Sony launched one of its best smartphones ever, the Xperia Z3, back in September last year and a month later Google’s Nexus 6 landed on our doorstep too, packing a giant display and the latest take on Android.
Naturally, we wanted to place both of these powerhouses side by side to see how they match up.
Design: Is bigger really better?
The Z3 bears a striking resemblance to the last three Xperia Z flagships, there’s plenty of glass front and back with a more subtle rounded metal frame around the sides, room for expandable memory and full-blown IP68-certified waterproofing, which collectively makes for a pretty premium feeling package.
The Nexus 6, made by Motorola, takes last year’s Moto X design and scales it up to create this huge phablet, dwarfing the Xperia Z3 in all directions. Moto’s aesthetic is softer, you still get a precision milled aluminium frame, but the back is a curved swathe of plastic that fits more naturally in the palm. Despite the ergonomics though its sheer size means that the Z3 will win most people over when it comes to using the thing in one hand.
The Nexus 6 does also offer a hydrophobic treatment, but we wouldn’t recommend dunking this thing completely as it’s not quite as much of a water baby as the Sony.
Screen: Seeing red
Older Xperias used to struggle when it came to pushing a compelling screen, but the 5.2-inch Full HD LCD on the Z3 is undeniably beautiful, but if you can squeeze a vast 6-incher into your pocket, Motorola’s given the Nexus 6 a Quad HD AMOLED display, which means media junkies will appreciate the sharper picture and deeper blacks.
Low brightness does turn the screen a weird red hue though, which simply doesn’t happen with the Sony.
OS: Sweets are better than chocolate
When you pick up a Nexus device you know you’re getting Android as Google intended and the 6 packs the latest and greatest version, 5.0 – Lollipop. It shows off Google’s slick new Material Design language, feels fluid to swipe around and packs all the essential apps you’d want out-the-box, no real-time multi-tasking on that big screen though sadly.
Sony’s skin meanwhile isn’t too heavy, you have additional tools for organising your apps drawer, out-the-box support for all manner of Sony accessories, small apps and quick links to the company’s streaming media services.
Underneath it is an older version of Android, but Sony’s promised an update to Lollipop very, very soon.
Performance: Tightly sprung
Part of the reason Android 5.0 feels so tight on the Nexus 6 is that it boasts one of the best mobile processors you can buy right now. The Snapdragon 805 and 3GBs of RAM outpace the Z3 in general operation and even with the extra pixels to push, we rarely ran into lag or stutter.
The Z3’s 801 chip is still a great performer and for the most part you won’t feel a massive difference, intensive apps like the camera can sometimes take a little while to open, but not to any aggravating level.
You can expect up to two days of charge from both devices, and thanks to Lollipop there’s now a more comparable battery saver option to take on Sony’s impressive STAMINA Mode, even if it can’t quite boast the same super longevity.
Camera: More than just megapixels
Sony laid the groundwork for a killer camera experience about three flagships back, giving users a pretty refined snapper now that we’ve reached the Xperia Z3. That means you’ve got a huge 20.7-megapixel sensor, with decent low light performance, image stabilisation and 4K shooting capability at your fingertips.
Things get even more interesting when you dip into the settings, there’s a certain degree of manual control and a wealth of modes, from fun extras like augmented reality to live YouTube streaming.
If that all sounds a bit much however, then the Nexus 6’s camera is a much simpler affair. You get a megapixel hike over the previous Nexus 5, from 8 to 13 and image stabilisation along with 4K video recording are a nice combo too. There’s also a dual LED ring flash, but even with these efforts, the Z3 takes the cake with regards to image quality and functionality.
Verdict: Consuming and creating
Despite first impressions these phones are, for the most part, fairly well matched. The Nexus 6 looks big and bulky, but packs a slick user experience with tools to enrich your multimedia game. The Xperia Z3 meanwhile is a little more unique with its swiss-army-knife approach to photography and its Sony-specific extras.
Both phones can be had for £549.99 SIM free (a lower capacity Nexus 6 is also available for £499), which affords you 64GB of non-expandable storage in the Nexus 6, but 16GB that can be bolstered by an additional 128GBs with the Sony Xperia Z3.
Having lived with both devices for a while, we think the Z3 will more readily fit into your life and your pocket, even if the Nexus boasts one of the greatest Android experiences on the market.