Sony Xperia Z2 review: An Android phone with a surprisingly good camera

Sony’s latest comes to Canada

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The Xperia Z2 is big, but still feels good in your hand (Peter Nowak)

The Xperia Z2 is big, but still feels good in your hand (Peter Nowak)

A couple weeks ago, I took a look at the crop of new Android smartphones hitting carriers this spring, including the HTC One, the LG Flex and the Samsung Galaxy S5. I’ve had some time now to test out Sony’s new Xperia Z2, so let’s add another review to the pile.

Generally speaking, I quite like the Z2, which is coming to Canada in May. It’s exclusive to Bell for now, but it will also be sold unlocked in Sony stores to anyone who wants to shell out its full $699 price tag. It’s a big device, to be sure, with a 5.2-inch display, but it still feels good in your hand. That’s due to its solid construction, with an aluminum frame and a solid glass front and back that makes it feel sturdy. I wouldn’t want to drop it, even though it feels like it could survive the ordeal.

All told, the Z2 is about as big a phone as I’d like to handle, which is to say that I’d stop short of a phablet like the Galaxy Note 3. Indeed, after trying out so many bigger-screen devices, I have to agree with many of the pundits who are crying out for Apple to up the iPhone’s visual real-estate size. It now feels puny in comparison.

The Z2′s screen is also super sharp, with a resolution of 1080 x 1920 and 424 pixels per inch. That’s slightly below the HTC One and Galaxy S5, but it’s hardly noticeable. All three devices have really nice displays.

Like Samsung’s new phone, the Z2 is also water- and dust-proof. It’s still too cold to go swimming so I wasn’t able to take any underwater shots with the camera, but I did dunk it in the bathtub and it kept working.

Speaking of the camera, it’s one of the best that can be found on an Android device. It’s got a whopping 20 megapixels, but as everyone knows by now, it’s not the size of the megapixels that counts but rather the magic that’s in them. The Z2′s camera performs well in most brightly-lit daylight situations, with a host of different manual customization options including white balance and exposure adjustment. The only problem with using custom settings is that they bust the camera down to just 8 megapixels.

That said, photos generally still look great. Sony has even made some progress in getting low-light photos to approach acceptability, although in such cases a proper camera is still far superior.

So is the Z2′s camera as good as the iPhone 5S’s? It’s tempting to say so, given that any photos taken with Sony’s device get the benefit of a much bigger display, but I still think Apple (and Nokia) have the lead in camera phones. Despite years of improvements and copious megapixels, Android still doesn’t seem to measure up.

The Z2 also shoots 4K video, but there are a few problems here. First is the fact that the camera tends to auto-refocus while shooting, which can be very annoying. There’s also the issue of not having anything to properly view the videos on, unless you want to drop a couple thousand dollars on an ultra-high-definition TV. It’s great that 4K/UHD is arriving on mobile devices, but it’s still early days for the technology elsewhere.

Otherwise, Sony’s new flagship device doesn’t have much else to differentiate itself, besides integration with the company’s Unlimited music and video stores and PlayStation Mobile. Truth be told, much of this sort of content can already be found through the regular Google Play store so there isn’t much that’s exclusive and/or desirable.

The Z2 is refreshingly free from bloatware so it’s a straightforward Android experience, running the latest KitKat 4.4 version. In terms of battery life, it’s also on par with pretty much everything else out there, meaning that you’ll have to charge it every day.

Ultimately, the Z2 is a strong – if expensive – phone that you can’t really go wrong with. With Android devices having only a precious few ways to differentiate themselves from each other, it’s really coming down to simple aesthetic preferences and brand loyalty at this point. The Z2 doesn’t have much to lure away loyal users of other devices, but at the same time it isn’t lacking anything that might cause existing Sony users to flee either.

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