It feels like just the other day when FoS reviewed the Sony Xperia Z1, and before many owners of the, then, flagship smartphone had time to enjoy it, Sony were already hard at work on the launch party for the Xperia Z2. A mere six months after the official launch of the Z1, Sony launched the Z2; although many markets received delayed releases due to slow factory production back in April. We finally managed to get our hands on the illusive smartphone, Sony’s new flagship. Although it may not have dominated the market in terms of overall sales, many would argue against the fact that the Z1 was one of the best phones released in 2013. This time around, the Z2 competes against the Samsung Galaxy S5, LG G3, iPhone 5s, and the much talked about HTC One (M8). Is the Z2 worth the upgrade for Z1 owners, or simply an attempt to stay ahead of the market in terms of outright hardware warfare?
Although we have already eluded to the fact that Sony has reduced their flagship recycle period to around six months, the trend is seemingly speeding up, as there is already a few rumours been thrown around tech circles of an imminent Xperia Z3 launch.
Build and Design
As with the iteration from the original Xperia Z to the Z1, the Z2 is very similar in terms of build and design compared to the Z1. With its glass finish front and rear, the Xperia Z2 is quite a site. The glass finish does put the owner at risk of additional scratches, but I haven’t found that to be any issue with a bit of caution exercised. The premium build is rounded off with the, single-piece, aluminium frame around the edges of the device. This alone makes it stand out from the non-Sony crowd.
Having set the trend with its IP-rated waterproofing without the need to release a separate “rugged” version, Sony has included an IP58 certified for your peace of mind. This means you can submerse your unit in water at a maximum depth of 1.5m for up to 30 minutes. Although this feature isn’t of much use under normal circumstances, unless you’re prone to the odd toilet drop, I did find myself taking a few underwater photos using the dedicated camera button. For those familiar with the Galaxy S5, you don’t have to manually enable the water mode when taking photos to use the power button to capture the photo. This makes is much simpler to use, since the touchscreen is pretty much useless even with a sprinkling of drops on the surface.
One of the few differences on the Z2 is the screen size, which has been increased to 5.2”, making it slightly larger than the 5” Z1. The term “larger” is used quite liberally here, as the Z2 is only 2.8mm taller, while being 0.7mm narrower and 0.3mm thinner. It is also 7g lighter than the Z1. Overall, then Sony have done an excellent job in increasing the screen size while reducing the dimensions and weight of the device. As for the location of the microSD card slot, microUSB port, 3.5mm audio jack, power button, volume rocker and dedicated camera button, you’ll find them in precisely the same location as on the Z1. The only change is that Sony have moved the speakers to the front of the device, much like what HTC has done on its devices of late. This makes it both great of gaming, as well as listen to your music with the device placed on a flat surface without the sound being muffled with projection through the rear.
There isn’t much to complain about in terms of the build of the Z2, the only real fault picked up is the screens propensity to pick up smudges and collect dust. With the dual glass finish, users will have the added pleasure of having to wipe down both the front and rear of the device to rid their devices of any dirt.
As mentioned above, the Xperia Z2 has a 5.2” screen, providing a little extra viewing pleasure to its users. On the previous Z1, Sony fitted a TFT capacitive touchscreen. On the Z2, they’ve swapped this out for IPS LCD touchscreen instead. Without needing to go into detail, the difference is glaringly obvious. For the better. While the pixel density suffers due to the enlarged 1080p display, the colours, contrast and brightness, and viewing angles for that matter, have all received a much needed boost. Sony loosely threw around words like “Triluminos” and “X-reality Engine” when they released the Z1, comparing it to their HD TV dsiplays. In retrospect, this was nothing more than a marketing gimmick rather than an actuality, and become one of the major negatives on the Z1.
The newly fitted display shows off much deeper black levels, while still keeping the same standards of vibrant colours Sony prides itself on. In all honesty, the display is now able to be compared to the likes of Samsung and Apple, who have managed to keep ahead of the competition over the years on this front. In addition, users are also able to fine tune their colour balance, choosing between warmer or cooler hues. Users can also disable the X-reality Engine, which often either pixelate certain movies or reduce the frame rate as a direct result of over processing.
Battery and Performance
The Xperia Z2 is laden with top of the line specs, starting with the Qualcomm MSM8974AB Snapdragon 801 chipset, which has an output of 2.3GHz from its Quad-core Krait 400 CPU. Compared to the 2.2GHz Quad-core of the Z1, it may not seem like much of a difference, but with the latest Android 4.4 KitKat firmware, and Qualcomm’s more efficient processor, the Z2 powers above the Z1 with ease. There is also an additional 1GB of RAM, now at 3GB in total, resulting in even better overall performance. The Adreno 330 GPU is the same as that of the Z1, but due to the slightly larger screen size, the performance is reduced, although only fractionally when pushed through certain benchmark tests. This, however, is negligible to the overall performance of the device.
Sony also managed to squeeze in an additional 200mAh into the, now, 3200mAh battery. During normal usage, the Z2 scores better than almost all other smartphones on the market currently. One of the major issues with the Z2 is its operating temperature, which quickly rises upon heavy use, such as gaming. This, no doubt, dramatically reduces the battery life, a result which sees the Z2 fall behind in terms of its overall battery consumption.
Another of the hardware features carried over from the Z1, is the 20MP rear-facing camera, with the same 1/2.3” sensor. This, however, is a good thing, since the camera was quite good to begin with. The biggest changes in terms of the camera performance is derived from the updated software. Sony has fine-tuned many of the features provided by its camera app, the most noticeable being that of the more efficient HDR capabilities. Users no longer have to wait for five seconds while the software processes the snapped image. In conjunction with the increased computational power and efficiency, each HDR photo now processes in roughly the same amount of time as a regular photo. While the performance of the app has made quite a difference in terms of the camera, it still doesn’t offer the same level of manual adjustments as on Nokia’s Lumia 1020 and the likes.
Another of the software updates is visible during video capture. Sony now offers 4K capture at 2160p@30fps, which makes for some great scenes when viewed on a 4K-enabled display. I always find it rather strange that some devices offer video capture of such high quality, without providing the means of being able to view the resolution on the device itself. When viewed back on a capable display, the results are nothing short of amazing, with crisp detail and excellent colour balance. One negative aspect of the recorder is its continuous change of focus when filming moving objects. With certain amount of background movement, the camera changes focus and often leaves the actual subject blurred on screen. Movement also has negative effect on the crispness of image, as fast-moving objects sometimes become distorted.
The RRP for the Sony Xperia Z2 falls just short of the R10,000 at R9,900. Although this isn’t the most expensive flagship on the market, the pricing is quite steep (something of a growing trend these days). Compared to its predecessors, Sony has done well to add a few more features and capabilities to the Z2, although not as large a gap as we’ve seen in previous years. With the shortening replacement period, it’s becoming harder to stay ahead of the trend. Sony seems to be releasing at least two flagships a year in an attempt to stay ahead, or on par, with newly released hardware, but this isn’t all that should drive a smartphone.
Compared to the rest of the market, Sony does well to compete yet again, but at the same time, it’s all becoming a “seen that before” situation. Although we can’t fault the design and much of the performance (apart from the operating temperatures), Sony runs the risk of falling into a rut by not being more innovative (with obvious risk it’s fair to say) and could be overtaken by some of the “lesser” OEMs, who rely on nifty new features as opposed to its name alone.
You can find the full specifications here.