Xperia (e)xcellence: Sony’s Xperia Z2 reviewed

Keeping everything on par with previous products is the build quality, which appears to have been improved slightly.

We’re happy to see the ruggedness stick around on this product from the previous generations, and that appears to be an area Sony understands, with IP certification ratings for being dust-proof and water resistance for up to 30 minutes of water or immersion down to one metre.

That’s a rating of IP58, which puts it on par with the Z1 before it, and means it’ll survive a dip in the pool, provided you make sure the phone covers are in place.

Sony’s efforts continue on the screen, which are very good on the Xperia Z2. You’ll find some of the best of Sony here, with a very bright Full HD screen found on the phone powered by Sony’s Triluminos technology, the same sort of high-grade panel with solid colour recreation that the company used on the last of its Sony VAIO laptops.

With a 5.2 inch display and the 1920×1080 Full HD resolution, there’s a pixel clarity of roughly 424 pixels per inch (ppi), putting the screen 100 pixels per inch higher than the Retina-grade screen Apple uses on its iPhone 5S.

This means pictures and text are very clear, and this helps with the colour, which appears very strong on this display, too. Viewing angles appear to be excellent from most sides, though extreme vertical angles can wash out ever so slightly.

Overall, we’re happy to use this screen, though it can be a touch too bright in dark conditions, with the adaptive light controls not having enough room to move when the lights go down, meaning you’ll often have too bright a screen when you really want less brightness and contrast.

Get stuck into using the phone, though, and you’ll see Sony has played its cards particularly well on the Z2.

The fact of the matter is there’s a lot of competition in the smartphone race for 2014, and Sony needs to be in there with a strong competitor, because it’s playing for keeps. Fortunately, it appears to be doing something right, because there’s so much to like about the Z2.

First is the operating system, and with Android 4.4 “KitKat” on the Z2 out of the box, we’re delighted to see Sony going with the most up-to-date version of Google’s operating system.

The overlay is pretty minimal here, but is still one of the best you can find in Australia, keeping the simplicity close to what Google envisioned, but still giving everything a Sony spin.

The wallpaper and lockscreen animations appear to have been taken right out of the Sony PlayStation design team, while the menus all sport icons with less of a 3D look, and some simple left to right gesture swiping in order to get things going.

Multiple homescreens and menus are still here, as per usual with Android, with Sony including a shortcut dock you can easily change, something Samsung’s phones struggle with in Australia.

The menu system is one of the better around, and just like it is on the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet, you’ll find a swipe from left to right on the edge of the menu screen will reveal menu sort orders, uninstall options, and a shortcut to both Google’s and Sony’s app stores.

It’s simple and easy, and given how uncomplicated everything is, you’ll probably be happy to stick with it.

Performance is also solid, hardly surprising given the specs of the Z2 are right on par with both the excellent performers that are the HTC One M8 and the Samsung Galaxy S5.

In fact, even though the quad-core 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chip and Adreno 330 graphics chip are practically spot on, the benchmarks appear just a little lower than they should be, especially in comparison to products sporting the same chips.

That said, benchmarks are mostly synthetic, and the performance appears to be strong across the board in all of our tests, with little to no slowdowns in everything we did, from loading multiple applications quickly and multitasking between them, jumping into the camera whenever we wanted to by holding down the physical camera button, and pulling down the dropdown bar to view notifications while we were playing a game.

Sony has even bested rivals with an extra gigabyte of RAM, pushing past the 2GB sweet spot for Android and included 3GB, making the Xperia Z2 less likely to run out of steam when you’re running several apps.

Mobile broadband also excels here, hardly surprising since every flagship is rated for strong 4G speeds these days.

The Sony Xperia Z2 is no different in this regard, spec’d for Category 4 LTE connectivity, giving it a maximum download speed of 150Mbps on compatible networks (Vodafone only in Australia at the time this was published), with high speeds still on offer from Australia’s Category 3 4G networks handled by Telstra and Optus.

Our tests revealed speeds between 30 and 50Mbps were easily had, with upload speeds around that of 20-30 possible too.