The Sony Xperia Z2 has a 5.2-inch Full HD display, runs Android KitKat, has a top-of-the-range quad-core processor, 3GB of RAM and a 20.7-megapixel camera capable of shooting 4K Ultra HD video - but is it worth upgrading to from the Z1?
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,4/23/2014 12:40:20 PM
Look and feel
Ease of use
Very high build quality.
More waterproof than its rivals.
Camera does too much post-processing.
Temperature issues with recording 4K video.
Bulky design is uncomfortable to hold.
By Alistair Charlton, Devices Editor
Arriving in stores just six months after the Xperia Z1, the Z2 is Sony’s second stab at creating a flagship Android smartphone. It has a the same Full-HD resolution and 20.7-megapixel camera, but is lighter, thinner, faster and more waterproof than its predecessor. Entering a fiercely competitive market alongside the Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One (M8), does the Sony have what it takes to come out on top?Retaining Sony’s ‘Omnibalance’ design, you’d be hard-pressed to spot the difference between the Xperia Z1 and Z2. An aluminium chassis is sandwiched by glass panels front and back, while the Z2’s micro SD, SIM and USB ports are covered by tethered flaps - an annoying but unavoidable consequence of being waterproof to a depth of five metres for up to 30 minutes.
Thanks to a special coating, the headphone jack does not require a cover, and there is a magnetic port for connecting the Z2 to Sony’s own charging dock - sold separately and avoiding the need to open the phone’s flaps every time you need to recharge.
Black at first glance, but with a blue/purple tinge when viewed more closely, the Z2 feels like a solid slab of smartphone, and while this gives the phone an air of quality rivals like the plastic Samsung Galaxy S5 can’t match, the Sony’s squared, bulky design occasionally counts against it. Make no mistake, this is a big phone and can border on unwieldy at times.
One thing I noticed immediately with the Z2 was its vibration motor and how loud it is. Setting a phone to vibrate usually means you can rely on receiving silent notifications, but the Z2’s vibration can be heard from across the room - and I don’t mean the noise of the phone vibrating against anything, the spinning motor itself is noisy. Vibrating at each tap of the keyboard, fast typing causes the motor to reach its top speed and stay there until you finish each word, emitting a whirring noise. It’s as if the phone can’t turn the motor on and off quickly enough.
Yes, you can turn this off, but it feels - and sounds - like a design shortfall which has slipped unnoticed through the quality control net.
At 146.8 x 73.3 x 8.2 mm and 163g, the Z2 is a chunky handset which some readers may find difficult to hold in one hand. Indeed, the squared-off edges made me yearn for the more curvaceous HTC One (M8), which, despite being a similar size, feels more comfortable and secure in the hand. I’d rather have seen Sony keep the Z1’s 5-inch screen and shrink wrap the body; those large bezels above and below the screen make the Z2 look and feel much larger than it needs to be.
The Z2 is a beautifully crafted handset...the metal finish is subtle and businesslike
The Z2’s glass rear looks smart right out of the box, but is a magnet for grime and fingerprints, and you’ll soon be wiping it on your jeans at every opportunity to try and keep it clean. I also found that there isn’t a surface known to mankind which the Z2 cannot slither and slide its way off of. Sofa arms and even my leather wallet were no match for the Z2’s slippery surface, which saw it slide slowly away from wherever I put it. A small issue, for sure, but one which saw my Z2 hit the deck more than once.
Read More - Samsung Galaxy S5 Review
Apart from its bulk, the Z2 is a beautifully crafted handset. The aluminium chassis keeps flex to a minimum, the brushed metal finish is subtle and businesslike, avoiding the glitzy finish of the Galaxy S5 and iPhone 5s, and the pulsing notification light reminded me of the light on a PlayStation 4 controller. If only the Z2 were a little smaller...
Despite smothering the Xperia Z1 with more fancy descriptions than a Marks & Spencer meal for two, the phone’s screen left me disappointed - it produced excellent colours, but just wasn’t bright enough to be useable outdoors. Sony has continued to use phrases from The Big Book of Marketing to advertise the Z2 - which means you get a Triluminos screen with X Reality technology.
The former is the same technology as used by Sony’s Bravia televisions, while X Reality boosts colours when you’re viewing certain content - like photos and films. This means bolder, brighter colours and more saturation, but I found it looked too artificial, giving the Z2 a similar problem to Samsung’s AMOLED screens of a few years ago. Happily, X Reality can be switched off in the settings menu.
In dark rooms the Z2’s screen absolutely excels - and at 5.2 inches it’s a great size for watch Netflix in bed. Unfortunately, when outside in bright natural light the Sony is difficult to use. I’m not sure why, but this handset seems much more reflective than its Samsung, Apple and HTC rivals.
Bright light also produced a strange effect whereby a grid of pixels reflected from behind the screen, shimmering in the light. I’m not quite sure what’s causing this - it could be the touch sensitive panel rather than the screen itself - but it was obvious in bright sunlight and not something I’ve seen from smartphones before. I’ve tried to capture this in the photograph below.
The dots below the Walkman app icon can be seen across the entire screen in some light.
These niggling issues aside, the Z2 has a very good screen that is sharp, brighter than its predecessor and with good viewing angles - I just wish it was less reflective and, for those with smaller hands, a fraction smaller.
As you would expect, the Xperia Z2 comes with Android 4.4.2 and Sony’s own visual modifications draped over the top, bringing changes to the home screen, app icons, notifications drawer, camera (more on that later), and the settings menu.
Sony’s modifications aren’t as in-your-face as Samsung’s on the Galaxy S5, but do enough to make both Sony regulars and those new to the brand feel at home.
The Z2 comes with a number of home screen widgets to help you get the best out of Sony’s vast media offerings, along with access to the PlayStation Mobile store for gaming on the go. There is a degree of duplication in the apps on offer here, as Sony’s products clash with those already baked into Android by Google. For example, you can use both Sony’s Walkman music player and Google’s Play Music; or Video Unlimited, Movies and Play Movies & TV.
Read More - HTC One (M8) Review
Overall though, I found Sony’s take on Android to be responsive, attractive and - once set up how you want - simple enough to use.
Until now the Z2, while not doing too much wrong, hadn’t done a great deal to impress me and make me consider it over the Galaxy S5 and One (M8). However, looking at the camera’s 20.7-megapixel sensor, image stabilisation and 4K video recording, I was hoping for the Sony’s photography prowess to win me over.
Firstly, the default Superior Automatic shooting mode only capture images at eight megapixels. For the full 20.7-mp you’ll need to switch to Manual - and you’ll have to do that every single time you open the camera app, which can become frustrating. Once open, however, Manual mode is much simpler to use than its intimidating name suggests. Everything from flash and white balance to scene mode and exposure is automated unless you dig into the settings to say otherwise.
Aside from Manual there is Background defocus, the smartphone camera app ‘feature de jour’ which gives your images a shallow depth of field ‘bokeh’ effect - but, unlike the HTC One (M8), you’ll need to select this feature manually every time you want to use it. There’s also a mode for shooting images and video with virtual scenes like dinosaurs roaming around your living room, plus an option for shooting six-second videos, ideal for sharing on Vine.
Given it’s a headline feature of the Z2, I headed straight to the camera’s 4K video shooting mode. Despite not owning a 4K - or ‘Ultra HD - television, I wanted to see the future and zoom in on videos while keeping the quality at Full HD, a feature Sony was proud to show off when it announced the Z2 back in February.
4K video, as you would expect, looks spectacular, and zooming in without reducing quality below HD is a nice implementation of the technology before we all have 4K televisions of our own - but there’s a problem.
After just a couple of minutes recording in 4K, the Z2 flashed up an error messaging telling me it was too hot, and the camera app would close. A second later the app shut down, just as I noticed how hot the back of the handset had become.
Sony is aware of the problem and told me the following: “Shooting movies in high quality 4K resolution can make significant demands on your phone's processor and battery life, as well as phone memory.
“Therefore for the best experience, we recommend you install a high capacity SD card...and shoot 4K video in short bursts of no longer than a few minutes at a time."
I installed a microSD card, but recording 4K video to it still caused the phone to overheat and close the camera app after a couple of minutes. Sony has some real issues here, and it seems unlikely a software update would make the app run much cooler, meaning your 4K videos will be limited to around two minutes. Generally, I noticed the Z2 heat up more than any of its rivals.
I cannot praise Sony enough for including a dedicated, two-stage button for taking shots
Slow-motion video can be captured at 720p quality and 120 frames per second to create beautifully smooth and slow footage, which can be fun to experiment with.
Moving to image quality, and the Z2 mostly impressed me. Photos taken were sharp and well saturated without looking artificial - after remembering to turn X Reality off - while I cannot praise Sony enough for including a dedicated, two-stage button for taking shots, something the iPhone 5s, One (M8) and Galaxy S5 all fail to include.
I sometimes noticed the Z2 produce more noise in shadowed areas than its rivals, and the Z1’s insistence on applying too much post-processing to the images, giving them a grainy finish has been inherited by the Z2, meaning results can be inconsistent. Sometimes the Z2 would produce an over-processed image with grain and noisy shadows, but then it’d knock the ball out of the court by creating a real beauty moments later.
The Xperia Z2 shares the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor as the Galaxy S5 and One (M8), clocked at 2.3GHz and offering a market-leading 3GB of RAM.
The Sony wins on paper, but in reality it’s a dead-heat between it and the rest of the flagship competitors. Apps open almost instantly, close just as promptly, and the interface is buttery smooth.
I opened Real Racing 3 on the S5, One (M8) and Z2 at the same time and the Z2 was ready to play first, closely followed by the other two, but I’d stress that there were only a few seconds on it. Away from side-by-side testing, you’ll struggle to notice the difference between them.
There’s just 16GB of internal space, but a microSD card slot means this can be increased by up to 128GB.
Measuring 3,200mAh, the Sony’s is larger than most and will see the phone through a full day of heavy use without breaking a sweat. With 48% left as I wrote this review, the Z2 claimed it would last another 22 hours, or a massive 1 day and 14 hours if left in standby mode.
As with Samsung and HTC, Sony offers a number of battery saving modes, which limit the phones use of Wi-Fi and mobile data, among other tricks, to help eke out every last bit of charge. With Sony’s Stamina Mode activated, that same 48% of charge claimed to be good for two days and 13 hours of regular use, or three days and five hours in standby.
With the biggest battery, the most RAM, the largest screen, the most extreme waterproofing and a camera with the highest megapixel count, the Sony Z2 should be the best phone on sale today - and on paper, it is.
But, as much as it pains me to say it, the Z2 can’t quite deliver on that promise. I found it difficult to use comfortably, and not just because of the size, which is almost the same as the HTC, but because of those squared edges. It may look great, but it isn’t ergonomic. The Z2 is a hunking great slab of a smartphone - and while some consumers will love that, others will see the HTC and especially the Samsung as more comfortable alternatives.
Fans of the original Xperia Z and Z1 will love the Z2 - if I’m honest it’s what the second phone should have been all along - and Sony’s arsenal of multimedia apps and content helps to offer something above and beyond the competition. Add this to a (mostly) great camera, the best waterproofing ever seen on a mass-market smartphone, and the Z2 is a truly great phone, but one which ultimately left me cold.