Sony announced itself as a major player in the flagship smartphone market last year with the Xperia Z, which featured a beautiful all-glass design, and was the first true flagship to offer protection from dust and water. The company continued to build on a fantastic platform with the Sony Xperia Z1, released in September last year, addressing the few flaws of its predecessor, and the Xperia Z1 Compact, which opened up a whole new world of possibilities in the “mini” segment.
Different from other OEMs is Sony’s bi-yearly flagship launch cycle, with it’s latest smartphone offering, the Xperia Z2, announced at this year’s Mobile World Congress. Like the Xperia Z1 did for the Z before it, the Xperia Z2 is a evolutionary step above the previous generation, bringing refinements more than anything else.
Considering the short time between releases, it’s easy to view the Sony Xperia Z2 as nothing more than an incremental update. Does Sony’s bold move to release a new flagship just six months from its predecessor work? Or will it prove a wasted effort? We find out in this comprehensive review of the Sony Xperia Z2!
When you first look at the Sony Xperia Z2, it might take you a second to realize that you’re holding the latest version of the Sony flagship. Much of what you may remember and love, about the Sony Xperia Z1 more or less makes a return here, with a few subtle changes that serve to make the experience even better.
Once again, you get a phone with a solid aluminum frame that goes all around the phone, combined with the tempered glass at the front and back. However, there is a bit of a lip to the frame that sticks out just a little bit which is quite a big step away from the smoother, more rounded edges of the Xperia Z1. That being said, this difference doesn’t make this handling experience uncomfortable, but is definitely noticeable.
As far as the profile goes, it’s just about the same size as the Xperia Z1, albeit slightly taller and a smidgen narrower and thinner, which is actually great to see considering the fact that the Xperia Z2 comes with a larger display. Basically, if you had no qualms about the original Omnibalance design, this will be completely familiar.
On closer inspection of the front, you’ll see little slits at the top and the bottom that are the front-facing speakers. This is definitely a welcome change, and we’ll talk about the quality of these speakers below. The back of the phone is a simple slab of glass, exactly like what was found in the previous iterations, with only the Sony logo, Xperia logo, and the rear camera with the G Lens optics to be found.
The sides of the device feature what we’ve come to expect from the current crop of Sony Xperia smartphones. The button layout includes the signature large silver power button, with the volume rocker just below it, along with a dedicated camera shutter button even further below. All the buttons are nice and meaty to press, and the camera shutter button proved very easy to use. Right above the power button is microSD card slot, covered by a flap.
What is a little strange is that there is just one long flap cover for the SIM tray and the microUSB charging port instead of two separate ones, and that exposes the innards of the smartphone a little more than I’d like. Of course, the reason for these flaps is that the Xperia Z2, like most of the other high-end Sony smartphones released since the Xperia Z, comes with an IP58 rating for protection against dust and water. What this means is that along with a lot of protection from dust, you can submerge the device in up to 1 meter of water, for as long as 30 minutes, without any negative effect on its performance. You also get the magnetic charging port to the left, which should be better utilized with the inclusion of a charging dock in the box, as opposed to having to pick one up separately.
Unfortunately, while the phone itself isn’t really bigger than its predecessors, the handling is still just outside the comfortable zone when it comes to one-handed usage, and some hand gymnastics will be required for tasks like typing, and definitely for reaching the top.
If you were hoping for any drastic changes with regards to the design language in this third iteration of the Sony flagship, you’ll be disappointed. But sticking to the tried and tested isn’t necessarily a bad thing in this case, as this design has become the signature Sony style through and through.
As mentioned before, what is very impressive about the the Xperia Z2 is that it features a display that is 0.2-inches bigger, while keeping the overall dimensions as close to the Xperia Z1 as possible. There’s a very a good reason for this happening.
With the Xperia Z1 and the Xperia Z before it, many consumers were unhappy about the larger than expected bezels around the display, and in a move to address this concern, Sony shrunk the bezels down, managing to fit in that larger 5.2-inch display.
The size of the display isn’t the only change, with this screen adding Live Color LED technology alongside the Triluminos and X-Reality Engine. That basically means the addition extra colors to the LCD matrix, resulting in a display with an even wider color gamut. Colors that were once slightly washed out are now incredibly vivid. But the most striking difference for any Xperia follower is the much better viewing angles.
You can clearly see the difference between the displays of the Xperia Z1 and the Xperia Z2 in the video below.
Sony seems to have finally got it right this time around, by creating a display that not only makes viewing media a blast, but is also an even better performer in other respects.
It should come as no surprise that the latest Sony flagship features the best processing package currently available, with a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor clocked at 2.3 GHz, along with the Adreno 330 GPU and 3 GB of RAM. As expected, I’ve had no issues with the general usage of this phone, being able to play processor-intensive games like Anomaly 2, and easily going through various tasks like checking and posting to Facebook, followed by watching some YouTube videos, and even downloading and listening to a few Podcasts, all in the same run.
It has to be mentioned though that I did find some stutter in the UI here and there, as well as the occasional pause when entering the recent apps screen, but these don’t really break the flow, and are probably due to the user interface, rather than a fault with the processing package.
The other bits and pieces found in the Xperia Z2 also contribute to the general experience, and are of course well protected from the elements, considering the IP58 rating of the smartphone.
The microSD card slot is now becoming a trope of flagship devices, with HTC finally giving in to consumer demands with its latest offering, the HTC One (M8). Of course, this was a feature that was always available with Sony smartphones, and that remains the case with the Xperia Z2. Up to 128GB of additional storage can be added to supplement the in-built 16GB of memory.
You get the full range of connectivity options with the Xperia Z2, including NFC, and even the ability to connect to a Dualshock controller via a USB OTG cable, which isn’t included in the package though.
Front-facing speakers are always an exciting prospect, but unfortunately these ones prove to be only decent, at best. The sound isn’t all that rich, and it doesn’t get very loud either, and while it may be enough for personal enjoyment, it’s definitely not enough to share music with a group. Call quality was of little trouble when I used this phone on the T-Mobile network, with no complaints from either end.
When it comes to the battery, you get a sizeable 3,200 mAh unit which does a good job of powering the phone for quite a while. With the screen on for about half the duration, the battery went down to 75% in about two and a half hours. Keeping up this usage level, which rarely happens, the battery would last for around 11 hours. With the great standby time available, the average user should comfortably get a full day of use out of the device, especially when taking advantage of the slew of available power saving features.
Sony attempted to up the ante with regards to smartphone camera tech, by putting a powerful 20.7 MP f/2.0 G Lens camera on the Xperia Z1. That setup looked great on paper, but was ultimately rather lacking in the processing department. Before we get into whether the camera of the Xperia Z2 is a significant step up, let’s first take a look at the default camera application of the phone.
The app retains its general look and menu from previous iterations, including the mode selector. 4K video, Vine recording, Timeshift, and augmented reality apps are all available to add more fun to your smartphone photography. Superior Auto, which I generally believe to be a good automatic mode, returns as well, but once again is limited at taking shots at 8MP or lower. The manual mode allows for a bit more freedom, but the most notable change is the addition of a 15.5 MP 16:9 setting. Since I rarely shoot in 4:3, finally being able to somewhat take advantage of the high megapixel count is a really big deal for me. On the flip side, you can’t select scene modes in any setting over 8 MP, which is really disappointing.
As far as the picture quality is concerned, there has been some improvement, as the dark areas that used be smudgy in the case of the Xperia Z1 are less so this time around. The level of grain is still pretty high though, but color does tend to be captured well, so the G Lens is certainly capable of taking some great pictures.
The low aperture you’re working with will get you some really nice bokeh backgrounds, but this definitely requires you to be pretty precise with your focal point.
The very large 20.7 MP pictures can yield great shots, but without the added benefit of scene modes, you’re basically just working with a huge raw capture of your scene. There isn’t an exceptional level of sharpness to them to justify cropping, and this problem dulls the excitement you might have about the high megapixel count of the Xperia Z2 camera. You’ll get more consistently enjoyable pictures by taking advantage of the settings like Macro or HDR, but as I’ve mentioned before, these will only work with megapixel count lowered to 8 MP, so it’s just a huge bummer that the 20.7 MP rear shooter once again turns out to be more of a marketing point than a truly useful feature.
As we did for the HTC One (M8), stay tuned for a Camera Shootout Feature Focus where you’ll be able to see the Sony Xperia Z2 in action some more.
When it comes to the software, we find the same Timescape UI we know from previous iterations, with small changes to the tried and tested formula. Like with everything else, this proves to be its selling point. The interface is actually very close to a stock Android experience, and continues to bring a simplistic elegance to the Android fold, of course along with some quintessential Sony style, as you can see in the Play Station 3 inspired live wallpaper.
The app drawer features the familiar horizontal page layout, but also comes with a pullout menu that includes some simple settings, as well as quick and easy access to some key apps such as the Google Play Store. The notification dropdown still comes with a dark motif, but now includes a useful power widget that is customizable, and allows you to add or remove toggles. This is definitely a good idea, and saves you from the clutter that can be found in Samsung or LG devices.
Another Sony Xperia trope returns with the Small Apps feature, which can be found in the recent apps screen. These small overlay apps you can use for quick multitasking are a nice addition, but ultimately a tool that I didn’t use often. They are definitely more suited for a tablet than a smartphone. And of course, Sony devices include their own media apps like the Walkman, which was always attractive to me and would be something I used, if only my music wasn’t already in the cloud, the Album gallery app, and the Movies app that includes a nice connection to a podcast aggregator that I actually found quite useful. All of these apps connect to Sony’s own Unlimited media shop, from where you can buy movies and music.
Aside from the occasional stutter that I already mentioned before, this is another great example of how keeping things simple is usually the best to keep everything fast. The Xperia Z2’s user interface continues to capture the essence of stock Android, but with enough Sony uniqueness to make it stand out.
|Display||5.2-inch IPS LCD Full HD (1920 x 1080), 424 ppi|
|Processor||2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 CPU, Adreno 330 GPU|
|Storage||16 GB, expandable|
|Cameras||20.7 MP Exmor RS rear camera, 2.2MP from camera|
|Software||Android 4.4 Kitkat|
|Dimensions||146.8 x 73.3 x 8.2 mm, 163 grams|
While we don’t know the exact release information of the Sony Xperia Z2 in the US, it’s likely going to be available from T-Mobile. Until then, you can always pick up the unlocked version, which will set you back $700.
And so, there you have it, our comprehensive review of the Sony Xperia Z2. While the latest iteration isn’t a big leap from the Xperia Z1, you do get a better and larger display on a device that isn’t much larger than its predecessor, updated software, and a somewhat enhanced camera experience. It may not be a significant change, but Sony’s policy of correcting issues from the previous versions while packing everything into a very familiar package seems to be working.
If you really loved the Xperia Z1 but couldn’t pick one up, and are now in line for an upgrade, the Xperia Z2 is probably the way to go. New users can come straight to the Z2 to remain with the latest or greatest, but you can definitely look to the Xperia Z1 for a cheaper, but slightly less polished experience. In the end, Sony continues to move forward and get it right with their Xperia flagships, and it looks like they’re perfectly happy doing so little by little.