Iterative improvements across the board add up to a sleeker, more capable Xperia phone
Sony likes to release two flagship phones each year. We've bemoaned the fact before, but the Japanese electronics giant continues to persue an aggressive timetable of half-yearly replacements for its high-end "Z" series. Back in September at IFA, we met the Xperia Z1; just six months later we're getting our first look at the Xperia Z2 at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. At first glance it's tough to tell the Z2 apart from the Z1 — they're both more or less the same size and shape — big, blocky phones, and products of Sony's "Omnibalance" design language. If you weren't a fan of Sony's Z series phones before, there's little here to change your mind. But even if it doesn't lend itself particularly well to good ergonomics, it's a solid look, and one Sony's sticking to.
There are physical differences to be found if you look hard enough — the ports are somewhat differently arranged, and the speaker grille is less of a grille, more a collection of holes. And the Z2 is slightly lighter than its predecessor, weighing in at 158 grams.
The Xperia Z2 boasts an absolutely gorgeous IPS display
On the whole, the Z2 is more about component and software upgrades more than any exterior changes. The biggest and most noticeable improvement is the new IPS-based "Triluminos" display, which looks absolutely gorgeous. With a couple of exceptions, Sony has traditionally struggled to get smartphone displays right, with even recent models suffering from poor viewing angles. Thankfully that's fixed on the Xperia Z2, which can boast a screen rivaling any other we've seen on a phone. The Z2's 1080p display is also larger than the Z1's, at 5.2 inches compared to 5.0, while fitting in more or less the same footprint.
Enhancements have also been made in the audio space, with Sony introducing stereo speakers and digital noise cancellation for use with headphones.
Upgraded internals enable 4K video through Sony's Exmor RS camera
On the inside, the Z2 runs one of the latest processors from Qualcomm — a 2.3GHz Snapdragon 801, paired with an ample 3GB of RAM and 3,200mAh batter. Given Sony's track record with the Z1 and Z1 Compact, there's no reason to expect anything less than stellar longevity out of the Z2. And around the back is the same 20.7-megapixel Exmor RS camera found on the Z1 handsets. It's a great (though not quite perfect) smartphone camera, though we're just a little disappointed to see that the camera hardware hasn't been changed at all. The camera software has been upgraded, however, with the addition of 4K video support, the defocus camera app from the Xperia Z1s, and built-in Vine support, if you're into that sort of thing.
Android 4.4 topped with a refreshed Xperia UI
And Sony's software and Xperia UI has received a welcome facelift on the Z2. The device runs Android 4.4 KitKat out of the box, and Sony has tweaked its builtin apps to take advantage of the new version of Android. The launcher uses transparent top and bottom bars, and the Gallery app supports immersive mode. It still closely resembles Sony's existing design language, but it looks just a bit sharper on the Z2. (And that beautiful new IPS display certainly helps out here, too.)
The Xperia Z2 comes preloaded with Sony's new Lifelog app, among the usual suite of bundled Sony content. Demoed at CES but as yet unreleased, Lifelog connects to Sony's Smartband and other accessories using the "Core" gadget, and can be used to track exercise, and movement data, along with other stuff you might be doing on your phone.
On the entertainment side, Sony has given its "What's New" app prominent placement by adding it to the swipe-up menu usually reserved for Google Now. The app gives you a scrolling list of movies, music, games and other stuff through Sony's entertainment properties. Tighter integration between different parts of Sony isn't surprising to see, but the swipe-up shortcut icon will put this stuff front and center on the Z2.
Besides that, the Z2's software is about bringing things up to a new version of Android and making the UI looks a bit more modern, and perhaps closer to the look of stock KitKat.
So the Z2 is another incremental upgrade, but a solid one that addresses one of our longstanding gripes with Sony phones — the display — while freshening up the Z1's hardware and building on the "Omnibalance" design language. The device is expected to arrive globally starting in March, so we won't have long to wait before we can get our hands on Sony's latest. At the time of writing, however, the company isn't talking about any U.S. launch plans for the device.