Sony Xperia Z2 Review – Third time's the charm

OVERVIEW

Welcome to Twenty First Tech’s review of the Sony Xperia Z2. Third in the flagship Z line from Sony, the extremely short time between this and the Z1 has caused the resale value of the Z1 to take a large hit. Still, the Z1 is a very capable device, and the Z2 looks to build upon that legacy.

PROS:

  • Glass and aluminium unibody, yet light
  • Front-facing speakers are much louder than the Z1’s
  • Speakers are not muffled when face down
  • Best non-stock UI
  • Waterproof

CONS:

  • Glass back is slippery and collects fingerprints
  • Device gets really hot when recording in 4K/2160p
  • Images are noisy if there is direct light into lens

INTRODUCTION

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As said in the HTC One (M8) review, those who were unable to or simply did not purchase the Q4 2013 flagships will be really happy. The current line-up of flagships has very little flaws, and hence very little separates them. Even Samsung has cleaned up their act somewhat with the Galaxy S5.

All of them, including the Z2 have looked to fix their predecessors’ shortcomings, and so let’s start by having a look at the specs sheet for the Z2.

  Sony Xperia Z2
Display 5.2”, 1080p IPS LCD display
Camera 20.7 MP, 1/2.3 inch sensor
Video Recording 2160p/4K
Processor 2.3 GHz Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
GPU Adreno 330
RAM 3 GB
Storage 16 GB, micro-SD expandable
Battery 3200 mAh, STAMINA mode
Other Front-facing “S-Force Front Surround” speakers, IP55/58 (waterproof and dustproof), NFC, LTE

While there have been improvements all round, Xperia Z1 owners will not feel overly jealous about the Z2, save for the spanking new IPS LCD display, which is far better than the TN LCD used in the Z1.

On paper, the device looks impregnable. It has nearly everything one would like, but Sony have (fortunately or unfortunately) steered clear of possible gimmicks like the Duo Camera, or a heart-rate monitor.

Let’s begin, shall we?

UNBOXING, DESIGN, AND BUILD QUALITY

Opening up the box, you see the device, and lying underneath are the user manuals, earphones (we didn’t get the Active Noise Cancelling ones), micro-USB to USB cable, and the charging socket.

Having reviewed the HTC One M8 ago, I must say that while it is definitely the best looking device of all time, the Xperia Z2 is also really close behind.

Body (Back)

It has an aluminium unibody, with twin glass panels at the front and back. The Z2 has dimensions of 146.8 x 73.3 x 8.2 mm – it’s 2.8 mm taller than the Z1, but 0.7 mm shorter and 0.3 mm thinner. The best part is, it’s managed to shave off 7 g off the Z1’s weight to hit 163 g.

The Z2 continues the tradition of the Z-line being waterproof and dust-proof, and takes it to the next level. It is rated at IP55/58 – the highest commercial rating out of all the flagships. Best part is, it works flawlessly, as we found out first-hand.

The Z1 (left) and the Z2 (right)
The Z1 (left) and the Z2 (right)

The main design changes from the Z1 is the location of the micro-SIM card slot on the left and micro-SD card slot on the right, as well as the microphone perforations at the bottom. There is also a raised lip around the front, ensuring the screen will not crack if dropped face down.

Body (Front)

What is not immediately obvious, is that the front-facing speakers have been tucked into the top and bottom front edges of the Z2. The top speaker also houses the notification LED, which has become much larger compared to the Z1’s.

The Z2 (right) uses the same camera module seen in the Z1 (left)
The Z2 (right) uses the same camera module seen in the Z1 (left)

The rear shows off the 20.7 MP camera, with a silver ring around it, together with the LED flash. The shutter key is found on the right side, below the power button and rather soft volume rocker.

It’s no doubt then, the Z2 is a beautiful device. However, as they say, looks are merely skin-deep.

HANDLING

Handling

Good looking as the OmniBalance dictated design of the Z2 is, concerns are immediately raised regarding the rectangular corners. However, pick up the device, and those concerns are put to bed.

Thanks to the rounded edges, the Z2 does not dig into the edges of the palm, similar to the Z1 and unlike the Xperia Z. While it does not fit into your palm like the HTC One (M8), it is still very usable.

Power Button

The power button is located exactly where the thumb or index finger rests (for right-handed and left-handed grip respectively). The hardware camera shutter key has also much more feedback which we liked.

The glass backs of the Z1 (left) and Z2 (right)
The glass backs of the Z1 (left) and Z2 (right)

However, the glass back makes the device really slippery, and it collects fingerprints which were especially visible on the black review unit. A white or even purple Z2 should not have the latter issue.

DISPLAY

Display

The Xperia Z2 has a 5 inch Full HD (1080p) IPS LCD display, which is a marked improvement from the TN panel used in the Z1. Colour reproduction has taken a boost and viewing angles have gone from a measly 1 degree (I kid) to the 178 degrees promised by all IPS panels.

The IPS panel in the Z2 easily matches the HTC One M8’s Super LCD3 (SLCD3) and even manages to surpass it in some categories.

Display test 50% brightness 100% brightness
Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio
Sony Xperia Z2 0.39 454 1313
Sony Xperia Z1 0.38 580 1513
LG G Pro 2 0.11 130 1132 0.48 533 1113
LG G2 0.10 149 1522 0.45 667 1495
HTC One (M8) 0.20 245 1219 0.46 577 1256
HTC One 0.13 205 1580 0.42 647 1541
Samsung Galaxy S5 0 274 0 529
Apple iPhone 5/5c/5s 0.13 200 1490 0.48 640 1320

While the black levels have remained largely the same from the Z1, the overall maximum brightness has actually gone down. Contrast has also seen a dip, however at wide angles, the Z2 trounces the Z1 in colour reproduction.

Good luck trying to spot a pixel in the Z2's display
Good luck trying to spot a pixel in the Z2’s display

Don’t let the numbers fool you, though – the Z2 has a really good looking display, and its viewing angles, contrast and colour reproduction are one of the best.

USER INTERFACE, APPS AND AUDIO

The Xperia Z2 comes out of the box with Android 4.4 KitKat, but you’d be hard-pressed to find major changes from the 4.3 UI, and now even the Z1 has received the new 4.4 UI.

As usual, you can protect your lockscreen by Face, Pattern, PIN or Password unlock, in ascending order of security. A neat feature we found was that the device would automatically lock after 5 seconds if placed face-down on a flat surface.

You also get a maximum of 7 homescreen panes, and adding stuff on the homescreen is easy, as is the customization. You can set various live and static wallpapers, add widgets and shortcut, or change the UI theme.

The notification area loses the quick toggles, but fret not – they’ve been just moved on a separate tab like stock Android. You can gain quick access to the Quick Settings tab with a two-finger swipe from the top.

The toggles are customizable and you can choose between more than 20 different toggles and have up to 12 of them visible in their dedicated page.

The app drawer is laid out across multiple pages and you can sort the apps manually, alphabetically, by the most used or most recently installed.

Screenshot_2014-05-24-15-57-31

The Xperia Z2 uses the stock Android task manager that lets you switch between recently opened apps, as well as terminate them with a side-swipe, or kill all at once.

The so-called “small apps” are also available in the Xperia Z2 and are accessible via the task manager. They are similar to Samsung’s Mini Apps, and pop up tiny widget-like applications on your homescreen, which you can move around and use without having to open the full-fledged app.

So far, there’s a default set of nine: Active Clip, Chrome Bookmarks, Browser, Calculator, Calendar, Gmail, Timer, Notes, and Touch Lock. You can launch only one instance of a Small App, but you can open multiple Small Apps simultaneously.

You can also download more Small Apps off the Play Store or use the option to turn your favourite widgets into Small Apps. Just hit the Plus key at the top of the list and choose a widget.

Naturally, you can access Google Now by swiping from the bottom of the UI, but there’s a new shortcut right next to the Google Now launch key called What’s New. This app will show you the hottest apps and multimedia today, but displays content from the Play store and Sony’s PlayStation store.

The best part is, there is absolutely no lag. This is thanks to the lean interface from Sony that occupies just 4 GB of the device storage. It also is the closest in functionality to stock, which we are huge fans of.

The audio of the Z2 is also really impressive. There are two front-facing stereo speakers that are loud and really clear even at maximum volume. The best part is, even when face down the audio is not muffled at all.

sony-xperia-z2-hphones ear phones earphones
The Sony MDR-NC31EM earphones are available separately for S$79

For those that prefer listening to music through their headphones, the Z2 also features digital noise-cancelling technology. But before you get too excited, know that the technology in question only works when specifically paired with Sony’s new MDR-NC31EM earphones.

In some countries these earphones are bundled for free with the Z2 – unfortunately, Singapore is not one of them, and we’re stuck with the regular old earphones in the box. The MDR-NC31EM set is available as a separate accessory, and can be purchased for S$79.

Unfortunately, as we don’t have a set available, we’re unable to comment on the effectiveness of the noise cancellation.

BATTERY LIFE

With a 3200 mAh battery, you would have high expectations of the Xperia Z2.  It is a far larger capacity than the HTC One (M8) and Samsung Galaxy S5, though how much that’ll help is what we were interested in.

Sony has also included their STAMINA mode with the Z2. Debuting with the Z1, it starts one minute after the screen has been turned off, data traffic is automatically blocked and background activities are prevented from waking up the system. Cellular radio (i.e. calls and SMS) is not switched off with STAMINA mode active.

We unleashed our daily usage test on the Z2, and it did better than we were expecting. We used the device in the following situations:

  • 1 hour LTE web browsing
  • 1 hour WiFi web browsing
  • 1 hour WiFi YouTube video streaming (1080p)
  • 2 hour 1080p movie
  • 30 minutes light gaming (Angry Birds Rio)
  • Standby idling under STAMINA mode

Suffice to say, the Z2 has a monstrous battery. Even if you use your phone heavily, the Z2 can just keep on going for nearly 37 hours, with 5 of those devoted to powering the display.

PERFORMANCE BENCHMARKS

With the Z1, Sony had gone for a lower clock-speed variant of the Snapdragon 800, and the same has happened with the Z2. The AB variant of the Snapdragon 801 powers the Z2, which is clocked at 2.3 GHz.

The performance of the Z2 is very strong – slightly behind the other two flagships, but it’s more than enough to give you a lightning fast experience for a long time.

AnTuTu

In AnTuTu, a comprehensive benchmark that test everything from CPU to storage speed, the Z2 finished really close behind the M8, and slightly further behind the S5.

BrowserMark 2

In BrowserMark 2 though, the Z2 edged out the M8, but fell behind the S5 considerably.

Vellamo

In Vellamo, surprisingly, the 2014 flagships fell far behind their Q4 2013 counterparts (save the Nexus 5). In between themselves though, the Z2 fell just short of the S5.

Benchmarks should be taken with a large dollop of salt. Even though the Z2 is not benchmark king, it has the leanest UI and hence never lags even under heavy use, and will remain this fast for a long time.

CAMERA INTERFACE

There has been no change in the camera UI of the Xperia Z2 from the Z1, but a few new capture modes have been added. The default mode for the camera is the Superior Auto mode, which shoots in down-sampled 8 MP resolution and produces better images than the 20.7 MP ones.

You can change the image resolution in Manual mode, going up to 15.5 and 20.7 MP. There are also the other modes, namely, 4K video, Timeshift video (120 FPS), Background Defocus, AR effect, Creative effect, Vine, Info-Eye, Timeshift Burst, Social Live, Panorama and Evernote.

CAMERA PERFORMANCE

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Sony has thankfully continued with the second-largest smartphone camera sensor (it has the largest Android sensor though) at 1/2.3 inches. However, it has also continued with a wildly oscillating camera algorithm.

There are moments where the Z2’s images will leave your jaw agape, but there are also moments where you will say – “Nope, this is terrible”. Let’s have a look at the images, shall we?

Still Image Quality:

Day Samples:

In the day, the Xperia Z2 churns out images that will leave you speechless. Its colour reproduction, white balance and level of detail is extremely impressive.

The latter works especially well, as the images are down-sampled from 20.7 MP to 8 MP if shooting in Superior Auto mode, increasing the sharpness while reducing aliasing (i.e. jagged lines).

Night Samples:

In the night, the noise reduction software still works wonders. It reduces the graininess of the images, yet manages to keep a staggering amount of detail present. Colour reproduction is also spot on at night.

However, when having light shining directly into the lens, there is large amounts of lens flare. Still, Sony must be commended. Unlike what is expected together with lens flare, colour reproduction and contrast does not suffer with the Z2’s images.

All in all, the Z2’s camera certainly seems to be the best Android one in the market right now. The image quality is really impressive, and in my opinion, unmatched by all except the Z1 and Lumia 1020.

Video Quality:

The Sony Xperia Z2 outputs 4K video. Framerate was a constant 30 FPS but there is the option for smoother 1080p videos at 60 FPS.

As is usual for Sony smartphones, the video quality is up there with the best. Detail is more than adequate at 1080p and a lot higher in the 4K video. Videos run smooth and the smartphone picked the right exposure every time.

Focus is lightning fast and was continuously adjusting in line with the many moving objects in the frame. If you prefer it locked during shooting the video, you can always deselect the Continuous autofocus.

Day Sample (4K/2160p):

Day Sample (1080p):

In the day colour reproduction is good, and white balance is fine. As is to be expected, the 4K video had more detail.

Night Sample (4K/2160p):

Night Sample (1080p):

At night there is a lot of lens flare, but as with the still images, the colour reproduction and contrast is fine. Noise is present, but well under control.

In short, the Xperia Z2 makes really good videos. If you want a better performing camcorder, your only option would be the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 or Galaxy S5 – they are the only ones that can beat the Xperia Z2 in quality.

CONCLUSION

What can I say? The Japanese have finally hit the nail 100% on the head. While their Z1 was their first properly competitive device, the Z2 is the first to actually make headway into the mainstream crowd.

Sony CEO unveiling the Z2 | PHOTO CREDIT: DESIGNBYTENEPAL
Sony CEO unveiling the Z2 | PHOTO CREDIT: DESIGNBYTENEPAL

The third iteration in the Z-line, the Z2 has certainly managed to charm the whole editorial team here at Twenty First Tech. It has a brilliant camera, one that rules the Android roost.

It has the best battery life out of the 2014 flagships to date, and a blazing fast processor to boot. Its stereo speakers are also a huge step up from the Z1’s weak audio.

IMG_8390

We are also huge fans of the design, of the hardware and software both. Its immaculate (albeit slightly dim) display also gives the HTC One (M8)’s SLCD3 screen a run for its money.

samsung-galaxy-s5-vs-sony-xperia-z2

While the editorial team really liked the Z2, there are some who wish for a removable battery over the aluminium unibody. If that’s a deal-breaker for you, then the Samsung Galaxy S5 will be the device that will suit you better.

Glass, aluminium, waterproof, 20.7 MP camera, IPS display – the list is endless; the Z2 has it all.

What can I say? It’s simply the king of the world.

PS: The battle for 2014 is coming right up, so do watch out for our 2014 flagship shootout!

4 thoughts on “Sony Xperia Z2 Review – Third time's the charm

  1. I recently purchased a Sony Xperia Z2I have come to bitch about the sony phone. I got a Z2. Let me tell you why I’m pissed I didn’t get an HTC M8.
    Actually since I have what I sent to sony, i’ll paste it with some fluff taken out.
    I recently purchased a Sony Xperia Z2. I’m quite disappointed in not doing a thorough test drive because if I did I honestly would not have purchased the phone. I hope what I am about to say can be forwarded to the upper management for immediate considerations.

    1) Group Messaging in the default SMS app. The default app cannot sort group threads for group messaging. CS (Customer Service) stated it was due to friends having different devices that may not be able to deal with MMS or for privacy reasons to not show who is in the thread. I concur and for some reason don’t believe him. I think it is just a limitation of the messaging app. If I am the one to initiate the MMS, I, as the user want a freaking group thread. The default messaging app sends individual SMS’s to my contacts even though it shows as a group thread in the Z2 which is completely stupid ass backwards. The messages from contacts in my group thread then all come back as individual texts. In this day and age, to compete with iphone and HTC One (M8), which I have used as well, not having this function is a deal-breaker in my opinion. The competitors all handle this fabulously.
    2)Phone app. On the HTC One (M8), starting the app and then hitting the dialpad in the order of someone’s name brings up their contract. It is a direct search without extra motions. What the Z2 default app does is if you start it, hit the numbers for a name, it searches for the phone number. People store contacts so they don’t have to remember numbers. This is very crucial and why I moved away from a windows phone.

    Ex. I want to call Kaz Hirai Start app > 529… On the HTC One, this brings up the contacts that match the name Kaz, or any other name that the T9 combination of 529 matches. On the Z2, it’s looking for people with the number 529. This is backwards in terms of app design. Yes I could use the alphabetical contact list, but looking for people further down the list is time consuming.

    3)I bluetooth connect with my vehicle. When I get text messages when I was using my windows Lumia phone, The car was able to read the text to me and I was able to respond by diction and say “send” using voice commands. The Z2 is unable to do this and I am quite disappointed.

    Tech is supposed to make life easier. These companies put out these great android hardware phones, then they cripple it with shit software. I’m not even complaining about skins or anything. Its software related to functionality. This is probably why Sony died on the US market. Also, if someone tells me to get a 3rd party from the app store. Screw that mentality. IF someone sells a $700 dollar phone, it needs to work like a charm out of the box. I shouldn’t need to download some 3rd party crap to supplement it. Furthermore, I’m not gonna use hangouts to handle my text. Even hangouts sucks. It mixes your gchat stuff with your texts so you have to ‘choose wisely’ everytime you start a convo whether its a gchat msg you want or a text. I dont need gchat to save all my shit, no thx.
    End rant.

    1. All are valid issues except for 2). Number 2 worked fine on the review set of the Z2 and works fine on the Z1. Typing 322 pulls up my colleague Fabian’s name, and his mobile number does not consist of these numbers.

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