THE SHORT REVIEW
THE LONG REVIEW
- Introduction and design
- Key features
- Interface and performance
- Gaming and media
Has Sony added enough to warrant a Z2 sequel already?
Oops, we did it again” should be Sony’s slogan for the new Xperia Z3, as barely have six months passed since the Z2 introduction, and now we are getting a successor. The Xperia Z3 upgrades only slightly on the Z2, but exactly where it counts. Its screen brightness and processing power now rival or surpass those of the direct competitors, while its pretty unibody glass chassis is made even thinner, still keeping the high waterproof rating.
Granted, the phone is not as futureproof as, say, the Note 4, which has a Snapdragon 805 processor, and a QHD display, but it doesn’t have to be. Its main rivals will still be the spring crop of flagships, like the Galaxy S5, or the HTC One (M8). Lets’ see how it stacks up…
The Xperia Z3, which lands alongside a new tablet and mini phone to complete the family (the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact and the Xperia Z3 Compact), is a really good phone that does it all, on paper at least.
Sony said that the reason these flagships are coming thick and fast is simply because it wants to start making waves in the high-end smartphone market, and the way to do that is always offer the best innovation.
That’s perhaps true, and perhaps customers won’t get too confused by seeing a new phone on the shelves and advertised all the time, but there’s no doubt it kills the lustre that might have been built by users having to wait a year to get the best of Sony in a smartphone.
It needs to work as well – while Sony does OK in some markets (it’s still got a lot of fans in the UK, for example) the profits are dipping in the smartphone business, and something needs to be done to arrest the slide.
Excellent outdoor visibility gets marred by cold, out-of-whack colors.
The Z3 screen remains a 5.2″ 1080×1920 pixels Triluminos display, but Sony is now touting its ability to hit 600 nits of peak brightness. We can confirm that this is indeed the case, and even measured it to hit peak 713 nits, which ensures great outdoor visibility, as the screen reflection coating does a good job, too. The minimum brightness is also excellent, at just 4 nits, allowing for comfortable reading in bed.
When it comes to color representation, in the gallery and video player the colors could look as gaudy as with AMOLED panels, due to Sony’s proprietary X-Reality engine, which boosts saturation and contrast over the top there automatically. In the Z3, however, those are now turned off by default, though you can bring them back from the display settings. You can change the screen’s white balance from the display settings menu, and Sony argues that the coldness is deliberate, throwing in some stats about people’s perception of cold screens as brighter, but the fact is that the Xperia Z3 is off the reference white mark by default, and significantly at that. Moreover, the greens and reds are somewhat oversaturated, and all colors are widely off the reference marks for the standard RGB gamut, as you can see if you look at our color chart.It is really disappointing, especially when you know that the older Z2 offers much better color fidelity.
Viewing angles are decent, compared to some previous Xperias (looking at you, Z and Z1), though contrast and colors shift a bit more than what we’ve observed with the best IPS-LCD displays. The screen has a super-sensitive mode, that allows you to operate it with gloves on, should someone ring you while on the ski lift.
Interface and functionality
With function before form, the Xperia UI offers useful goodies like double-tap to wake, and Small Apps multitasking.
Running Android 4.4.2 KitKat, the Sony Xperia Z3 sports the Xperia user interface, which tends to be rather clean and minimalistic. It does change the look and feel of most of the stock UI and built-in apps, but does so in a stylish and uniform manner. Sony’s homescreen is very easy to get used to. The manufacturer has done a good job at creating an intuitive experience that makes things like icon and widget placement (and resizing, too) easy as pie. Just like in Sony’s other Android phones, the pinch-in gesture initiates homescreen editing, where you can easily add/discard pages, add widgets/apps, change the wallpaper, or the theme. A very welcome change that comes with the Z-series now, is the ability to use the double-tap-to-wake, so you don’t have to constantly be looking for the smallish power key to unlock the display any more.
The otherwise standard-looking main menu has the ability to host folders, and an options panel that can be revealed at any time by doing a swipe gesture from the left edge of the screen. The panel lets you change the sorting or filtering of your app catalog, as well as to initiate the Uninstall mode. The execution of this options panel is not perfect, though, as you can accidentally reveal it while browsing through the menu. A very handy Google Apps folder in the homescreen dock debuts here, letting you have a quick access to all of Google’s wonders in one place, without taking extra space.
Furthermore, Sony supplies its Small Apps suite, evoked with the current apps button, which pins windowed calculator, browser, notes and other apps, on top of anything else you are running underneath, for some rudimentary multitasking on the big screen. You can now run five of those at a time, and can freely resize, or move their windows around for added convenience.
Last but not least, we have built-in screen recording functionality out of the box, chosen with a simple long-press of the power key. There you can pick from 1080p or 720p video recording, and the phone will make a video from whatever you are doing on the display. This ability was introduced with KitKat, but it’s nice to see a manufacturer optimizing it for its own overlay, as third-party screen recording apps are usually paid, and often glitchy.
Processor and memory
With barely a hint of lag throughout the interface, and plenty of RAM, the Z3 is well-equipped to meet its silicon challenges.
The Xperia Z3 is yet another phone that’s powered by Qualcomm’s technology. In this case, it is the quad-core Snapdragon 801 MSM8974-AC processor, which is the fastest in the 801 family, and is clocked at 2.5 GHz. In fact, this is the same processor that is ticking on the Galaxy S5, so the Z3 is slightly more powerful than its predecessor. Overall, performance seems to be great, both around the interface, and within apps, including 3D games. There isn’t any occasional choppiness like the one in the Galaxy S5, but there’s always just a small amount of lag that prevents the experience from having that instantaneous response that comes with the iPhone line, or the MIUI Android overlay, for instance.
Memory-wise, there are the generous 3 GB of RAM, which is still the highest number Android hits at the moment, while the basic onboard storage is 16 GB, of which just about 12 GB are user-available. Thankfully, there’s a microSD card slot, which allows you to greatly expand the phone’s storage space by installing a memory card of up to 128 GB.
Internet and connectivity
Chrome is the browser of choice for the Sony Xperia Z3, and it tends to perform lovely. As always, loading is super-fast, while navigation around pages, including scrolling and zooming, is very fluid and trouble-free. The browser was recently updated with a new interface, and souped-up performance, and we’re definitely pleased with the overall browsing experience when using Google’s Chrome for Android. Still, there are some viable third-party alternatives in the Play Store, which can display Flash content, as long as you sideload the latest version of Adobe’s now discontinued Flash Player for Android.
LTE is supported across numerous bands, so as long as your carrier of choice offers 4G, the Z3 should deliver blazing-fast cellular data speeds. Actually, it supports LTE Cat4 for download speeds of up to 150 Mbit/s, and upload speeds of up to 50 Mbit/s, provided the network conditions are optimal. In the unfortunate (but widespread) case of having no access to LTE, the Sony Xperia Z3 will default to HSPA+ (up to 42.2 Mbit/s down and 5.76 Mbit/s up).
Further completing its full set of connectivity options, the Sony Xperia Z3 is also the proud owner of support for all the latest Wi-Fi protocols (802.11 a, b, g, n, n 5GHz, ac), Bluetooth 4.0, DLNA, MHL, and NFC. Whether you want to mirror your phone’s display on a bigger screen, beam content or quickly pair with a Bluetooth accessory, the Xperia Z3 has you covered.
The earpiece of the Xperia Z3 exhibits an average call quality, as it is powerful enough to hear in noisy environments, but the voices coming through sound a tad muffled, and slightly distorted at the highest volumes. The noise-canceling microphones, on the other hand, do a great job at weeding out the ambient noises, and relaying are voice loud and clear to the other end.
Sony’s latest flagship smartphone has a pretty thin profile, but the company has still managed to fit in a large, 3100 mAh battery. With such a good capacity, the Xperia Z3 is officially said to remain operational for 16 hours of 3G talk time, or 37 days of stand-by time. Additionally, the handset should be able to deliver up to 130 hours of continuous music listening, or up to 10 hours of video playback, according to the company’s specs sheet. These are respectable battery times, which should make it possible even for users heavily relying on their phone to have a no-compromise experience for a full day or two, depending on the user’s activities and screen-on time. In fact, Sony advertises the Z3 as the “two-day battery” phone, and we can attest for this to be true.