Twelve months after Sony launched the mighty Xperia Z3 mobile in Berlin, we re-review this sexy slab of smartphone.
Curse those flaps
Over the past year I’ve found myself returning to the Sony Xperia Z3 time and time again, for all kinds of reasons.
For a start, it’s bloody gorgeous. It’s no wonder Samsung decided to go with a glass and metal design for the Galaxy S6, after the Xperia range was consistently praised for its lovely looks. The Xperia Z3 stands out from other phones with its reflective surfaces and yet still manages to resist scratches and scuffs when battered about. After twelve months, our Z3 still looks brand new after a quick polish with a cloth.
Those curved edges feel great against your palm, an improvement on the harsh edges of the Xperia Z2. And that iconic circular power button falls perfectly beneath your thumb or finger for easy access.
The Xperia Z3 is of course fully water resistant too, now a standard Sony feature. Sadly the screen goes crazy when wet, opening apps and flipping about on its own accord, so it’s difficult as hell to use in the rain. But at least if you drop it in the bogs, the thing won’t conk out.
My only bugbear is the flap that covers the USB port, which has to be pulled out every time you want to charge the Z3 and then securely pushed back afterwards. The Xperia Z3+, which came out in the UK just two months ago, banished the flap and left the port exposed while retaining the water-proofing. It’s a lot less annoying, but the Z3+ sadly fails in other areas, which we’ll touch on later.
You can just about get away with using the Z3+ one-handed, but the Z3 Compact is a much better size for fiddling with one mitt. Actually, the Z3 Compact is a very good mini version of this phone, and still my favourite sub-five-inch mobile: check out my One Year Later Review if you don’t believe me.
Sure, the likes of the LG G4 and Samsung Galaxy S6 now pack gloriously sharp Quad HD screens, cramming an insane number of pixels into each panel. But even though the Xperia Z3 makes do with a ‘basic’ Full HD 1080p resolution, it’s still a very attractive way to take in a movie on the commute. You need to basically hold the phone up to your face and squint to see individual pixels, so it more than does the job.
Viewing angles aren’t the best, with a slight darkening as you tilt the screen away from you, but that’s pretty much the worst criticism I can level at the screen. It’s pleasingly vibrant with rich colour reproduction and bright enough to make for easy viewing when the sun pokes out.
And one area where the Xperia Z3 wins out over the Galaxy S6 is its expandable storage. Got a load of HD movies and other media that you want to carry around? No problem, just stick it all on a microSD memory card and you’re good to go.
Long lasting, excellent performer
The Xperia Z3 packs a Snapdragon 801 processor and 3GB of RAM, and a full year on – despite piling loads of apps on and running various updates – it’s still a smooth operator. Games play perfectly well and you can multi-task without slowdown, using Sony’s Small Apps feature.
Will it still be a top performer in another year, when the Snapdragon 801 really starts to show its age? Well, you’ll have to read our two-year review to find out, but we reckon the Z3 will start to creak a little by then. Nothing a quick factory reset won’t fix though.
As for battery life, I never quite managed to get a full two days of use out of the Z3, despite Sony’s claims. However, I’m still more than happy with the day and a half of life I get between charges, which is among the best results from modern smartphones. And non-stop media streaming gives roughly five and a half hours of playback, which is a respectable result.
The Sony Xperia Z3’s 20.7-megapixel camera still holds up well too, although the likes of the LG G4 and Samsung Galaxy S6 have taken its crown as best smartphone snapper.
Every shot is packed with detail and Sony’s Superior Auto mode makes taking great photos impressively easy. Dealing well with almost any conditions, all you need to do is aim and tap. And the Z3 is still one of the best cameras for low-light situations, sucking in plenty of light to reduce grain levels.
Meanwhile, the AR modes are great fun for kids, allowing you to mess around with images in real-time and add funky effects.
The Z3 does still overheat when shooting 4k video, but it’s far less of a problem with this handset compared with the Z3+. The Z3+ will often get so hot, even when merely messing around with AR stuff, that the app is forced to close down. Not exactly very confidence-inspiring.
So, twelve months on, would I recommend buying the Xperia Z3? Certainly. I have a little more love in my heart for the excellent Xperia Z3 Compact, purely because of its convenient and super-comfortable form factor. But the Z3 is easily Sony’s second-best handset (ahead of the Xperia Z3+) and at just over £300 these days it’s solid value.
However, for the same price you can also snap up the OnePlus 2, which sports a more up-to-date processor and a seriously slick interface. So make sure you check out our latest reviews before committing.
Read next: LG G3 One Year Review