Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Sony Xperia Z2 impressions


Denmark was one of the first markets to receive the Z2, and I was fortunate enough to get my hands on one of the first devices to hit Danish soil. So I've had about a month to play with it. Here are my impressions.

The photo album that goes with it: http://c0.dk/HooolmXpZ2Photos

The PHYSICAL APPEARANCE is a matter of preference, of course. You can get it in white, purple or black. Both the white and black variants look quite stylish to me and the purple is obviously meant for Prince or people who think they're Prince or want to be Prince. "Avoid the purple Z2 at all cost" would be my preference. Unless you're Prince. Or colorblind.

Anyway, mine is the black variant. It is a big, angular slab, upon first glance not unlike the Arthur C Clarke monolith...nestled within Han Solo's carbonite enlosure (let me know if you need a popular reference less than 30 years old). The front and back are black glass and the edges are a very dark blueish plastic, inlaid with metallic (looking) accents.

It's not as stylish as an iPhone 5s or the HTC One M7/M8 in my opinion, but there are people who dislike those anyway. The Z2 does look and feels like a top-shelf device.

The BUILD QUALITY seems excellent. A really sturdy feel with no give or creaking. The flappy port covers are a little annoying, but that's the obvious tradeoff for it being dust and water proof. I imagine that many many buyers will go for the magnetic charging cradle anyway. Yes, cradle. There's no standardized wireless QI charging here, which would have been a complete no brainer welcome addition to a device designed to be sealed.

The Z2 is a big phone with its 5.2" display, way too big for fully one-handed operation. You have to shuffle it around, which feels...precarious. The sturdy build means it's a hefty one, and the heavy glass along with the smooth plastic edges make for a somewhat slippery-feeling phone. If I could change one thing, I'd have had (at least) the edges furnished in a rubberized material like the back of the Nexus 5. As it is, I feel like I have to make peace with the knowledge that the Z2 will inevitably hit the floor at some point.

The Z2 has a 3200 mAh non-removable battery, and BATTERY LIFE is excellent. On my first full charge cycle, I used the phone for 34 hours with a little over 5 hours screen on. Preeeetty good, especially considering that this was in the "honeymoon phase", and I was looking at it every few minutes, installing apps, setting everything up, syncing accounts, grabbing content from dropbox, taking a hundred photos and so on. Now, after a few weeks of usage, I've added all of my apps and everything uses gps and autosyncs with impunity - but battery is still excellent and I'm making it through the day to bedtime quite comfortably without a second charge, which is more than I could say for the Nexus 5. EDIT: After a month of usage, my verdict on the battery is: Simply astonishing. 

If you use the smartband and along with the Lifelog app, that will introduce Teh Draaaiiinz though. I like the idea of a wearable with a complementing app, but it's simply not precise enough, it doesn't succeed in guessing what I'm doing and whatever method it uses to assess my steps taken or distances walked, are useless. And apparently I never sleep. Since its sole achievement for me has been to drain the otherwise undrainable battery, I soon stopped using it altogether so I can't make any further assessment.

The SCREEN is clear and crisp with very nice, balanced saturation and no noticable light leak. The washed out colors and horrible viewing angles that plagued the Xperia Z and to lesser extent the Z1 are history. There's one annoyance though. There's an underlying lattice that is very noticable, much more so than I've noticed on my previous phones. I'm guessing that it has to do with the Z2's "glove mode" that allows for...well, you get the idea. That feature doesn't means that the touch screen works under the faucet or when completely submerged (yes, of course I've tried), so if I'm right about the lattice purpose, that's a feature I'd happily have given up for not having to look at it under normal circumstances.

The NOTIFICATION LED is there, integrated into the "ear piece" speaker. It's nice and colorful and looks nice. It's very bright too, and can't be turned completely off while charging, so it'll easily illuminate your bedroom.

The SPEAKERS have improved vastly since the Z/Z1. Sony added stereo front facing speakers to the Z2, and while they're no substitute for a proper external speaker, nor a match for the HTC One, they provide a decent sound for watching Youtube videos and listening to the occational mp3.

The in-call audio experience isn't what I've come to expect from top shelf devices, and the ringtones and notifications simply aren't loud enough. I had a feeling that one of the speakers on my device, the earpiece if you will, might be broken but  the recent 17.1.1.A .402 update seems to have made a positive, if slight, impact here.

The CAMERA is so good it's not really worth spending much time on. It's the best smartphone camera I've had. The software is brimming with options and it'll let you take a ecent shot at anything, really. Its Superior Auto mode only shoots at 8MP, but produces lovely, vivid photos. The "Manual" mode lets you shoot up to 20MP and muck about with white-balance, ISO, HDR and a lot of other stuff. There are lots of both included and downloadable photo and video modes/programs that let you add funky effects, raging dinosaurs, time shift compositing photos, high framerate slow motion video capture. I won't go nuts with a camera comparison session like I did with my HTC One (M7) review - I'll just leave it at: Great camera.

As for SOFTWARE, which has long been Sony's downfall, the Z2's take on Android is mostly good. It sticks pretty close to stock, except that most of the settings panels and menus are whitish backgrounds with dark text. For me, personally, the only things wrong with stock Android are the inability to add, remove and reorder quick tiles in "the other notification drawer" and the sucky camera software. So Sony passes on both accounts, and adds a couple of extra features, some of which are worthwhile.

You can set separate wallpapers for your lock- and home screens, so that's nice, but you can't have live wallpapers on your lock screen. Odd. You can mirror your screen to other devices like smart tvs. Fun. You can share your on-device media to DLNA-recievers. Useful.You can attach your DualShock 3 controller. Useless. You can unclutter your statusbar by selecting which icons to show. Lovely. There's a Smart Conect app that lets you perfor very simple Trigger/Tasker-like actions upon connecting chargers and specific networks or devices. Very nice. How about a Turn-Off-Charging-LED-While-I-Sleep action though?

As for the stock apps, it's a mixed bag. I haven't really used that many of them, because I have my own set favorites that I use across devices. So I keep using Hangouts, not "Messaging", and so on.

The "Album" (/gallery/pictures/photos/whatever) app is one of two that stand out - it's very good. It's pretty and snappy and supports Flickr, Facebooka and "Picasa" (lol). I also like that there's a lot less ambigous than in Google+ Photos as to whether I'm looking at cloud media or device media.

The dialer is the other stand-out-app, and it's a complete miss in my opinion. Primitive and hideous, especially compared to those in stock Android 4.4.2 and HTC Sense.

Touch screen responsiveness was a little spotty at first. It seemed that using something like SwiftKey's swipe feature resulted in broken up words, and touch steering games acted weird. Once again, I'm not sure if there is something wrong with my device, but if I tried any multitouch test app or generic kids' doodling app, I couldn't detect any problems. No breaks in lines, and the screens registered as many fingers as I could cram on it. But system responsiveness seemed...off.  Past tense, because the 17.1.1.A .402 update seems to have made a positive impact here too.

Keeping in thread with the other premium Snapdragon 801 flagships, Sony's firmware also has a double-tap-to-wake-the-screen-feature. Which doesn't work. At least not every time, which amounts to about the same. The 17.1.1.A .402 update has made absolutely no difference here, so I've disabled the feature, on the off chance that it comsumes even a little battery.

Obviously the review has been a while underway, and it's been refined, amended and changed as time went.
If you've enjoyed it, give me a shout on Twitter or Google+ :-)

And once again, there's a photo album that goes with it: http://c0.dk/HooolmXpZ2Photos

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