Waterproof, capable of 4K video recording and thin enough to slice butter, Sony's new Xperia Z2 flagship is already looking like the phone to beat at MWC 2014.
We were big fans of the Xperia Z1 (and its compact little bro), and Sony has been wise not to break the mould when it comes to the design of the Xperia Z2. 8.2mm thick with a 5.2-inch full HD screen, it retains the two-tone black with aluminium trim design of its predecessor. Power, volume and dedicated camera shutter buttons sit on the right hand side of the phone, which is again dust-resistant and waterproof to IP55 and IP58 standards. Though slight, it feels solidly constructed — it reminded me of the 2001: A Space Odyssey monolith in my hand — with edges slightly more rounded than with the Z1.
Under the hood is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 2.3GHz quad-core processor, backed by 3GB of RAM. That's more than enough to to fly through the handset's lightly-tweaked Android 4.4 interface. Onscreen back, home and menu buttons sit below a quick-app launcher, while there's a few Sony-specific widgets, such as the "What's New" pane, pushing Sony's digital storefront for music to the fore of five homescreens.
It's with the camera however where the Z2 gets really interesting. It's equipped with a 20.7MP still camera on the rear, capable of shooting 4K video. It's using a 1/2.3-type Exmor RS CMOS image sensor and G Lens, with Sony's BIONZ image processing engine doing the grunt work. Sony's calling it "the world's best camera and camcorder in a waterproof smartphone", but adding the "...in a waterproof smartphone" disclaimer on the end there may be doing it a disservice.
Along with a bunch of creative effect modes and the returning Jurassic Park-inspired AR mode (which puts an animated T-Rex on your desk), there are some new, genuinely-useful camera software features. First up there's a background defocus option, doing a good job of simulating a shallow depth of field without having to delve into complicated settings. Then there's the Timeshift video option, which was particularly smart. It allows for video to be shot at a super-slow 120 frames per second, with the user selectively picking which bits of a clip to add the snail-like effect to. Tweaking the video on the fly was a breeze thanks to a clear, curved timeline scrubber, and the phone showed no sign of wheezing as I selected different chunks of my video to slow. It'll be a great feature for sporty types looking to milk a clip a particularly spectacular goal, for instance.
As for the 4K video, we weren't able to see its quality blown up to an actual 4K TV, so the jury is out there for the time being. With the phone hooked up to a standard 1080p Sony TV though, on-hand reps did give an impressive demo that allowed for pinch-zooming into 4K video whilst it was playing back, letting the viewer zoom in on details with all the clarity that would (presumably) be provided by a 4K TV.
Being left to view video on the phone's own 5.2-inch screen is no problem though, as it is lush. Sony's packed the phone with its Triluminos display tech and X-Reality upscaler and image enhancer. Showing the same content side-by-side on a Z1 and a Z2, there was a marked improvement in contrast levels and colour vibrancy. The Z1 screen was great anyway, and unless Sony was pulling a fast one with the videos and photos it showed off, the Z2's screen looked notably richer. A 3200mAh battery should give the handset some stamina between charges too.
Sony isn't scrimping on the freebies that will be packaged in with the Z2 either. The handset features pretty decent built-in digital noise cancelling tech, and in the UK Sony will be throwing in a pair of in-ear MDR NC31EM headphones for free, blocking out a good chunk of ambient sound. 30 days free access to Sony's Music Unlimited service will also be included, as will six digital flicks from the Sony Pictures studio through the Video Unlimited service.
As ever with Sony, there's no pricing available yet, though it's expecting to put the handset into shops globally by March. From my brief time with the handset, it's looking very attractive — rather than bloating the great Z1, Sony has refined its best features, and made sensible, mostly-subtle additions elsewhere. The Samsung Galaxy S5 (if that's indeed to be revealed tonight) will have to offer something pretty special to steal the Z2's thunder.