Like many of its competitors, Sony now has an established design identity for its phones, so that the physical differences between older models and newer models — and even cheap models and expensive models — are harder to distinguish. The Z2 features a slim, minimal design, with glass on both the front and back, and stainless steel trim around the edges of the handset.
The Z2 looks great, especially in black. With the screen switched off, the handset looks just as at home in a business meeting as it would in a decadent night club setting. It isn’t as nice to hold, though, with the edges of the glass back noticeable against the hand when you hold on to it. Sony also includes a docking connection on one side, which similarly pushes against skin.
The handset is sealed for water-resistance, and while this is an extremely useful feature, it does mean you can’t access the phone’s battery. Internal storage is expandable though, with a slot under a flap on the right-side of the unit.
As part of Sony’s consistent design, the Power On/Off button is large and circular, and while it doesn’t lay neatly along the side of the handset, we do like the tiny bit if character this offers. If only the phone was as nice to hold on to as it is to look at.
Front and centre on the Xperia Z2 is a 5.2-inch IPS LCD display with a Full-HD (1920 x 1080 pixel) resolution, and like you might expect from a company who has been making TV panels for decades, the screen quality is very good.
We have no complaints when it comes to this display or its touchscreen performance, everything is first-class. Sony’s colourful Live Wallpapers pop off the screen with vibrant colours, while blacks are rich are deep.
Sony also includes its ‘Bravia X-Reality’ image engine in the Xperia Z2, which kicks in whenever you look at photos or videos in the Album. With X-Reality on, the phone works in real-time to boost colours and sharpness and to remove noisiness from images. After using the Z2 for a while, you’ll likely forget that X-Reality is even there, but it plays a part in making this screen as impressive as it is.
All current Sony mobile devices run on Google’s Android operating system, but Sony does a fair bit to make it feel like a unique, Sony product; like a PlayStation. This Sony-designed UI is attractive and clean-looking, with a few nice animations and several different Live Wallpapers to choose from.
When you open the App Drawer, you’ll notice that it comes with a menu system to the left-hand side of the first screen. Here you can rearrange your apps, filter out apps you don’t want to see and jump straight into either the Google app store or Sony’s curated app ‘Select’ service.
To help you personalise the Z2 even more, the latest version of Sony’s UI software now includes a Themes setting, where you can apply themes downloaded from the Google Play store which modify the phone’s buttons, status bars, icons, wallpapers and more. Once applied, most themes give the phone a complete visual overhaul, which is great from when the same-old, same-old starts to get boring.
As a top-flight smartphone in 2014, you can expect Sony to pack in any and all connectivity options you’d expect from a new phone. It sports Cat 4 LTE 4G speeds, with ear download speeds of up to 150Mbps (if your network supports this too). Its WiFi radio supports 802.11 b/g/n/ac with WiFi Direct for file sharing.
The micro-USB port on the bottom of the Z2 is USB-on-the-go ready, but you’ll need to buy an adapter for this separately. It is also MHL 3.0 compatible, allowing you to connect the phone to a Flat Screen TV, but again you’ll need to pick up the adapter on your own.
Impressively, Sony has built in a whole suite of media-sharing options, including having a consistent ‘Throw’ button visible in its media-playing apps. ‘Throwing’ content uses DLNA to make a connection with a receiver (like a TV or game console) and then streams content to the other device. Once you set it up, you’ll find yourself throwing up content all over the place.
For the past few years, Sony’s marketing machine has made a lot of noise about how Sony’s Exmor-R imaging technology has made its way from dedicated cameras to Sony smartphones, but to be honest, we’ve never been that impressed with Sony smartphone cameras — until now.
In fact, we’d be comfortable in saying that the the camera in the Sony Xperia Z2 is among the best phone cameras we’ve ever used. From the simplicity in how you use it, to its speed, to the stellar photos and videos it shoots — this comfortably sits above many other smartphone cameras available now (even from more expensive phones).
By default, Sony uses an ‘intelligent Auto’ system to detect what kind of photo you are taking and to change the camera’s settings accordingly. Most of the time, this mode is spot-on correct — especially when you move in close to a subject and it switches over to Macro photo mode.
You also get a mini-suite of photo tools and filters at your disposal too, including the ability to add augmented-reality Dinosaurs into a photo, to sweeping panoramas to a new slow-motion feature which lets you select a section of a video to slow-down to 120-frames per second (or 25% of full-speed).
Another favourite is BackGround De-Focus mode, which, as the name suggests, takes your photo and blurs the background to imitate a photo taken with a fast DSLR camera lens. You can control the amount of blurriness added to the shot, but you did need the software to identify the subject and background correctly.
Performance and battery
With a huge 3200mAh capacity battery sealed inside, the Xperia Z2 is one of the first smartphones we’ve used with true 2-day battery life. During the weeks we’ve spent using the Z2, we routinely skipped a night of charging and were always comfortable getting through the second busy business day. Of course, your mileage will vary, but even the heaviest users should still go to sleep with juice left in the tank.
This amazing battery life despite the Z2 running on the latest and fastest mobile processor, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801. This chipset features a quad-core CPU clocked at 2.3GHz, an Adreno 330 graphics processor and 3GB RAM. If you think this reads like the specs in your laptop, you wouldn’t be far off.
The majority of our testing period was spent with the Z2 running flawlessly, though there were two separate occasions where we had to manually reset the phone after it became unresponsive. This is probably just a tiny issue with the review unit we’re using, but if you have the same issue, make sure you speak with Sony.
Handy tip: To manually reset the Xperia Z2 (and several other Sony phones), first find the SIM card slot and then locate the red reset button directly beside the slot that the card fits into. Using something small enough, poke the reset button in and hold it until the phone buzzes and restarts.
When you compare the top phones from the major manufacturers, there are plenty of similarities this year. Most run on the same version of Google’s Android, most use the same processor configuration and most have the same sized LCD screen.
Sony’s Xperia Z2 stands out with its long-lasting battery and superior 20-megapixel camera. It may not have the heart-rate monitor or fingerprint scanner that you’ll find in a Samsung Galaxy S5, but we’d argue the Z2 has the most useful and important selling points.
You might find its physical design a little bland, and you might agree with us that the Z2 isn’t as ergonomic as it could be, but it should definitely be on your ‘must-compare’ list if you are shopping for a phone this year.