Player three has entered the game: we’ve seen the HTC One M8, as well as the capable Samsung Galaxy S5, but where has the third flagship been this whole time? Biding its time, clearly. The Sony Xperia Z2 has landed, and it was absolutely worth the wait.
What Is It?
The Sony Xperia Z2 is your newest smartphone flagship, and the fifth phone to bear the Z name from the Japanese manufacturer.
The Xperia Z2, announced at Mobile World Congress, is packing a 1920x1080p, 5.2-inch Full HD screen with both TRILUMINOUS Display technology and Sony’s proprietary X-Reality engine from its BRAVIA TV line for better colour and image reproduction. It’s also got a 20.7-megapixel camera with a mobile CMOS sensor and the ability to capture 4K video.
Unlike a lot of Android handsets being released these days, the Z2 is mercifully running Google Android 4.4 KitKat out of the box. On the inside you’ve got a 2.3GHz Qualcomm quad-core processor keeping everything ticking over, with a whopping 3GB of RAM and a 3200mAh battery to keep everything ticking. The phone is still waterproof, but this time it comes with the IPX-5 rating, which means it’s protected against “water jets” rather than just splashes. It’s also still dust protected too. The audio business has also kicked in a new stereo microphone for high-quality sound recording on videos. Given Sony’s push towards high-resolution audio, it comes as no surprise that it’s lifting the standard for audio across the company.
The camera business has kicked in a 1/2.3-type Exmor RS sensor with the ability to capture images and videos at 4K (3840×2160) thanks to “advanced video mode”. There’s also a new SteadyShot system which keeps everything on the level while shooting. Speaking of the camera, TimeShift Video mode allows you to capture 120fps slow-motion video, as well as support for Vine out of the box. You can order the Z2 from Vodafone for an extra $10 per month on the $65 plan, which includes infinite minutes to anyone in Australia, infinite standard text both within Australia and to anyone overseas, infinite voicemail and infinite 13 and 1800 numbers. You also get 3GB of data right now thanks to a double data offer from the carrier. Normally, it’s 1.5GB. All up, you’re on a 24 month contract with that one.
Optus will carry the Z2 for an additional $16 per month on the $60 plan, which includes 600 minutes of calls, unlimited text and MMS within Australia and 1.5GB, all on a 24-month contract.
Telstra will flog you the Z2 for $6 per month on the $70 Mobile Accelerate Plan for 24 months. That includes 1.5GB of data, $700 worth of calls and unlimited texts. If you’d rather the device outright, it’s going for a bargain at $672.
What Does It Do Well?
Sony started out on the Z-series with a simple mission: throw everything amazing Sony made into a smartphone. What it came up with was a phone that had a battery for days, a camera for the ages, a screen that would make you weep and all encased in a dustproof and waterproof enclosure you could take anywhere. Five phones on, and Sony continues to pull a rabbit out of a hat with the Z.
Enter the Z2: a testament to the awesome work Sony has been doing lately. The new phone has everything we loved about the previous devices, turned up to 11.
The best part of the Z2 is once again, the camera. At 20.7-megapixels, the Z2’s camera snaps a gorgeously detailed and crisp image, with a dedicated shutter button to help you along the way. By default, the camera shoots in Superior Auto+ mode, which automatically figures out how to make your shot look great. If you want to be more hands-on, however, you do have the choice of a Manual mode which will let you choose your Exposure Value or set the White Balance. It also gives you more than a handful of scenes to choose from for semi-automatic shooting.
The Burst mode has been greatly improved, with the Z2 snapping loads of shots and fanning them out for you to swipe your finger over in order to select the best one.
You’ve also got 4K video recording straight out of the box from a manufacturer which makes some of the best 4K TVs on the market. Those videos take up a fair bit of space, which is why Sony has included a microSD expansion slot that can handle a whopping 128GB card. There’s no reason cameras this good shouldn’t have expandable storage (looking at you, Lumia 1020).
Sony has also created a camera widget for your home screen that you’ll actually want to use: it’s a customisable camera dock that allows you to jump straight into specific modes like Burst, 4K video, Background Defocus (for gorgeous depth-of-field) and even fun stuff like Augmented Reality games. It’s essential for getting the shot you want, quickly. No need to faff about with jumping into the camera app and then choosing your shooting mode: it’s all done in one simple click.
Check out these test shots...
Click to enlarge
Elsewhere, Sony has been making improvements to tighten the whole Z experience.
Sony’s battery-sipping STAMINA Mode has had a tweak in the new Z2 with the addition of an Ultra-Power Saving mode. While it doesn’t extend the battery life quite like the extreme power saving mode of the S5, you’ll still get almost four days standby time from your device once it’s activated.
The most impressive battery stat, however, is the life you get just by using your phone normally. Without any power augmentations turned on and under heavy use, you’ll easily get two days out of the Xperia Z2. At a stretch, you might get two-and-a-half even. Sony’s batteries just get better and better.
The beautiful 5.2-inch 1920x1080 screen is also something to behold at full brightness, especially when viewing the gorgeous photos you just took.
And to top it off, the whole thing is still waterproof and dustproof. If I were going on holiday tomorrow, this would be the go-to device for a rugged phone, camera and internet browser. Fact.
What’s Not So Good?
The design is great, but it’s pretty much exactly the same design as last year. In fact, we challenged a few people to hold the Z1 and the Z2 side by side, and figure out which was which. Four out of five people failed to distinguish the difference, and the only way the fifth person figured it out was that the new phone didn’t have as many fingerprint smudges on it. If you’re someone who wants to flash your new phone about as proof that you upgraded to a new model, this phone is going to frustrate you. It is, however, a testament to Sony that so much good new gear can fit in exactly the same case, plus using existing parts drives cost efficiency on the manufacturing-side, meaning you can get the phone cheaper when it hits shelves.
When it comes to sound, Sony know how to play the game, but we fear that all the improvements to the speaker for both calls and music have been ruined somewhat by what sounds like an excessive level of water-proofing. There’s always the risk when you waterproof a phone that you’ll be covering over the audio ports. That’s what it sounds like on the Z2: almost like it’s muffled at full volume. It still sounds passable, but against competitors like HTC BoomSound, it can’t compare.
The Xperia Z2 also comes with a companion wearable as most high-end smartphones do these days. Said companion is the Sony Lifeband. The band tracks the usual stuff: walking, running, sleeping, and also allows you to install third-party apps to control your experience from your wrist. Right now, one notable app allows you to just tap the top of your Lifeband to change tracks or volume on your phone so you don’t have to go fishing for it in your pocket. It’s certainly a first-gen product when it comes to wearables, given that it can be laughably smoked by something like a Samsung Gear Fit in exactly the same form-factor. But the Lifeband goes one step further to just get downright creepy. We noted this at Mobile World Congress, and now that it’s out for us to use, it’s the same problem: it’s an app called Lifelog.
Lifelog counts and displays time spent doing all sorts of things: messaging, playing games, watching movies, browsing the web, as well as displaying it alongside a map of where you did it. Even more troubling is that the Z2 and its Lifelog app uploads all of that to Sony’s cloud. Cue screaming. Sure, phone manufacturers can probably see all this data anyway without your knowledge, but the fact that it’s blatantly flashing that information catalogue on your mobile life in front of your face is just a little bit unsettling.
It’s meant to be like a journal you don’t have to type stuff into, collating your photos, moments, steps and activities into the one app, but this isn’t anything new. Like tracking apps that have gone before it (I’m looking at you, Path, you creep), it just feels like you’re being spied upon. You know: moreso than the NSA would. Thankfully, neither the Lifeband nor the Lifelog app are compulsory additions. We’ll bring you our full review of the Lifeband later on this week.
Should You Buy It?
Sure, the Xperia Z2 may not be as good an all-rounder as something like the Galaxy S5 with its Health integration, decent wearable ecosystem and exclusive apps, nor is it as stylish as the HTC One M8, it has the best camera, screen and video capabilities of any flagship smartphone on the market right now. If any phone camera could give the Nokia Lumia 1020 a go for its money, it’s the shooter strapped to the Z2. Photos look clearer, brighter, better balanced and crisper, and when displayed on the gorgeous screen straight out of Sony’s BRAVIA TV labs, they look even better. Throw in 4K video recording on top of that from the masters of the format, and a battery that won’t quit, and you have a smartphone any photographer, traveller, gadget lover or even Samsung fanboy would love to own.
Plus, if you’re buying one of the new flagship devices of 2014 outright, you’re in for at least a $200 saving with the Z2 when compared to the S5 or One M8. The Z2 won’t be beating the Nexus 5 or the Moto X for value, but you’re getting so much more for your money on the Sony these days. It’s our pick for best flagship smartphone for your buck right now.