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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Sony Xperia Z2 review: A worthy rival to Samsung Galaxy S5, HTC One (M8)

Sony's two top-end smartphones of 2013 — Xperia Z and Z1 — were outmatched by rivals, despite decent configuration. Xperia Z was a good smartphone that was marred by a poor display and susceptible build quality, and its successor Z1 featured a sturdier body, but offered very little improvements in the display department.

The company started off 2014 with the unveiling of Xperia Z2 at Mobile World Congress in February. This device is an evolution of Xperia Z1, but features enough alterations and tweaks to make it a worthy competitor to the likes of Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One (M8).

We review the Sony Xperia Z2 smartphone to see how well it compares with the rivals and if it calls for an upgrade if you are already an Xperia Z or Z1 user:

Display
One of the key features of Xperia Z1 is its 5.2-inch display, and boy, is it good! Both Xperia Z and Z1 were plagued by displays that washed out as soon as you stepped in sunlight, and nothing you did could make the screen legible. Not so with this smartphone.

The change has been because of the screen panel used by Sony in the new phone. Instead of the TFT panels that Xperia Z and Z1 used, the new Xperia Z2 employs an IPS display. IPS displays are known for their vibrant colours and adaptability to extreme viewing angles.



However, a better display (than the predecessors) does not mean it is great. We observed that colours reproduced by the display were a bit over-saturated when brightness was set at highest levels, but that is something that happens with most phones, including Galaxy S5 and HTC One.

But the problem comes when the brightness is set at 30% (sufficient for indoor usage). At that time, colours seemed a little dull. Compared to the other two new top-end devices in the market, the colours at low brightness in Xperia Z2 are not as vibrant, showing that Sony still has work to do on this front.

These are things that you are will probably not notice unless you, like us hacks, handle too many smartphones day in and day out, and therefore, unlikely to be the deal breakers.

Sony Xperia Z2 has 1920x1080p resolution and has the same clarity that you get with the older phones, but with better colours. For those who put much stock with numbers, Xperia Z2 has 424 pixels per inch, lower than the 441 pixels per inch for its predecessors. But in reality, you would be hard-pressed to identify individual visible pixels on the screen.

Design
Sony Xperia Z2 carries on the Omnibalance design that was introduced last year, but there are enough subtle tweaks in the design to make it look better than its predecessors. The smartphone has the metal frame on the sides that made its debut last year with Xperia Z1.

The overall design of the smartphone is slightly updated, but largely remains unchanged. The Power button is smaller in size this time and the speakers are no more at the bottom. But apart from these, there are no apparent changes in terms of looks. A closer inspection, however, reveals that the frame has more rounded edges, which looks better.


The body of Xperia Z2 is made of glass and metal. The glass on the back is placed at a very slight recess compared to the metal, so that you can avoid scratching the rear panel when you place it on a flat surface.

To give credit where it is due, Sony has does a great job of moving the speakers to the front without making it apparent. You probably won't even notice that the speakers are located at the top and bottom until you turn on the sound.

Xperia Z2, with its 5.2-inch screen, is slightly smaller in overall dimensions than its predecessors. It is marginally thinner and ever-so-slightly smaller in width. But it is longer than both Xperia Z1 and Z, as well as most other smartphones in its league.



And it is heavy, weighing more than most flagship smartphones we have encountered in recent past. In fact, it is just 5gram lighter than the Galaxy Note 3, which has a 5.7-inch display.Yet, that is not something that should worry you too much as a user.

What is significant is that the heft and length do not make Xperia Z2 unwieldy. On the contrary, it feels pretty solid and can be held in one hand comfortably. Like many other big-screen devices, the smartphone has a one-handed mode, where the keyboard occupies only a certain portion of the screen so that you can reach all the keys easily. However, we never felt the need to use Xperia Z2 in one-handed keyboard mode.

Another great part: The handset is also resistant to water and dust, and the glass back is said to be shatterproof although we resisted the temptation to drop it on floor to verify the claim. However, we dunked the smartphone in water after securing all the ports and were satisfied with the result; the device continued to operate smoothly, as expected.

Hardware
Sony Xperia Z2 has most of the key features that a top-end smartphone today must have. It sports a big, high resolution display, 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor, 3GB RAM, 20.7MP camera, supports microSD cards up to 128GB and a big 3,200mAh battery. You get 16GB internal storage, with 10.6GB accessible to user.



Connectivity options in the device include 2G, 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, microUSB 2.0 and NFC. Though the smartphone supports 4G connectivity, there is no official word yet whether it will support the TD-LTE band of India. Sony has also retained the magnetic pins on the right side, so you can use the charging dock to recharge the battery even as you watch a movie.

Software
When we talk of software, we can easily put Xperia Z2 and bloatware in the same category. The Android 4.4 (KitKat)-powered smartphone comes preloaded with a total of 59 apps. Fifty-nine!!! Thankfully Sony has given user the option to delete a few apps, such as BigFlix, Box, LinkedIn, Pixlr and NeoReader, among others.

The Japanese manufacturer has also added a few proprietary apps to set itself apart from rivals who do not have as rich a content portfolio. You can use the PlayStation Network app to connect with your friends and buy games.

However, this app lacks many cool games and is rather rudimentary. Similar is the case with Sony Entertainment, which shows you several TV shows on the go, but if that is something you dig, you have it right here. Sony Music Jive will let you download or stream the music owned by the company while you are on the move.

A downward swipe with one finger will open the notification panel, while doing the same with two fingers will give you Quick Settings, which holds the toggle buttons for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, brightness etc. Xperia Z2 also has a proprietary app to find your handset in case it is lost, but we swear by the default Android app for this.

Performance
Despite all the extra software (that you may want to uninstall), the handset's performance is at par with that of Galaxy S5 and One (M8). The smartphone consistently delivers a smooth experience and never shows even the slightest lag. Most apps open as soon as you tap on them and you would be more than happy with zippy processing power; there is no doubt that it will suffice the requirements of any power user.

Media playback is great too. The screen is big and gorgeous, so watching videos is a treat. The stereo speakers are now positioned in front, so the sound does get not muffled. However, we must point out here that HTC One (M8)'s audio quality and output are still much better and the Sony phone cannot match that.

Running on KitKat, Xperia Z2 features immersive mode, so the on-screen keys retreat to the background when you use the whole screen, such as while reading ebooks, watching videos or playing games.

Battery life of the handset is commendable. Xperia Z2 easily runs for one and a half days once the battery charge touches 100%. It comes with two main power saving modes — low battery mode and Stamina mode.

The former is to be used when the battery is critically low and you need as much juice as you can. It will disable all internet access and restrict app usage, so that resources can be conserved as much as you can. Stamina mode will let you select which apps can still have internet access, and you can set the battery threshold when its power-saving features will come into effect.

Location-based Wi-Fi is another great battery saving feature of Xperia Z2. With this feature turned on, you can save your work and home Wi-Fi networks and the phone will automatically turn on Wi-Fi when it senses you are around these networks. Rest of the time, Wi-Fi will shut off automatically.

Camera
Sony has used a 1/23-inch 20.7MP Exmor R for Mobile, backside illuminated sensor in Xperia Z2; the setup also includes the G Lens. This is the same configuration as the Xperia Z1. But there is a noticeable improvement between the camera performance of the two smartph
ones.

While clicking images in Manual mode, you will notice more accurate colours and excellent details in daylight images. Things were not as good indoors, but still, there was a lot less noise than expected; contrast and white balance was great in both cases.



Lowlight photos turned out pretty well too. We don't expect too much detail under poor lighting conditions, and this smartphone can easily give any top-end smartphone a run for its money in the camera department.

But Superior mode is a whole different story altogether. Photos taken in this mode were highly overprocessed, so you would get some good-looking images with vibrant colours, but they won't be true to the actual scene. We also noticed a bit of softness on the edges of the subject in these photos.



Two key new camera features in this Sony phone are 4K recording and slow-motion video capture. The 4K (or movie hall-quality) recording gives you extremely high-resolution videos — that you cannot view anywhere! No doubt, this is a great feature and most manufacturers are using this in their phones nowadays, but there are very few monitors or TVs that can support the playback of this video. In fact, Xperia Z2 itself downscaled the video quality to 1080p in order to play it.

Timeshift mode allows you to select any part of a video and slow it down. The process is simple and can be done easily even if you have never used this feature on another device before. Oh, and it fills up the 10.6GB user accessible internal storage pretty quickly.

Then there's the background defocus feature. It allows you to bring the subject in sharper notice by blurring the background scene. The results do not match the promise though, and the final image looks unrefined; HTC One (M8) does a much better job with the same feature.

Using the default Xperia Z2 Camera app, you can capture Vine videos, upload photos to Evernote and look up information about a monument or any landmark you are visiting on the internet.

Apart from these, Sony has used a host of other camera features that have been part of its products, such as live-sharing a video on Facebook, HDR and overlaying objects (like a hat etc) on the subject in an image.

Gaming
We played Asphalt 8 at the highest settings to test the chipset, but never once did we notice even a hint of a hiccup in performance. The gaming experience on all resource-consuming games we tried, such as Real Racing 3 and Dead Trigger 2, was consistently good and the smartphone did not heat up as much as we expected it to. There were no instances of the phone freezing or frame drops.



No novelty though
Nowadays, what features a top-end handset has does not matter as much as what special features it lacks. Samsung Galaxy S5 has a fingerprint scanner and heart rate monitor and HTC One (M8) has two rear cameras to add depth. Sony Xperia Z2 has... well nothing 'special'.

The only thing that this smartphone has and rivals don't is extra RAM (3GB in Xperia Z2 vs 2GB in One (M8) and Galaxy S5), and that's not something you can really show off.

This can be a point of concern for some buyers, who would expect a phone costing Rs 50,000 to have at least some feature that sets it apart in the crowd. So, if you are into showing all your friends what unique super cool feature your new (and expensive) handset has, then Xperia Z2 is not for you. Key differentiator it is not, but practically speaking, extra RAM may have its impact felt over a longer period of intense usage.

Verdict
Xperia Z2 is a big step forward for Sony and one would be hard-pressed to find many problems with this smartphone. In fact, it has enough chops to stand up against the two big Android smartphones.

However, the problem is that HTC One (M8) is indeed a better smartphone what with the beautiful all-aluminium body. If you are spending Rs 50,000, then why not spend it on the best smartphone. But if you plan to cover up the body with a back cover anyway, then we do recommend Xperia Z2 to you.

To make the deal sweeter, Sony is giving a fitness band worth Rs 5,990 and body cover priced at Rs 2,990 free with Xperia Z2. This makes the Sony smartphone a much better value proposition than the other two smartphones.

If you are an Xperia Z or Z1 user, then upgrade to Xperia Z2 only if you are troubled by the screen quality. If you feel that you can work with the old smartphone's screen, then there is very little you will find worth appreciating in their successor.

Source: TOI

1 comment:

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