Sony Xperia Z2 Review: Taller, Faster, Sharper


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We got our first glimpse of the Sony Xperia Z2 a few months back at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Set against competition from the Samsung Galaxy S5, the Z2 felt like the antithesis of the Korean flagship. Where Samsung was hell bent on throwing everything at the wall in the hopes of attracting consumer attention, Sony’s flagship felt like a device where the thought was on making improvements all around. Improvements that made sense and improved the experience. Now that we’ve spent more time with the device, we’re all the more sure that Sony thought long and hard when working on the Z2. Read on for our thoughts on what is a solid contender for flagship of the year.

Video Review

Hardware
One glance at the Sony Xperia Z2 and you might just mistake it for the model that it replaces. Sony has taken a design that impressed and made much needed improvements to it all around. The Xperia Z2’s design can be termed an iterative update at best. Let’s start off from the front of the Z2 then.

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The focus up front remains on the large 5.2 inch TRILUMINOS display. While the display size has gone up, the dimensions have remained almost the same which is a relief as bezel sizes are still on the larger side. There is minimal Sony branding up top with a 2.2 MP front facing camera on the side. The inky black display melds into the deep dark bezel when switched off and gives it a slate like feel. The Xperia Z2 sports front facing stereo speakers and these are hidden under elongated strips cut out of the glass. Hidden away for the most part for design considerations, the upper strip also includes the earpiece, notification LED.

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There’s a lot going on either side of the Z2. The right side of the phone sports a micro SD card slot up top. This is hidden away under a flap. Below this is the machined aluminum power button that provides resounding feedback despite being fairly small and inconspicuous. Next up is the volume rocker following which you can see the dual stage camera key. Shutter keys are increasingly hard to spot in Android devices and we are very happy to see some quality hardware here.

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Things don’t really ease up on the left side of the phone either. First up is the micro USB port and microSIM card slot both of which are hidden under a single flap. Next comes the dock connector that you can use to connect the Z2 with the range of accessories on offer from Sony. You’ll probably want to grab one of Sony’s desktop magnetic docks if you don’t want to bother with the flap all the time. At the bottom left corner of the Z2 is the lanyard slot. Sure it might be a bit busy but its hard to fault to Sony for including everything you might genuinely need.

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The back of the phone is made of glass, just like the front. We’re not entirely sure if this is Gorilla Glass at the back as it has a tendency to pick up scratches rather easily. We’d recommend picking up a case but it really is a shame as we think that the phone exudes understated elegance and shouldn’t really have to be wrapped up. On the top left corner is the 20.7MP camera with a 27mm wide angle Sony G Lens. The camera module is similar to the Z1 but brings some improvements that we’ll detail below. It is paired with a single LED flash next to it.

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The glass and aluminum construction of the phone is not just beautiful to look at, it also adds to the IP58 rating of the device. Indeed, the flaps covering all the ports are responsible for making sure that your phone remains safe even when submerged in water or subjected to extreme dust.

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The dimensions of the Z2 come in at 146.8×73.3×8.2mm. This makes it slightly taller and slightly slimmer than the Z1 which is being replaced here. Weighing in at 163 grams, it is about 7 grams lighter than the Z1. All these are tangible improvements but there is no doubt that the Xperia Z2 is a big phone right from the bezels to the general hardware design. The slippery glossy back and busy edges don’t make it very easy to hold either. While a definite improvement over the Xperia Z1, we do feel that Sony could work on improving the ergonomics.

Software

If you are upgrading from a recent Sony device, the interface will appear all too familiar to you. There’s an under the hood upgrade to Android 4.4 but for all intents and purposes, the Z2 operates the same as the Z1 or most other Sony phones from the last year. There are a few improvements along the way that we’ll talk about below.

Xperia Z2 UI a

The homescreen works as you’d expect. A wide range of widgets come preset on the device but it’s a trivial job to remove or move these around. You can have up to seven homescreen panes and any of these can be set as default. Moving in to the app drawer, it is possible to sort this manually, alphabetically and also by recently installed, most used applications. The Z2 also supports “small apps” which are essentially slightly more powerful widgets. Nine of these are bundled in with the option to download more from the Play Store. Only one small app can be launched at a time.

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There’s a modicum of customization built into the interface. You can choose from several preset themes that do little more than to change wallpapers, UI hues. Still, it works well to freshen things up. Sony’s interface arguably ranks right up there with the most beautiful Android skins and performs equally well.

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Quick toggles are now split off under a separate toggle in the notification drawer. We didn’t entirely like this change as it needs yet another tap but on the flip side, it does keep things clean in the notification shade.

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Sony’s multimedia apps are top notch in their design and implementation. Starting from the What’s New app that offers a once glance interface to see the latest trends in applications, multimedia content to the standard media consumption apps. There’s no doubt that Sony has put in a lot of polish here. The music app has an interface reminiscent of the Windows Phone music player and this is no bad thing. We were particularly impressed by the photos application that lets you view not just local images but also those from Facebook, Picasa and Flickr. As we stated above, the interface is buttery smooth no matter what you throw at it. The phone runs on Android 4.4 and we think provides a fantastic experience that will please all sorts of users.

Performance

Most flagships out in the market right now pack similar firepower under the hood. The Sony Xperia Z2 also runs on the Snapdragon 801 chip. The MSM8974AB pairs with a 2.27Ghz Krait 400 CPU with a 550Mhz Adreno 330 GPU. Paired with this you’ll find 3GB of RAM. Since the 8974AB chipset that the Z2 uses comes from the lower performance bin of the Snapdragon 801 SoC line, you’ll find benchmark performance to lag slightly behind the likes of the Galaxy S5 that have the MSM8974AC chipset clocked at 2.5Ghz.

Despite the on-paper gap in power, real world usage is absolutely top notch. You’ll struggle to spot lags and absolutely anything you throw at the phone works without a hitch. The phone also has absolutely no trouble with recording and playing up to 4K content though you obviously can’t view that on the phone itself. We’ve included a few key synthetic benchmarks but you can take a look at our Sony Xperia Z2 benchmarks post to take a look at the entire list.

The AnTuTu Benchmark gives a cumulative score for general performance of a device. The phone scores 32,671 which places it in the lower spectrum of the competition.

In the GPU centric Nenamark benchmark, the phone scores 59.8 FPS which is fairly consistent across the board.

The Quadrant benchmark is one where the Z2 definitely disappointed and scored just 18363 points. Once again, synthetic benchmarks tell only a part of the story and even though it doesn’t top the charts, the Xperia Z2’s performance is exactly as you’d expect. Buttery smooth and slick, there’s really nothing to complain about here.

Display
The Xperia Z1 was universally panned for having not so great display, this time around Sony has made wide sweeping changes that are more than welcome. The display is a 5.2 inch 1080p Triluminos IPS display. Sony has built in its X-Reality engine here. The screen has a pixel density of 424ppi which means that everything looks tack sharp on the display.

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All those jargons would mean nothing if the display didn’t actually deliver. Thankfully this time around, the Sony Xperia Z2 really does have a flagship worthy screen. By removing the shatter proof layer seen on the Z1 and others, there have been improvements all around. Not only are the viewing angles better than they’ve ever been on any Sony smartphone, the colors too appear punchy yet natural. You can increase saturation levels a bit by enabling the X-Reality engine. This is more of a personal preference and we were quite fine using the phone even with the option ticked off. The one area where the display on the Z2 does suffer is brightness levels because of which it can be hard to view the screen outdoors. The extremely reflective glass surface makes this even harder.

Camera

There’s not much that has changed in terms of camera hardware on the Xperia Z2. Sony has kept the same 20.7MP module that we’d seen earlier on the Xperia Z1. Sure the hardware still remains above average with its 27mm wide angle G Lens, f/2.0 aperture and an Exmor RS BSI 1/2.3” sensor but you’d expect the company to have made some strides here over the course of the year.

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The biggest highlight is that the Sony Xperia Z2 supports 4K video capture which proves to be little more than a tick on the box. Footage looks great but there’s precious few people who have a 4K panel to even view the content. 4K footage gives you leg room to play around with in post process and that might be of interest to a niche. For the average user though we expect them to stick to 1080p video recording.

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As with the Z1, image quality remains a bit of a puzzle. No doubt that the sensor, lens combo is great but shooting in full resolution mode results in very noisy shots and low light photos aren’t very good at all. Indeed Sony’s own Superior Auto Mode uses pixel oversampling to reduce noise and downscales images to 8MP. In our experience, automatic mode is best avoided. You’ll want to stick to Superior Auto or the ‘Manual’ mode that unfortunately doesn’t come close to what is offered by Nokia or HTC on their devices.

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Occasionally the camera would struggle even in well lit conditions. Lens flares and overexposed images were not too uncommon and this also added a lot of noise to the shot. Surprisingly, we also faced a couple of situations where the camera failed to get a focus lock before taking a shot but this might just be a one off case depending on the conditions.

Sony has also thrown in a smattering of gimmicky features. This includes an AR mode that doesn’t really impress as well as a background defocus mode. The latter relies on you holding the device perfectly still and needs distinct gap between objects as the phone shoots images at multiple focus points, then lets you chose the level of defocussing.

AR Shot
AR Shot

Shooting in good lighting results in great shots but things go south as soon as light levels drop. While a capable shooter in the right hands, we think that the competition might have pulled up slightly ahead in this department. The lack of optical image stabilization, true tone flash and better software algorithms for full resolution shots detract from the camera experience.

Connectivity & Battery Life
Being a flagship device, the Z2 is equipped with a robust range of connectivity features which includes LTE /3G HSPA+, WiFi 820.11 b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0 with APT-X, GPS/ GLONASS, MHL 3.0 and NFC. You also get ANT+ connectivity for use with sports and HRM accessories. USB on the go is also supported, as you’d expect. The phone has built in 16GB of storage but you can expand that via the microSD card slot. About 12GB of free storage is available at launch. We were surprised at the lack of an iR Port on the device. We suspect that this might have been due to design constraints but this was definitely missed as we really appreciate the convenience of controlling our entertainment system via the smartphone.

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Battery life on the Z2 proved to be exceptional. This can be owed to the frugal Snapdragon 801 processor as well as the generous 3200 mAh battery built into the phone. Standby times and battery drain was astoundingly low and using the power save modes can further extend it. Even under strenuous workloads, we found it hard to deplete the battery in a single day of usage. Straight up video playback resulted in usage times north of 12 hours. While it is next to impossible to attach a figure to battery life as it’ll inevitably depend on your usage, we doubt you’ll be disappointed.

Conclusion

Taller, Faster, Sharper. Not just the headline for this review, it embodies the general feeling you get while using the new Sony Xperia Z2. This is a flagship done right. Despite its apparent lack of a USP, it has polished out all its kinks and leaves little to complain. It might not have a depth sensor like the HTC M8 or a fingerprint sensor like the Galaxy S5 but then those are ancillary gimmicks at best. The Sony Xperia Z2 nails down the core smartphone experience and how.

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Despite the well deserved praise, all is not perfect with the Sony Xperia Z2. We do believe that the company should’ve made improvements to the camera hardware. The lack of an IR blaster while far from a deal breaker, is something that we would sorely miss. Additionally, the tendency to occasionally heat up is something that needs to be investigated and fixed via a software update. The Sony Xperia Z2 is priced at Rs. 49,990 in India and ships with a free Smartband 2 as well as a cover that makes it quite an enticing deal.

Pros

  1. Polished Hardware, Design
  2. IP58 Rating
  3. Battery Life

Cons

  1. Camera performance is hit or miss
  2. Scratch prone back
  3. Lack of IR Blaster

 

 

 


Author: Dhruv Bhutani

Your friendly neighborhood techie. Currently using a Pixel 2 XL. Catch him on Twitter (@DhruvBhutani) / Facebook .