Sony Xperia Z3 Review

on Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Sony's Xperia Z2, launched this April, was a mere nip and tuck away from smartphone perfection. But in the cut-and-thrust world of high-end smartphones, coming close just isn't good enough, and in the final reckoning we preferred the HTC One (M8) and LG G3. 

The good news for Sony is that just six months later it's having another go at it. And the good news for the smartphone-buying public is that the Xperia Z3 solves many of the problems of its predecessor while also adding a few genuinely unique features.
So while it may at first glance look like a mere incremental upgrade over the Z2, make no mistake: the Z3 is the real deal.
But look a little closer and you'll notice a few tweaks that really do make an incredible difference. The difference between 'I know it's well-specced and well-built but I just don't love it' and 'I need one right now'. It takes getting one in your hand to really appreciate it. 
The aluminium and tempered glass OmniBalance design now has rounded sides and, while the body is still angular and doesn't sit completely snug in the palm like a One (M8), it's enough to make it much more comfortable. It's a compromise - Sony wants OmniBalance to be iconic the way a BMW or Mercedes design is, even at the expense of comfort - but this time it's a compromise that allows for the contours of human hands while keeping the year-and-a-bit old Xperia aesthetic. 

It also helps massively that the Xperia Z3 weighs just 152g - that's 11g less than the Z2 - and is skinnier too at a mere 7.3mm. Throw in the fact that that it's ever so slightly smaller in height and width terms and you have a phone that feels less like a big, heavy block of a tech and more like a standard premium flagship. Yes, it's a big phone with a 5.2in screen but it's not overly wide in the hand compared to, say, aGalaxy Note 3.
The flaps hiding the microUSB, SIM and microSD slots are smaller, rounded and more refined and even though the top and bottom bezels still look a teensy bit retro, the bezels either side of the screen are now slimmer. 
With all that glass you might be worried about smashing it but Sony has added new nylon caps to the corners. It says handsets are most likely to be dropped on corners, so replacing the old aluminium edges is designed to make the Z3 more durable. Sure enough, while we were testing the Z3's camera, we dropped it (on purpose, of course. Maybe). Apart from a small scuff on the top left cap, the Z3 survived as flawless as before.  
Another big advantage of the OmniBalance design is that it’s water- and dust-proof, so the Z3 is capable of withstanding anything the weather can throw at it – as well as enabling you to make calls from the shower and watch Netflix in your Jacuzzi. You can't use the screen properly when it's wet but the new IP65/68 rating is the highest waterproofing you can get on a smartphone right now (surviving up to 30 minutes in up to 1.5m of water) with a new higher dust resistance too. 
Over the course of our testing we've managed to play around with a few Z3s. The white model was our favourite - it's less reflecty outdoors than the black model. There are also two new colours in the form of copper and silver green. Hey, at least it's not pink

Given that the Xperia Z2's screen is one of the best we've ever laid eyes on, we're not going to complain that Sony's pretty much left it alone. 
It's 20% brighter than the Z2's screen - 600 candela, fact fans - and it really does help when you're looking at the screen outdoors as the front of the Z3 can be very reflective in direct sunlight, particularly the black model. 
It has the same full HD resolution and is unsurprisingly as sharp and punchy as the Z2. Deep blacks don't quite rival those on the Galaxy S5 but are still impressive and text looks crisp and clean.
The X-Reality setting returns to pump up colours further still as well as improving contract and sharpness - fine if you want to wow friends with photos but we'd rather keep it turned off. Even more Samsung-like is the new Super-vivid mode. Scroll through the preloaded Sony World Photography Awards with this turned on for hyper-real hues. Both are unnecessary, as colours look really vibrant on the Sony, more so than the more natural-looking LG G3; which you prefer comes down to personal preference. 
But the screen isn't exactly the same. This time around, Sony's preset white balance makes webpages, games and movies look too blue. We played around with the sliders until we got it just right but considering that Sony makes such an effort with its display tech, we'd prefer this to be perfect out of the box. 
Why not 2K? Sony says it's too hard for the human eye to discern the difference, and seemingly isn't planning to put a 2K screen on a 5in smartphone anytime soon. Or even on its 8in Z3 Tablet Compact.
Now, if you've got eyes like Stuff's trained pixel hunters then you'll know that on the contrary it is possible to discern more detail in video, images and ebooks on 2K screens than regular 1080p ones.
We viewed it side-by-side with the LG G3 and whether displaying hi-res pics of spices or crisper detail and textures such as fur and snow in 1080p nature vids, the G3's bigger 5.5in 2560x1440 screen made its extra pixels known.
However, while there is a difference, it's not going to affect your day-to-day enjoyment of the device. For many people, the Z3's 424ppi display offers plenty of pixels for your peepers to compute. 
As we've seen with the 2K LG G3 and the Oppo Find 7 and Find 7a, there is a trade-off between resolution and battery life too. Rather than gamble on 2K and fewer hours between charges, Sony's gone and upped the battery life on the Z3. 
Battery life was the one thing we really wanted to test on the Xperia Z3. Why? Because to justify the lack of a 2K screen Sony has been throwing around bold claims that both the Z3 and Z3 Compact last two days of regular use. Now, looking in more detail at Sony's tests, it puts this two days as five hours per day of intensive messaging, gaming, web etc. 
Sony Xperia Z3 hands on review
Skeptical? So were we. There's a smaller 3100mAh battery (versus the Z2's 3200mAh unit) for starters. A brighter screen too. And Sony reckons the Z3 will last two days in the same conditions as those in which the Z2 lasts 1.4 and the Z1 lasts 1.2 days.
Well, it's time to set aside your cynicism - because the Z3 has the best battery life of any smartphone we've seen in a long time.
We haven't got it to two days on one charge yet but that's probably because we've been hammering it night and day. And since we received our test units, we've averaged a day and a half out of it without any of its (many) Stamina and battery saving modes turned on, largely thanks to the fact its standby juice-saving is brilliant. 
It was even more impressive in our battery rundown, clocking just under 14 hours (13 hours 52 minutes to be exact) on our 720p video loop with Wi-Fi on and half brightness. Now, it's worth noting that the Xperia Z2 managed 12 and a half hours in the same rundown so it's not a huge difference on playback alone, but in regular use it's certainly enough to get you four or five extra hours on top of an already excellent battery life. The LG G3, in comparison, lasted for 9 hours 25 on the same test.
Sony puts the extra efficiency down to two things - the Snapdragon 801 processor, here clocked at 2.5GHz but also present in the Xperia Z2 - and a new display technology that it's developed which retains the memory of whatever is on the screen, meaning less reloading and more efficiency. It doesn't have a catchy name like Sony's other screen technologies, but it seems to be doing the trick. The only true two-day flagship we've tested is last year's brilliant LG G2 and the Xperia Z3 comes very close to matching it. 
Nosing around the settings, Stamina mode returns and Sony follows Samsung and HTC's lead with an Ultra Stamina mode. There's no Wi-Fi or data connection when you're in this mode, but otherwise it looks spot-on for festivals with phone, messaging, camera, contacts, alarm, clock, calculator, FM radio, settings and Bluetooth. Everything is still in colour, unlike rivals, and though there's no music playback and it takes 30 seconds or so to make the switch, it estimated seven days on 34%, so we can't argue with that.  


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