To say that I am a Sony fan is to put it mildly. My home entertainment setup includes a Sony television, Sony surround sound system and both the PlayStation 3 and 4 consoles. It’s this appreciation for all-things-Sony that made the announcement of the Sony Xperia Z2 at Mobile World Congress earlier this year was one of the most exciting things at the show for me.
At the launch, Sony touted a much improved display and a pair of stereo front speakers to add to the already formidable list of specs that we saw from both the Xperia Z1 and Xperia Z1 Compact we saw last year.
The question we have before is whether Sony have made significant enough improvement to their flagship smartphone to see it supplant the South Korean manufacturers at the top of a list of extremely strong competitors.
The Sony Xperia Z2 should come with a sticker on the side of the box declaring that its owner “must love glass”. With a large 5.2-inch display up front and sizeable top and bottom bezels to cater for the built-in stereo speakers, there is already a hefty amount of protective glass on the front of the Xperia Z2 and that glossy glass surface is doubled once you turn the phone over.
That’s not to say that the Z2 is fragile. Having used one for the better part of a month I can honestly say that the phone can stand up to the rigours of regular day-to-day use and even the occasional accidental fall onto the floor from a relatively mild height.
Should you opt for life without a cover on your Xperia Z2, then you should also be prepared for the inevitable army of hairline scratched to invade the back of your smartphone within the first few months.
Sandwiched between the two slabs of glass is the steel frame which holds the entire phone together. The edges of the frame have all been chamfered to almost eliminate any sharp corners from the Z2’s frame as well as being dyed black to give the impression of a vastly slimmer profile than the Xperia Z2 actually touts.
As with the pair of Xperia Z1’s last year the microUSB charging port, microSIM tray and microSD card slot are hidden behind a pair of waterproofing caps that snuggly fit in place when not in use.
All in all the Xperia Z2 is built from a collection of premium materials that befit its status as a top end flagship smartphone which goes a long way in explaining why we love the look and feel of a phone that is admittedly rather a bit too large for our liking.
If there was any doubt that Sony was serious about challenging for the flagship smartphone crown then they ended the minute we saw the specs of the Xperia Z2:
The latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor matched with an industry leading 3GB of RAM sits behind a full HD IPS LCD display sealed in an IP58 certified waterproof and dust resistant body.
The display is flanked by a pair of well concealed stereo speakers which are incredible when watching videos and produce great sound for a mobile phone. However when used as a navigation device in a noisy car or as a speaker phone for calls they sound rather underpowered.
It has the latest in wireless communications standards including Bluetooth 4.0, 802.11ac WiFi and LTE to make sure that data flow in and out as quickly as possible.
Then there is the return of Sony’s incredible 20.7 megapixel camera sensor which has produced fantastic pictures in both the Xperia Z1 and the Z1 Compact when we reviewed them.
However it’s the stupendously large 3 200mAh battery inside the Xperia Z2 that gives us the most to be excited about. Even with its increased battery capacity from its last generation, the Galaxy S5 falls short of the Z2’s battery but then again so do the flagships of HTC, LG and Apple.
The Xperia Z2 runs on the latest version of Google’s Android operating system clad in Sony’s Xperia UI skin. There are no buttons on the front of the phone which means that the home, menu and back buttons are all of the on-screen variety.
The notification tray has been divided into two distinct sections, one for notifications and the other for quick shortcuts which can be changed to personal preference. One rather irritating aspect of these shortcuts is that long pressing any of them does not take you to the respective settings page, rather it pops up a second label for the same button which needs to then be clicked on to open the page. It’s not a major fault but the added step is unnecessary.
As with all Android smartphones, Sony has added a host of applications to the Xperia Z2 that form part of the ‘standard’ Sony experience. The ‘What’s New’ app brings the latest apps and games approved by Sony right to the front of the queue but annoyingly when you swipe up from the home button for Google Now you the shortcut to ‘What’s New’ is presented as well. While we like the fact that a curated list of new apps to try is available, we don’t think that it necessarily needs pride of place on the Xperia Z2 and would have much preferred to be able to customise the quick launch shortcut to something of our choosing.
When we reviewed Sony’s Xperia Z1 last year we had a major issue with the quality of the display used by the Japanese company, it really just wasn’t good enough and let the whole phone down as a result.
We’re glad to say that Sony has righted the ship when it comes to displays in its high-end smartphones from a quality perspective. Colours are no longer washed out the second the phone isn’t perfectly facing you and the 5.2 inch Triluminous display is definitely one of the best we’ve ever seen.
There were only two curious things we noticed with the Xperia Z2’s display. The first was a refresh rate problem very early on in our time with the Z2 which caused the display to flicker like a TV with a bad signal however the problem went away after 10 seconds and hasn’t repeated in the weeks since.
The second strange occurrence occurs when you take an Xperia Z2 into bring sunlight you can see several silver dots on the display at the exact point at which the sunlight hits the display. It’s nothing serious, only mildly disconcerting the first few times it happens.
As with previous Xperia Z1 smartphones the 20.7 megapixel camera in the Xperia Z2 is capable of some of the most fantastic images. The standard setting will keep images down to a more manageable 8 megapixels but will use the extra data that the lens captures to correct errors and beautify the pictures it produces using oversampling.
The Superior Auto shooting mode should crank out pictures of a good enough standard to keep most happy, while the manual setting mode will give more room to play for those who know what they’re doing.
As with the Xperia Z1 and Z1 Compact the photos that the Z2 is able to produce in bright sunlight are sublime with photos in questionable light sources still looking great but nowhere near as amazing.
We cannot overestimate how much of an important role battery life plays in our decision on whether a smartphone is fantastic or a failure. In the case of the Xperia Z2, Sony have done everything right to offer the kind of battery life that will satisfy even the most hardcore smartphone user.
Not only is the Xperia Z2 outfitted with an incredibly generous 3 200mAh battery but it also comes with an improved version of Sony’s already impressive array of software controls that help you extend the battery life of your phone through the day.
Power saving enhancements include mild power saving features like location-based WiFi which will only turn on the WiFi when the Z2 knows you are near a saved hotspot and the ability to queue background data calls which waits to synchronise accounts until set intervals to reduce the amount of data connections.
Sony’s stamina mode also makes a welcome return with its ability to restrict hardware performance and to stop the Xperia Z2 from using data connections while the display is off to reduce the drain on the battery.
While a ‘low battery mode’ allows you to set the battery level at which a host of features will be shut off to preserve the remaining battery for the important services like voice calls and text messages.
All of this adds up to a smartphone that has seldom seen the need for a charger before the end of the day, no matter how hard we pushed it.
If ever Sony had created a handset worthy of praise the Xperia Z2 is most definitely it. Every single high-end spec that could be in a modern smartphone is present in the Xperia Z2. It simply makes for a superb smartphone.
Combine that with the immense battery life that the Xperia Z2 offers and we can honestly say that anyone buying the Xperia Z2 will be a happy smartphone owner.
The only area that Sony needs to work on with their smartphones is in the additional services offered with the smartphone in the vein of Samsung’s Accidental Damage from handling warranty which will continue to be a key factor for most people buying a R10 000+ smartphone.
Price: R10 500
Display: 5.2 inch 1080×1920 resolution Triluminous LCD display (424ppi)
Operating System: Android 4.4.2
Processor: 2.3GHz Quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor
Memory: 3GB RAM
Storage: 16GB expandable by up to 128GB with microSD cards
Battery: 3 200mAh
Camera: 20.7 megapixel
Networking: 802.11ac WiFi, LTE, Bluetooth 4.0