Hands on review: Sony Xperia Z2

Our first impressions of Sony's new 4K-recording, water-resisting flagship phone

A new iteration of a flagship smartphone is always exciting, and never more so than when you get early access to it before its official launch. And when you know that behind it is a dreamy spec-list of ‘world’s most powerful’ this, and ‘latest version of’ that. And then you get handed it for the first time, and all you can think is that it looks and feels a lot like the previous version. Fortunately, in the case of the Xperia Z2, that’s no bad thing…

Design & Build: Sony’s OmniBalance philosophy remains omniawesome

There’s no doubt about it, Sony’s Xperia Z finish, with metal sides and seamless glass panels front and rear, is up there with the iPhones of this world. It makes you wonder how Samsung engineers sleep at night. For the new Z2, the edges are a little rounder, and the seams a little less obvious.

It feels the same in your hand as the Z1, despite having a slightly larger screen, and it’s still as waterproof as ever. The central position of the power button has a few detractors but many fans, and we would put ourselves in the latter camp. We were shown versions in black, white, dark silver and a fetching shade of Cadbury-esque purple. Which of these will be available in the UK, and from which networks, is yet to be announced, but we wouldn’t kick any of them out of bed.

Screen: One small increase for a screen; giant leaps for screen kind

A 0.2in increase in screen size (that’s about 5mm, metric monkeys) isn’t going to cause your eye squidge to spontaneously boil, but it’s all bragging rights down at the pub, isn’t it? Well, no, it’s more than that. It’s an entirely new panel, with new Live Colour LED tech. Here’s the science: apparently it uses red and green phosphor with blue LEDs and customised colour filters to produce a richer and more uniform light. We were shown a Z2 and a Z1 side-by-side showing the same still image and blow us down if the Z2 image didn’t look notably better!

Later, having convinced the Sony staff to go and take a break, we tried to ascertain the screen’s real improvement over its predecessor, but this was tricky under the harsh fluorescent light of Sony’s offices. True reckoning will have to wait until we get one into the dingy, unforgiving Stuff labs. In the meantime, expectedly enough, the screen looks vibrant and colourful, and having a wee bit more space with a chassis no bigger nor heavier than the Z1 can only be a win.

Camera: every little thing’s going to be 4K

Scrabbling around the Z2’s files looking for something to test the screen reminded us of another headline spec that needed checking: the 4K video capability. Again, difficult to test constructively in a short hands-on but it seems to fire up and record pretty snappily. The ability crop into videos post-capture is pretty compelling – you can get a quick ranging shot by pinch-and-zooming into playback on the phone’s screen. Sony showed us a broad cityscape that looked to be a still until they tech guy zoomed in and showed the cars and boats moving.

In other stolen-from-the-Sony-camcorder-department news, the Z2 has SteadyShot tech. A Sony engineer duly produced an electro-wobble-board and, indeed, the Z2 with the feature turned on displayed a steadier picture. The best way to capture decent sound to go with your fancy, steadyish, video will be the new stereo microphone attachment, the STM10. It plugs into the headphone socket, but uses a special jack that means it’ll only work with the Z2 and Z2 Tablet. Sony, there, showing it hasn’t lost its love of proprietary technologies. 

More after the break...

Audio: now you hear me, now you don’t

And the best way to listen to the stereo sound that you took with your 4K video that you want to watch on your Live Colour LED screen? Well, that would be using the world’s first digital noise-cancelling smartphone set-up. For that you need Sony’s €60 MDR-NC31EM earphones but, good news, in the UK, they’ll come bundled with your Z2. Microphones in the earpieces measure the ambient noise, which is then cancelled out by the tech producing an anti-noise – you know all this stuff. What’s unique is that the earphones don’t need power or charging because the phone does the graft. Hooray! What’s unique about that is that the noise-cancelling tech won’t work with any other headphones except the MDR-NC31EM. Booray.

Power: there be Snapdragon in them there mobiles

Telephone Top Trumpers will be excited to hear that the Z2 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor – that’s one louder than the 800 in the Z2 – and an Adreno 330 GPU. Fortunately it has a 3200mAh battery to keep this whirling dervish trucking ‘til teatime. In terms of this ‘hands-on’ review, however, these specs are largely unquantifiable. In the 20 minutes we had, the Z2 did not run out of battery and – no doubt due to it having nothing but the standard slew of Sonyware installed – ran pretty slickly.

If you really want to test the battery, then the best way would be firing up a GPU testing game, which you play by wirelessly connecting a Playstation DualShock 3 pad. This only really works if you then output the phone’s video via the MHL jack; otherwise you’re holding the pad near your face where the phone would normally be, and balancing the phone behind that. It all starts to get a bit ridiculous.

Initial Verdict

People rarely do what they ought to - but the Z2 is shaping up to be the Android phone you ought to buy. It's as classily made as ever, with new powerfuller innards and that same waterproofness that makes it just that bit more lifestyle friendly than other flagships. It’s probably the bee’s knees for video watching and video capture, and it’s got some high-tech – albeit Sony specific – accessories. And it comes in purple. Watch out for the full review in March.  READ MORE: Mobile World Congress 2014 – the biggest MWC smartphone news so far