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Marketed with “Demand Great” by Sony, the XPERIA Z3 is a high-end phone that has a lot of attributes that are attractive: a thin metal and glass design, an IP65/68 ruggedness rating (water and dustproof), along with Sony’s best camera sensor available for mobiles (Sony has more than 50% worldwide sensor market share). In addition to these core characteristics, Sony claims to have a two day battery life, and of course, it is the only phone that supports the PlayStation 4 with a Remote Play (game streaming) capability. All of this -and more- seems pretty tempting, but how is it to actually use the XPERIA Z3 in the real world? I’ve used it for nearly a couple of months, and here are my findings.

Context

Before we dive into the review, let me tell you quickly how I use my phones, so that you can have a good sense for similarities, but also differences. I typically use large-displays phones (5” to 6”), and Email along with Facebook and the Camera app are probably the bulk of my regular usage.

I use specialty apps every once in a while, but I normally don’t play games or watch movies, unless I am *really* bored with no other alternative. To be honest, I don’t even do that in a plane unless there’s a USB plug to charge the phone. I spend a good chunk of my time at the office, which means that the phone is connected to WiFi most of the time. However, I sometime travel internationally or go to trade shows, and that’s when the phone’s battery is really put to the test.

Design (excellent)

sony-xperia-z3-z3v-review-12I’ll let you judge the look for yourself, but I find the XPERIA Z3 to look great and it does feel premium. As you touch it, it is evidently clear that it is very thin (comparable to the iPhone 6), and I have to say that the contact of glass and metal makes it seem expensive and sturdy (in the sense that the structure is extremely rigid, not talking about drops).

Note that the Z3 comes if a couple of different designs, depending on your carrier. However, I’m basing this review on the T-Mobile version (model D6616), which is what most Z3 phones in the world will look like. Verizon version details later."THE Z3 IS A BEAUTY"

The front of the Sony XPERIA Z3 is very simple and classy. Depending on your carrier, you may have more or less branding, but chances are that the Sony logo will be the only one visible. I think that it would have been even more beautiful without any branding in the front – just saying. The Z3 is a beauty, so much in fact that when I went to pick up some stuff at the Apple store, the employee that helped me out asked to take a close look at it and was relatively impressed by the build quality.

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On the right side, you will find the Power, Volume and Camera Shutter controls. There’s also a watertight trap for the microSD card and the nano-SIM card. The left side houses the rear speaker, a connector for a cradle and a water-tight trap for the micro-USB connector (charge & sync).

The bottom of the phone is plain and has no connector at all, and the top only has the 3.5mm audio jack, along with a tiny hole for one of the microphones.

Removing the water-sealed cap to charge is sometime a bit annoying, so if you’re going to keep your XPERIA for a couple of years, you may want to look at the dock. However, it’s well worth the effort if that can save your phone from water contact, and you would have to put up with the same effort if you were going to have the Galaxy S5, for instance. The Z3 has a higher rugedness rating than the XPERIA Z2, going from IP58 to IP68."Z3 HAS A HIGHER RUGEDNESS RATING"

The back of the phone is also neat, but has more branding: there’s some small text for the lens/camera, an NFC logo to show where people should get close to for connecting, the XPERIA logo in the middle, and finally, the T-Mobile logo at the bottom. It’s done with taste, but again, the design would have looked more classy without the camera/lens text, and I’m not sure that the NFC logo is necessary to make a successful connection.  Maybe that’s food for thoughts for future designs.

Overall, I would give the highest marks to Sony for its XPERIA Z3 design. The look and quality are excellent, and although it does have the side effect of featuring a smaller battery, it’s easy to imagine that Sony could scale this design to a 3000 mAh+ smartphone, so that’s really a product marketing decision.

Verizon XPERIA Z3v

Left: the Sony Z3v for Verizon

Left: the Sony Z3v for Verizon

The Verizon XPERIA Z3v is a little bulkier and has a design language closer to the XPERIA Z2 phone, although it’s not the same design either. Internally, Sony points out that both phones share the same hardware platform and nearly all the same apps and software. The main difference is the battery capacity of 3200 mAh (Z3v) which is a bit higher than the 3100 mAh of the Z3. Also, the Z3v has built-in wireless charging, while the Z3 does not.

The cosmetic differences are substantial, so we want to make sure that you know how different they look, and here’s a photo gallery for that:

Display (very good)

While many reviewers say that the XPERIA Z3 “inherits” the display of the XPERIA Z2, I think that there is a significant progress here. The Z2 display that I’ve played with had lesser black levels, and since the release of the original XPERIA Z, Sony has done a great job catching up with the competition in terms of display quality. At the moment, the 1080p resolution is not really “edgy”, but the image quality is very good. This is a of critical importance since you’re looking at the display every single time you use the phone.

There’s no question that some users will demand higher resolution or pixel density (expressed in PPI), but although it is arguably very nice to have, I didn’t think that it degrades the user experience in a significant manner, but that’s up to you to decide. I’m saying that coming from an LG G3 which was the highest pixel density phone of its time.

While the 5.2” screen may not be gigantic, Sony has done a very good job of making it a prominent feature of the phone: with a display to body ratio of 75.5%, the XPERIA Z3 ranks among the best phones for users who like their handsets to be “all display” with thin bezels (the iPhone 6+ ratio is 68.4%). Sony could have scored even better by making the top and bottom frame smaller, but another time maybe…

The XPERIA Z3 has a maximum brightness of 518 LUX (measured), which is very bright and handy while using it outdoors or in bright surroundings. Our Z3v tops at 444 LUX.

Camera (very good+)

sony-xperia-z3-photo-samples-tileAs expected, the photo abilities of the XPERIA Z3 are quite high. Using the automatic mode, which Sony calls “Superior Auto” (just like it does on its cameras), the Z3 will do a great job of capturing photos in any situations, day or night. If you want, you can use the manual mode, but most likely, most people will remain in automatic because it’s more convenient.

I found the photo quality to be very good, and I’ve posted a few pictures taken with the Z3 below. Here is also a link to the full-size photos if you want to look at the small bits. I have also taken some photos to compare it with some of the best phones: the Galaxy Note 4 and the iPhone 6+, both of which are excellent references.

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A typical food photo in a low-light environment

On the surface, the quality is very comparable, with some small variations. For example, the Note 4 and the Z3 had more natural colors, while the iPhone 6+ made the photos “warmer” (more yellow). The Z3 also does not have an explicit HDR mode, which I recommend for daylight photos, especially if the HDR photo can be taken in a single shot, like the best camera phones now do.

If you really want to zoom in and look at the pixels etc, you will probably find that the iPhone 6+ has a slight advantage over the Note 4, which is itself just a hair better than the Z3. More likely, in a real world situation, you couldn’t tell much of a difference and would be completely happy with the photos that are about to go on your favorite social network. Take a look at our full size photos on Flickr.

I rate the camera as “very good+”, and not “excellent” because you can find phones that will have a slight edge over the Z3. However, size, weight and other considerations may be taken into account. It’s impossible to compare apples to apples, but while you can decide for any tradeoff you want to make, it’s important to know what the absolute performance looks like. Fortunately, we haven’t noticed any “pink blotch” that have been reported elsewhere.

4K video shooting is not a resolution that one can select in the regular settings, but rather a special “mode” that the user has to switch to. The 4K quality is very good, and in good lighting you should will capture sharp videos. In low-light, we recommend using the regular 1080p resolution because the extra resolution isn’t fully exploited in those conditions.

When compared to other top phones, we’ve noticed that the Galaxy Note 4 has a slight edge in terms of video recording, with slightly crisper video farther away from the center. For web usage, it doesn’t matter much, but if you plan on using the videos on a TV, even small differences can be seen. The iPhone 6 Plus does not offer 4K video natively, which is too bad because 4K videos can be noticeably sharper than their 1080p equivalent, especially since more and more tablets and other screens are now high DPI.

Camera UI (simple, efficient)

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It is very simple and efficient. I really like how easy it is to change mode, or to pick between video recording and photo. for sure, some other UIs are even more spartan, but I like to have the most frequently used icons right there: flash/camera toggle/shutter/recorder/options/mode.

I’m not not 100% sure that I like the presence of the physical shutter speed. On one hand, it is a little more precise in some situations, but on the other hand, if makes single-hand photos a little harder for right-handed users. I often found myself in the situation where I was pressing the physical shutter button unintentionally while trying to snap a one-handed photo.

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Sony has added a lot of camera-related functions, such as Multi-camera (dual-shot), Augmented Reality (AR), Background Defocus (bokeh simulated effect), Live on Youtube etc… You can even download more! Typically, this is for power users, or tech “explorer” of sorts, and I don’t expect them to get much use on a daily basis. However, they are relatively well hidden, so they don’t get in the way of normal usage.

Finally, I wish that Sony had support for a partial panorama photo. Right now, the Camera app forces you to take a full 180-degrees photo. If you stop before that, it will simply not create a file. Sometime it’s nice to have a partial panorama so that you can avoid something that is unwanted (people, window frame, etc…).

Performance (very good)

Since it is powered by a Snapdragon 801, the XPERIA Z3 is a high-performance smartphone which can be compared with the Samsung Galaxy S5 which was announced just a bit later last year.

The Z3 should lag a bit behind phones that are powered by newer chips like the Snapdragon 805 (like the Note 4 and others), which has been further optimized. Still, the Z3 ranks among the top phones in terms of CPU performance, and most users won’t be able to “feel” the difference between a Snapdragon 801 and 805.

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For gaming, this is another story. If for some reason you really want high frame-rate gaming, (FPS), then you may want to look at a smartphone that has a little more muscles. Just check the gaming benchmarks, and you will have a very good idea of what to expect. In this context. I rate the performance with a “very good”, but not “excellent”.

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Software

Sony has modified the original Android user interface (UI), but the changes are not deep enough to be a problem. There’s the occasional icon changes and things aren’t always at the same spot. This is often infuriating for reviewers who change phones every week, but not really a big deal for folks who keep their phones for a couple of years.

It’s a controversial conversation, but I think that some OEMs are better than others at changing Android’s user interface. for instance Samsung and LG, just to cite two, make additions that go deep into the UI. At this point, Sony’s modifications are superficial enough that I would recommend them to innovate mainly with apps, and not by changing the original Android UI. It’s a tough decision for any OEM, but Motorola and NVIDIA have done this with success. It is also a path to providing faster OS updates to their

The XPERIA Z3 Currently runs on Android 4.4.4, but is also loaded with a number of Sony Apps, such as Walkman, and Videos Unlimited.

I like the fact that sony lets you search apps by name. Some OEMs do that, but not all. This is very handy when you tend to accumulate a lot of apps.

Battery life (very good)

Both XPERIA Z3 and Z3v consumed about 12% battery life in our usual video playback test, so that would be about 8.3hrs of 1080p local MP4 video playback.

To optimize the battery life, Sony has added a very useful thing called “Queue Background data”. The idea is to organize and optimize the usage of the data radio so that it sends and receives data in bursts, then goes back to sleep. Since we are not in a controlled environment where we could repeat the exact same data radio actions, it’s impossible to compare with and without the Queue, but the idea is sound, and in theory, it should help.

The XPERIA Z3 also provides a report on the most power-consuming apps, which can be useful if you see battery drainage changing after installing a bunch of apps. This is the kind of things that gives more control to the user. In practice, while the battery life is very good, it is also comparable with other large-battery smartphones on the market. In the end, the battery capacity remains the main factor when it comes to battery life.

Conclusion (Very good+)

sony-xperia-z3-z3v-review-08The Sony XPERIA Z3 is an excellent evolution of the XPERIA line, and it is fair to say that Sony has improved virtually every aspects of the remarkable XPERIA Z2 handset. If the XPERIA Z3 shipped closer to its launch date, its success would have been much more representative of the kind of product it is. As of now, the delay between launch and worldwide availability remains Sony’s main weakness in a very dynamic handset market."THE BUILD QUALITY IS IMPECCABLE"

The XPERIA Z3 may not have the most advanced display, but it has a very good camera and an excellent design, which combines an very thin body and glass on both sides. The build quality is impeccable, which is not surprising given where Sony is going with its premium products.

With its size and overall positioning in the market, the XPERIA Z3 mainly competes with the Galaxy S5, the LG G3 and the iPhone 6, just to name the most popular models.

I suspect that people may like it mostly for its unique look, but there’s also a niche market of customers who want some integration with other Sony products like the PlayStation 4. Keep it coming Sony, this is looking good.

Overall product rating: 8/10

Filed in Cellphones >Reviews. Read more about Android, Sony, xperia z3.

Key SpecsXperia Z3vXperia Z3
Announced On2014/10/012014/09/01
Display Diagonal5.2" (13.21 cm)5.2" (13.21 cm)
Processor/Soc NameSnapdragon 801Snapdragon 801
Street Price (Approx)
Search low Xperia Z3v price (Amazon)
~ $235
Search low Xperia Z3 price (Amazon)
Max. Total Storage Capacity160 GB144 GB
Megapixels20.7 Megapixel20.7 Megapixel
Battery Capacity (mAh)3200 mAh3100 mAh
Complete product datanullnull
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