The Sony Xperia Z2 is the third iteration in the the Xperia Z line of handsets from the long standing Japanese firm. Perhaps best known for their IP rating, the Z series has grown increasingly popular as a result of this as well as the fact the handsets are packed full of high end mobile computing power.
Announced at Mobile World Congress in February, the Z2 stands strong amongst tough competition, most noticeably the Samsung Galaxy S5, HTC’s imminent new One series flagship and of course Apple’s iPhone.
So with two handsets already under their belt in the Z range, the Z2 should be a well-rounded, strong performer that will mark a natural progression for existing owners of either the Z or Z1.
However at slightly over a year since the original Z launched and just 6 months on from the Z1, does the Z2 run the risk of being seen as a marginal improvement over previous devices, or does it stand firm by itself as a handset users will want to upgrade to sooner, or even switch to from competing brands?
Read on to find out more or watch our video review if you prefer.
Continuing Sony’s trend with flagships, the Z2 is certainly no slouch when it comes to specification. Highlights include:
- Android 4.4 KitKat
- 2.3GHz Quad-core processor
- MicroSD memory card slot
- 16GB internal memory
- 5.2” full HD Triluminos display
- Global 4G LTE
- Bluetooth 4.0
- Dual channel WiFi
- MHL 3.0
- 20.7 megapixel camera
- 4K video recording
- 3,200mAh battery
- 8.2mm thick
- IP55/58 rated
Whilst many may wish for the likes of greater internal memory and a removable battery, no device can be perfect for everyone and such choices inevitably affect design, thickness and price.
16GB has to some extent become the norm for internal memory on high end devices. The microSD memory card slot alleviates some of the headaches of running short of storage space and on the most part, unless you store a considerable amount of content on your mobile, you should be OK. Even if you run short, the USB host functionality, 4G connectivity and even the soon to be released Sandisk 128GB microSD cards (subject to compatibility) may ease any limitations.
The angular, slab-like design continues from the original Z through to the Z2 we have now. The corners have been softened somewhat throughout the series to make the Z2 now feel far less rough in the hand (and also address the occasional jabs in the leg the original used to give), but the Z2 does not have the much softer and more rounded edges seen on Samsung, HTC and Nokia smartphones.
Such a design is distinctive and the use of glass front and rear panels and aluminium frame give the Z2 an air of quality that stands out when lined up next to the competition. Plus it makes an Xperia device obviously its own from the moment you spot it.
It is great to see that the Xperia line of devices have a relatively consistent style throughout. Lower end Xperia’s use more plastics and do not benefit from the aluminium frame, yet there remains a distinctive and consistent pattern with the power button, camera keys and shaping.
‘Plastic fantastic’ is something that resonates with many devices and often it can be; should you drop your device or need to repair it then it is often more resilient and cheaper to replace. In a modern world though, so much is design-centric and when it seems everyone in the industry is up against Apple, products need to feel the part. I believe the Z2 is a strong contender to take on the might of the iPhone, as is HTC’s One series to some extent, but Samsung’s plastics are not going to fare so well much longer.
Navigating our way around the device the front is dominated by the 5.2” full HD display with the front-facing dual-stereo speakers positioned centrally at the very upper and lower edges of the device.
Unlike the HTC One, the speakers disappear into the glass panel and don’t scream ‘look at me!’. Sensors sit behind the front panel in the upper left corner, whilst the front facing camera is positioned to the right of the Sony insignia.
There are no keys on the front panel as they are all built into the software, giving a clean look. One could (and many likely will) lament the bezels on all edges but given the nature of the device and the immersive screen you can forgo too harsh-a criticism here.
The right side of the handset is home to the microSD slot, power key and volume rocker, located on the upper-right side, centrally and bottom-right respectively. Sony also include a dedicated camera key, reintroduced in the Z1, present closer to the lower right corner.
The bottom of the device is home to microphones with a hole for a lanyard on the bottom-left corner, which makes its way to the lower-left side of the device.
Also on the left are the magnetic charging points halfway up the edge, with the microSIM and microUSB ports located above. These are now situated under one single waterproof cover rather than the two seen on previous devices. This makes for a larger cover to to open when charging or connecting a microUSB cable and exposes the microSIM port. Ultimately I think this is a clever design move as the one cover makes for a cleaner look, it is also easier to notice one open port cover than two.
The covers have always been a bit of a fiddle and this is why the magnetic charging dock connector exists. If you invest in the DK36 charging dock then you will not need to worry about opening the cover all that often. When you do have to open them, they feel relatively solid and will not snap off without serious effort. Of course keeping them closed is imperative to the IP rating of the handset.
The top of the handset plays host to the 3.5mm headphone jack which does not need a cover, it has been specially treated! There is another microphone here too.
On the rear, the camera and flash sit in the top right corner, whilst the NFC area is located just above center on the back panel and is identified by a small logo.
There is a Sony logo bang in the centre with the Xperia logo centrally placed at the bottom of the phone.
The battery and all internal components are housed behind the façade I have just detailed.
I also cannot avoid mentioning the IP rating that this device holds. Included from the original Z, the Z2 has the same 55/58 rating, meaning protection against immersion in fresh water at a depth of 1.5m for up to 30 minutes.
Not just protection against unexpected dunks or splashes, capturing underwater pictures of your kids in the pool has never been so simple.
All told the device weighs in 7 grams lighter than its predecessor at 163g, but 18g heavier than the less premium feeling S5. Is a device over 150g too heavy? The popularity of the Z1 would suggest not.
The Z2 boasts 4K video recording due to the choice of processor, although the days of 4K displays on a phone are of course still very far away. Few yet have 4K ready televisions in their living room either, although consumer models are already becoming more affordable and Sony are at the forefront of this. What the Z2 does offer is a full HD display with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 with 423 ppi (pixels per inch).
There are two key parts to the screen technology on the Z2:
The first is TRILUMINOS which uses LEDs to emit purer reds and greens creating a brighter and more uniform light. This essentially offers a wider palette of colours over conventional display methods so what you see on screen is more representative of the natural scene.
The second part is X-Reality for Mobile which optimises images to improve colour reproduction, sharpness and contrast, as well as remove noise. Technically speaking there is a lot more to X-Reality than this, but you get an idea of what it does and how it aims to improve your experience.
The Z2 now uses an IPS panel. Combine this with the aforementioned technology and colours appear vivid and rich giving you what is hopefully one of the best mobile viewing experiences on anything from video through to web pages.
One complaint that came up on Xperias of past was the viewing angles. This was addressed when the Z1 Compact was launched and as such the Z2 now benefits from vastly improved viewing angles.
Samsung’s Galaxy S5 boasts 432 PPI which is marginally above that of the Z2. The Note 3 with its bigger screen ultimately drops the PPI to 386 and LG’s G2 is almost identical at 424. You would need to have superb vision to tell the difference and I don’t think many, if any, could really find fault with the Z2.
The Z2 knocks the iPhone out of the park when you consider it has 326 PPI but the iPhone’s screen is 1.2” smaller and does not boast many of the features the Z2 does.
At 5.2” it might be a bit big for some, but if you want the big screen experience on the move then this is the sacrifice that has to be made. If size really is an issue, look at the Z1 Compact. It is smaller with a 4.3” display at 720p, and very few other sacrifices.
Previous Sony devices have come fitted with an ‘anti-shatter film’ installed on the device screen, taking the appearance of a factory-applied screen protector. Originally there for safety (stopping glass shattering if dropped), many have complained it detracts from the feel and scratches far easier than the glass underneath. Both are very valid points; I have experienced this myself on my Z1 Compact. This film could always be removed, but wasn’t the easiest task and also removed the Sony logo which was another negative.
Sony have listened, and the anti-shatter film is no longer included on the Z2. The addition of a screen protector will now be completely at your discretion.
Whilst 99% of your interaction with the Z2 will be with the screen on the device, wired and wireless screens sharing options exist, ideal for sharing family photos or giving that presentation to your client. Read more about this within the connectivity section of our review.
With Android 4.4 KitKat out of the box, no-one can criticise Sony for being behind the curve. This is the latest version of Android so you are going to get the best Android experience possible outside of opting for a Nexus 5.
Sony do tweak Android; it is not stock but remains considerably closer than the likes of Samsung and even HTC devices. A few design choices include light menus rather than dark and some icon changes, but overall the Sony skin is very lightweight.
Additions to the software primarily include Sony’s multimedia suite of applications from Sony Music Unlimited to to TrackID, but there are a few others I feel are worthwhile additions. You can see the apps you get in the following screenshots. Smart Connect is one of the more undervalued apps that can be of real benefit if you set it up correctly.
If you already have, or are willing to buy into the Sony ecosystem, then there is a great deal of added value to be attained. Money and time can be saved in doing so, but you have to be committed. Many of us will want to strike a balance which is quite acceptable, however Sony’s fans can get something quite special from the Z2 if your TVs and accessories are from Sony too. Gamers in the PS3/4 ecosystem will also find extra benefits through their existing OSN or Sony Entertainment Network account.
Extra apps inevitably add a bit of bloatware to the device and memory is sacrificed slightly as a result. Of the 16GB on board, nearer 12GB is actually usable, which is still much better than the 8 or 9GB offered by Samsung. A microSD memory card slot exists for those who need it and those extra apps can always be hidden or thankfully even uninstalled completely.
Being a flagship Sony product the device is PlayStation Mobile certified so whether you are a casual or ardent gamer you can enjoy some of the best titles on the move. A wireless PlayStation 3 DualShock controller can be paired and with a DK36 Dock and Miracast / MHL screencasting to your HDTV, a high quality gaming setup can be created.
The Z2 is a powerhouse and with 3GB of RAM supporting the 2.3GHz quad-core processor, multi-tasking is effortless. Lag is not really a word you will be considering when operating this phone.
Personalisation is available in all manner of ways from changing the stock wallpapers and themes of the device to sound and notifications. Adding and remove home screens, app shortcuts and widgets, customise the app order in the app tray and generally make your device work for you. This is basic functionality that has been somewhat worked out of stock Android since 4.4’s integration of Google Now to the home screen, so it is great to see it all working seamlessly and as expected in a new Xperia.
Access to Google services means that downloading your favourite apps is easy and within minutes of signing into your account, your contacts, calendar appointments and photos will be back on your device. Switching to a new phone has never been easier, especially if you are already an Android user. iOS users may need to spend a bit more time, but Xperia Transfer assists no end to make the process less hassle.
The Z2 sports some interesting additions of which many have been seen on competitor’s devices. Glove Mode, as the name implies, enhances the screen sensitivity so that you can use the phone in colder climates.
Smart Backlight Control keeps the screen on when you look at the phone, no need to actually touch the handset. Smart Call Handling allows you to answer a call by bringing the phone to the ear, rejecting a call by shaking it and silencing a call by turning the phone over. Tap To Wake Up turns the screen on after a double tap on the display.
Do any of these sound familiar to you..?
Sony have made slight changes to the notification bar. Where once was it was common to slide open this bar and be presented with notifications and shortcuts, this is now split by a ‘quick settings’ and ‘notifications’ tab. It defaults to the notifications and a tap on quick settings will allow you to easily switch on and control a number of features. The number of shortcuts and their order can all be customised to your liking.
Some small extra apps are included on the Z2. Press and hold on the running apps key and at the bottom you are presented with list of apps such as a calculator, stopwatch, sound recorder and screen capture tool. These small apps sit in windows on top of Android, can be moved about on screen and retain their position even as the phone is being used in the background. Only upon closing them will they disappear.
It is all too easy to overlook many of what are now standard but useful features. Sony’s settings list on the Z2 is comprehensive, with controls including microphone noise suppression, slow talk, internet call settings, white balance, font size, a simple home screen, data usage monitor, tethering and much more.
Finally, not strictly software related, but the Z2 does have a notification light sitting behind the top speaker on the phone. You can turn this on and off within the settings but there were no apparent controls to manage the colour or for what notifications the light was active. Whilst obvious when a notification is waiting to be addressed, the LED was in no way distracting.
All things considered, the Z2 offers everything a mobile user could require, right through from the the novice or first-time smartphone user, to the mobile professional.
As mentioned in the hardware overview the Z2 is one connected device both wired and wirelessly. As you would expect, the newest Bluetooth, WiFi and GPS standards are all included so basic functions such as Internet connectivity, music streaming and street level navigation are covered.
3G and 4G LTE are present too so you can get high speed mobile data is available (subject to an appropriate data plan and coverage). Update your social network status or share your favourite images with the world whilst sat having a coffee in the town centre.
You can use the magnetic pins on the side of the device to charge the phone without opening the slightly fiddly port covers. You will require a DK36 dock, although this will not only charge the phone but also hold it at a viewing angle ideal for a mobile office setup. This can be very powerful when a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse are connected.
Connect a PlayStation controller or a USB memory stick to the Z2 with a USB host cable and expand the capabilities of the Z2 even further. Within a few seconds you can be copying photos, presentations or video from a memory stick or memory card right to your phone or indeed backing up content on your phone to a memory stick. Certain hard drives can even be connected, potentially giving even greater flexibility.
The Z2 is one of the first devices to offer MHL 3.0. Mobile High Definition Link (MHL) is a technology where, using the appropriate cable/adapter, you can output the display of the phone to a HD enabled display. Great for showing off photos, videos or giving a presentation. MHL 3.0 enables 4K output from the phone, so 4K video captured on the camera, or downloaded to the device can actually be output in full 4K Ultra HD rather than the more common 1080p.
The current negative at the time of reviewing is that there are limited 4K displays available at a cost effective price and the new adapter which actually allows for 4K output is not available yet. You will also need to ensure you are using new HDMI 2.0 cables once you have the other kit. Thankfully the port is backwards compatible so 1080p output will have to remain the norm for now.
For those that have DLNA or Miracast built into their displays, be it internal or through use of an adapter, the Z2 can share content without wires, meaning less to carry with you if you are on the move and potentially a pretty cool experience for the viewers of the content (for those who like to show off their tech).
NFC is also becoming far more common in accessories, in fact Sony are one of the brands pushing the technology hardest. Naturally therefore NFC is included in the handset, with the tag located just above centre on the back panel. If used right it can save you a lot of time and effort when pairing to other devices,
There is little in the way of connectivity missing apart from wireless charging. Some may still not be won over by the burgeoning technology and its current tendency to lessen battery life, however for the latest device in a successful line it is a shame it is missing, but the good news is that it can be added through the optional WCR12 Wireless Charging Cover, available in Black or White.
Nokia offer this on the majority of their handsets either as standard or with an accessory purchase. Samsung may not include it as standard either, Sony have followed suit and offered it as an accessory too.
The speaker has often been of pretty good quality and volume, yet the positioning has meant the sound can feel a bit directional and when used in landscape muffled with the ‘incorrect’ positioning of the hand.
There are now dual front facing stereo speakers which make a massive difference and put audio quality close to the HTC One. The Z2 produces 82 decibels at full volume, whilst the HTC One offers 79.2 decibels.
Whilst the Z2 was the slightly louder of the two in our tests, it was evident that HTC has marginally better audio quality with more realistic tones and a richer dynamic range. The Z2 speakers are a marked improvement from previous handsets though and do not dominate the front panel like the HTC One.
Even with the Z2 turned away from me, the sound didn’t feel as directional as it can on many phones, managing to fill the surrounding space very well.
When held in landscape mode it was possible to muffle the speaker on the bottom of the Z2, but you had to have a particular grip to do so and it is unlikely that you will do this too often.
At the time of review we don’t have an S5 to hand to make comparison with (we will cover this later on blog.clove.co.uk) but if past performances are anything to go by, Sony has nothing to worry about.
The 3.5mm headphone jack means you can connect your favourite headphones too if you do not want to use the front facing speakers.
In certain markets Sony include the MDR-NC13EM in-ear noise cancelling headset in the box. This is a great addition as the sound is massively improved over the normal budget headphones included and they are also much more comfortable.
With anything it will be personal preference at the end of the day, but you do have the option to use the front speakers, your own headphones or those provided in the box.
The undisputed king of smartphone cameras is the 41 megapixel shooter found on Nokia’s Lumia 1020. It is however somewhat of a marmite device; most notably because more users have bought into the Android platform than the windows Phone.
The Z2 sits with its head held high next to the competition in the Android ranks thanks to its 20.7 megapixel camera with 27mm F2.0 aperture Sony G Lens.
You can also add in an Exmor RS for Mobile sensor measuring in at 1/2.3” that gives higher sensitivity for a clearer image. The BIONZ image processing engine then uses intelligent algorithms to enhance results where necessary.
This camera module is the same one that is installed on the Z1 and Z1 Compact, or so it appears at first.
The performance on these two earlier phones came under some criticism for not actually producing the quality of shot you would expect, especially given Sony’s promotion of its capabilities and the hardware involved. Saying it was poor is perhaps unfair; it is most certainly better than the vast majority, but perhaps a little unsatisfactory considering the expectations.
That is until you use it on the Z2.
Changes to the way images are handled is massively evident straight away. Low light shots are where the biggest improvements seem to have been made; there was quite obviously less noise in the resulting images.
The Z2 camera takes extremely good photos in well lit conditions and if you take some of our sample images into consideration you will be hard pressed to knock them.
Colour may seem a little oversaturated for some, but editing of images is infinitely more possible than it used to be even for the novice user, so if you are not too happy a few simple tweaks can make a good picture very good.
The LED flash certainly helps in low light or night time photos. A grainy or noisy result can occur, but nowhere near as much as it did on the Z1.
Here are some sample images. Click any to enlarge.
Endless connectivity and sharing options on the Z2’s Android platform makes sharing of photos to friends, family and social networks simple.
Unlike the standard camera interface on Android devices, Sony have put a lot of work in here and this is perhaps where their tweaks are most noticeable. I had quite a lot of fun testing the camera out; the Timeshift video (slow motion) particularly, even if it did involve getting wet with water balloons!
The camera includes many features we have seen before including InfoEye, Social Live, AR mode and more. A couple of recent additions mean that Z2 has a couple of new tricks to win you over.
You now have full 4K Ultra HD video recording, a resolution of 3840 x 2160. The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 was one of the first devices to include this and Sony have now followed suit. You may not need or want it, but 4K footage scaled down to a 1080p display will look better than 1080p shot footage on a 1080p display (as silly as this may sound). You can always output to a 4K display if you have one, and scaling down to shoot at 1080p is simple should you wish to conserve memory.
Timeshift video allows you to create cinematic slow motion effects. It shoots the video at 120 frames per second, but only in 720p HD, not full 1080p HD or 4K. You probably won’t need this on a daily basis but it is a cool feature and will certainly add some fun and drama to certain clips that often involve action. The motion of water through the air is a great one to capture.
There are many interesting shooting styles under the creative effect option within the camera app. Give your images and video a sketch, nostalgic, vivid, mosaic or old film filter amongst many more. You are unlikely to regularly jump for these options but they should be used as they liven up many images. I definitely spent more time testing and playing with these than I should have.
Background defocus is another useful addition meaning you can simulate a shallow depth of field and add a more artistic flare to shots.
Vine is now natively integrated as well to the creative effects, so you can add image tails or apply other effects.
Take a look at some sample footage:
Steadyshot is the Sony branded name for their Optical Image Stabilisation, and gives an equivalent effect to the offerings in competitor’s cameras, reducing shake and motion blur in footage.
Shooting in Intelligent Auto mode is going to be commonplace for many. This detects the scene during shooting to provide the best settings on the fly. Whilst the advantages speak for themselves, the image size is also adjusted automatically, so to consistently achieve the full 20.7 megapixel experience you need to use manual mode.
When the screen is locked, the dedicated camera key on the Z2 can be held down for a second to quickly access camera app. This of course also acts as the shutter button.
The volume keys can act as zoom controls too, but the results are a little disappointing here. Due to its very nature, digital zoom is often poor on any device and the Z2 does nothing to buck the trend.
The camera lens itself is ever so slightly recessed on the back of the phone, reducing the chances of scratching. Sony also offer a variety of accessories that allow you to get more from the camera. The SPA-MK20M helps the budding amateur photographer whilst STM10 Stereo Microphone is great for videographers.
If you wish to be the next Chase Jarvis you are likely to want to invest in dedicated camera equipment, but as Chase has demonstrated you can still capture great images on a smartphone. For the vast majority, myself included, there is no reason why the Z2’s camera can not replace a dedicated point-and-shoot camera or camcorder if you have one.
The 3,200mAh battery on the Z2 is 200mAh bigger than the Z1. This is a minor increase and benefits may be outweighed the larger screen. There is little difference in the hardware though and further improvements in Sony’s STAMINA battery technology could allow a slightly longer usage time than on the Z1.
Using 4K video recording will likely have a more detrimental effects on this but you can manage it to work for you.
How much life any device provides will always be based on your usage. During our review time lots of features were tested and and the device went through its paces so we can’t totally comment on battery life. Initial observations seemed quite standard, although a longer term test will reveal how good it really is.
Daily charges are commonplace on a high end smartphone, but Sony have proven with STAMINA mode that this can be a thing of the past, yet more demanding users may struggle to get 2 full day’s use. Switch on STAMINA mode to optimise the battery life and configure it to your personal preferences, or keep it off if you want the best performace at all times and can manage with the daily charge.
Accessories should not be used to judge the Z2, but I feel it is a more important factor than others let on when buying a phone.
If you buy a phone you want to know that accessories are there to support your device. It might only be a case or a dock but having those can add real value when compared to a device that might not.
Sony are on the ball with accessories; a variety of cases, docks for the home or the car and even additional value-added accessories such as stereo microphones are all offered. This lets you protect and display your device in official branded accessories that have equivalent quality to the phone itself.
Rival brands often announce accessories that never make it to market, but Sony appear to ensure that this happens, which is a real positive if you are looking to opt for the Z2. In fact we have already received official accessories several weeks before the official launch of the phone.
Whilst choice is good, too much can complicate things. Sony keep a fairly slim range of accessories whilst covering all the bases and items like cases come in standard Black and White colour options.
Roxfit, are amongst many third party companies licensed to manufacture accessories with the ‘Made for Xperia’ stamp and extend the official offering somewhat. If you want to be able to pick any one of the colours of the rainbow to wrap around your device though, you will need to opt for a different handset or search hard for compatible accessories.
This is a factor where less control can be had. Your market and whether you are buying on contract or SIM free will all affect the price.
At the time of writing the Z2 was similarly, if not slightly cheaper than its closest rival the Samsung Galaxy S5 for a SIM free handset.
Price should not be the determining factor in my opinion when buying a phone, it is about meeting your own needs best. Price will inevitably point you in the right direction, but it is often worth spending more if it gives you more.
It is impossible to write this review without referring to the competition such as the Samsung Galaxy S5, HTC One and others.
However this is not a comparison post and it is unfair to make it one.
The S5 and Z2 are incredibly closely matched. We are also expecting very similar things in hardware terms when HTC announce their new One model later this month. If you are in the market for a flagship phone then which one to opt for is not just a very difficult decision, but a personal one too.
We conduct detailed hands-on comparisons between devices that show the positives and negatives and offer you a balanced review of the handsets so you can make the right decision. Hit the search box on the blog to take a look.
Sony have yet again managed to produce a device that impresses. Yes, there are some minor niggles, but I urge you to find me a phone without any. On the Z2 the camera results can be a little mixed in low light, plus the lack of wireless charging, (all be it available as an accessory) is a minor downer.
The slab like design makes the phone mildly less comfortable and easy to use in the hand than many of its counterparts, yet it feels solid and looks classier than most of these too.
The Xperia Z2 is an iteration on the Z range and undoubtedly a standard progression from the Xperia Z1. It is however an extremely good example of how to make a small upgrade seem like more, with obvious improvements to the screen, speakers and most importantly the camera.
Value added extras are a big thing too here. There has always been a lot of extras available with Sony products, much of which is not heavily pushed or promoted. It’s your decision to make use of them, but those that do will be rewarded.
If you already own a Z1, you can probably stick with your current phone quite happily unless you are due an upgrade or really desire a new handset.
Original Xperia Z owners will see a marked improvement and it is a justifiable upgrade. Current Samsung S4 or HTC One owners are left in a position of deciding whether the Z2 offers what you need, as well as if you want to move manufacturer. If you do then you certainly are not going to be disappointed.
The smartphone market is more challenging than ever. Whilst the Moto X and G do not provide world-beating specs, they are not far behind and also much cheaper. This provides a level of quality which makes buyers question whether spending the extra couple of hundred pounds on a flagship is worth it. For some there will be no question, but for others this will add doubts and make the decision harder. Of course Sony and other manufacturers have had to up their game, now changing their mid-range offerings to compete at this range too.
Where 2013 was dominated by massive sales for Samsung, Sony rightfully deserve a considerably bigger slice of that pie in 2014 because the Z2 is an excellent piece of hardware that many will not regret spending their hard earned money on.
To buy a Sony Xperia Z2, just click here.