Sony’s new flagship Android, the Xperia Z2, risks being overshadowed here at MWC by Samsung’s latest electronic tub-thumper, the Galaxy S5. But not on the show floor at least — where a phalanx of Z2 are massed in Sony’s booth, ready for the masses to fondle.
Over the way at Samsung’s hall-sized stand there is no shortage of electronic trinkets for the hoards to eyeball — indeed, as per usual, the Samsung stand positively heaves with gizmos (and hoards). But its latest bauble is not there. The SGS5 is being displayed in a separate viewing area for media only. Sorry, suits.
It would certainly be a shame for the Xperia Z2 to be overshadowed by its big brash Android rival, for although elements of Sony’s hardware and software design continue to be a little fussy — and its Android skin still drags its feet at times (despite a beefy 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon engine and 3GB of RAM) — Sony’s screen, camera and multimedia expertise is definitely starting to shine through. And that puts some clear blue water between Sony and other Androids OEMs — even the really big South Korean one.
The Z2 packs a 5.2-inch display, which is only a marginal increase on the 5-inch panes on last year’s Z1 and Z, gently edging the handset into phablet territory. Yet this generous size is offset by its weight — or rather its lightness. It feels crazy light to handle. Add to that it’s just 8.2mm thin so really this is more screen than phone. Just as well, then, that the screen is a thing of beauty.
Unlike many of its Android-powered rivals, Sony does not go in for the cartoon unreality of over-saturated displays. And that quest for tonal truth pays off on the Z2’s big screen — resulting in something that, paradoxically, can make real life appear more glamorous when you’re looking at it through the lens of this device.
Seeing your mundane surroundings sensitively lit up via Sony’s portal can lend them a little of the cinema vs the shrill high-contrast crudity you get with less pro phone screen and camera tech. Clearly, the Z2’s raison d’être is multimedia. This is a phone for viewing and capturing photos and video. (The 20.7MP rear camera is the same as the earlier Z1 but the quality of the shots it delivers means there’s nothing to complain about there).
The Z2’s waterproof and dustproof special powers just feed into that function — allowing the user to be unafraid to take the Z2 out in a variety of environments to film and snap cool stuff.
The handset’s flagship feature is an ability to capture 4K footage — although its full HD res itself is not 4K, so you still need that Sony (or so Sony hopes) ultra HD 4K TV to view the full footage. Otherwise you can watch a standard HD version of your 4K footage on the device. 4K TVs are hardly common at this point in time, so there’s certainly an element of gimmick in the addition of this feature right now. But it does allow the Z2 to raise a flag to recruit multimedia nerds to its ultra high res cause.
Also on board: a suite of (new) made-by-Sony camera and video apps that offer the user a variety of special effects for augmenting videos and photos. Effects include the ability to add slow motion and Instagram style filters to video footage. There’s also a Lytro-style background defocusing mode for altering background blur in photos to generate an impression of movement, or better draw the eye to your subject.
Here too, there is some gimmicky stuff — a 3D special effects mode that augments your video footage with virtual scenery and characters, including dinosaurs and, er, volcanos, is certainly not subtle. But full marks for effort Sony.
The Z2’s screen also has IPS tech for improved multi-angle viewing, so you and more buddies can huddle around the phone to watch more stuff. The front of the device also has stereo speakers. And there’s stereo audio recording to complement the 4K video ability. Plus digital noise canceling tech to smooth any rough environmental edges off of your multimedia viewing experience. Smooth, Sony, smooth.
The most unattractive aspect of the device is Sony’s Android skin. Which has never been beautiful but has not dated well at all. It remains cluttered, fiddly and visually unappealing — with ugly widgets and gimmicky 3D animations to contend with. Landing back in these unappealing digital environs after you’ve been looking at the world through the Z2’s portal/lens definitely feels like an anticlimax. Hopefully Sony’s next job will be giving that Android skin a much-needed makeover — to do justice to its high-end multimedia focus.