Sony Xperia Z2 review: The fight for flagship supremacy

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Usually companies announce their flagship product of any series annually, but that’s certainly not the case with Sony, which believes six months is too long a wait between flagship models. The Xperia Z was announced at CES in January 2013 and then followed it up with the Xperia Z1 in September of the same year. Barely five months later, we got our first glimpse of the Xperia Z2 at MWC in Barcelona in February this year.

The Xperia Z2 is Sony’s flagship smartphone for the first half of 2014. Sony has the right idea with the Xperia Z smartphones by emphasizing on premium features that people would look for when they are spending top bucks. The devices in this series have always been about top notch design that doesn’t use plastic, water and dust proof, a high resolution camera and so on. However, the smartphones have always left users wanting for more. Be it the lack of quality displays, camera problems or the back glass getting scratched. There was something amiss every time. The Sony Xperia Z2 promises to ensure those are things of the past. But does Sony succeed?

If you have seen the Xperia Z1, you have seen the Xperia Z2. In terms of design, there are not many differences you will be able to notice at a glance. But that isn’t really a bad thing as Sony’s OmniBalance design language in a combination of glass and metal screams premium from a mile away. Sony says that the glass panel on the back is now tougher and resistant to scratches and scuff marks and the difference is noticeable. During the one week of usage, where the phone spent time with keys and another phone in my pocket, it didn’t pick up a single scratch. However, due to the flat back design, the phone doesn’t seem as comfortable to hold like the HTC One (M8) with its curved design.

Sony-Xperia-Z2-14The Xperia Z2 also gets dual front firing speakers but they have been stealthily hidden above and below the display, unlike HTC that touts its BoomSound speakers as a key feature. The addition of stereo speakers is a nice touch and is great while you are listening to music or watching a movie with the phone close to you. If you expect it to replace a small portable speaker, it won’t.

In terms of core specifications, the Xperia Z2 is as good as it can get. Gone are the days when Sony would have a generation old chipset and the Xperia Z2 gets the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 SoC clocked at 2.3GHz with a whopping 3GB of RAM. I am not a big fan of synthetic benchmarks but during the week I spent with the phone, I found it handled everything I threw at it without ever stuttering. You don’t need synthetic benchmarks to prove its worth.

Sony-Xperia-Z2-12The Xperia Z2′s calling card is its 20.7-megapixel camera. Sony had the same camera module in the Xperia Z1 but we were not really impressed with it back then. However, the company says it has refined the camera and it shows. Photos clicked in daylight are brilliant with good color reproduction and sharpness. If you shoot in the manual mode in full 20.7-megapixel resolution (the auto-mode is set at 8-megapixel by default), then you can even zoom in after clicking a shot. Low light quality, however, is not that great as there is still considerable noise in photos. It is also a little strange that Sony hasn’t yet implemented optical image stabilization in a smartphone whose biggest USP is its camera.

Sony has also added a bunch of effects you can add to photos including background defocus that lets you select the subject and the background is kept out of focus to give a bokeh effect. Rather than having a depth sensing camera like the HTC One (M8), the Xperia Z2′s camera takes two photographs and then blurs everything but the subject. You can not only select the intensity of blur but also the pattern. However, the experience is not as smooth as it takes about 3-5 seconds to click the photos and another 7-10 seconds to process it. Also, you have to select that option before clicking the photo and you cannot add the effect on photos you have clicked without opting for the feature.

Another trick in the Xperia Z2′s repertoire is the ability to shoot 4K videos. However, during shooting the video, the camera heated up considerably and force stopped. Sony says it was a problem with the review unit and we will take a look again at it when we get the commercial units.

Sony-Xperia-Z2-4On the software front, Sony mostly keeps it neat and close to stock but adds a number of Sony’s own apps. Users can get unlimited music downloads from Sony’s own music label. Similarly, you can access Sony Liv that has a number of shows that come on Sony’s television channels. Google Now can be invoked by long pressing the onscreen home button but even there you get two options – swipe left to get Sony’s “what’s new” and swipe right to go to Google Now. The insistence to throw Sony’s own stuff in your face gets a little too much.

One crucial feature that impressed me the most is the Xperia Z2′s battery backup. The 3,200mAh battery easily lasted me for a day and worked for much longer than the HTC One (M8) did with the same usage. That and the water proof feature, in my view tips the scale in the favor of the Xperia Z2.

Sony-Xperia-Z2-1I’m glad to say that Sony has almost nailed it with the display on the Xperia Z2. The previous Xperia Z smartphones had pathetic displays with poor viewing angles. That has been changed with the use of IPS LCD this time and viewing angles are good and the 1080p display is crisp. I write almost nailed it because the display gets smudged really easily with fingerprints and is one of the most reflective displays I have seen recently. And that becomes a shortcoming in visibility under direct sunlight.

Sony has priced the Xperia Z2 at Rs 49,990 in India and is bundling its smartband worth Rs 5,990 with the sales pack. The Xperia Z2 ticks most of the check boxes for me, especially the most important one — battery life. The camera might not be perfect, yet, but if you know your way around manual settings, which the phone offers, you should be able to get some good results.

Photos: Harshita Rastogi