Sony Xperia Z3+ review: A non-essential upgrade that would still be an excellent all-round smartphone, were it not for the overheating issues.
Known in other parts of the world as the Xperia Z4, Sony’s latest flagship phone isn’t a fully fledged new handset, but a stop-gap before its next big launch. So what you get is a minor step-up in specs and an all-new front-facing camera compared with the Xperia Z3, which came out at the end of 2014.
So, is the Sony Xperia Z3+ as good as the other Sony flagships, and should you upgrade if you already own an Xperia?
Sony’s Xperia flagships all look identical at first glance, but there are a fair few subtle differences as you advance from the Xperia Z1 through to the Xperia Z3+. And the Xperia Z3+ could be the most gorgeous Sony handset yet.
Sony has once again gone for rounded edges, which makes the phone comfortable to grip – no sharp, annoying edges to cut into your palms. With its shiny silver finish, the rim helps to break up the usual all-glass front and back, which thankfully is a bit more scuff-resistant than Samsung’s Galaxy S6. That’s a real relief if your fingers are as filthy and greasy as mine, as that grime doesn’t immediately smear all over the Xperia Z3+’s surfaces.
On the right edge you’ll find the rounded power button, plus a volume rocker and shutter button. They’re all perfectly located so your fingers find them naturally, but rarely (if ever) push them by accident. Switch to the left and your SIM card and microSD memory card slots are combined into one and hidden underneath a flap. You better grow your fingernails or find a paperclip to get the wee drawer out, as it’s proper buried inside the phone.
Excitingly, the Xperia Z3+ has an exposed USB port for charging, so you no longer have to fiddle with another flap every time you want to charge the bugger. Despite this, the handset is still water-resistant as usual, surviving up to half an hour in a metre or so of water (we actually found that it could survive longer than that in our tests, but regardless, we can’t imagine many scenarios where you’d be dicking around underwater for more than half an hour).
Screen and media
The Xperia Z3+ once again rocks a crisp and attractive 5.2-inch screen, just like the Xperia Z3 before it.
It’s a Full HD 1080p panel, and while that means it isn’t quite as pixel-dense as the LG G4 or the Samsung Galaxy S6’s screen, it’s still as sharp as you need for enjoying high-def movies and photos. Stick your face up to the screen and squint really hard and you still shouldn’t see any individual pixels. Colours are bold, although the Galaxy S6’s Quad HD screen produces richer images which are more visually striking.
Sony’s internal speakers are reasonably strong and clear, but you’ll really want to hook up a decent pair of earphones instead and then download some hi-res music. Sony’s flagships have had dedicated High-Resolution Audio (HRA) support for a while now and it’s a good reason for music aficionados/snobs to jump on-board, to hear every last little detail down to the lead singer picking his or her arse mid-track.
Our review model Xperia Z3+ came with 32GB of storage, although roughly 10GB of that was already used up by Android and Sony’s additions. Thankfully you can expand via microSD if you need to carry tons of photos, music or movies about, a feature missing on the Galaxy S6.
User experience and features
The Xperia Z3+ packs Android Lollipop, complete with all of the great features you’d expect like multiple user support and smart security options. On top of this is Sony’s usual wavy overlay, which basically refreshes Android’s look and feel and adds some Sony widgets and services (including its paid-for Unlimited media streaming).
If you’ve had a Sony phone in recent years, you’ll already know what to expect. Sony’s additions are generally unintrusive and a lot of its apps (Lifelog, Socialife, PS etc) can be removed without fuss, which is nice.
No surprise to hear that 4G, NFC and the usual smartphone extras are all on board, and as far as I can see there are no new additions over the Xperia Z3.
Performance and battery life
So far I’ve made it through every day without having to charge up the Xperia Z3+ before bedtime, although a couple of times it was close and the battery life doesn’t seem to be quite as strong as the Xperia Z3’s. This is most obvious when playing back video, with the phone dying after a little over four hours. That’s just below average for most smartphones.
The Xperia Z3’s Snapdragon 801 processor has been brought up to date, with a Snapdragon 810 packed inside the Xperia Z3+ instead. Which, if you’ve read Recombu (or pretty much any other tech site) lately, might set a few alarm bells ringing.
After all, the Snapdragon 810 is infamous for overheating to uncomfortable levels, which may be why Samsung ditched it for the Galaxy S6. Which leaves a serious question mark over the Xperia Z3+, namely is performance adversely affected and does the phone heat up to alarming levels during use?
Well, there’s no denying the issues with heat. Use the Xperia Z3+ to browse the web or check emails for a few minutes and you’ll notice the back of the phone starts to get a little warm, up at the top end. If you bump that up to playing games or watching HD video, the heat levels creep up too.
And while the Xperia Z3+ never got so hot that I worried my finger flesh might start to singe, it was still an uncomfortable little side-effect, especially when I slipped the phone back into my trouser pocket. Toasted nuts, anyone? And of course there’s also the worry that all of this excess heat might cause some long-term issues.
Thankfully I didn’t notice much in the way of stuttering or lag when using the phone for the first few days, with games running smoothly and HD video playing back without trouble. The only time things slowed down was when I shot some video of my own…
Sony’s rear-facing camera hardware hasn’t been tampered with too much, so you’ll once again find a 20.7-megapixel snapper housed inside the casing – no ugly jutting lenses here.
And once again it’s a great mobile camera, shooting detail-packed, colourful pics at any time of day and in pretty much any conditions. No need for a separate HDR mode as Sony’s excellent Superior Auto mode takes complex contrast in its stride and adapts well to everything from sweeping vistas to up-close macro shots.
Even when you find yourself in the near-darkness of a nightclub or basement bar, the Xperia Z3+’s optics cope well, sucking up plenty of light and producing less grain than most rival phones. And there’s always the LED flash if you’re struggling, which thankfully doesn’t turn people into brightly-lit spectres.
Sony has added even more crazy modes into its repertoire for the Xperia Z3+, mostly AR shenanigans that will please kids and anyone who likes turning themselves into a cat. Or melding their face with the visage of a loved one. The results are often either hilarious or horrifying, but should inevitably prove to be popular social shares.
However, that dreaded overheating problem was never more obvious than when I messed around with these new AR modes. In fact, the Xperia Z3+’s camera app frequently shut itself down after just a few minutes of play time, which is a real problem.
When shooting video, there were unfortunately even more performance issues. First, even when shooting simple HD clips, the picture on the phone’s display was occasionally juddery and often skipped a few frames before catching up. Thankfully the end video didn’t suffer in the same way.
The other problem was one again overheating. As you’d probably expect, shooting Full HD and 4k video makes the Xperia Z3+ rather toasty – you’ll even see a warning flash up when you select the mode. I found I could shoot HD video for around 12 minutes before I got a warning, then another few minutes before the camera app shut down.
Still, the end results are at least as solid as ever. My video clips were sharp and the lens coped admirably with changes in light and focus, while image stabilisation cut out the worst of my hand shaking.
For the Xperia Z3+, Sony has boosted the front-facing camera to a 5.1-megapixel affair – a serious leap over the Xperia Z3’s 2.2-megapixel shooter. The front-facing cam now also boasts Sony’s Superior Auto mode, which means your selfies will almost always look awesome, wherever you choose to shoot them.
Sony’s Xperia Z3+ isn’t an essential upgrade if you already own the Xperia Z3 or even the Xperia Z2, with just a slight tweaking of the specs and a couple of new features to boast of. Those heating issues are also very real and concerning, especially when using the camera.
Since the Xperia Z3+ rocks the same sharp and attractive Full HD screen as the Xperia Z3, plus a similar, gorgeously sexy design, those overheating issues make it difficult to recommend over last year’s Sony flagship. Instead, take advantage of the Z3+’s release to hunt down a decent deal on the Z3.