Sony Xperia Z2 review: Feature-laden and waterproof

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  • Editors' rating
    8.8 Outstanding

Pros

  • Very good battery life
  • High-end specifications
  • Waterproof and dust-resistant
  • High-resolution camera

Cons

  • Suffers from software bloat
  • Awkward ridge around the back edge
  • Moderate audio quality from speakers
  • Occasionally runs hot

The Xperia Z2 is Sony's current flagship smartphone. Unlike other players in this market, Sony releases two high-end handsets a year — so whereas the recently reviewed HTC One (M8) updates a year-old phone, the Xperia Z2 looks back just six months to the Xperia Z1. As a result, the £599 (inc. VAT, £499.17 ex. VAT) Xperia Z2 feels more like a series of incremental changes than a big step forward.

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Sony's new 5.2-inch Xperia Z2 has a premium metal-and glass chassis that's both classy and waterproof. It runs Android 4.4 and weighs 163g. Image: Sony

Design

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Covered bays protect the MicroSD slot, Micro-USB port and SIM card slot. Image: Sony

There is no mistaking the Xperia Z2's distinctive Sony look-and-feel, which includes a blocky chassis design with almost squared-off corners and a glass back. The same goes for the all-round silver side panels that accommodate the buttons and connectors.

Sony's trademark circular on/off button sits slightly north-of-centre on the right edge; beneath it is a small volume rocker and, at the bottom, a tiny camera button. Both buttons protrude enough to be easily found by touch alone.

Your MicroSD card sits under a covered bay on the right edge of the chassis. The headset slot is on the top edge, while the left side houses a covered bay that protects the SIM and MicroUSB charge connector. The smoothness of the edges is disrupted somewhat by Sony's magnetic dock connector, which is recessed into the left edge.

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The optional magnetic charging dock (price TBA). Image: Sony

The SIM and MicroSD card slots are on the handset's edges because the back is not removable. They need to be covered so that the Sony Xperia Z2 can meet its IP58 dust and water resistance ratings.

IP58 means that the handset is 'dust protected' and can handle immersion in 1.5m of fresh water for up to 30 minutes. As it has done with past Xperia handsets, Sony is promoting the fact that you can take underwater photos. Perhaps more important for the butter-fingered among us is that, if the covers are all closed, you should be able to drop this phone in the bath without any ill effects.

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The glass front and back are characteristic of the Xperia range, and as with previous handsets the back is smooth, shiny and reflective. A small ridge runs all around both front and back edges where the side panel protrudes ever so slightly. It's no problem on the front, but on the back it's noticeable, and slightly irritating, every time you pick up the handset.

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The Xperia Z2's 5.2-inch full-HD IPS screen delivers particularly good image quality for movies. Image: Sony

The screen measures 5.2 inches from corner to corner, its 1,920-by-1,080-pixel resolution delivering an excellent 424 pixels per inch. Sony throws a lot of technology at the IPS LCD panel: X-Reality, which we've seen before, is designed to smooth out edges and deliver crisp pictures. Triluminos, also not new, deepens the colour palette — in effect making images look more 'zingy'; and the new Live Colour LED is designed to improve colour depth and gradation. Sony supplies a utility that lets you alter the white balance, taking it right down to black and white if that's what you want. The net result is a high-quality screen that works particularly well for movies.

There's a lot of bezel at the top and bottom of the screen, which is characteristic of Sony handsets. You'd hardly notice that there are two speaker grilles built into the very top and bottom of the phone. Given Sony's experience in multimedia, and its keenness to sell its 'ecosystem' to us on this handset (of which more later), sound output through these speakers is disappointing, lacking bass and punch. Audio quality is certainly nowhere near as good as on HTC's new flagship One (M8), which trounces other smartphones in this respect.

However, Sony has included noise cancellation, which you can experience if you use compatible earphones —like the ones provided with the Xperia Z2. Audio output is remarkably rich under these conditions — it's just a pity that the earbuds are the flat type that many ears do not like.

Features

Sony has equipped the Xperia Z2 with a 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 SoC. This is the current top-of-the-range for handsets, although Samsung's Galaxy S5 has a slightly faster 2.5GHz version of the same chipset. Supported by 3GB of RAM, the result is a smartphone that more than holds its own with its high-end competition.

As you'd expect with a flagship handset, the general specifications are out of the top drawer. The Xperia Z2 is a quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE handset with UMTS/HSPA+ and LTE mobile broadband. The wi-fi (802.11a/b/g/n/ac) includes Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA and wi-fi hotspot support. MHL (Mobile High-definition Link) is supported through the MicroUSB port. There is also NFC, GPS, Bluetooth 4.0 and Sony's own Smart Connect. The latter can launch specific apps when you connect a peripheral — plug in the headset, for example, and you can have the Walkman app start and resume playing a track from where it left off.

The main (rear) camera has a resolution of 20.7 megapixels, and there's a multitude of different settings, filters and tweaks. Sony's Superior Auto mode, which makes settings automatically, caps the resolution at 8 megapixels. You can shoot 4K video too. The front camera's resolution is much lower — just 2.2 megapixels.

There is 16GB of internal storage, of which 10.7GB is available out of the box. Android 4.4 and Sony's skin occupy some of this space, and more is taken up with an array of preloaded applications and settings. Many of these are part of the Sony ecosystem, with the Walkman app sitting alongside Android's own Music app, and the likes of Video Unlimited, PlayStation, PlayStation Mobile, Xperia Lounge and Sony Select peppering the app drawer. Sadly their icons lack design continuity. A new application, What's New, brings together various Sony media in one place. Added to this is a range of third-party add-on apps. It all feels very cluttered.

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Sony's simplified home screen for the Xperia Z2. Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

As if in recognition of this, Sony has included a simplified home screen — something which seems to be becoming quite popular as a way of helping people cope with the apparent complexity of handsets.

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Sony provides a rich set of power management options for the Xperia Z2. Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The 3,200mAh battery kept us going for a day's mainstream usage without the need for a recharge. If you're a power user, you may like Sony's Stamina power management mode, which allows you to fine-tune which apps are permitted to consume power and which are not. An alternative Low-battery mode disables a range of user-defined features when the battery falls below a set percentage.

When using the advanced camera effects, we found that the handset started to run warm, with significant heat coming through the backplate. In fact, before we had finished working with it, the handset automatically shut the camera down, telling us this was because of hot running.

Having spent time with both the HTC One (M8) and Samsung Galaxy S5, which share the same chipset, we can confirm neither of those handsets run warm. We hope Sony finds a fix before long.

Conclusion

The Xperia X2 is every inch a premium high-end smartphone. Performance is excellent, it has a high-quality 5.2-inch IPS screen and the 20.7-megapixel camera has some appealing features — all without compromising battery life.

However, Sony appears to want to throw everything, including the kitchen sink, at the Xperia X2. The abundance of third-party apps may confuse some users, particularly where they duplicate features that are already part of the Android OS. We're also concerned about a potential problem with overheating. And for a company that majors on movies and sound, we found the speakers underwhelming.

Specifications

Details
Form Factor Touch
SAR Value 0.87 W/kg (body), 1.09 W/kg (head)
Integrated Components FM radio
Body Color White
Cellular
Technology WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM
Application Software Google Chrome, Media Go, Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, Sketch, Sony Select, Sony Xperia Link, Tasks, WALKMAN application, Webkit
Type Smartphone
Integrated Components FM radio
Navigation A-GPS, GLONASS
Band WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM 850/900/1800/1900
Mobile Broadband Generation 3G
Phone Form Factor touch
Service Provider not specified
Operating System Family Android
Operating System Android 4.4 (KitKat)
SIM Card Type micro SIM
Input Device Multi-touch, capacitive
Phone Features
Phone Functions Speakerphone, call timer, conference call, flight mode, vibrating alert
Sensors Accelerometer, ambient light sensor, proximity sensor, pedometer, digital compass, barometer, magnetometer, gyro sensor, motion sensor
Additional Features Radio Data Service (RDS), DLNA Certified, sharing media via DLNA, Screen capture, Face Unlock, xLOUD technology, SensMe technology, Wi-Fi Miracast, battery STAMINA mode, Throw function, TRILUMINOS display, Noise Cancellation Technology, X-Reality engine
Messaging & Internet
Cellular Messaging Services MMS, SMS
Messaging & Data Features handwriting recognition
Mobile Services Gmail, Google Chrome, Google Maps, Google Maps Street View, Google Play, Google Search, Google Search by Voice, Google Wallet, Media Go, Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, PlayNow, Sketch, Sony Select, Sony Xperia Link, Tasks, WALKMAN application, Webkit, YouTube, gpsOneXTRA
Messaging Services Google Hangouts, MMS, SMS
Supported Email Protocols IMAP4, POP3
Supported Social Networks and Blogs Facebook, Google+, Twitter
Miscellaneous
Sensors accelerometer, ambient light sensor, barometer, digital compass, gyro sensor, magnetometer, motion sensor, pedometer, proximity sensor
Processor
Clock Speed 2.3 GHz
Manufacturer QUALCOMM
Processor Core Qty Quad Core
Communications
Communication Features Internet browser, mobile Email client
Data Transmission EDGE, GPRS, HSDPA, HSPA+, HSUPA
Wireless Interface ANT+/ANT, Bluetooth 4.0, IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, NFC
WLAN Security AES, TKIP, WEP, WPA, WPA2
Bluetooth Profiles Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP), Audio/Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP), Device Identification Profile (DID), Generic Attribute Profile (GATT), HID Over GATT Profile (HOGP), Hands-Free Profile (HFP), Headset Profile (HSP), Health Device Profile (HDP), Human Interface Device Profile (HID), Message Access Profile (MAP), Object Push Profile (OPP), Personal Area Networking Profile (PAN), Phonebook Access Profile (PBAP), Serial Port Profile (SPP)
Display
Technology TFT
Display Resolution 1920 x 1080 pixels
Color Depth 24-bit (16.7 million colors)
Display Format Full HD
Pixel Density (ppi) 423
Diagonal Size 5.2 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 13.2 cm
Smartphone Diagonal Size 5.2 in
Protection scratch-resistant glass
Color Support color
Organizer
Personal Information Management alarm clock, calculator, calendar, countdown timer, reminder, stopwatch, synchronization with PC
Camera
Digital Zoom 8
Focus Adjustment automatic
Camera Light Source LED light
Features AR Effect mode, BIONZ image processing engine, BSI sensor, Burst mode, Exmor RS sensor, G lens, Geo-tagging, Red-Eye Reduction, SteadyShot, Superior Auto, Sweep Panorama, Time Shift mode, face detection, motion detector, picture stabilizer, smile shutter, tap to focus, video recording
Media Player
Supported Digital Video Standards MKV, AVI, XviD, MPEG-4, 3GP, H.264, H.263, M4V, WebM, HEVC
Supported Digital Audio Standards WAV, WMA, AAC, ASF, PCM, Ogg Vorbis, AMR, MP3, FLAC, AAC-LC, XMF, AAC +, eAAC+, MKA, MIDI, M4A, apt-X
Multimedia
Graphics Accelerator Qualcomm ADRENO 330
Location
Navigation Software & Services Google Maps, Google Maps Street View, gpsOneXTRA
Memory
Supported Flash Memory Cards microSDHC, microSDXC - up to 128 GB
User Memory 12 GB
Battery
Standby Time Up to 740 Hours
Run Time Details Talk (GSM): up to 900 min
Standby (GSM): up to 690 hrs
Talk (WCDMA): up to 1140 min
Standby (WCDMA): up to 740 hrs
Standby (LTE): up to 640 hrs
Playback (music): up to 120 hrs
Playback (video): up to 10 hrs
Digital Camera
Digital Zoom 8
Lens Aperture f/2.0
Min Focal Length 100 mm
Focus Adjustment automatic
Self-Timer Delay Yes
Camera Light Source LED light
Features AR Effect mode, BIONZ image processing engine, BSI sensor, Burst mode, Exmor RS sensor, G lens, Geo-tagging, Red-Eye Reduction, SteadyShot, Superior Auto, Sweep Panorama, Time Shift mode, face detection, motion detector, picture stabilizer, smile shutter, tap to focus, video recording
Navigation System
Navigation Software & Services Google Maps, Google Maps Street View, gpsOneXTRA
Header
Brand Sony
Product Line Sony XPERIA
Model Z2
Packaged Quantity 1
CE Input Device
Type touch sensitive screen (multi-touch)
Touchscreen Technology capacitive
Features
Sensors accelerometer, ambient light sensor, barometer, digital compass, gyro sensor, magnetometer, motion sensor, pedometer, proximity sensor
Phone Functions call timer, conference call, flight mode, speakerphone, vibrating alert
Additional Features DLNA Certified, Face Unlock, Noise Cancellation Technology, Radio Data Service (RDS), Screen capture, SensMe technology, TRILUMINOS display, Throw function, Wi-Fi Miracast, X-Reality engine, battery STAMINA mode, sharing media via DLNA, xLOUD technology
Digital Player (Recorder)
Supported Digital Audio Standards AAC, AAC-LC, AMR, ASF, FLAC, M4A, MIDI, MKA, MP3, Ogg Vorbis, PCM, WAV, WMA, XMF, apt-X, eAAC+
Supported Digital Video Standards 3GP, AVI, H.263, H.264, HEVC, M4V, MKV, MPEG-4, WebM, XviD
RAM
Installed Size 3 GB
Flash Memory
Internal Memory Capacity 16 GB
Max Supported Size 128 GB
Supported Flash Memory Cards microSDHC, microSDXC
User Memory 12 GB
Graphics System
Graphics Accelerator Qualcomm ADRENO 330
Optical Sensor
Sensor Resolution 20.7 megapixels