During the first half of 2014 we’ve seen a trilogy of top-tier smartphone releases from three major players, starting with the excellent HTC One M8, the refined Samsung Galaxy S5 and rounding things up, the Sony Xperia Z2. There’s certainly no shortage of choice for a smartphone buyer, with these and potentially many other quality options all vying for a spot in users' pocket.

The Xperia Z2 is the culmination of a series of refinements to Sony's formula, it doesn’t stray significantly from the Z1 that came before it, but every upgrade since the original Xperia Z has been of note. As the third flagship Xperia device release since the beginning of 2013, it shows the company's efforts to build beautiful devices with generally well-rounded features.

Sony Xperia Z2 - $670 unlocked

  • 5.2”, 1920 x 1080 IPS LCD display (425 ppi)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 SoC
  • 2.3 GHz quad-core CPU, Adreno 330 GPU, 3GB RAM
  • 16 GB internal storage, microSD card slot
  • 20.7 MP camera, 1/2.3” sensor, f/2.0 lens, 4K video
  • IP55 and IP58 water resistant
  • 3,200 mAh, 12.12 Wh battery
  • LTE, Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC
  • Android 4.4 ‘KitKat’
  • 163 grams, 8.2mm thick

The headlining feature of the Xperia Z2 is a brand new 5.2-inch IPS LCD display that promises to go above and beyond the uninspired display choices Sony has dished up in the past. It’s complemented by a waterproof design, the same 20.7-megapixel camera we’ve praised before, and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 SoC to power it all.

We’re looking at a top of the line phone with all the latest and greatest specifications, making it a very compelling battle between this and the flagship offerings from Samsung and HTC. Which handset will come out on top in the race for the best?

Design

Without looking closely, it’s hard to distinguish the Xperia Z2 from the Xperia Z1. Both phones use a distinctive rectangular slate design with smooth glass (or glass-like plastic) on both sides and a series of flaps around the edges. There’s a camera in the top-left corner of the back panel, flanked by branding, and the display sits smack-bang in the middle of the front. The visually odd dock connector also can be seen on the left side of both.

Click on any photo to enlarge

The Sony design language we’ve come to know and love is ever-present on the Xperia Z2. The aforementioned use of glass on both the front and back of the handset looks sleek and gives the phone a touch of class, even if it is a fingerprint magnet. Around the edges, Sony has purposed aluminium to add highlights and a bit of visual flare to the otherwise minimalist design.

There’s no doubting the Xperia Z2 is a well-constructed, strong device that uses high quality materials. It still sits behind the aluminium-clad HTC One M8 in terms of overall look and feel, but the premium aesthetics are present, as they should be for an expensive high-end smartphone.

Due to the rectangular slab design, the Xperia Z2 isn’t the most ergonomic smartphone going around. It may be 8.2mm thin – essentially as thin as the Samsung Galaxy S5 – but its lack of curvature makes it feel larger, thicker and more cumbersome. Thankfully there’s no jarring edges to cut into your hands, and the slate design looks quite good, otherwise Sony’s reluctance to ‘hide’ the size of the smartphone through clever curves would come under fire.

There’s also a certain amount of heft to the Xperia Z2, with all the premium materials adding up to a final weight of 163 grams. While this is the heaviest and densest phone of the trilogy, it’s no Nokia Lumia 920, and so long as your pockets aren’t made of tissue paper it should be fine.

There are some aspects of the Xperia Z2’s design that I’m a huge fan of. One such aspect is the placement of the small, circular power button, which just so happens to be in the perfect position while you’re holding the device.

A dedicated camera button down below the volume rocker is also welcome, allowing you to use the smartphone’s camera as you would a point-and-shoot.

On the other side of the phone is the weird dock connector, which looks and feels terrible. I have no idea why this connector isn’t flush with the body of the smartphone and better worked into the otherwise clean design. Meanwhile, on the top of the phone is the 3.5mm headphone jack, and on the bottom is a hole for your charm attachments and some dots for the microphone.

Around the edges you’ll also notice the flaps covering the various ports and slots, which is due to the IP55 and IP58 water and dust resistance. All of Sony’s high-end smartphones and tablets since the Xperia Z have been waterproofed, and more recently other manufacturers like Samsung have been following suit. On the Xperia Z2, the flap on the left side protects the micro-SIM slot and microUSB port, while the one on the right covers the microSD card slot.

The Xperia Z2 is rated to withstand dust ingress, low pressure water jets, and submersion in fresh water up to 1.5m in depth for 30 minutes. Like I’ve mentioned in past reviews, I’m not convinced water resistance is a hugely important feature when it comes with trade-offs like annoying flaps, although the dedicated camera button on the Z2 does make it easier to use the handset as an underwater camera. Just don’t take it to the beach, as saltwater will corrode the internal components.

From left to right: Sony Xperia Z1, Sony Xperia Z2, HTC One (M8), Samsung Galaxy S5

On the Xperia Z1, the main speaker was located on the bottom edge, however on the Z2 Sony is taking a leaf out of HTC’s books. The handset features dual front facing speakers above and below the display, visible only as two small, well-hidden slits. They don’t pack nearly the same quality or loudness of HTC’s BoomSound speakers, but they get the job done and are particularly effective while gaming or viewing videos.

Hidden alongside the top speaker is a large, beautiful RGB notification LED, which is both well integrated into the Xperia Z2’s design and easy to spot. The notification light is one of my favourite aspects of Android, and I enjoy seeing clever implementations like this.