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Sony Xperia Z2 puts KitKat and 4K video into a waterproof body (hands-on)

The Sony Xperia Z2 is the latest flagship phone from Sony, packing a mighty quad-core chip, Full HD display, a camera that shoots 4K video and a completely waterproof body.

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The Sony Xperia Z2 is the latest flagship super-phone from Sony, replacing the 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, slimmer bezels 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.

Sony is yet to say how much the phone will cost, but as it will sit at the top of Sony's mobile range, you can expect a price somewhere north of £500 when it goes on sale in the UK and wider Europe at the end of March. 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, but the Z1S was announced at CES this year as a US variant of the phone.

Design

The Xperia Z2 is physically very similar to its predecessor. It has the same aluminium band running around the edge, that not only makes it look like a luxury bit of kit, but makes it comfortable to hold too. The band is milled from a single piece of metal, which should help it put up with a few knocks and bumps.

It maintains the all-glass front and back, adding to the slick look and feel. It does of course make it rather more susceptible to scratches from keys in your pocket, so if you want to keep it looking pristine, you should pop it in a case. Like its siblings, the Z2 is completely waterproof, allowing you to submerse it in up to 1 metre (3.3 feet) of water for up to 30 minutes.

Not only does that mean it won't conk out on you the first time you accidentally drop it in the toilet, it also lets you get snap happy with the camera underwater. 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 slimmer bezels however, the phone's body hasn't increased too much. It's still a big phone though -- if you're more used to the 4-inch iPhone 5S, it probably won't be to your taste. The Xperia Z1 Compact is an excellent bit of kit however, and is a much more manageable 4.3 inches.

Around the edges you'll find a microSD card slot and 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. The speakers now sit on the front of the phone on the top and bottom, designed to point the sound towards you, rather than away -- much like the HTC One's Boomsound speakers. They're much smaller than the One's though, so don't expect the same big sound.

Display

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, 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 display is extremely crisp, with small text on Web pages and icon edges on the homescreen looking pin sharp. Sony reckons the display uses the same 'Triluminous' technology from its Bravia TVs, which makes it more vivid. I certainly found the colours looked good in my brief hands-on time, but I'll leave my final verdict on the quality of the display for the full review.

Software and processor

The Z2 will arrive 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 running Android Jelly Bean.

Sony has thrown in its usual software tweaks including a customisable app menu and access to its PlayStation Mobile games store and Music and Video Unlimited streaming services. It's all powered by a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor clocked in at a mighty 2.3GHz, backed up by 3GB of RAM.

I haven't been able to run any of my usual sets of benchmark tests yet, but I'm confident that this chip will provide some extremely swift performance. In my hands-on time, the phone seemed satisfyingly responsive when navigating around the interface.

Camera

Around the back of the phone is the same 20.7-megapixel camera you'll find on both the Z1 and the Z1 Compact. The Z2 has a trick up its sleeve however, in the form of 4K video capture -- that's double the resolution of the Full HD video previously available.

Without a 4K display on the phone to watch your movies back, you might find it slightly pointless -- and in a way you'd be right. While 4K TVs are currently extortionately expensive, prices will continue to drop to the point where they're more affordable for us mere mortals. Sony rightly points out that the ability to shoot 4K video is future-proofing the phone for those of you who keep handsets for several years. It also allows you to digitally zoom in to the video while maintaining quality.

Image quality remains to be seen in the full review, but I was impressed with the shots captured on the Z1, so I hope to see similarly good results here too. The software powering the camera has been updated to include a background defocus tool, more creative effects, a slow-motion video option and the ability to record video while using the augmented-reality effect, which can digitally place a dinosaur (among other things) over the top of whatever you're pointing the camera at.

Outlook

With a very similar design to the previous Z1, the same 20.7-megapixel camera on board and only a slight tweak to the processor, the Xperia Z2 isn't a big overhaul to Sony's flagship. It looks as good as ever though and its waterproof design makes it a great choice for the clumsy among you. The KitKat software is a welcome addition and while the 4K video capture might be a bit of a gimmick, the digital zoom may well come in handy.

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