Sony's best efforts yet culminate in its Xperia Z2 series.
The Xperia Z2 smartphone and tablet, both announced at Mobile World Congress, are Sony Mobile's new flagship devices – and it's deserving of that title. While the improvements in the Xperia Z2 phone over the Z1 on paper don't appear to be big, the actual real world experience is significantly better.
A Better Full HD LCD Screen
Much of this improved experience is owed to the new display. The display on the original Xperia Z phone was a disappointment, and while the Z1 made up lots of ground, it's the Z2 that finally lives up to all the Bravia TV branding that Sony was attaching to it.
The screen is slightly bigger at 5.2-inches and boasts an all-new 1080p TRILUMINOS display. It has Live Color LED technology that uses red and green phosphor with blue LEDs and customized color filters to produce a brighter and more uniform light. The result is richer colors on the screen without oversaturation like on some AMOLED displays. There's also the software-based X-Reality, which analyzes each image to optimize colors, sharpness and contrast while also reducing noise.
This same screen technology is also on the Xperia Z2 tablet, but in 10.1-inch form.
Better Sound With Stereo Speakers and Noise Cancellation
Sony also greatly upgraded the sound output in the Xperia Z2 by adding stereo speakers at the top and bottom of the handset, so when held in landscape mode, there's a separation between the left and right channels. The sound quality and volume are much better, but it's not going to take the place of a set of headphones – and there's a real treat in store for headphone users.
The Xperia Z2 has integrated digital noise cancellation when used with compatible MDR-NC31EM headphones – a Sony product, obviously. How noise cancellation works is through the input of a sound wave, which is then countered by the exact inverse wave. To record this input, each earbud has a small microphone that listens to the environmental noise, which is then sent and processed by the Xperia Z2 and sent back to the listener. Sony has included three noise-cancelling profiles: airplane, train/bus, and office.
In my long transatlantic flight over to Barcelona for MWC, noise cancelling headphones made air travel just a little more bearable. My Bose QC15 are still a favorite in terms of quality and comfort, but I've been traveling with them less often these days because they take up valuable carry-on baggage space. I then turned to Sony's MDR-NC13 inner-earbuds that I found at Best Buy that have a little in-line box that holds a AAA battery and the noise cancelling hardware, but still fit into my pocket and do a pretty decent job on the plane. While I haven't yet had the chance to make a comparison between all three, the Xperia Z2 solution already wins in terms of portability because all the processing is done on the phone. Also, the Xperia Z2 has different profiles for three environments. In terms of extra power overhead, a Sony engineer told us that it's about a 10 percent hit, which is fine considering that would still give you about 100 hours of music on a full charge and in airplane mode.
The same feature is also on the Z2 tablet, but with enough battery life that a 10 percent hit isn't anything to even consider.
The Same 20.7 MP Camera Learns to do 4K
One of the Xperia Z1's strong points was its 20.7 MP camera, and the company isn't messing with success. The Z2 retains the same camera hardware as the Z1, but brings the major addition of 4K video recording thanks to improved thermal design. Sony demonstrated a 4K video taken recently in Barcelona by one of its engineers; the results were very impressive. Granted, the demo reel was shot outside in daylight, but colors and detail were vivid.
Our main concern with 4K video recording is that it's mostly a technical achievement that won't have much practical use outside of short clips. We shot a very simple sample clip that ran for about 8 minutes before the device stopped recording due to heat. Now, we are talking about 4K video recording on a smartphone, so it's more a caveat emptor and not a criticism of Sony's achievement. For short clips, it works well.
Another interesting way to use the 4K video is that a 1080p section can be "pan-and-scanned" to create a new video. The example given by Sony is when recording a soccer game, instead of moving the camera wildly to follow the action, the 4K source could be cropped to focus in on the action inside a 1080p box.
Sony's also graced its camera with apps that can create cool effects such as this one called TimeShift. This uses the camera's ability to shoot at 120fps at 720 for the slow motion segments.
The Z2 tablet doesn't share the same camera as the Z2 phone. Its 8.1 sensor is by no means poor, and it has features such as HDR and camera app support, but imaging is a different priority on tablets.
Both the Xperia Z2 phone and tablet will ship globally in March.
Xperia Z2 Photos