The Sony Xperia Z2 is the third full-sized Xperia Z handset in the company's line-up. It was only six months ago that I looked at the Xperia Z1, itself a follow on from the original Xperia Z. So while we can expect Samsung not to better its Galaxy S5, or HTC its One M8 during 2014, it might be a safe bet to think that Sony will update its flagship phone later in the year. That arguably makes it a harder sell to brand fans – buy the Xperia Z2 now, and in six months you will be behind the times.
In my review of the Xperia Z1, I was pleased with the handset – but not ecstatic. I liked the camera and the design, but thought that the smartphone was overly large, and had some issues with the display and warm running. So, has Sony addressed these problems? And how does the Xperia Z2 compare to the Android giants of the Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8?
The build is unmistakable – blocky and black, with glass back and front. I still think this handset is a bit too tall, but in my opinion, the real issue is the sheer bulk of this phone. Here are the key specs you need to make your own mind up:
HTC One M8: 70.6 x 9.35 x 146.36mm, 160g.
Samsung Galaxy S5: 72.5 x 8.1 x 142mm, 145g.
Sony Xperia Z2: 73.3 x 8.2 x 146.8mm, 163g.
Of course the difference between the two taller handsets, the HTC and the Sony, is that HTC has put very visible speakers above and below the screen. Sony has done the same, but all you can see are very tiny indents. Sound quality through these is okay, but not great.
It is the apparent dead space that annoys and this is most obvious below the screen where there is a 15mm deep expanse. It isn't used for the softkeys – these are on the screen itself.
I don't really like the glass back, which attracts fingerprints, nor the lip that the phone's edging makes around the backplate. I noticed this all the time when holding the phone and it was a bit of an irritation. The blocky design of this handset makes it a bit of a less comfy hold than either Samsung's or HTC's flagship phone, both of which benefit from a more curved design that sits more comfortably in the flat of the hand.
The silvery side panels are fine in design terms, though there's an ugly scar where the charge dock connector ports are. On the left one flap hides the charge connector and microSIM slot, and on the right another hides the microSD card slot. These flaps are there because the Xperia Z2 has the usual Xperia water and dust resistant credentials – you can use it underwater for up to 30 minutes to shoot photos. The flaps are fiddly to deal with, but they are the price Sony has decided you have to pay for the water resistant features.
The top speaker grille houses a wide notification light. If you turn notifications off it still shows a battery charge light. I'd like to have some control over this, maybe setting its colours for different notification types, and having it disabled at set times (e.g. overnight).
The screen measure 5.2in – just slightly larger than the HTC and Samsung models. Its resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 matches those two handsets, so that there's a slightly lower pixel density, but it is marginal and not really relevant. The Triluminos and X-Reality display tweaks we've seen before are augmented by a new Live Colour LED technology. The upshot is that colours are sharp and clear, viewing angles are good, and looking at all manner of media is pleasant. You can even adjust the white balance to the "nth" degree, so you can get things just how you like them.
You won't find much to quibble about when it comes to the core specifications. With 3GB of RAM and the very latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 this is a nippy phone. I wasn't troubled by any waiting when it came to running apps, video, or anything else that can cause slowdowns. The Wi-Fi is 802.11ac, and there's NFC, MHL and USB On The Go built in, too.
The camera shoots stills to 20.7 megapixels and takes 4K video. If you use Sony's 'Superior Auto' mode which automatically adjusts things for you, the max resolution is 8 megapixels. Duck out of that and there are plenty of camera options to fiddle with if you like that kind of thing, including oodles of shooting modes. How about Gourmet – for taking pictures of your dinner, I suppose. You can apply filters to shots and there's lots of fun to be had.
One point of note with the camera is that after about five minutes of fiddling with the creative effects, I noticed the back of the phone getting hot. Soon after that I was told the camera software would shut down because of hot running – this is something to be wary of.
Of course, Android 4.4 is the OS of choice, with Sony's many and varied additions sitting on top. The app drawer can look a bit messy with all the Sony extras, and a new one has appeared, entitled What's New. This brings together Sony's movie, games, apps, and music offerings under one roof. Video Unlimited is also here as a separate app, and Music Unlimited sits inside the Walkman app. The PlayStation app is here of course, as is Xperia Lounge, and there are also plenty of third-party apps eating into the installed memory. The net result is 10.7GB free of the 16GB on board.
Battery life is good. It is handy to be able to check how long the handset suggests you can go until the next charge, though you have to look in the power management area to get this info. Once there, if you need more time you can activate various power saving options that even give you control over specific apps.
Sony has stuck to its tried and tested chassis design for the Xperia Z2, and I am not its biggest fan. The lip on the back is a real irritation, and the blocky shape is not easy to hold comfortably. There's lots of software on board over and above Android, and if you are a general fan of Sony's wares you will like that. The camera is great, though the hot running issues I experienced are a worry. Sound output could also be better. For me, Samsung and HTC both have the edge over the Z2.
Manufacturer and Model
Sony Xperia Z2
2.3GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
5.2in, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, 424ppi
73.3 x 8.2 x 146.8mm (WxDxH)