Sony Xperia Z2

15th Jul 2014 | 11:50

Sony Xperia Z2

The jack of all trades flagship smartphone

TechRadar rating:

4.5 stars

The Xperia Z2 is an excellent smartphone with all the components you'd expect from a flagship device, providing a pleasing user experience. The trouble is, it doesn't excite me.

Like:

Feature packed camera; Great screen; Decent battery life;

Dislike:

Sluggish at times; Bezel heavy design; 4K recording issues;

Introduction

Ratings in depth

Sony Xperia Z2 review
Sony Xperia Z2 review
Sony Xperia Z2 review
Sony Xperia Z2 review
Sony Xperia Z2 review

So here I am, it's a little over 12 months since the Xperia Z hit shelves and I'm checking out the third iteration of the Japanese firm's flagship series, the Sony Xperia Z2.

While the timing may be a little odd, you've almost got to look past the Xperia Z1 completely, the Xperia Z2 is a flagship smartphone in its own right and it heralds the next generation for Sony.

It builds on its predecessors with an improved screen, increased power under the hood and a slightly more compact chassis.

There's no question that the Xperia Z2 is going head to head with the Samsung Galaxy S5, HTC One M8, LG G3 and Nokia Lumia 930 this year - and with that in mind it's got its work cut out.

Sony's had some trouble getting the Xperia Z2 into stores, missing its original early April release and thus giving an upper hand to the HTC and Samsung, although units are now pretty much everywhere.

It carried a lofty price tag of around £545 at launch, as you'd expect from a flagship handset, but the SIM-free Xperia Z2 has now dropped down to a more reasonable £450 (around $600, AU$900). In the UK you can grab the Z2 for free on two year contracts starting at £30 per month.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

That puts the Sony Xperia Z2 pretty much on par with its direct rivals, although it's slightly cheaper then some now, so if you're looking for a way to choose between them pricing isn't a factor that'll help you make up your mind.

You'd be hard pushed to tell the Z1 and the Z2 apart, as they look almost identical with the same metal and glass design providing a sturdy and premium, if not a little industrial, finish.

The slabs of glass on the front and rear of the Xperia Z2 may add a level of class to the handset, but they're also a magnet for fingerprints and dust.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

I was constantly wiping the Sony Xperia Z2 to clear the smudges off the screen, but within minutes they built up again. This got rather frustrating after a while, and with exactly the same thing happening round the back I felt like I was fighting a losing battle.

On a positive note the Xperia Z2's body appears to be far more robust than that of the Z1 and Z1 Compact, which were found to scratch and scuff remarkably easily making the handsets look bruised and battered.

Round the front Sony continues its trend of sizable bezels above and below the display, extending the length of the Xperia Z2 making it taller than its predecessor as well as the One M8 and Galaxy S5.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

These extra large bezels do detract slightly from the overall finish of the handset, but I suspect in a similar fashion to the black bar below the screen on the One M8, they're all about squeezing in the latest tech under the hood.

Sony has narrowed the width and shaved off some of the depth in an attempt to make the Xperia Z2 usable in one hand, and for the most part it is.

It's by no way a small device, but I was able to hold the Xperia Z2 in my hand and access pretty much the whole expanse for the 5.2-inch display without calling in my second paw.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

The metal and glass body doesn't give a huge amount of grip, and the flat angular design means it's not the comfiest handset to hold for extended period of times.

I came straight from the HTC One M8 to the Xperia Z2 and the curved rear on the HTC made it far more palm friendly than Sony's offering.

Perhaps a nod towards HTC is the arrival of dual front facing speakers on the Xperia Z2, although at first glance you may not notice they're there.

Sony has been far more subtle with its placement compared to HTC, with small deviations in design at the top and bottom of the Xperia Z2's frame revealing slender speaker grills.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

That subtle integration does mean that the bezels above and below the display are more pronounced, where as at least on the M8 the additional height appears more justified thanks to the big grills.

Hidden behind the upper speaker is a RGB notification LED, allowing the Xperia Z2 to alert you to a new message, Facebook post or email without you having to wake the screen. Different colours denote notifications from different services, making it easier for you to decide whether or not to check it out.

Flip the Xperia Z2 to landscape for a movie marathon or gaming session and you'll immediately benefit from the new speaker location. The Xperia Z1 had its speaker location on its base which was easily covered when held in landscape.

Back to portrait and the centralised power/lock key down the right side of the Xperia Z2 nestles under your thumb or finger, making it extremely easy to access.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

The volume rocker sits just below, again in an easy to reach position, while towards the base of the handset you'll find the dedicated shutter key which provides a shortcut to the camera app as well as a way to snap pictures underwater.

Sony has kept up its dust- and waterproofing tradition with the Xperia Z2 and thus you find the first of two flappy bits on the right of the handset.

It's tasked with covering the microSD slot, allowing you to build on the mediocre 16GB of internal storage with support of cards up to 128GB in size.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

I found this flap, and the one of the left side covered the microSIM and microUSB ports, easy to remove and replace - although I fear for their durability. All it takes is for one of those flaps to fail and next time you take your Xperia Z2 into the bath it's game over.

There have already been reports of the Xperia Z2 failing to keep the water out, but during my dunking time with the handset I didn't experience any leakage. Just remember to close those flaps firmly!

It is frustrating to have to open a flap to access the charging port, and with it being located on the side of the device rather than the base like the Galaxy S5, it makes the Z2 harder to handle when plugged in.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

Anyone looking to upgrade from the original Xperia Z though will be pleased to see an uncovered headphone jack up top, continuing the tradition from the Z1.

Round the back the Xperia Z2 doesn't look that much different than the front, with the understated 20.7MP camera lens and single LED flash the only blemishes on the glass covered surface.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

The Sony Xperia Z2 doesn't do anything outlandish in terms of style, and it's yet another black slab of glass - but it is a well built, premium, functional and waterproof device which certainly trumps the design of the Galaxy S5.

If you're looking for something seriously stylish though you're probably better off with the iPhone 5S or HTC One M8.

Key features

The key features of flagship smartphones tend to be the cornerstone of the marketing drive, the enhancements which grab your attention and tempt you to part with your cash.

The Samsung Galaxy S5 has its fingerprint scanner, heart rate monitor and ultra power saving mode, the HTC One M8 has Duo Camera, Blinkfeed and Boomsound.

Sometimes these "key" features actually turn out to be more like gimmicks, but they still give a smartphone its own identity, something to properly distinguish it from the ever increasingly congested sea of similar propositions.

What does the Sony Xperia Z2 have to make it stand out?

Well there in lies the problem. It's got a great screen, powerful camera and a solid spec list - but it's missing those stand out features, the hook, that killer feature you can show off to your mates in the pub.

4K video

The biggest feature Sony is pushing is 4K video capture on the Xperia Z2, and with a decent 20.7MP Exmor RS camera sensor bolted on the rear you can expect some pretty decent footage.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

4K offers up images four times the resolution of traditional full HD, but the Z2 isn't the only handset capable of such great feats. The Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Note 3 are two notable offerings which deliver the same functionality.

Sony's argument however is that the Xperia Z2 does 4K better, and I'm inclined to agree.

I sadly didn't have a 4K monitor or TV to play the footage back on, but on the screen of the Xperia Z2 and my laptop display footage was smooth, well defined and well lit.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

It's not all good news in the 4K video recording camp. A three minute video shot at 4K resolution takes up a whopping 1GB of storage, and considering you only have just over 11GB of the 16GB internal space to play with you may find it filling up fast.

Sure there's a microSD card slot, but if you fancy shooting a lot in 4K you'll be eating up space in double quick time.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

Another issue, and one which has been reported by many Xperia Z2 owners already, is the fact the handset does heat up to quite a temperature during longer 4K recordings.

Even after three minutes of filming I found the top half of the Xperia Z2 became rather toasty, and as I continued the heat increased.

When it got to around 11 minutes of 4K filming the Xperia Z2 crashed, with a pop up of "Unknown error" or "Camera will now turn off temporarily to cool down" greeting me on screen.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

Rather more frustratingly the huge video file (4.25GB) was saved to the device, but it was corrupt so I couldn't play it. The Xperia Z2 also promptly told me that I'd filled 75% of the internal storage and it was time to stick a memory card in. Or I could just delete that massive corrupt file, hey Z2?

Since the original review Sony has pushed out a couple of software updates to the Xperia Z2, but they haven't fixed the 4K recording issues, with the handset still overheating and cancelling recording when you get to around 11 minutes.

A camera grade camera

Sony knows a thing or two about cameras and the Xperia Z2 benefits from the firm's history in photography with an impressively speced camera.

I'll go into more detail in the dedicated camera section, but like the Samsung and HTC, Sony has added in a variety of toys for you to play with.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

The big camera buzzword in 2014 seems to be background defocus. We saw it first on the LG G Pro 2, then the Xperia Z2 and Galaxy S5 and since then the HTC One M8 has also turned up with a the same functionality.

While a quick comparison between the S5, M8 and Z2 showed me that the Sony produced the best background defocus result, its implementation isn't as good as HTC's.

The M8 benefits from the Duo Camera setup on the rear allowing for depth information to be automatically captured with every image you take.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

Meanwhile on the Xperia Z2 you have to hit the modes icon in the bottom corner of the app and then select Background Defocus. This meant that a lot of the time I forgot the option was there, and unlike on the M8, you can't revisit a picture and apply the effect at a later date.

Images are also capped at 8MP when in Background Defocus, but I didn't find that to be a huge problem. Plus it's still higher than the 4MP snapper on the One M8.

The Sony Xperia Z2 isn't the quickest at capturing an image in this mode though. I had to wait almost five seconds from pressing the shutter for the Z2 to process the image.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

Once processed the interface for adjusting the focus is impressively intuitive, with a slider allowing you to adjust the level of defocus.

You can also choose to blur your background either horizontally or vertically, providing a different effect on the finished article.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

Once you're happy with the finished article hit the big tick to save, but we warned, there's more waiting involved. I found that the save time usually took seven to 10 seconds.

That's just long enough to cast doubt in your mind that perhaps the Xperia Z2 has frozen or given up. It hasn't, it's just taking its sweet time.

Something for your eyes

An area where Sony has done some real work on the Xperia Z2 is in the screen department. Not only has it bumped the size from 5 inches on the Xperia Z1 to 5.2 inches, it's also implemented IPS LCD technology.

The lack of IPS on the orginal Z and Z1 meant the screens looked washed out, and their viewing angles were far from inspiring.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

Thankfully the inclusion of IPS on the Xperia Z2 makes this one of the best smartphone screens around, and with Sony's Live Colour LED technology colours pop on the screen.

They don't pop as much as the Samsung Galaxy S5's Super AMOLED offering, but the Xperia Z2 provides more natural colours unlike its rival's over-saturated display.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

Text is pin sharp, app icons are well defined and to be fair you're spoilt for choice at the top end of the mobile market when it comes to the display.

The Sony Xperia Z2 has an excellent screen, as do the One M8 and Galaxy S5. Whichever you choose, you won't be disappointed here.

Interface and performance

The Sony Xperia Z2 mirrors the current crop of high-end Android flagship handsets with the inclusion of Google's latest version of its mobile operating system.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

That translates to Android 4.4.2 KitKat, although it's not the stock version you'll find on the Nexus 5. Sony has stuck its own user interface over the top, but it doesn't have a catchy name like Samsung's TouchWiz or HTC's Sense.

Sony's overlay is no where near as dominating as Sense, offering up a lighter skin which adds a few additional touches here and there to an already solid Android platform.

With a powerful 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor and 3GB of RAM running the show behind the scenes you'll find general navigation around the Xperia Z2 fluid and lag free.

I was able to skip between homescreens, launch an app laden multi-tasking menu and fire up the camera app from the lockscreen using the physical key on the side, without any hint of slow down.

Head into the app tray, slide from left to right and a sidebar menu appears with a variety of ways to order your applications, from alphabetical or most used to installed or your own order.

There is, sadly, no way to hide any unwanted pre-installed applications which Sony has blocked from being deleted on the Xperia Z2.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

That's a bit frustrating as the Xperia Z2 does have a number of pre-installed applications and I found that the majority were regularly overlooked in my day to day usage.

Dive into the display settings and you'll find the increasingly familiar "tap to wake" feature. Enable it and you'll be able to wake the screen of the Xperia Z2 with a simple double tap of your finger on it.

It only works to turn the screen on, double tap again and it won't switch your Xperia Z2 back to standby. Overall then the feature is a little half baked, failing to make the same impression as the LG G2 did with KnockOn.

That said, it's still a handy little feature as it makes it easy to check if you have any notifications, or just to see the time and date.

Drag down the notifications bar and you'll find a very uncluttered offering, with just the date and time above any notifications you may have. It's a lot cleaner than LG's and Samsung's implementation which shove a load of setting options at the top.

I prefer Sony's minimalist implementation as it meant I could see my notifications more easily, while quick settings were easily accessible in a second tab.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

By sliding two fingers down from the notification bar you'll be thrown straight into the quick settings tab, while the single finger slide will take you to the more traditional notification view.

Sony is also keen of automating a lot of your everyday processes. Plug in a set of headphones or the USB charger and a pop up will appear on screen prompting you to take action.

In the case of detecting headphones, you can set the Xperia Z2 to automatically start playing music as soon as you stick them into the handset.

The music doesn't have to come from the dedicated Walkman app either, with the Z2 allowing you to select whatever app you want - Spotify in my case. You can also have the Xperia Z2 pause your music when you remove the headphones.

Once you've set this up you won't see the pop up again, or if you don't want to bother you can check the "don't show me this again" box so you're not constantly bombarded.

Turn Wi-Fi on and you'll spy another message, this time the Xperia Z2 wants to help you optimise battery performance.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

It's asking you to activate location-base Wi-Fi, where the Xperia Z2 will automatically turn Wi-Fi on when you're near a saved network.

Leave home, for example, and the Xperia Z2 will detect you've left the reaches of your router and switch Wi-Fi off until you get to the office, where it'll come back on (if you've saved your work's network).

It's not clear how much power this saves, but every little helps - although in general the Sony Xperia Z2 is pretty efficient. More on that in the battery section of this review.

While I found general performance to be on par with the other top mobiles on the market, there were times where the Xperia Z2 appeared to lack the zip of its rivals.

I've already raised the speed issues surrounding the Background Defocus effect in the camera app, and other features in here can also be a little tardy.

I ran the Geekbench 3 benchmark test on the Sony Xperia Z2 and it averaged 2765. That's a decent score, but it was bettered by both the Samsung Galaxy S5 (2905) and HTC One M8 (2857) in their TechRadar reviews.

As I've already said, the Xperia Z2 is certainly no slouch, and if you're upgrading from the Xperia Z you'll see a big difference in performance.

However if you're considering throwing in your Xperia Z1 for the Z2 the difference in terms of performance is minimal.

Battery life

What's the battery life like on the Sony Xperia Z2? One word: impressive.

Is it the clear market leader in terms of battery life? No, but the Xperia Z2 is on par with the Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8 while also comfortably beating the iPhone 5S.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

It has a 3200mAh power pack onboard, which is bigger than the Samsung and HTC, although it doesn't provide superior performance.

With moderate usage (email, messaging, calls, web browsing, social networking and some camera action) I was easily able to eek out a day and a half of battery life on the Xperia Z2.

If you're slightly more careful the Z2 will go pretty much two full days on a single charge, and that's partly thanks to the Snapdragon 801 processor under the hood which delivers superior power efficiency over the 800 which featured in the Xperia Z1 and LG G2.

Running the TechRadar battery test of a 90 minute video at full brightness (230 lux in the Xperia Z2's case) with various accounts syncing in the background saw a drop on 20% on the Z2.

That's a slightly poorer performance than the Galaxy S5 which lost 16%, but better than the One M8 which saw a 23% drop in the same test.

It's not a disastrous result, but if you have a serious mobile movie or gaming addiction you'll want to keep a charger close by as chances are the Xperia Z2 won't make it to the end of the day.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

Sony does provide a range of power management options, the main one being Stamina mode which disables mobile data and Wi-Fi connectivity when not in use in a bid to save as much juice as possible.

Stamina mode can also restrict hardware performance (if you chose it to), and while you'll still be able to do everything on the Xperia Z2, load times are noticabely slower and I'd advise against loading up the likes of Real Racing 3.

To be fair though, if you're running that low on battery, gaming should be out of the question anyway.

If you're not desperately trying to eek out every last drop of juice there are some less aggressive power saving modes available. One of which is low-battery mode where you can hand pick functions to disable if the battery drops below a certain percentage.

Another is location based Wi-Fi which I've briefly touched on already in this review. This switches off Wi-Fi when you leave the location of a saved network, and turns it back on when you re enter the area.

Camera

The Sony Xperia Z2 comes touting the best camera potential of the 2014 flagships thus far with a 20.7MP G lens camera on its rear, with a single LED flash just below.

You also get a 2MP front facing snapper which has a "soft skin effect" option, similar to the beauty mode on other devices, which softens your skin tone to get rid of any unsightly spots, marks or wrinkles.

It's rather obvious from the photos that an effect has been applied, so unless you don't mind being laughed off Facebook you'll probably want to switch it off.

Back to the rear facing snapper though and this is where Sony has piled in the technology. The Sony G Lens pulls in more light with its wide angle, F2.0 lens which helps performance in darker conditions.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

I certainly found that with the flash turned off, the Xperia Z2 did a decent job of garnering as much light as possible in darker situations.

It performs better than both the HTC One M8 and Samsung Galaxy S5 in low light conditions, so I can chalk this victory up to the Z2.

While the level of light is good, some of my shots in lower light did come out rather muddy as the focus struggled to settle properly at times.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

Of course you can always employ the flash to help out, but it's quite aggressive on the Xperia Z2 and many of my shots with flash were over exposed.

The Xperia Z2 also features a 1/2.3" Exmor RS sensor which reduces noise in images, producing crisp, clear photographs. And the Z2 does indeed produce some lovely images. It performs exceptionally well outside in good sunlight and is capable of picking up a great level of detail.

It also has a fantastic macro mode, allowing you to get really close up to an object and capture it in all its glory.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

The camera app opens rapidly on the Xperia Z2, and it's a noticeably faster load time than the Galaxy S5 which can keep you waiting for a few seconds before it's ready to snap.

Hit the dedicated camera key on the side of the Sony Xperia Z2 can you can be snapping a photo in under two seconds.

Auto-focus tended to settle quickly, avoiding any annoying lag at the all important moment of hitting the shutter, plus tap to focus is also on hand to help you focus on the right object.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

There are a whole host of different modes available on the Xperia Z2, some of which I covered in the Key Features section (4K video and Background Defous), but for anyone just wanting a point and shoot option the Superior auto mode served me well in a variety of situations.

It automatically detects your environment, be it a low light shot or a macro, and preps the camera accordingly.

If you like more control over the camera switch to manual mode where you'll be able to fine tune options such as ISO, white balance and brightness. Plus there's a whole host of scenes to choose from too including soft skin, night and landscape.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

Back into the modes menu and you'll see the intriguing AR effect, but don't get too excited. This is the biggest gimmick on the Xperia Z2 and once you've played with it once you're unlikely to ever return.

Fire it up and choose an option, be it under the sea, a dinosaur or a butterfly garden and point the camera at a level surface.

The Xperia Z2 will then render the scene over the top of real life, which sounds impressive, but in practice it's very childish. It doesn't work particularly well, and if you don't hold the Z2 still enough it won't play ball.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

Creative effect is just a list of Instagram style filters you can apply to your photos if you want to get a bit arty, while sweep panorama unsurprisingly allows you to take a panorama shot.

A mode I did find useful was Info-Eye, which bills itself as an augmented reality style service providing information on the famous landmark you happen to be facing (although rarely was I looking at such wonders).

What I found more useful was its ability to scan bar codes, QR codes and business cards. The latter of which worked pretty well. it was able to pull off my name, address, email and telephone number without too much issue and provides you with the option to save the details as a contact.

I tried with a few different business cards and a few times it missed details, or only copied over half an address, so you'll need to double check the details before hitting save.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

It didn't however recognise my Twitter handle (it's @jjmccann if you're wondering), but perhaps Sony can add that functionality at a later date.

Timeshift burst and Timeshift video are the final two options I'm covering here, with the former being your traditional burst mode which lets you pick the best shot after you've taken a series of snaps.

Timeshift video on the other hand allows you to record slow motion footage, and you can adjust the part of the video you want to be slowed down with an easy to use interface.

There's plenty going on in the camera app of the Sony Xperia Z2, and coupled with Sony's impressive sensor on the rear it's more capable than the Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8 in this department.

Camera samples

Sony Xperia Z2 review

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Sony Xperia Z2 review

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Sony Xperia Z2 review

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Sony Xperia Z2 review

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Sony Xperia Z2 review

Sony Xperia Z2 review

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Sony Xperia Z2 review

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Sony Xperia Z2 review

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Sony Xperia Z2 review

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Sony Xperia Z2 review

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Sony Xperia Z2 review

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Sony Xperia Z2 review

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Sony Xperia Z2 review

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Media

The Sony Xperia Z2 is a flagship smartphone and thus by type it has to be a strong media performer. Thankfully for all concerned, it is.

I was disappointed to see only a 16GB model of the Xperia Z2 arrive, especially as only 11GB of it is actually available, but at least the microSD slot supports cards up to 128GB in size.

Still, with 4K video footage take up so much space you may be running out of space in next to no time if you're not careful.

Music

A good thing about picking up a Sony phone is you benefit from its suite of entertainment applications. In the music department this means you have access to the Walkman app and Music Unlimited service.

The Walkman app is fairly straightforward, providing access to all the songs stored on the handset and microSD card, with all your usual play controls available.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

You'll also find shortcut controls make their way into the notification bar and onto the lockscreen, giving you easier access to your tunes and saving you from having to fire up the app every time.

Sony has built in a couple of sound effects into the Xperia Z2, with ClearAudio+ automatically adjusting the sound settings for each song you listen to.

You can always disable this in favour of the more traditional graphic equaliser, but I found it worked well.

The Xperia Z2 also has a "dynamic normaliser" which sounds pretty space age, but all it really means it that it will monitor the volume of all your tracks and ensure they all stay at a similar level.

This saves you from getting deafened when your shuffled playlist moves from a heart felt Ballard to some intense death metal.

Sound quality through the front facing speakers is very good, and you'll be able to enjoy all your favourite tunes without issue.

The Xperia Z2 isn't quite as good as the Boomsound setup on the HTC One M8 however, which produces richer audio and more powerful bass.

Sony Xperia Z2 reivew

The review unit I was sent originally came with a standard pair of headphones in the box, but since Sony has sent over the noise cancelling in-ear buds which will be bundled with the Xperia Z2.

These noise cancelling earphones won't make their way into every box, so you'll need to check with your retailer if they're included at point of purchase.

Put the buds in your ears and then plug them into the Xperia Z2 and immediately you'll notice the noise cancelling kick into action - even before you start playing music.

Digital Noise Cancelling Headset MDR-NC31EM

While there is a noticeable difference, the noise cancelling isn't as good as some over the ear headphones I've used, but considering you're getting these free in the box it's a nice touch.

Sound quality through the earphones is very good throughout the dynamic range, and they'll satisfy any casual listener.

They aren't the most attractive earphones I've seen, and the additional bulk around the buds means they protrude from the ears somewhat. It's not a huge issue, but for the fashion conscious among you they may be a no go.

Music unlimited is also integrated into the Walkman app and this is Sony's music streaming subscription service. You can get a 30 day free trail to test out the offering, but after then you'll need to fork out £9.99, AU$12.99 (around $17) a month.

If you do sign up you'll also be able to use the service on your computer and Sony branded TVs, Blu-ray players and game consoles.

Video

Start playing a movie on the Sony Xperia Z2 and you'll feel like this is what the handset was built for.

The front facing speakers and beautiful full HD display give you an excellent movie watching experience. Colours are bright and movement well defined, pulling you into your film.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

I've already mentioned the IPS screen technology that Sony has included in the Xperia Z2, and that makes a big difference when you compare it with video playback on the Xperia Z1.

Sony's Movies application is your one stop shop for all your video needs, and like the Walkman app there's another service built in here.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

Video Unlimited is Sony's own movie store where you can buy and rent films, although you'll have to leave the Movies app to browse the store in the Video Unlimited application.

Any purchased films will show up in the Movies app however, keeping all your videos in one place.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

Of course Google Play also offers up its own movie library too, so you're pretty much spoilt for choice on the Xperia Z2.

The essentials

Sometimes you can forget the origins of the mobile phone, believe it or not it was originally conceived as a device to make and receive calls on. I know, shocker right?

Along with messaging and web browsing these are still core features even if they don't get the headline space of things such as fingerprint scanners and cameras, and manufacturers need to ensure they're still doing the basic rights.

The good news is that the Sony Xperia Z2 does do just that.

Brrrriiiing, bring

Sony Xperia Z2 review

The most basic of requirement of any smartphone is to make and receive calls and the Xperia Z2 does it without fuss. I didn't experience any signal issues or dropped calls and the phone application is intuitive.

Call quality was always very good and both parties were always able to here the other person without issue, plus the large speaker on the front of the Xperia Z2 meant my buddies were nice and loud in my ear.

The Xperia Z2 sports microphone noise suppression and speaker voice enhancement in the settings menu to improve call quality further.

The former reduces background noise in calls, so if you're in a particularly noisy environment the Xperia Z2 will cut out the traffic in the background so the person on the other end of the line can still hear you.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

During my tests the people I called said they could hear a difference between having the option turned on and off - it wasn't huge, but it was noticeable and it did make me easier to hear.

Speaker voice enhancement benefits you, the Xperia Z2 owner, rather than your chum on the other end of line. It boosts the audio you listen to, providing a slightly better listening experience. Again the difference between having it on and off isn't huge, but it helps.

Contacts are handled pretty well by the Xperia Z2, which pulls in all your friends from various sources including Google, WhatsApp, Facebook and a number of email providers.

I found the Xperia Z2 did a pretty good job of matching up people's accounts from different sources, but the system didn't feel as slick as HTC's excellent implementation in Sense, and some manual fiddling was still required to make sure all my mates were in order.

You've got mail

Messaging? Check. The Sony Xperia Z2 does all the standard bits of messaging you'd expect to an acceptable grade. No real shock there.

The messaging app takes full advantage of any profile pictures attached to your contacts, displaying them in the messaging overview list as well as directly in the stream next to each and every missive.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

Image quality is very low res, but they're also pretty small on screen so that's not a huge issue and it makes it clearer who said what. Yes, I get confused sometimes.

The stock Gmail app is present and correct for any of your Google email accounts, while the Email app takes care of all the rest. There's a simple step by step wizard to get you set up and the intuitive layout makes it easy to manage your messages.

A slight speed bump in the messaging space on the Sony Xperia Z2 is its keyboard. While it's far from the worst I've experienced, it's also not the best.

I prefer the stock Android keyboard, or the offerings from Samsung or HTC, over the one on the Xperia Z2.

The default layout makes the spacebar tiny, and thus I found myself consistently hitting comma or full stop.

You can edit the keyboard and get ride of the smiley button, allowing the spacebar to grow and thus leading to fewer errors on my behalf. There's also the option to allow the keyboard to skim your Gmail and social network activity to improve the next word prediction engine.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

Overall travel between keys was acceptable, but I still found mistakes crept in more regularly than they did with my usual board of choice, Swiftkey.

The Xperia Z2 keyboard also supports the swiping style gesture input, which makes one handed typing easier and quicker.

Surf's up

Here's a turn up for the books, the Sony Xperia Z2 comes with one web browser - that's right, just one.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

A number of manufacturers seem intent on providing their own web client alongside Google's Chrome on their devices, but Sony has avoided any confusion by providing Chrome only.

I generally prefer Chrome over the other options found on Android handsets, and the clean UI makes for a stress free browsing experience.

The Sony Xperia Z2 is 4G enabled, allowing you to make use of superfast data speeds so long as you're on the right tariff and are in a coverage area.

Wi-Fi b/g/n/ac is also onboard if you don't want to eat through your data allowance, and I found the Z2 was able to load mobile sites in two seconds over a strong connection as well as over 4G.

Move onto full desktop sites and the Xperia Z2 managed to load the content heavy TechRadar in six seconds, with the site being visable and functional after four.

That's an impressive showing and means you'll be skipping round the web with ease if you do plump for the Xperia Z2.

The competition

HTC One M8

The HTC One M8 is currently sitting atop our "best mobile phones in the world" ranking, nudging the Galaxy S5 into second place and making it the phone to beat in 2014.

Does the Sony Xperia Z2 topple the M8? Honestly, no. As a complete package the One M8 wins out, but the Z2 still has a couple of things over its Taiwanese rival.

A lot has been said about the camera on the M8, and in a straight spec shootout the Xperia Z2 beats it hands down with a 20.7MP snapper versus a lowly 4MP offering.

HTC One M8

The Z2 camera doesn't bring anything particularly new to the table though, while the M8 has the innovative Duo Camera setup and a much faster image processing time.

4K video recording is just a distant dream with the HTC, while the Xperia Z2 can pull out some of the best footage you'll see shot on a smartphone.

When it comes to interface, performance and design however the One M8 offers up the better experience. If the camera isn't a huge deal breaker for you then the M8 is the better option, but if you fancy a reliable snapper the Z2 is the way to go.

Samsung Galaxy S5

The Samsung Galaxy S5 is the best flagship the company has produced to date, and independent screen testing firm DisplayMate said it has the best display it has ever tested.

Things are looking good in the Samsung camp, and with a fingerprint scanner and heart rate monitor to help it stand out from the crowd it has a group of features to shout about. Something the Xperia Z2 rather lacks.

Samsung Galaxy S5

While Samsung may well have packed a whole heap of tech into the Galaxy S5 a compromise had to be made somewhere. Build quality.

The Galaxy S5 is undoubtedly plastic, and it severely lacks the premium appeal of the Xperia Z2. Both handsets are waterproof, so it's not like the S5 can use that as an argument.

It's features versus form here, which one is more important to you?

iPhone 5S

All the latest flagship smartphones are big. Some people would even call them huge. So what's left for those who want a top of the line handset which isn't going to overstretch their palms?

Top of the pile is the iPhone 5S, with a premium design only really matched by the HTC One M8, although the Xperia Z2 is hot on the heels of both of the handsets.

The 4-inch display on the iPhone 5S is a rather disappointing 640 x 1136 affair, no where near as stunning as the full HD Xperia Z2.

iPhone 5S

Its more compact design and lower weight (it's only 112g vs the 163g Z2) means the iPhone 5S is far more palm friendly, especially for those with smaller hands.

It is rocking older tech, with an 8MP camera, dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM and no 4K video recording to go with that sub-par screen.

Plus it still costs a pretty penny - the same as the Xperia Z2 - which isn't great value for money when compared.

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Verdict

The Sony Xperia Z2 is an excellent smartphone. It does everything you'd expect from a high-end device and provides a user experience which is pleasing rather than overbearing.

Why then, does the Xperia Z2 leave me feeling so nonplussed about it?

It has all the core components of a flagship smartphone, but the overall package is just not an inspiring one. It's just another black slab, high-end handset.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

We liked

The screen on the Sony Xperia Z2 is excellent. If you like watching movies or playing games on the go you'll love the display, providing vivid colours and high levels of detail.

For budding photographers out there the Xperia Z2 also offers an enticing proposition with a huge array of modes and options to play around with, and the 20.7MP lens is capable of producing beautiful images.

A strong battery life adds further feathers to the Xperia Z2's cap, and its dust- and waterproof case ensures it's protected against any of life's little accidents.

We disliked

There is a clear issue when it comes to shooting 4K video on the Xperia Z2, and that's a real shame as it's capable of producing quality footage.

The heat sync issue coupled with "unknown error" crashes smacks of a handset which hasn't been tested thoroughly, and the slow image processing times see it lag behind the competition.

I'm not a huge fan of the bezel heavy design Sony has implemented either, and it makes the Xperia Z2 look a little overbearing in the hand.

Sony Xperia Z2 review

Verdict

The main issue I have with the Sony Xperia Z2 is there's nothing to really get excited about. It's a great all rounder, but there's no curve ball to keep things interesting.

When I've forked out top dollar for the next generation of smartphone I want to be able to stride into the pub and blow my mates away with some amazing features.

The Samsung Galaxy S5 has its amazing screen, heart monitor and fingerprint scanner while the HTC One M8 has a superb design, Boomsound and the Duo Camera setup. Yet the Xperia Z2 has no headlining feature which makes it stand out.

Its premium design nudges it ahead of the Galaxy S5, while its highly capable camera beats the One M8 hands down. If you're looking for an all round top performer (4K video issues aside) the Xperia Z2 is a great jack of all trades. Just don't expect it to do anything out of the ordinary.

First reviewed: April 2014

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