Sony Xperia Z2 review

This is Sony’s latest go at producing a high-spec Android flagship model, with the Xperia Z2 ticking every one of 2014’s must-have tech bullet points. It has a large 5.2-inch 1080p display. It has the hot new Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chipset inside. It has a massive 3GB of RAM and 16GB of onboard storage. It’s also got lots of glass and a 20.7MP camera and magnetic charging options and more software tweaks than you can imagine.

Here’s what it’s like.

Review phone provided by GiffGaff, supplier of mobiles, contracts, minutes, texts, data, SIM cards and all that sort of thing.

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It’s big. While rival monster phones like the Huawei Ascend P7 manage to feel surprisingly small in the hand, the metallic and glassy Z2 is definitely on the large side. It’s quite slim, but the lack of curvature in the boxy chassis and the sharp metallic sides make it feel as if you’re holding quite a lump of electronics. And, of course, that’s because you are.

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It’s not disastrously unportable, but there were occasions when we preferred to pocket our substantially more humble Moto G when off out, simply because humping around the Z2 is a little more of a task. You feel it in your pocket. It has a gravitational pull on your trousers.

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Sony’s chunked-up the USB cover from the Xperia Z1. It’s now much fatter and easier to remove here on the Z2, making picking it open to charge the phone less of a chore. It’s the little things that make life worth living.

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There’s a microSD card slot along the other edge, along with the central power button and a physical camera shutter button, with the latter also letting you insta-launch straight into the camera app from standby.

One Very Nice Thing is that Sony’s the latest company to nick the tap-to-wake option and stick it in the Z2, so you’re able to double-tap on the display to pull it out of standby, rendering the power button nearly obsolete. It worked most of the time, although on quite a few occasions we had to knock it a few extra times to wake the phone. There’s probably a knack to timing it right.

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We were also supplied with a Roxfit flip case for the Xperia Z2. It’s ridiculously thin, but does add a little extra size to the already rather large phone. But it’s probably a necessity given the glassy nature of the mobile. If you handle it with one eye on its future resale value, you’ll want it looked after.

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And this is the official Sony DK36 magnetic charger. You don’t get a lot of plastic for your £30 investment, but it does lock on with a satisfying click and flips the display into landscape mode. Sadly this doesn’t kick in any sort of custom docking display, despite the fact that Sony’s software automatically recognises headphones being plugged in and offers a customisable list of actions.

And as we moaned about on Twitter ages ago, Sony won’t let you use any old headphones with the Xperia Z2. Which is a shame, as the ones it supplies are the type that require forceful insertion into your earholes. I hate them. They hurt and always fall out. But the sound quality is really good if you can get them rammed near enough to your brain and taped to your head so they don’t fall out.

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That’s the main Home screen (left) and the lock screen. A quick launch for the camera sits in the lock screen’s pull-up slot, so there’s no standard access to Google Now from the lock screen. Plus Sony’s bafflingly and rather pointlessly added a link to its “What’s New” app store on the Google Now button when pulled up from the Home screen.

Not a fan of that. The older Sony Select app store is pre-loaded on the Xperia Z2 too, so there are now TWO useless curated rival app stores inside Sony’s take on Android.

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If you want Google Now on your lock screen, the way to go is to add a live widget. It’s a bit hidden, with lock widgets accessed by scrolling the lock screen clock to one side. If you weren’t looking for it you might not know it’s there, as Sony provides no visual clue to the fact you can scroll to more stuff on the lock screen.

To the right is Sony’s take on Android’s notifications system. A two-fingered pull takes you straight into the Quick Settings tab where up to 16 system toggles can be added and reorganised to suit your needs.

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The multitasking screen (left) along with a pop-up widget there (right) that’s been added to and accessed through the customisable Small Apps menu that appears at the bottom. It’s for people who like widgets but don’t necessarily want to commit to having one on a Home screen permanently. A bit niche, in other words.

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Oh that’s nice. Custom notifications settings (left) so you can tell Google+ to sod off and pretend it doesn’t exist. And there’s the headphone plugin options that let you have the Z2 automatically open the app of your choice when you stick your headphones in.

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Miscellaneous. Work them out for yourself.

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And this is quite nice. Scroll to a movie thumbnail in the gallery and it creates an automatic highlights reel, skipping through the clip like you’ve somehow infected your phone with an animated GIF.

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Always nice to see the onboard storage formatted so apps can access the full whack. Having 10GB for apps is quite the luxury, as is the 3GB of RAM. Although even with the RAM boost many of the Home screen widgets take a while to draw their contents. Sony’s gallery widget takes a second or two to pull in images, as does the Walkman music player app. Their contents never seem to remain in memory, giving the Home screens a slightly clunky, perpetually-loading-something appearance.

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Battery life is the big seller here. It’s astonishing. We sailed through two days and often ended up well into a third before the Z2 needed charging, and that was with moderately heavy use (endless Twitter, photos, email and more). If you want a long-lasting phone, this is quite possibly the best option out there.

Unrelated screenshot of the onboard answering machine there to the right, too, for the purposes of page layout symmetry. You even get to record a custom voice message.

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You’re also able to select which system icons appear in the top-right bit of the status bar (left), which is handy if you want to create an ultra-minimal layout. And that other grab explains itself.

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Camera samples fun day out time!!

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Two identically composed images (sorry) demonstrating foreground detail, colour and all that sort of stuff. It’s a nice camera.

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Panoramas also turn out nicely, although Sony’s fancy Background Defocus app struggles to take shots unless the subject is very still for a few seconds. With a child, that’s quite a big ask.

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One with the flash going off for all you indoorsers. It’s a really subtle flash, even when taking shots that close. It’s a super camera, but then we are coming to it straight from the Moto G, which is about as visually able as [politically incorrect 1980s Stevie Wonder joke deleted].

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Silly effects, sadly only available when using the rear camera.

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So. It’s nice, but more importantly the Sony Xperia Z2 tests one big concept. People who say they don’t mind a heavier and chunkier phone in return for a better battery life? This is your chance. Treat it carefully and it’s a three-dayer. This is the big phone/big battery dream.

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For that reason alone (oh well and also the great camera) the Z2 is our current favourite phone of them all, despite its seam-stretching weight and proportions.

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