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Sony Xperia Z3 Review: In Depth


The Good

  • Nicest design on the market
  • Impressive camera experience
  • Stunning display
  • Unique PlayStation implementation

The Bad

  • Not a major update over the Z2
  • Isn't particularly well future-proofed
  • Camera results vary
  • Battery isn't quite as good as promised

Eagle-eyed readers may have already spotted our Z3 Compact review, but now we’re test-driving its bigger brother, the Sony Xperia Z3.

Sony’s Xperia Z3 family was unveiled on the floor at IFA in Berlin earlier this month, spearheaded by the new full fat Xperia Z3. Alongside the Compact and Tablet Compact, this new flagship smartphone is, as always, hoping to offer the best of Sony’s technologies and services in one device – there’s a lot to pack in there, so let’s get started.

Sony Xperia Z3 review: Design

As far as aesthetics go, in recent years Sony has been the company responsible for producing some of the cleanest, most elegant looking smartphones on the market. The Xperia Z3 is the epitome of this notion, making the already stark Xperia Z2 design look convoluted by comparison.

Z3 front Z3 back

Just as Apple has done with its latest smartphones, the company has replaced slab sides with far subtler rounding. The aluminium frame features curved edges and rounded corners that are less aggressive, more comfortable to hold and give the phone a more contemporary feel.

It doesn’t have the same showboating flare of the HTC One (M8) or the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, it doesn’t need it. Instead it exudes understated class – it’s a powerful smartphone, but it doesn’t like to brag; think Bentley Continental GTC rather than Lamborghini Sesto Elemento.

Z3 USB Z3 power button

It may pack near identical hardware to the Z2, but it’s wrapped up in a body that’s slimmer and lighter in every way. Fit and finish is also incredible, with minute tolerances providing near-seamless edges and faces; the aluminium power button being a prime example of this fact.

Despite the minimalism, the Z3’s body still accommodates a nanoSIM, microSD card slot and a microUSB port for charging, all covered by sealed flaps that give the Z3 impressive IP65/68 water and dust resistance; the highest we’ve seen from a Sony smartphone. The hardware shutter key also scores major points and technically means you can grab snaps and video underwater.

Sony Xperia Z3 review: Screen

5.2-inches, IPS LCD technology and Full HD resolution ensure that the Z3’s Triluminos screen is easy on the eyes. The Z3 is a thing of beauty with the screen off, but power it on and you’re treated to a wonderfully crisp, bright and colourful experience.

Z3 screen

The hardware is more than capable of delivering an accurate and enjoyable picture; brightness drops off a little at more extreme angles, but no more than the current competition. Sony doesn’t just work with the hardware though; it draws on its skills in the TV market too, throwing in its X-Reality Engine technology, which provides improved contrast and sharpness on text, pictures and video when it’s needed.

Some might balk at the idea of picking up a late 2014 flagship with Full HD resolution over the incoming Quad HD panels that the LG G3, Samsung Galaxy Note 4, Note Edge and Galaxy S5 LTE-A already rock, but in practice you won’t feel short changed with the visuals pushed out by the Xperia Z3.

Sony Xperia Z3 review: OS

Just as the Nexus 5’s take on Android went for less text and larger icons, so too has the skinned user experience on the Sony Xperia Z3. The apps drawer and homescreen icons are big and bold, ensuring they’re easy to see and read, taking up the entire screen. Sony’s learnt from older designs in this way; clearly working hard to avoid the ghosts of more convoluted interfaces past. That said, the abundance of Sony widgets on display by default is a little overwhelming; at least you can customise the interface with just a few taps.

Z3 - screen 1 Z3 - screen 2 Z3 screen 3

As ever, there are a number of Sony services tied into the UX - Music and Video Unlimited aim to take on the likes of Spotify and Netflix out-the-box, whilst the PlayStation Remote Play functionality finally marries the console and mobile gaming experiences perfectly. Players can pause mid-game on their PlayStation 4 and continue the action of the Z3 via a stable WiFi connection. Rumours of being able to use this feature on a different network to the console have also been hinted at, but we can’t confirm this idea (although it’s awesome if it's true).

Sony has also included lots of behind the scenes tweaks that cumulatively offer users a better experience than previous Sony flagships. Dip into the settings and you’ll find controls for NFC, wireless printing, fine grain notification management, power and data management, super-sensitive touchscreen control, easy social network integration and even motion control. In a word, ‘packed’.

Sony Xperia Z3 review: Performance

For all the praises we’ve sung the Xperia Z3 thus far, a look at the spec sheet and you’ll see that technically, underneath it’s simply an iterative upgrade over the Z2, which we met at the start of the year.

We commended Sony for ironing the creases out of the Xperia Z1 in the Z2 and it’s the same story once more. It feels as the though the company knows it has a good thing going with the current Xperia Z flagship arrangement, but it’s too scared to try something new. When you get down to it, this Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 is superior to the same chipset found in the Z2, but not by much.

Z3 shutter button

We can’t see conclusive evidence that the faster processor is helping, but that’s probably because the Z2 already boasted a buttery smooth user experience and the Z3 is no different. You can swipe and multitask as fast as you like, lag didn’t rear its ugly head once in our time with the phone.

The killer performance boost comes with the 3100mAh battery (surprisingly smaller than the Z2’s). Such a big cell should yield pleasing results, but Sony confidently claims the Xperia Z3 hardware pushes beyond the pleasing to the astounding, with two days of use between charges. Whilst we don’t doubt that for some users, the Z3 will manage two days without sustenance from the off, our fresh battery might need running in somewhat before it reaches such lofty heights.

Without Stamina Mode, we still managed just under a day and half (switching it off at night) and that included streaming and recording a ton of video, web browsing, 3D gaming, plenty of time on social networks and a handful of phone calls.

Sony Xperia Z3 review: Camera

The Xperia line maintains the title for holding the largest megapixel-toting Android phone in its midst. The Xperia Z3 relies on the same mammoth 20.7-megapixel sensor that we’ve previously seen, but this time the software has been supercharged with more modes and additional capabilities.

Our iPhone 6 launch day coverage was all captured using the Xperia Z3’s still and video chops if you’re looking for an abundance of additional test content. We were impressed with the phone’s low light performance and detail in most conditions. The automatic shooting mode doesn’t always yield the best results, so it sometimes pays to go manual, provided you have the time.

Z3 camera

Video is the camera’s biggest strength. Sony says it’s brought in the SteadyShot technology from its Handycam line and it isn’t joking. The image stability is second to none (at least with regards to smartphones), not to mention there are options for 4K recording and 120fps slow-motion video, albeit at 720p rather than Full HD.

Z3 camera modes Z3 Face In Z3 camera - AR

There are a ton of new modes onboard the Z3’s camera – there are more interactive augmented reality experiences to be had, a fun ‘Face in’ mode which throws your mug, using the front the 2.2-megapixel camera, onto subjects captured on the rear camera. The Multi-camera mode adds the ability to record multiple angles via wirelessly connected additional cameras like the Sony QX10 - a first for a smartphone as far as we’re aware. The Z3 is also one of the few (if not the only) smartphone(s) to feature dedicated modes for live streaming to both Facebook and YouTube too.

Sony Xperia Z3 review: Verdict

If it isn’t clear, we’re just as bowled over by the Xperia Z3 as we were by its compact little brother. The big caveat is that as it shares so much of its hardware with its predecessor, it may not have the longevity of other devices hitting the market like the Galaxy Note 4.

Z3 3/4

It rights many of the missteps of its Z2, boasts a number of skills that nothing else on the market can match and rocks one of the most attractive designs around. Buy the Sony Xperia Z3, you won’t be disappointed.

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