CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.
The Sony Xperia Z2 is one of my favourite flagship phones this year, thanks to its slick, metal and glass design, superb screen, tonnes of power and brilliant camera. The downside is that all that great technology costs quite a lot of money. If your budget is more limited but you still want the Sony name and an attractive phone, take a look at the Xperia M2.
Its slim body with its glass front and back makes it reminiscent of Sony's pricier phones, while its vibrant purple colour helps it stand out from the crowd. It's got a 4.8-inch display, runs on a 1.2GHz quad-core processor and has an 8-megapixel camera around the back.
The Xperia M2 is available now in the UK direct from Sony for £230, or free on contracts starting at £13.50 at Phones 4u. There's no word yet on availability in the US, Asia or Australia, but we'll update this article when hear more from Sony. The price directly converts to $390 and AU$415.
It's easy to see the Xperia M2 has been cut from the same cloth as the rest of the recent Xperia range. It has the same glass front and back design, with the speaker sat on the bottom edge, subtle Xperia branding on the back and it's available in the same black, white or vivid purple colours.
It doesn't have the metal edging of the flagship Xperia Z2 (or its predecessor, the Z1 ) so actually looks almost identical to the much earlier Xperia Z . I think it's quite an attractive bit of kit -- the glass panels both look and feel pretty luxurious and that purple colour really stands out from the masses of grey and black smartphones out there -- although you can get it in black and white if you're not keen on purple.
Although it looks a lot like the Xperia Z, it doesn't have the same waterproof skills -- pop the M2 in water and all you'll be left with is an attractive, but useless slab of glass. It's disappointing that it's not waterproof, as it's not a feature currently available at the more affordable end of the phone world -- it would be a good reason to opt for the M2 over its rivals.
Unusually, the SIM card and microSD card slots are covered by a flap much like the ports are on the Xperia Z in order to keep the water out. I suspect that the phone was originally going to be a waterproof model, but perhaps Sony found it too costly to implement for a budget phone.
It measures 140mm long and 71mm wide, housing a 4.8-inch display, which makes it a little easier to hold in one hand than the 5.2-inch Xperia Z2. Its 8.6mm thickness makes it easy to slide into your jeans and you probably won't be too bothered by its 148g weight either.
Around the sides you'll find the micro-USB port for charging and data transfer, a 3.5mm headphone jack, the SIM card and microSD card slots under that flap of course, a volume rocker, dedicated camera shutter button and the same silver, sticking-out power button you'll find on most of the recent Xperias.
The phone comes with 8GB of storage, of which a little under 5GB is available for your own apps, music and videos as the Android software and Sony additions take up quite a lot of room. That's not a whole lot of space, so you should probably factor a microSD card into the price, particularly if you like keeping a lot of music stored on your phone.
The 4.8-inch display has a 960x540-pixel resolution, giving a pixel density of 229 pixels per inch. That's very disappointing, particularly when you bear in mind that the considerably cheaper Motorola Moto G has a 4.5-inch display with a much higher 720p resolution. I would expect a minimum resolution of 720p on a display this size so it's not good at all to see less.
Unsurprisingly then, it's not particularly sharp, with icons, text and images lacking the same clarity you'd find on higher resolution panels -- it's certainly nowhere near as crisp as the full HD Xperia Z2. If you only stick to basic tasks like texting, tweeting and calling, you won't find the display lacking, but if you're keen on browsing new images on Flickr, watching TV shows on Netflix or reading a lot of text on Web pages, a higher resolution phone will come in handy.
It's reasonably bright at least -- although the harsh overhead office lights in the CNET building did throw up some reflections -- and it has a good handle on colours. I've certainly seen worse displays, but it's seriously hobbled by its resolution.
The poor resolution isn't the only major disappointment on this phone -- it arrives with the now rather outdated Android Jelly Bean software on board. Android KitKat has been the most common version of the software on flagship and budget phones for some time now, so to see a new phone launching with such old software is unforgivable, particularly when ultra budget phones like the Motorola Moto E even have the latest KitKat software.
Sony has given the phone the same Android skin that you'll find on the Xperia Z2, so you at least won't immediately notice that the phone's not running KitKat. Sony's Android skin is fairly attractive, but is a little convoluted thanks to the numerous widgets pre-installed on the homescreens, and the custom image gallery, which seems overly complicated. Clear the decks however and you're left with a fairly simple to use interface with an app tray that's easy to re-organise into alphabetical order, or by most used.
The back of the phone is home to an 8-megapixel camera. That's a big step down from the 20-megapixel brute found on the Z2, but it's about what you should expect, given the price tag. I kept the phone in its fully automatic mode for my testing, but annoyingly, it only shoots in 16:9 aspect ratio, which reduces the megapixels to 5. In manual mode, you can shoot in 4:3 with all 8 megapixels, but you'll have to do the other settings yourself.
In my testing, I found the camera was reasonably capable. Shooting in intelligent auto mode, it was able to automatically use HDR techniques to counter this bright sky, giving an even exposure overall in what's actually a quite tricky shooting situation. It looks a little unnatural, and the colours are rather lifeless, but I've seen worse.
Walking down to London's Tower Bridge, the M2 was again able to achieve an even exposure. The image is perfectly fine for Facebook snaps, but when zoomed in a bit further, there's a definite lack of clarity and noticeable amount of compression artifacts on the edges of the bridge.
The same is true in this shot, looking towards the heart of the city.
Inside the CNET break area, I was disappointed with the very drab colours and the unpleasant image noise in the shadowy areas. The camera is at least adequate for Instagram snaps, but it shouldn't be the chief reason you buy this phone.
Under the hood is a 1.2GHz quad core processor -- the same chip that powers the Motorola Moto G. It's far from the most supercharged silicon ever put inside a phone, but it's capable of giving a reasonably smooth experience on the M2. There's no noticeable delay when navigating the Android interface and it handled image editing and video streaming in YouTube and Netflix without any trouble.
Gaming is tackled adequately, although in Asphalt 8, the frame rate noticeably dropped in intense moments, making gameplay rather choppy. On the Geekbench 2 benchmark test, it achieved a score of 1,380 and scored 8,417 on the Quadrant test, putting it on paper alongside the Moto G.
The phone has a 2,330mAh battery -- Sony reckons it can achieve up to 12 hours 11 minutes of talktime on 3G, which I think is about doable. After two hours of video looping at 75% brightness, the battery had dropped to 71%, which isn't amazing, but I've certainly seen worse. On my battery drain test, the phone managed to keep going for a little over 11 hours before conking out. Again, this is about average.
Like all smartphones, if you're very demanding in your use, constantly texting, tweeting and playing games with the brightness on full, push email on and GPS tracking your location, you should expect to give the phone a charge in the afternoon if you want any battery left for your night out. With more cautious use, you should be able to get a day of use out of the phone, but you'll still want to give it a full charge overnight.
The phone's sealed design means that the battery isn't removable, so you won't be able to carry a spare. If you're worried about the power running out, look towards portable battery packs like the Native Union Jump cable or the Mophie Juicepack.
Although the Sony Xperia M2 has a more affordable price than its flagship sibling and its glass design looks pretty good, it's far from perfect. Its low resolution display seriously lets it down, as does its outdated version of Android and camera that doesn't particularly impress.
For not much more money you can pick up the older Xperia Z, which has a better camera, a full HD screen and it's waterproof. Alternatively, save yourself a packet and go for the Motorola Moto G.