI, that confirms the principle that, when you keep it simple, you keep it fast. On the other hand, Samsung has received a lot of flak about the TouchWiz UI having a lot of stutter and lag, but that’s almost never to be seen with the Galaxy S5, with the optimized OS playing its part in providing a great user experience.

Performance is smooth and snappy with no real issues, and both smartphones should be able to comfortably handle anything you throw at them.

Hardware

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When it comes to hardware, the Galaxy S5 has to be mentioned first, as Samsung has once again managed to pack its flagship with every piece of hardware you can think of, ranging from the expected, such as a microSD card slot, NFC support, and IR blaster, to a few new additions that include the finger scanner up front, and the heart rate monitor on the back.

Of course, the Sony Xperia Z2 isn’t actually lacking, unless the fingerprint scanner and heart rate monitor are must-haves for you. Like the S5, Sony’s phone packs a microSD slot and NFC support. Both devices feature support for the recently-released 128 GB microSD cards, so you shouldn’t have any trouble with memory.

You get the full range of connectivity options with both smartphones, but the Sony Xperia Z2 will probably be available only from T-Mobile in the US, if past releases are an indication.

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When it comes to the speakers, Sony has changed things up by introducing front-facing ones in the Xperia Z2. The quality may not be as good as we would’ve hoped, but they are still leaps and bounds better than the rather weak rear speaker of the Galaxy S5. And, because they are front facing, the experience is that much better on the Xperia.

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You get a larger 3,200 mAh battery with the Sony Xperia Z2, compared to the 2,800 mAh unit found in the Galaxy S5. In both cases, battery performance and longevity were on par, allowing me to get a lot of work and play done over the duration of a busy day. Battery life is certainly helped by the robust power saving modes available with both smartphones, and if you do end up using these options, getting more than a full day of battery life is definitely possible. The edge has to be given to the Samsung Galaxy S5 though, as the battery is removable, which gives you the option to carry around a spare in case you’re worried about running out of power.

Samsung Galaxy S5 IP67 water resistance

The good news with both smartphones is that they are able to take a dunk, which should help improve their lifespan. Galaxy S5 comes with an IP67 rating, which indicates complete protection from dust, and the ability to immerse the phone in up to 1 meter of water for as long as 30 minutes. The Sony Xperia Z2 on the other hand, comes with an IP58 rating, which means limited protection from dust with no harmful deposits, along with the ability to immerse the phone under a depth of over 1 meter and under pressure, without a negative effect on functionality or performance.

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The Samsung Galaxy S5 does offer a little more in terms of hardware with the inclusion of a fingerprint scanner and a heart rate monitor, but the usage of both may be quite limited at the moment for most users out there. So while they may prove useful to some, we wouldn’t call them selling points for the Galaxy S5.

Camera

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Samsung introduced some new technology on its rear camera, while Sony brought back the camera from the Xperia Z1, but with some enhancements and a refined app.

One of the biggest additions to the Galaxy S5 is the new 16MP ISOCELL sensor, which features a new technology that isolates each pixel from neighbouring ones for higher quality photos. Backing up great hardware is a software application that is packed with features, as is a norm with Samsung devices. But this time around, you do get a couple of practical ones such as Live HDR and Selective Focus. Even if the Selective Focus is a little hit and miss at times, it’s still pretty fun to use, and allows you to get some style out of your photos.

Samsung Galaxy S5 camera settings

Photos have good detail, and they do retain their sharpness even after zooming in, though this is not true in every case. Nonetheless, the colour reproduction is great, and even in low light, if you have the stabilizer on, you do get some good captures. Of course, you get a higher level of grain in low light conditions, but that is something that’s to be expected from current smartphone cameras.

The Sony Xperia Z2 features the same 20.7 MP camera of the Z1, with some improvements across the board. When it comes to the app, it includes a few more features this time around, with Timeshift video, 4K video, augmented reality apps, and its own selective focus mode, along with Superior Auto, which does a really good job of selecting the right settings for each scene.

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The picture quality has also improved, and is without any of the smudginess and dark areas that you would have got with the Xperia Z1. That being said, the level of grain is still pretty high, especially when you’re using the 20.7 MP size for the photo, but it does capture colours really well. It’s a bit of a downer that there are almost no options when using the camera at its highest 20.7 MP capacity, and ultimately, if you want to get the best pictures possible, you have to limit yourself to the 8 MP modes. Granted, when you do use the 8 MP modes, it opens up a world of possibilities, and the images you get are actually very good, but not being able to use the camera at its highest capacity is still a little disappointing.

These two cameras probably represent the best cameras that are available on the flagships that are available today. With both cameras, you’ll get some great shots, not only for posting on social media, but also if you’d like to take your photography skills a little further by tweaking and playing around with the settings. The 16 MP ISOCELL camera of the Samsung Galaxy S5 is a great performer, and Sony has already had one iteration to get the 20.7 MP G Lens camera right, continuing to improve it in the Xperia Z2.

Software

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Finally making it over to software, it’s obvious there are two very different philosophies at work here.

Sony believes in keeping things simple and elegant, as is evident from the user interface, which might be a little brighter than previous versions, but still retains its simplicity. The only noticeable additions being Sony apps such as Walkman or the Gallery Album app, along with the Small Apps, which are accessible from the recent apps screen.

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When it comes to the general esthetic of the Xperia UI, it’s pretty monochromatic, with darker tones overall that suit well the Xperia Z2’s display. You get the general motif of the stock Android experience, without losing the quintessential Sony style.

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Samsung, on the other hand, went in the opposite direction, adding more new elements to the bright, colourful, almost cartoonish TouchWiz. Toggles in the notification drop down and Settings menu now feature a circular motif, and are much easier to use now. The biggest addition is My Magazine, a second screen that works as a news and social media aggregator, but eventually ends up feeling like an extra, unnecessary step between you and Flipboard, and doesn’t even work quite as well as the already powerful Flipboard app.

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Samsung packed the Galaxy S5 with software features galore, with many previous features such as MultiWindow, numerous gestures, and more returning, along with a few useful additions such as Toolbox, the Download Booster that does work really well, and an updated S Health app to take advantage of the Heart Rate Monitor.

Ultimately, we get an optimized version of the TouchWiz UI, which definitely feels like the fastest version of the OS to date. While the small esthetic changes do make the interface feel a little fresh, it’s only a matter of time before that freshness wears off, leaving you with a interface that will probably feel too familiar for its own good.

Specs Comparison

 
Sony Xperia Z2
Samsung Galaxy S5
Display5.2-inch IPS LCD Full HD (1920 x 1080), 424 ppi5.1-inch Super AMOLED, Full HD (1920 x 1080), 432 ppi
Processor2.3 Ghz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, Adreno 3302.5 Ghz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, Adreno 330 or 2.1Ghz Octa-core Exynos (depending on market), unspecified GPU in Exynos SoC
RAM3 GB2 GB
Cameras20.7 MP Exmor RS rear camera, 2.2MP from camera16 MP ISOCELL rear camera LED flash, 2.1 MP front
Battery3,200 mAh2,800 mAh
Storage16 GB, expandable16/32 GB, expandable
Networks3G, 4G LTE3G, LTE Cat. 3 2X2 MIMO
ConnectivityGPS, GLONASS, microUSB 2.0, Wi-Fi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, NFCGPS, GLONASS, microUSB 3.0, Wi-Fi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, NFC
SoftwareAndroid 4.4 KitkatAndroid 4.4 Kitkat
Dimensions146.8 x 73.3 x 8.2 mm, 163 grams142 x 72.5 x 8.1 mm,
145 grams

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Pricing and Final Thoughts

The Samsung Galaxy S5 is available from all major carriers under two year contracts, typically for $199. The Sony Xperia Z2 is yet to make its way to the US, but when it does, it will most likely launch with T-Mobile, as has been the case with previous iterations.

And so, there you have it, the Sony Xperia Z2 vs. the Samsung Galaxy S5. Ultimately, they are both fantastic smartphones, and it all comes down to how you prefer to use your smartphone. With the Samsung Galaxy S5, you get the feature-filled TouchWiz, with its functional, though not very elegant way of doing things. On the other hand, the Xperia Z2 has a more minimalistic, stock-like feel to it, but does come with the unique Sony style and features. It’s all about what tools and features will help you better, and choosing between these two devices really comes down to your specific needs.

Buy the AT&T Samsung Galaxy S5 from Amazon
Buy the Sprint Samsung Galaxy S5 from Amazon
Pre-order the Samsung Galaxy S5 from Verizon
Pre-order the Samsung Galaxy S5 from T-Mobile
Sony Xperia Z2 on Ebay

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