Sony has released one of the top smartphones of the season with the Xperia Z2. We take a closer look at the device, considering whether or not it can take on other flagship phones currently on the market. The big question however, is that since Sony just released the Xperia Z1 just 6 months ago, is it worth buying a Z2 if you’re currently sporting their ‘old’ flagship phone? After putting this top of the pile handset through the paces, we are now ready to give up our definitive thoughts and feelings on one of the year’s big contenders in the 5 inch smartphone category.
In a similar fashion to other recent high-end launches including the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the HTC One M8, the new 5 inch flagship smartphone from Sony, the Xperia Z2 actually feels more of an incremental upgrade to an existing product line, rather than a wholly new and revolutionary design. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that as far as we Mobile Geeks are concerned. The Xperia line–up has impressed us from the outset when the Xperia Z arrived just over a year ago, and we are pretty sure that plenty of the 10 million Xperia branded handsets that the company shifted in Q2 of last year are in the possession of some pretty satisfied and loyal customers. With the Xperia smartphone brand Sony created an iconic design that set it apart from the competition, adding a superb camera and full HD display to a sleek aluminum slab chassis design that was also water proof.
In fact, you can pretty much see an evolutionary trend in play with Sony, as the follow-up Xperia model, the Xperia Z1 released only 6 months ago, also demonstrated a clear upgrade path that Sony would maintain in this year’s update. With the Xperia Z to Z1 transition we saw plenty of subtle improvements with a more powerful updated processor platform in the shape of the Snapdragon 800, a higher resolution 20.7MP camera and larger 3,000mAh battery.
Sony Xperia Smartphone Comparison Table
|Sony Xperia Z||Sony Xperia Z1||Sony Xperia Z2|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon S4||Qualcomm Snapdragon 800||Qualcomm Snapdragon 801|
|RAM||2GB DDR3l||2GB DDR3l||3GB DDR3l|
|microSD||Up to 64GB||Up to 64GB||Up to 128GB|
|Cameras||13.1MP & 2.2MP||20.7MP & 2MP||20.7MP & 2.2MP|
|Weight||146 grams||170 grams||163 grams|
|OS||Android 4.2 Jelly Bean||Android 4.3 Jelly Bean||Android 4.4 KitKat|
Larger 5.2 Inch IPS Display
If there is one really significant difference between the Xperia Z1 and the Z2, it would have to be the display of the device. While the Z and Z1 where lauded for their attractive Full HD Triluminous screens, we always kind of felt that the anti-shatter finish gave the displays a slightly plastic feel. Sony clearly felt however that offering additional durability with a scratch resistant, shatter proof screen was in keeping with their overall philosophy which included making the device water and dust proof (IP57 on the Z and IP58 on the Z1). Technically speaking the difference is that IP57 offers protection against immersion and IP58 offers protection against complete and continuous submersion. Basically, they’ve upped the ante on you forgetting that your phone is in your pocket when you jump in the pool or when forgetting your phone is in your pocket when you go for a swim.
On the Xperia Z2 we see a few things happening. Firstly, the display is a touch larger, sporting a 5.2 inch IPS LED display, compared to 5 inches on its predecessors. This is the first time we have seen an IPS display on an Xperia device, and we have to say the results are stunning; the viewing angles are better, the colors look vibrant and certainly brighter, and for the first time you also get to enjoy Sony’s Live Color LED and X-Ready technologies that should, in theory at least, tune the pixels of the screen to new heights of clarity and color correction.
Live Color LED is a proprietary tech from Sony who, let’s remember have plenty of experience in producing some of the world’s best quality HDTVs. Sony claim that Live Color LED uses custom color filters that offer better picture sharpness, a wider color gamut and more uniform lighting. While the Sony’s marketing actually gets a bit heavy in places with BRAVIA TV tech now converging on their mobile tech with three separate technology bases that includes Triluminous Display, Live Color LED and X-Reality – but we thoroughly forgive the slightly over enthusiastic marketing because in our opinion, the Xperia Z2 has one of the best displays on the market.
The more glass-like feel may not tick as many boxes in the durability stakes, but it feels fantastic and really delivers a top, top viewing experience. The extra 0.2 inches (5mm) size increase will be noticeable to Z1 users since grabbing the notification bar is just a little harder. If you could barely do it on the Z1, you’re going to have to put your phone off balance to make it happen, which from a personal perspective, is actually how I end up dropping phones! But if you’re wondering if the size increase affects the quality of the image (larger screen + same 1080p resolution = lower ppi) we found the slightly lower pixel density imperceptible.
We really like the display on the new Xperia Z2 and on paper at least you would have to consider it wholly superior to previous TFT implementations. However in our head to head testing with the Xperia Z1, we found that in certain cases the images did in fact appear to be slightly saturated. Sure, the IPS LED display offers improved brightness, but it is almost like the device’s software calibration has been aggressively tuned to really maximize the brightness of the display.
From what we can discern, it actually seems that the X-Reality feature that is causing the issue. It’s probable that most users will not find any of this to be a major problem and compared to many other handsets in this segment, the Xperia Z2 still looks absolutely fantastic. Overall we just feel that perhaps the Sony engineers have been a touch overly aggressive with the color tuning when X-Reality is turned on. In the end, we preferred to keep it turned off.
The Latest Processor Platform
This time around Sony have again taken the opportunity to upgrade the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 platform to the latest and greatest Snapdragon 801 – a higher clocked 2.36GHz version of the 800 SoC which was clocked at 2.26GHz. The 801 also takes advantage of higher memory bandwidth, running 32-bit dual channel LPDDR3 at 933MHz, compared to most 800 series processors that use an 800MHz memory bus.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon platform in all its various iterations has quickly become the most broadly adopted SoC in the current 5 inch handset segment (at least outside of China where MediaTek still have a tight strangle hold). The Snapdragon 801 is the processor of choice for several flagship smartphone vendors, so the Xperia Z2 finds itself in some pretty illustrious company including the HTC One M8, Samsung Galaxy S5, certain versions of the Xiaomi 3, the Oppo Find 7, and the forthcoming OnePlus.
But in terms of a slick, high performance mobile experience, is the Snapdragon 801 all that it is meant to be? Let’s take a look at some benchmarks:
Overall the benchmark performance numbers we see above are pretty impressive, although they are actually a step behind the Samsung Galaxy S5 which we tested a while back. The Galaxy S5 uses the same Snapdragon 801 processor, so our reasoning is that Samsung has optimized the Qualcomm platform for benchmarking, something that we have seen in the past.
The Audio Experience
The overall audio experience using the built-in speakers is pretty much on par with most 5 inch smartphone devices with the notable exception of the HTC One and its BoomSound speakers. But in terms of differentiation, Sony has opted to implement built-in noise cancellation technology which the company claims can reduce ambient noise by as much as 98%. Unfortunately noise cancellation only works when used in conjunction with the appropriate Sony headphones, namely the Sony MDR-NC31EM Digital Noise Cancelling Headset, which, depending on region, may or may not actually be supplied with the device.
Noise cancellation works with two outward facing microphones built-in to the earbuds picking up background noise which is then relayed back to the device for processing. An anti-noise signal is created and mixed in with the audio signal that is sent to the users ears, thus a more noise-free audio experience is possible. Exactly how the signal disguises the noise is a story for another day, but in most headsets I’ve used in the past, the end result is pretty awesome. If you’re listening to music on the metro, or having a phone conversation in the street, you will appreciate this feature.
We loved the headset so much that we were even wondering if we could get away with not putting it back in the box when we send our review unit back to Sony. You can’t hear people speaking to you 2 feet away, the noise cancelling is just that good.
The only real gripe is that you must use the headset provided, and if your bundle does not include the headset, you’re going to have to splash out an additional $60. The need for headphones to have built-in microphones goes a long way to explaining why the technology will not work with regular headphones, so we can be reasonably forgiving here.
Camera and Sensors
We plan to do a more in-depth follow up review and video covering the Xperia Z2 camera at a later date, but for now let’s check out the details of what the camera can do. Without giving away too much, it is fair to say we love the camera and the new features, which are something that we’re very excited to play around with. Whether or not we are still using them after the first month, we’ll have to see, but for now 4K, Timeshift (aka Slow Motion at 120fps) and Focus Blur are winners in our books. We’ve got some sample photos for you here:
The camera hardware in the Xperia Z2 stacks up well with a 20.7MP plus 1/2.3-type Sony Exmor RS CMOS image sensor on the rear. This is joined by a 2.2MP Sony Exmor R on the front of the device. Supported technologies abound with a x8 Digital Zoom, Auto Focus, Burst Mode, HDR for photos and video, Face Detection, Image Stabilization, Object Tracking, Red-Eye Reduction and more. But the key metrics here include a maximum ISO of 3200 of the rear camera plus 2K and 4K image and video recording. The front facing camera also gives you 1080p video chat support.
Sony’s slow motion implementation is called Timeshift video, which basically allows video shooting of up to 120 frames a second so you can playback you video in slow motion and see far greater detail with some quite dramatic slow motion effects. Sony have also added a few other effects that are becoming pretty standard by now, these include color effects, image trailing, mirroring effects and more.
One interesting effect is ‘background defocus’ which kind of introduces a fake, or software version of what we see on HTC’s One M8, where the Xperia Z2 actually simulates depth of field manipulation by capturing two photos at different focus settings and blending them together. The result is not quite as convincing as other dual sensor designs, but it is possible to get some reasonably professional looking shots this way.
On the whole Sony has done a great job of improving the number of features and effects on offer with the Xperia Z2, but there remain a number of niggling issues; some effects and features are essentially individual apps, and if you are jumping from one to the other and have several open, it can get laggy. This is also apparent when you’re trying to save a photo, despite the upgraded SoC and more RAM, the process can still take up to 10 seconds. We could look at the read and write speeds of the SD ROM for bottlenecks, but whatever is causing these excessive save times, it’s unacceptable in our view.
The Sony Xperia Software Experience
The Xperia Z2 ships with the latest Android 4.4 KitKat, which in and of itself offers some advantages over 4.3 JellyBean; these include better memory performance when multitasking, support for Android Device Manager and better integration of native Google Apps. Sony, like many high-end device vendors, let’s be honest, is pretty slow at rolling out the Android OS upgrades, so if you feel 4.4 KitKat is important for you, the Xperia Z2 is your best bet / only real option. The Z1 and even the Z are apparently slated for an upgrade, but nobody is holding their breath just yet.
In terms of Sony’s own Android implementation, it’s once again a fairly minimal approach compared to some vendors – HTC’s Sense UI for example, and one that we’ve enjoyed since the Z launch last year. We have noticed however that it takes two clicks to get to the general settings page from the ‘quick’ access pull down menu. It used to be only one click away. In terms of customization features for screen locking, themes and other myriad features, we are feel that many of these are simply too deep within the OS. If you want to configure face Unlock for example, you’re having to navigate through several menu layers. Some key features would be better placed nearer the surface.
Overall Device Design
For many people the robust feel of the original Xperia Z was what really set it apart from the competition. The Xperia Z2 also carries IP55 and IP58 certification which means it will withstand dusty environments and water submersion of up to one meter for as long as 30 mins. However these are features that we have come to expect from a Sony Xperia smartphone device, so what does the new Z2 bring to the table? Well first off, despite having a larger 3,200mAh battery compared to the Xperia Z1 (3,200mAh), the Z2 is actually a few grams lighter at 163 grams. It’s also a touch thinner than its predecessor at 8.2mm compared to the Z1 at 8.5. The slightly larger display means it is almost 3mm longer but in terms of width it’s actually just under 1mm thinner.
What does this mean in terms of in-hand feel? It pretty much means that you’re getting a very similar feel to what we were used to with the previous-gen devices, but with a slightly larger screen and battery wrapped in a handset that is lighter overall – I think most people would call that good old technological progress.
The aluminum chassis is pretty much the same, with the exception of the corners which are more rounded than on the older devices. This is a design decision that I think directly addresses customer feedback – the Xperia phones were simply too sharp on the corners; it looked cool and gave the devices a very strong profile, but the new gently rounded corners actually perform better when you’re popping the device in and out of your pocket.
It’s probably best to tackle our thoughts from the perspective of a Sony Xperia user today. In all honesty if you are an Xperia Z1 user, and you are feeling a bit upset that your new latest and greatest Sony handset is about to be usurped by a newer model, our advice simply don’t be too upset. The Xperia Z2 is an update to a successful and popular product, no more. The upgraded processor, camera features and display will woo the ardent Mobile Geek, but the majority of Z1 users would not feel any radical departure from the device they are using now.
If however you are an Xperia Z user and you have the chance to upgrade, we can say with some conviction that the Xperia Z2 will be noticeably superior, certainly in terms of camera and processing power. But let’s clarify that. Noticeably better? Yes. World’s apart? No.
The Xperia Z was an awesome device that really put Sony back into the game. The fact that they are now abandoning laptops and going all in with mobile is testament to the success of the Xperia Z. What we are seeing with subsequent Z1 and Z2 upgrades is a tweaking and refining of a truly classy 5 inch smartphone product. If you have yet to sample the Sony Xperia smartphone experience, the Z2 is damn fine place to get on board.
Co-Authored by Nicole Scott