Sony Xperia Z2 review: Sleek luxury meets lightning performance

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.

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Again, the automatic mode resulted in rather cold image tones (click image to see full-size version) Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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A warmer white balance setting really helped this scene (click image to see full-size version). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

I found the same results on this flower bed. The auto photo was cold, but I fixed it with a warmer white balance choice.

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Loads of detail here, but again it's too cold (click image to see full-size version). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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The warmer white balance is a little strong here, leading to an overly warm hue (click image to see full-size version). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

This tree stump was similarly cold before, although the white balance tweaks were a slightly strong, making the warm tones a bit unnatural.

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The Xperia Z2 did a great job exposing for this pond (click image to see full-size version). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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The Galaxy S5 did a great job too, but the Z2 has a slight edge in clarity (click image to see full-size version). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

This shot of a pond in west London was exposed very well by the Z2 and there's a load of detail at full screen. There's little to choose between the Z2 and S5 in terms of exposure and colour balance, but the Z2 seems to have a slight edge for clarity.

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Excellent exposure and loads of detail in this full-resolution shot from the Z2 (click image to see full-size version). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The Z2 exposed for this sunny riverside scene extremely well too. The bright blue sky and white clouds are kept under control and there's still plenty of detail in the shadowy areas and tonnes of clarity in the rippling water. A very impressive shot all round.

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At full resolution without intelligent auto help, the Z2 did an adequate job with this challenging scene (click image to see full-size version). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

In manual mode, the Z2 struggled slightly with this bridge scene, with the bright sky being slightly overexposed.

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With HDR mode enabled, the bright sky is more under control, although the resolution has been throttled (click image to see full-size version). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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Although perhaps a little unnatural, the Galaxy S5's HDR mode gave a great overall exposure (click image to see full-size version). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Turning on the HDR mode helped somewhat in rescuing the highlights, although the Galaxy S5's HDR mode was able to capture a very balanced -- if slightly unnatural -- scene.

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Good exposure, nice colours and plenty of detail. A solid effort from the Z2's HDR mode (click image to see full-size version). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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The Galaxy S5's HDR mode brightened the shadows too much, making it slightly unnatural (click image to see full-size version). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

In these shots over Ealing, both the Z2 and S5's HDR modes resulted in lots of detail and well-exposed skies. While the Z2's picture had darker shadows, it looked much more natural than the S5's, which had raised the brightness of the shadows to an unrealistic degree.

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The Z2 has impressive low-light skills too. This image is well-exposed with plenty of detail and bold colours (click image to see full-size version). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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The S5 did a good job in low-light too, but didn't have the same clarity of the Z2 (click image to see full-size version). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Both phones performed very well in low light. The S5 and Z2 captured a well-lit scene, but the Z2 managed to give the best colours and had more clarity in its shot than the S5. Check out my gallery of test photos below to see more from the Z2's camera.

You'll also find a whole bunch of creative shooting modes on board, including a background defocus, panorama, various image effects and the ability to use augmented reality to place a digital dinosaur (among other things) over the top of whatever you're pointing the camera at. While not always perfect in automatic mode, the Z2's camera can capture stunning photos when you take a moment to tweak the settings.

The camera interface is simple to understand and quick to choose the right settings. It's nippy too, thanks to a fast autofocus and a very small delay between taking a picture, saving it to storage and allowing you to take another.

4K video capture

The Z2 has a trick up its sleeve in the form of 4K video capture -- that's considerably more than the resolution previously available. I put it against the S5, which can also shoot 4K, and watched the footage back on a 65-inch Panasonic 4K TV.

In resolution terms, I was thoroughly impressed by both phones. The clarity of the waves and ripples on the river Thames was incredible, while small details on the brickwork of St Paul's Cathedral and leaves on the trees outside looked extremely crisp -- I was amazed that the footage was shot on a phone.

Neither phone is perfect though. The Z2's main problem is its auto-focus, which continually readjusts during filming, causing the entire image to quickly go out of focus. That might not matter to you if you're only filming your friends in the park, but it makes the Z2 unsuitable for more professional purposes.

The Z2 does have more realistic colours however, with the S5's looking unnaturally oversaturated. Neither the Z2 or the S5 handled movement in a scene particularly well. I shot the footage on a tripod to avoid hand-shake, but cyclists, birds and cars moving across the scenes looked rather distorted. Overall though, the S5 has the edge over the Z2, with a much more stable autofocus.

Although both phones certainly captured an impressive level of detail, the question still remains as to whether 4K shooting is strictly necessary on a phone. Neither phone's displays are able to display the footage at max resolution and 4K TVs still cost thousands of pounds.

It does at least allow you to digitally zoom in to your video on your phone to get a better closeup. The quality of the footage when you're shooting when zoomed in isn't brilliant -- it's only digitally cropping into the sensor, rather than using much higher quality optical zooming -- and the shaking from your hand will be a lot more noticeable. I found it's much nicer to be able to pinch to zoom into video during playback, letting you pick out details that you can't really see when viewing the whole scene.

Battery

Thanks to its slightly larger size, the Xperia Z2 has been able to cram in a marginally more capacious battery than its predecessor. Sony also reckons the Qualcomm processor is more power efficient, but I still found its battery performance to be a mixed bag.

From full, the battery was able to keep our looping test video going for 11 hours and 41 minutes. Although not quite beating the Galaxy S5's time, it's not a bad effort and I've certainly seen worse. During heavy use, however, the processor evidently ramps up the power and drains the battery much faster.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Playing demanding games like Asphalt 8 quickly drains the battery -- I lost around 10 percent after about 30 minutes of gameplay with the screen at half brightness. If you're going away for the weekend and are concerned about finding a plug, try to avoid gaming or video streaming, keep screen brightness to a minimum and turn off nonessential functions such as GPS and Bluetooth. You should still expect to charge the Z2 every night, as is the case with nearly all smartphones.

Conclusion

The Sony Xperia Z2 combines blistering performance, a stunning display, an excellent camera and cutting-edge Android software into a body that's gorgeous to look at and waterproof too. It's a superb all-round performer, but it will set you back a hefty wodge of cash. It's so similar to the previous Z1 that I don't think it's worth upgrading, but if you're on an older Android handset and keen to get something new, the Z2 provides everything you should expect from a top-of-the-line smartphone.

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Sony Xperia Z2 (white)

Part Number: XPERIAZ2WHT
Low Price: $587.99 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Technology WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM
  • Service Provider not specified
  • Weight 5.75 oz
  • Diagonal Size 5.2 in
  • Sensor Resolution 20.7 pixels
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