The Z2 marks the third iteration of Sony’s flagship Z range, but does it offer enough to make anyone who bought the original Xperia Z and Z1 envious?
Sony’s Xperia range of smartphones and tablets should really be the jewel in the company’s crown. With great specs, solid software (especially for Sony fans), impressive hardware and progressive design, it’s a shame the devices haven’t been met with great demand.
Solid reviews haven’t translated into sales that might scare power players such as Samsung and Apple.
Now, a mere five months after the release of the Z1, we have the Z2. It would be hard for Sony to mess up the spectacular features associated with its Xperia range, which combine many of the company’s strong points as an electronics manufacturer, including a powerful camera, a great processor for gaming and a bright user interface.
But is the Xperia Z2 really a step up from its predecessor? And with strong rumours that a Z3 could be released this year, is this a genuine flagship follow-up or a stop-gap?
Although we would prefer to keep the Z1 comparisons at bay and judge the Z2 on its own terms, the fact of the matter is that these two handsets have a lot in common.
The only noticeable design difference is the slightly larger display on the Z2, which alongside the big bezel on the front makes this a sizeable phone.
At 163 grams, however, it does not feel especially heavy, and that 5.2-inch screen makes all the difference when taking photos, playing games and watching videos. Put it next to a smaller high-end device such as an iPhone 5s, which has a four-inch screen, and the difference in size is immediately noticeable.
Like the recently released Xperia Z2 tablet, Sony’s latest flagship smartphone also comes with an IP55 and IP58 rating, meaning it’s dust and water resistant.
Although the semi-detachable port holes weren’t as noticeable on a larger device such as the Z2 tablet, and are also present here for a reason (namely durability), they detract from the Z2’s sleek look and require fiddling – particularly when charging.
The only physical buttons on the handset are the three metallic ones on the right-hand side.
These include the small, circular power button and the larger volume controls and camera quick-shot button. The latter is a good addition, which makes it feel as though you’re handling an actual camera; this is especially relevant, as the 20.7-megapixel camera on the Z2 can rival many standalone digital snappers.
It would, however, have been handy if the button actually opened the camera function from the lock screen.
The Z2 retains its predecessor’s premium aluminium frame and comes in the same colours, including black, purple and white.
One particularly useful design feature is the inconspicuous LED notification light located at the top of the device. This becomes apparent by flashing red when the phone is low on battery, and is eye-catching enough to get your attention if, of course, your phone is visible and not tucked away in your pocket.
As you would expect from a superior flagship range, the latest Xperia smartphone performs well across the board. It is here, however, that comparisons to its predecessor come back to haunt it.
The 2.3GHz quad-core processor is a slight improvement on the Z1 and certainly helps when browsing the web, using powerful apps such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and playing games – the latter we couldn’t get enough of on the Z2.
So, while watching 1,080p-resolution HD video clips on YouTube offers crisp and clear playback, the fact that the 1,080 x 1,920-pixel screen is not a step up from the Z1 means owners of the previous version won’t notice a difference.
Meanwhile, the slight jump in screen size – 5.2 inches as compared to five inches on the Z1 – equals lower pixel-per-inch density (424 ppi on the Z2, compared to 441 ppi on the Z1).
Nonetheless, these are very slight differences and the larger screen definitely comes in handy when gaming and browsing the web, so we’re certainly not complaining.
We should also point out that 1,080 x 1,920 pixels is the standard display for most new flagship devices, including two of this year’s big guns: the Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One (M8).
Returning to the subject of apps, all of the usual suspects run smoothly. We extensively tested the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram apps on the device, using them to browse through image-heavy timelines with ease. It should be noted, however, that these days you can do the same with affordable smartphones such as the Moto E, so this is no longer an area where high-end devices stand out.
One thing the Z1 doesn’t have is 4G LTE connectivity. Faster mobile broadband means access to all of the above features at fast speeds while on the go.
Although 3G was adequate enough to handle simple web-browsing tasks and text-heavy social networking and communication apps, 4G on the Z2 means you can now upload images and videos to those same apps quicker, watch HD videos and play more powerful games online – all while commuting to work or lazing in the park. Now that’s what we call a real upgrade.
Like the Z2 tablet (reviewed in last month’s What Mobile), Sony’s latest flagship also comes with a host of built-in apps, some of which can help customise your phone and others that you may end up ignoring altogether.
These include a range of productivity apps such as OfficeSuite Pro (a simple imitation of Microsoft Office, which is hardly ideal in this context, as creating large-scale documents on a smartphone is painstaking), and a number of Sony apps that offer connectivity with the manufacturer’s other products including its PlayStation Network and its TVs.
A news aggregator entitled Socialife is also included as part of the built-in apps line-up on the Z2, but is rendered redundant when compared to similar third-party apps such as Flipboard.
This is mainly due to its horribly designed interface (we say “designed” – its minimal appearance looks like no effort was made at all in the creative department), which is a mish-mash of random news headlines and social network timelines.
Luckily, there are better features to be found elsewhere. The Xperia Lounge and Sony Select apps are brighter and more attractive examples that offer plenty of personalised audio-visual content. The latter offers a variety of unique themes for the handset.
We downloaded the contemporary and colourful tri-flat theme, which customised everything, from the background to the virtual control buttons.
Where the Xperia Z2 really excels, both in comparison to its predecessor and most of its rivals, is its camera.
Although the 20.7-megapixel snapper located on the back isn’t a step up specswise when it comes to image-capturing, it does include a 4K video recording function.
That means recorded images look incredibly detailed, especially when capturing moving objects.
Naturally, 4K is a godsend for video enthusiasts and tech nerds alike, offering four times the detail compared to Full HD 1,080p-image quality, with footage delivered in ultra-high definition. In terms of pixel resolution, 4K is the equivalent of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels.
What’s more, anyone lucky enough to own a 4K television can playback their recorded videos on it, or via a projector using the latest MHL 3.0 connector.
On top of the powerful camera, the Z2 also offers a host of in-built imaging features that are great for editing, playing around with, or simply taking a variety of photos.
These include the time-shift video function that allows for slow-motion effects to be added to recorded videos, background de-focus (meaning you can blur the backdrop in your images), time-shift burst (which lets you take multiple burst shots of the same image), a panoramic mode and AR effect (a playful effect that lets you superimpose virtual characters onto your images).
Although some of the image settings might not warrant repeated use, there is no denying that the camera on the Z2 is one of the best out there. It is only rivalled by the 41-megapixel snapper on the Nokia Lumia 1020.
The imaging functions may be available elsewhere – panoramic modes are finding their way onto many new handsets – but the total package offers an unrivalled experience.
The unique 4K video recording is the icing on the cake.
The Z2 matches its rivals’ power and usability. A lack of design innovation and similar specs might deter Z1 owners from upgrading, though, and the large size might not appeal to fans of smaller devices.
But superior imaging and a powerful processor and CPU means it excels in the right places.
While not quite the step up from the Z1 we were expecting, the Z2 is still an immaculate high-end smartphone. Like its predecessor, it will appeal to Sony fans, and its impressive camera, processor and GPU should sway the sceptics.