The Sony Xperia Z2 is the latest flagship super-phone from Sony, replacing the Xperia Z1 released last year. The new phone keeps the same aluminium-edged design, sexy glass front and back, Full HD display, quad-core processor and impressive 20.7-megapixel camera. Like its predecessor, it's completely waterproof.
You might wonder, then, exactly what is new on the Z2?
Well, it has a slightly larger 5.2-inch display, a slimmer bezel around the edge, a marginally faster 2.3GHz Qualcomm processor, the latest Android 4.4.2 KitKat software and a camera capable of capturing 4K video. Although those are only marginal upgrades, the Z1 was already a smashing piece of kit, and it might be slightly too soon for a full overhaul, given that it was only released in September last year.
It's available to preorder in the UK and wider Europe now for an eye-watering price of £600 (€700). The company is yet to confirm if it will ever get a US release, but I wouldn't get your hopes up -- the Z1 never got a proper release in the States, and the Z1S was announced at CES earlier this year as a US variant of the older phone. It's listed as "coming soon" on Sony's Asia site (with no pricing given), but there's no sign of it yet for Australia.
Since this review was originally published, Australian pricing and information has been made available.
Optus is offering the Z2 for 24 monthly handset repayments of AU$16 on its AU$60 plan. That's 600 minutes of calls, unlimited SMS and MMS and 1.5GB of data. The total cost over two years is AU $1824. You'll also get a free pair of Adidas runners worth AU$190.
On Vodafone, the Z2 is available for AU$10 repayments on the Red AU$65 plan. That's unlimited calls and texts plus 1.5GB of data. That's a total minimum cost of AU$1800 over the 24 months. At the moment, Vodafone is offering double data for the duration of the plan, upping you to 3GB. (That offer ends on 1 July, 2014.)
Finally, Telstra has just announced its plans for the Z2. Handset repayments are AU$6 per month on a AU$70 Telstra Mobile Accelerate Plan, with 1.5GB of data. That's a minimum of AU$1824 over the 24 month contract.
Of course, your other option is to buy it outright from Sony for AU$759 or just AU$672 in a Telstra store.
The Xperia Z2 is physically very similar to its predecessor, but that's by no means a criticism. It has the same glass front and back and aluminium band running around the edge. It looks stunning and feels extremely luxurious to hold. It certainly feels more premium than the lightweight, plastic-bodied Samsung Galaxy S5.
The HTC One M8, with its all-metal body, feels similarly luxurious. It's entirely down to personal preference whether you like the smart glass and metal of the Z2 or the industrial milled metal of the M8. I personally can't pick a favourite -- I think they both look superb -- but the M8's curved back makes it more comfortable to hold in one hand.
The Z2's glass panels do make it rather more susceptible to scratches from keys in your pocket, so if you want to keep it looking pristine -- which I imagine you will, given how much you've paid for it -- you should pop it in a case. Like its siblings, the Z2 is completely waterproof, but the waterproof rating has been slightly increased. It's IP55 and IP58 rated which basically means you can completely submerse it in up to 1.5 metres of water for up to 30 minutes at a time.
Not only does that mean it won't break the first time you accidentally drop it in the toilet, it also lets you get snap-happy with the camera underwater -- that's great news for snorkelers. The screen won't register your taps when wet, but there's a dedicated camera shutter button on the edge to help with those snorkelling shots.
The screen size has been increased from 5 inches to 5.2 inches. Thanks to a slimmer bezel however, the phone's body hasn't increased too much, but it's still a big phone. If you're more used to the 4-inch iPhone 5S, it probably won't be to your taste, but the 4.3-inch Xperia Z1 Compact has a cracking lineup of specs and is much more pocketable, so may be a suitable compromise between size and performance.
Around the edges you'll find a microSD card slot and a micro-USB port hidden under a waterproof flap, a flap-free 3.5mm headphone jack and the same sticking-out power button you'll see on all of Sony's recent phones. There's also a little hole in the edging allowing you to pop in a lanyard to make it slightly more secure to hold up when you're taking pictures. Sony doesn't actually provide a lanyard in the box, so you'll have to try and find one on an old camera you're not using.
The speakers now sit on the front of the phone at the top and bottom. Like the HTC One and One M8's BoomSound speakers, they're designed to direct the sound towards you, rather than away. They're much smaller than the One's though, so don't provide as big a sound, but their position means it doesn't get muffled when you lay it flat on a surface.
The 5.2-inch display packs the same 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution as the previous Z1. As the Z2 is marginally bigger, the screen has a slightly lower pixel density -- 423 pixels per inch against the Z1's 440 -- as the same number of pixels are being stretched over a larger area. In reality though, it's not a difference you're ever likely to notice.
The IPS display is extremely crisp, with small text on Web pages, icon edges and high definition photos looking pin sharp. Sony boasts that the display uses the same "Triluminous" technology as its Bravia TVs, which makes it more vivid. Whatever Sony has done, it's worked, as the Z2's display is absolutely superb. It's not only very bright, it has rich, vibrant colours with plenty of contrast and excellent viewing angles to boot.
It's a brilliant screen for watching glossy Netflix shows like "Breaking Bad" or even for just flicking through your sunny holiday snaps -- my shots from Tuscany looked glorious on the Z2. You're also able to tweak the colour balance in the settings if you prefer things to look a little warmer, but I personally found the automatic mode to look the most natural.
Software and processor
The Z2 arrives running the latest version of Google's mobile operating system, Android 4.4.2 KitKat. You'd be right to expect the latest version of software on new launches, but Sony does have a habit of using older Android iterations -- the Z1 Compact launched only recently with the ageing Jelly Bean -- so it's refreshing to find the latest software on board as standard.
Sony has thrown its usual software tweaks into the mix. Although it functions in much the same way as any Android phone, with multiple homescreen panels, a multitasking carousel and an app tray, you'll also find a customisable app menu, Sony's own image and video galleries as well as access to its Music and Video Unlimited streaming subscription services (though these will cost you extra).
Hop into settings and you can change the theme of the phone. It comes preloaded with standard colour palette options, but you can download extra themes that drastically change the interface to give a nautical wood effect, for example, complete with compass icon for the home button. It's hardly a killer feature, but if you like putting your own stamp on your technology it's fun to play around with.
It's all powered by a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor clocked in at 2.3GHz, backed up by a very generous 3GB of RAM. That's a seriously potent lineup of specs so I wasn't at all surprised that it gave a very strong performance. It achieved an impressive score of 3,822 on the Geekbench 2 benchmark test, easily rivalling both the Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8.
Navigation was swift and lag-free with no noticeable delays when switching between open apps, diving into menus or flicking around the notifications panel. It handled demanding gaming extremely well too. Riptide GP 2, Asphalt 8, Dead Trigger 2 and GT Racing 2 all played with high frame rates for smooth, enjoyable gameplay.
Around the back of the phone is the same 20.7-megapixel camera you'll find on both the Z1 and the Z1 Compact. It's an impressive amount of megapixels, but it doesn't necessarily guarantee better pictures. To see what it's capable of, I took it for a spin around an unusually sunny London.
Immediately I hit a snag. You aren't able to shoot in intelligent auto mode -- or use any of the scene modes or HDR modes in manual -- when at the full 20-megapixel resolution. You'll need to knock it down to 8 megapixels in order to use those modes. Luckily then, the settings it chooses when shooting at full resolution can still be superb.
My first shot (above) was taken at full resolution. It's extremely well exposed with loads of detail in the shadowy areas and a rich blue sky above. Its resolution means it's a big image, but there's still not much clarity when you zoom in to the fine details. The Galaxy S5's 16 megapixels managed to provide crisper edges, particularly along the handrail of this lock.
As was the case with the Z1 and Z1 Compact, I found the automatic mode to be a little hit and miss. I regularly found it to slightly overexpose the scene and to opt for a rather cold-looking white balance. My shot of this pine cone (above) is a little drab in automatic mode, but a quick tweak of the white balance (the second picture) brought a much more satisfying colour tone.