The latest Sony flagship smartphone, the Xperia Z2 now available in Canada exclusively on Bell's network, has a problem with its signature feature: The camera overheats and shuts down.
After customer reports and complaints in Singapore and the United Kingdom, the company has issued a statement suggesting users use the video features "in short bursts of no longer than a few minutes at a time."
Sony's tagline for the Z2 is "the world's best camera and camcorder in a waterproof smartphone." The phone features a massive 20.7 megapixel image sensor, but having the Android-powered device overheat and shut down through normal use is surprising for a $700 smartphone (unlocked, available for much less on contract from Bell). In its marketing materials the company called the new device "the best image quality and Sony's most advanced camcorder ever in an 8.2 mm slim smartphone." It is one of the only smartphones that shoots 4K video, but even in Globe and Mail tests with recent high-end devices from Samsung, Apple and Nokia (including the 41 megapixel Lumia 1020) we have never had a camera shut down from overheating.
After shooting a short video in 4K mode (ultra high HD setting records in 3840 x 2160 pixels, unlike 1080 pixels of standard HD) and then testing some of the other still-image camera modes, we were given an on-screen warning: "Temperature is getting high! Camera will be shut off when it gets too hot. Do you want to close it now?" Before we could select "Yes," it shut itself off.
After letting it cool down, the next day we were able to replicate the overheating after only about five minutes of shooting in 4K, indoors. After the first warning, as little as one minute of shooting would prompt a second shut-down. And while not hot to the touch, the glass back was warm.
Sony Mobile's official statement on the issue suggests that user just limit the use of the camera, which one of the most-used features on most smartphones: "We are aware of some users encountering issues when shooting 4K video for extended periods. Shooting movies in high quality 4K resolution can make significant demands on your phone's processor and battery life, as well as phone memory. Therefore for the best experience, we recommend you install a high capacity SD card (Xperia Z2 can take a card up to 128GB) and shoot 4K video in short bursts of no longer than a few minutes at a time."
Surprisingly, Sony has not yet announced a partnership with a U.S. wireless carrier for the Z2, but was expected to launch the device in the U.S. by mid-May.
"Sony is facing a very uphill battle in the U.S., as they are low single-digit market share going up against more successful smartphone brands that are garnering the attention of consumers and operators," says Hugues de la Vergne, the lead smart phone analyst for Gartner research. Mr. de la Vergne was hesitant to speculate on the potential manufacturing or software problems that could cause a camera fault like this, which should have been caught in testing. But it's clear Sony doesn't need any own-goals as it struggles to break open the U.S. market.
"Larger brands, like a Samsung or LG, have the ability to provide significant co-marketing dollars [to wireless carriers]. Sony, they don't have that kind of economy of scale." On a related note, he was surprised that the Z2 still did not make better use of Sony's large, exclusive content library. "That is a tremendous asset, that other smartphone makers lack. This is something they were going to do and we still don't see them doing that like they could"
The Xperia Z line has been dubbed the Japanese company's "iPhone killer," and was an early test of CEO Kaz Hirai's desire to end the "silo" culture of Sony's warring divisions: It incorporates software from PlayStation, some entertainment content from its film and music studios, image technology from its camera division, and screen technology from its flat panel business. In Canada, the phone comes pre-loaded with Bell Mobile TV offerings.
In 2013, Sony Mobile sold about 37 million phones worldwide, good for 2.1 per cent of the smartphone market according to analysts at Gartner.
Some gadget review sites have written reviews that bash the Z2's camera performance in terms of software, image processing, auto-focus issues and colour balance problems. But most of the mainstream reviews didn't mention the overheating.
In its U.K. review ZDnet noticed the heat, but still gave it a positive overall 8.8 out of 10 review: "When using the advanced camera effects, we found that the handset started to run warm, with significant heat coming through the backplate. In fact, before we had finished working with it, the handset automatically shut the camera down, telling us this was because of hot running." Meanwhile, customer complaints have also included worries about gaps in the waterproof case.