With numerous smartphone makers launching flagship devices this season, it is easy to overlook the fact that Sony's Xperia Z2 comes just seven months after the Xperia Z1.
This probably explains why they both look so alike. Tempered glass front and rear glass panels, side buttons, as well as USB, microSD and sealable SIM card slots (so that they can resist dust and moisture) all look similar.
It is hard to tell them apart when they are put side by side. The Z2, with its slightly larger 5.2-inch screen, is about 3mm longer, but is also 0.3mm thinner.
The Z1, which paired an elegant design with some great hardware, was named Editor's Choice for Best Android Smartphone in this year's Digital Life Awards. The Z2 is simply following up on that success, by making some improvements.
Sony has added a new IPS screen to the Z2. This makes the already bright colours on its Triluminos display stand out even more when images are viewed from an angle.
The 20.7-megapixel camera, which stood out on the Z1, now comes with 4K video recording, for sharper-looking 3,840 × 2,160 footage on newer ultra high-definition TV sets. But this applies only if you have storage space to spare and an accompanying 4K or Ultra High Definition TV to play the footage.
The downside is that the phone heats up a lot in 4K recording mode at around the two-minute mark, then cuts off altogether. The first time I tried it, my recording lasted 3min 39sec. On my second try, five minutes later, it lasted 2min 29sec.
The Z1 and Z2 cameras use the same sensor. Sony has fixed one of the biggest annoyances of the Z1, which is the camera shutter lag.
To be fair, this lag in the Z1 is not all that long. But if you are shooting photos of young children, that split second can cost you that priceless moment or expression for which no amount of extra megapixels can compensate.
Better night shots
Night shots have also improved with the Z2, showing greater colour and clarity in dim lighting. Many smartphone cameras tend to dial up the reading of light sources in dark conditions, which creates the effect of having pools of lights in the final image, with no discernible details in the object. The Z2's camera can detect and differentiate between multiple pockets of light, to produce a sharper and more detailed image.
Like the Z1, the Z2 packs the same camera features, like the AR effect which inserts cartoon images into the photo, and Info-eye, which displays more details about the object in the viewfinder.
Unlike the new phones from Samsung, LG and HTC, it does not have the option to snap pictures with multiple depth of focus, which allows users to refocus on various objects in the image later on.
Instead, it has a background defocus option. This blurs the background while keeping the object in the foreground in focus. A slider bar lets users determine the degree of background blur, but the app tends to blur out the edges of the foreground object as well.
One quirk with the camera app is that there is a slight delay after you press the camera app icon.
As with the new HTC One (M8) and new LG devices, users can double tap on the screen in standby mode to wake up the device.
The feature, together with the ability to answer the phone by simply lifting it to your ear, or muting it by placing the screen face down on a table, is also available on phones from other brands, which explains why Sony is not highlighting them.
An incremental upgrade
In terms of benchmarks, the Z2 scored a less than stellar rating of 18,403 on the Quadrant Standard benchmark versus 24,598 for the Samsung Galaxy S5.
My biggest beef is that in the three weeks when I was evaluating the phone, there were two system update notifications. Some may think it commendable that Sony rolled out updates so quickly, but the second update not only required the use of a computer, but also installation of extra software on the computer
This is a small flaw, perhaps. But it reminded me that it has been months since any smartphone I tested had such an unwarranted dependency on a computer.
There is no doubt the Z1 is a great phone and that the Z2 does have improvements.
But with hardware that is almost identical and only slight tweaks in software, the Z2 also stands out as a example of an incremental upgrade.
It is definitely not the next big thing from Sony.
If you have the Xperia Z1, skip the Z2. If you are looking for a powerful Android phone with a great camera, the Xperia Z2 is a good choice.
Processor: 2.3 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
Display: 5.2-inch Full HD Triluminos Display 1,920 x 1,080 (442 pixels per inch)
Cameras: 20.7 megapixels (rear), 2.2 megapixels (front)
Operating System: Android 4.4 (Kitkat)
Memory: 16GB, expandable microSD up to 128GB, 3GB RAM
Battery life: 4
This article was published on April 16 in Digital Life, The Straits Times.
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