The new Sony flagship smartphone for this year, or at least this quarter, or perhaps only this month given how quickly Sony bangs them out, is here. Much like the HTC One M8 this is no massive reworking, merely a modest rearrangement of the existing deck chairs. It’s not astoundingly new and exciting, but it is nice.
A very shiny and glasseous slab of metal that houses a 5.2-inch 1080p display, powered by Qualcomm's newest and cleverest Snapdragon 801 chipset. The 2014 human brain can perceive no better than that.
Sony fans with understanding networks and spouses, who upgrade their telephones once a quarter regardless of if they do anything new or better or not.
If you've seen last year’s Xperia Z1, you've seen the Z2. It’s practically identical from a distance of more than 12 inches, with only a few minor external alterations to usher in the 2014 flagship launch season.
The small physical changes are welcome, though. The waterproof stopper that covers the USB socket is now much larger than it was on the Z1, so it’s easier to get on and off. Less fiddly. Empowering. And the physical camera shutter button’s a bit bigger too, with this and the volume up/down toggle now finished in a silver metallic material so they look a bit nicer. It’s one, or perhaps two, per cent nicer than the Z1.
Overall it’s quite stylish. There’s no one killer design feature to make you love it and people think you’re a better person because of it, but it is thin, water resistant, fairly light and the metallic chassis feels cool and solid in the hand.
Android 4.4.2 is the launch-OS here, with the Z2 featuring Sony's new lock screen that’s an odd fizzy bubbles thing, one that nicely fades the Home screens into view. Sony’s take on Android is heavily customised, with owners able to add or delete Home screens, and a pinch-zoom or long-press pulling up the widget, app and theme menu.
The balance of the Z2 is slightly different from how the Z1 felt, thanks to Sony removing a couple of millimetres from the phone’s chin beneath the screen. It doesn't feel as huge as it might, although maybe we're just getting used to the embarrassment of whipping out something this big in public.
One other nice hardware feature is the placement of the Z2’s stereo speakers. They sit off to each side of the screen, but not in a place where you might obscure them with your hands or fingers. They’re underneath the display and inside it somewhere, so the sound comes out of the right place -- not skewed off to one side like it does with phones that have speakers on the bottom. And it never gets muffled unless you purposefully try to throttle it.
We’d hoped Sony might have calmed down a bit on the cross-selling of its other divisions’ material, but no such luck. In fact, Sony’s desire to sell you a Video Unlimited subscription is greater than ever, with the Z2 going so far as to hijack the Google Now button and split it in two. Pull up from the Home key and you see the usual Google Now button, joined here by a shortcut to Sony’s “What’s New” media shop front. From which you’re sold streaming films and music, if you have one of its Unlimited accounts. No thanks.
One of the key boasts here is the ability to record 4K video. Open the 4K video tool and you’re treated to a custom camera app with fewer controls to fiddle with. Problem is, both my PC and laptop were unable to run the results without massive slowdown. Which means I either need to spend a couple of grand upgrading them both, or… never bother shooting anything in 4K. Plus the 4K clips don’t play back very smoothly on the Z2, either. 4K video is not the killer feature it should’ve been.
-- Sony’s heavy sales apps do the phone no favours. It arrives with the “What’s New” app installed on the central Home page, which seems to slow the phone down a little while it populates the rotating menus. No doubt many people at Sony love it, but we imagine it’ll be a minute-one removal job for most shoppers.
-- The stills camera’s every bit as good as it was in the Z1. Nothing’s really changed on the software side of things aside from the inclusion of the Background Defocus app that Sony’s also released for other Android models on Google’s Play Store, with the Z2 taking its shots quickly, packing in the detail and doing a nice job of keeping colours real. It’s worth it for the camera.
-- We had a few issues with audio sync in video clips, though. As well as the 4K glitches, even 1080p videos we’d recorded back on the Z2 played with their audio off by a second or two. It was sporadic, and went away on its own, but its a spectre that left us slightly untrusting of its video capturing powers.
-- Sony’s new Timeshift video toy is a clever tool, letting users add slow-motion effects to their clips. It even slows down the sound, so you can terrify a child by showing it a video of itself making a slowed groaning monster voice. Might be of use the one time you capture someone falling over.
-- Battery life’s great for a biggie. The 3200mAh battery kept it going for a solid day of camera, Twitter and various other forms of use with no issues. Treat it well and it should make it well into day two on a single charge. Not particularly amazing if you find yourself trapped on a desert island, but definitely moving in the right direction.
-- This year’s HOT NEW feature is in the Z2 too. There’s a display option to activate a tap-to-wake-up option, with a double-tap waking the phone from standby. It’s lovely. Well done, whoever came up with that originally. LG, wasn't it?
If you’re a current Xperia Z1 owner, best not. Not unless the placement of the USB stopper was REALLY annoying you, as that’s the only clear physical upgrade on offer here.
For everyone else, though, it’s one to consider. Remove all of Sony’s desperate cross-promotional apps and widgets from the Home screens and you’re left with a fast, responsive phone, with plenty of decent exclusive apps and features, plus a camera that’s one of the best available and a bright HD display.
The move in size from the Z1’s five-inch screen to the Z2’s slightly larger 5.2-inch display doesn't result in a phone that’s noticeably larger, with Sony using the change to remove a bit of chin and create a slightly better balanced phone.
The Z2 isn't hugely thrilling to use in these days where everything over the £120 mark is HD and powerful, but it has no serious flaws. Once you've binned Sony’s advertorial apps it’s a fast and fluid smartphone throughout. You’d be slightly mad to blow £600 on it right now, though, when the Z1 and numerous other models offer similar experiences for much less.
Price: £599 unlocked
Processor: Quad-core 2.3 GHz Qualcomm MSM8974AB
Screen: 5.2-inch 1920 x 1080
Memory: 3GB RAM
Storage: 16GB, micro-SD
Camera: 20.7MP rear camera, 2MP front camera
OS: Android 4.4.2 with Sony UI skin
Battery: 3200 mAh