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Featured Review: Sony Xperia Z2

June 1, 2014 - Written By Tom Dawson

The Xperia Z2 is Sony’s third – not second, as you might think – attempt at creating an Xperia smartphone that brings “the best of Sony” into one device. I reviewed the original Xperia Z back when it was launched last year and even though the Xperia Z1 (the Z1s on T-Mobile here in the US) was launched last Fall, Sony clearly didn’t think that was enough. The Z2 was announced during Mobile World Congress with some pretty big promises thanks to the inclusion of 3GB of RAM and (finally) the adoption of IPS technology. It’s taken Sony a long time to get the device on shelves all over the world, for whatever reason, but it’s now widely available throughout Europe and Asia.

So, by packing in more specs, an arguably much better display technology, is the Xperia Z2 the best Xperia Z yet? After spending some quality time with the Xperia Z2 over the better part of a month, let’s see what I made of it.

Hardware & Design

No doubt about it, Sony can make some very good-looking electronics, indeed and the Xperia Z2 is no exception. After slightly improving the design over and over again, Sony have once again gone with the slate-like look and feel we first saw with the Xperia Z. This time around though, Sony’s flagship is a little bigger – to accommodate that 5.2-inch display – and there are little flourishes like a hole for phone charms and more rounded edges around the outside of the device. All the extra tweaks here and there come together to create a fairly pleasing device that feels okay in your hand and certainly looks nice.

It’s a premium design, built from some high-end materials with glass panels around the front and the back and even the buttons feel like they’re well-made. Mercifully, there are only two flaps on the device this time, one on the left-hand side of the device for your microSIM and microUSB port and one on the other side for the microSD card slot. The headphone port is no longer covered by an annoying flap as it was in the original Xperia Z and these flaps are longer and don’t get in the way as much as they used to.

There are a couple of things that will put a lot of buyers off though, the 5.2-inch display has lots of bezel at the top and bottom of the device as well as on either side, bumping up the overall size of the device to something much bigger than you might first imagine. Also, the slate design is nice and all, but it’s not all that comfortable after long periods of use when resting in your hand. On the whole though, this is one of Sony’s best smartphone designs yet and it will appeal to a lot of people for being something simple, yet different to most devices out there.

Display

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Both the Xperia Z and the Xperia Z1 left a lot to be desired in the display department, they were both crisp high-resolution displays and they were certainly sharp. However, their viewing angles weren’t perfect and color often felt fairly washed out in a lot of cases. That isn’t the case with the Xperia Z2. At all. In fact, I was more impressed with the display on the Xperia Z2 than on the HTC One (M8), thanks to its rich, deep colors without being murky or dim. This is no doubt down to the new IPS panels that Sony is using and they’re bright enough and easily read in sunlight. It could be a bit brighter, as it does feel like the display tops out a little below what we’d expect, but it’s bright enough.

At 5.2-inches with a 1920 x 1080 resolution, text is crisp and images are nice and clear, too. I’m pretty sure that this is down to the X-Reality engine Sony is using, giving images and video a nice boost, but if I’m honest I think it’s more Sony getting the right display supplier this time around. A great display that’s sharp, vivid with some lovely deep blacks and rich, warm tones to it, the Xperia Z2 has the display that a Sony device deserves.

Performance

The beating heart of the Xperia Z2 is a quad-core Snapdragon 801 clocked at 2.3 Ghz paired with 3GB of RAM. As you might imagine, this combination makes for a powerful device and I never once felt like I needed to close an app or that I had too much going on for the Z2. The 3GB of RAM installed under the glass face might not be used to its full by most, but as apps get more sophisticated, Sony’s latest should keep up with the rest of the pack just fine.

Gaming is great on the Z2, with practically no lag in demanding titles and thanks to the 3GB of RAM, switching from app-to-app is nice and smooth. Everyday tasks are nothing to a device like this and the Xperia Z2 churns through web browsing with no issue at all. Those looking for one of the fastest smartphones out there won’t be disappointed with the performance here. However, don’t go think this will be a big update over the Snapdragon 800 and 2GB of RAM in the Z1, for folks thinking of making the jump beware that this is an incremental upgrade, rather than something completely new.

Sound Quality

People still make phone calls and somewhat unsurprisingly for a high-end device like this, the Xperia Z2 has good call quality. People I spoke to on the phone said I sounded clear and crisp, with virtually no background noise and on my side everything I heard had some warmth to it and I had nothing to complain about.

Speaker wise, the Xperia Z2 has stereo speakers, a sizable improvement over the ones from the Xperia Z and Xperia Z1. These stereo speakers make for a device with a pretty decent sound, although at higher volumes the high notes can be a little piercing, but the sound is fuller now, and not tinny by any stretch. If anything the stereo speakers make the Xperia Z2 a better-sounding device than most on shelves, of course the HTC One (M8) has it thoroughly beaten there. When you plug headphones in, the Xperia Z2 produces some great audio quality and as it has digital noise cancelling built into the device, the included headphones work brilliantly when listening to music on the commute home.

Software

Thankfully, Sony’s software here is much the same as it always was with the Xperia Z line. It’s a subtle, yet unique stamp of theirs on top of Android. Android 4.4.2 KitKat is running the show with Sony’s theme on top of things, which doesn’t – in any way – alter the way Android works. Buttons are in the same place, the notification pull down and quick settings work the same, the launcher is familiar and – unlike others – Sony leaves the multitasking menu alone. The point being that Sony’s software simply looks different and might work a little differently, but it’ll be familiar to any Android user. Nice touches are the floating apps like a calculator and such that can be quickly used on top of any app.

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Another nice touch on Sony’s part are themes, with many included and more to download from the Play Store. They change the software buttons on your device and accents and more. Pixel Perfect was one of my favorites from the Play Store and the theme engine gives users a nice and simple way of personalizing their device.

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All-in-all though, we’re looking at a lightly touched version of Android with little to no bloatware and very little that will get in your way or anything like that.

The Camera

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The 20.7-megapixel shooter running the show around the back of the Xperia Z2 is an excellent showing from Sony. Below are some snapshots taken with the camera, all of which were taken using the intelligent auto mode that Sony has been using for some time now. For the most part, this works very well however, sunlight can give photos a sort of washed out look, but it’s fairly minimal. As you might imagine, there’s a lot of detail taken in by such a camera and thanks to the intuitive interface – and the dedicated camera key on the device itself – playing around with settings or taking a quick snap is super easy.

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There’s a plethora of settings available with a single tap however, including 4K video – should you have a capable display lying around – and a dedicated Vine mode.

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All-in-all, this is a great camera on a great device, it’s not so good in low-light, but then again what small-sensor device is? The Xperia Z2’s camera is like a lot of things, you get out what you put in and if you spend a little time playing around with modes and such, you’ll be really surprised at what you’ll get out of this guy’s camera.

Battery Life

Ever the subjective matter, we all use our smartphones in different ways. As such, what I get out of the Xperia Z2 might not be what you get out of it. You might get more, you might get less. Either way, I found very little to complain about when talking about how long the Xperia Z2 kept on going for. Could it have lasted longer? Sure, but it was more than a good enough and for my general use – some music listening while working, browsing the web and some YouTube fun – I could easily get two days out of the Z2. Sure, by 5 or 6 on that second day I’d need to find an outlet, but a great showing nonetheless from Sony here.

To further the battery life here, Sony have their STAMINA mode as they do with all Xperia Z devices and here, it’s better than ever. Those looking for an “all-day” phone will definitely get that with the Xperia Z2.

The Good

  • Vastly improved display thanks to the IPS tech, it’s a rich and deep panel that’s still very bright.
  • Excellent battery life that shouldn’t disappoint most users.
  • 3GB of RAM and Snapdragon 801 work great together to deliver great performance.
  • Sony’s software is a light and easy to use touch on Android, rather than a messy rework.

The Bad

  • Slightly on the large size for a device with a 5.2-inch display.
  • Flat and harsh design can be difficult to hold after long periods of use.
  • While necessary, the flaps on either side of the phone are still annoying.

The Final Verdict

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Is the Xperia Z2 perfect? Is any smartphone? Sony’s Xperia Z2 is easily their best attempt at a smartphone that brings everything they have to offer into one device. The 20.7-megapixel camera is really quite impressive and the display is warm with rich colors. Thanks to the 3GB of RAM included, its one of the best performing devices out there, perfect for big multitaskers and gamers. Overall, Sony should be proud of themselves for making the Z2 the best Xperia Z they can. However, with Sony essentially turning a blind-eye to the average smartphone customer in the US, it’ll be some time before we see Sony’s devices put the kind of money they should be doing into Sony’s pockets.