Sony is playing catch-up in the smartphone market. Samsung is the runaway leader, unleashing a new best –selling Galaxy S sequel every year. The pace of innovation is slowing to iterative updates, rather than revolutionary leaps. In an attempt to catch the attention of the phone-buying masses, Sony has stepped up the schedule, doubling its output by releasing a new flagship every six months, instead of every year.
Now it's twice as likely to have the best smartphone on the market at any given time. Isn't it? Has it outfoxed Samsung? Let's see how the Xperia Z3, hot off the conveyor belt, compares to the rapidly ageing Galaxy S5, released way, way back in April.
Classic industrial design has been a hallmark of the Xperia Z range so far and Sony has no intention of breaking with that tradition. The Z3 is a touch less angular, slightly slimmer, and lighter than the Xperia Z2, but it's still bigger and heavier than the S5. That's largely down to the premium mix of metal and glass, and the large bezels above and below the screen.
The S5 sports that controversial pocked plastic back plate, and while it may be more comfortable to handle, it certainly doesn't look or feel as expensive. The Z3 is almost a full millimetre slimmer than Samsung's best.
Both come in four colours. Samsung opted for black, white, blue, and gold. Sony went for black, white, brown, and silver/green. They are also dust and water resistant, but the Xperia Z3 is more so with an IP65/68 rating to the S5's IP67 rating.
Samsung's display technology is genuinely market-leading. The S5 has a 5.1-inch Super AMOLED with a full HD resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels and a pixel density of 432. The Z3 has a slightly larger 5.2-inch IPS LCD with the same 1080p resolution and a slightly lower 424ppi.
It's not the fact that Samsung's screen is a touch sharper that really makes the difference. The S5 display also wins plaudits for contrast and brightness, making it easier to read outdoors, even in direct sunlight. Sony has focused on this issue with the Z3 and boosted the brightness by up to 50% compared to the Z2. The Z3 is also likely to have better colour reproduction than the S5, but a lot of people like the saturated colours of the Super AMOLED display.
The Galaxy S5 has a 16MP main camera and a 2MP front-facing camera. The Xperia Z3 has a 20.7MP main shooter backed up by a 2.2MP front-facing camera. Both offer a wide range of tweakables and special gimmicky modes.
Sony has upped the ISO capabilities of the Z3 to kill low light noise and put a wider lens in, so the Z3 camera will have a wider field of view. In ideal real world conditions using automatic settings the S5 edged the win against the Z2, but was beaten in low light conditions and for close-ups. The refinements in the Z3 could widen that gap.
To make that svelte body possible Sony has actually reduced the battery in the Z3 compared to its predecessor. The Z3 battery is rated at 3100mAh, a full 300mAh bigger than the 2800mAh battery in the S5. Sony is claiming that greater power efficiency in the display is going to deliver two-day battery life. Even if it doesn't quite hit that lofty goal, it's going to last longer than the S5.
Both phones have power-saving modes designed to squeeze a little extra time from limited juice, but they heavily hobble the functionality.
CPU, RAM and storage
Both the S5 and the Z3 have exactly the same 2.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processors with Adreno 330 GPUs, but the Z3 has an extra 1GB of RAM giving it 3GB to the S5's 2GB. The S5 beat the Z2 in most benchmarks, but the Z3 has the same slightly newer SoC as the S5 now, so there shouldn't be much of a difference. You would expect the extra RAM to give the Z3 a performance edge.
There's no real difference in terms of storage. There are 16GB and 32GB versions of the Z3 and the S5, and they can both accommodate a microSD card up to 128GB in size.
The Z3 is going to start at £549 SIM-free and we expect to see two-year contract deals in the £35-per-month region. The Galaxy S5 was £600 SIM-free on release, but it has dropped significantly since then and you can pick it up for less than £450 now. If you're willing to sign up for a two-year contract then you can get an S5 with no money down for as little as £31 per month. The S5 is definitely the cheaper option.
If you're looking for other notable USPs worth considering, here they are:
The Z3 has dual front-facing speakers and supports high-res audio which may thrill audiophiles. Sony will also offer PS4 compatibility, allowing gamers to pick up on the Z3 where they left off on the console.
The S5 has the heart-rate monitor and S Health service for fitness fanatics, and it boasts biometric security with the fingerprint sensor.
So which is better?
It looks like the Z3 has a few solid advantages over the S5, most notably the battery life, camera, and audio, but Sony faces two major problems. Firstly, the Galaxy brand is almost synonymous with Android in some quarters and it shifts a lot of phones. Secondly, the S5 is going be significantly cheaper than the Z3 for the foreseeable future.
If you're due an upgrade right now it's going to be tough to look past the Xperia Z3. We'll be taking an in-depth look in our full review. Watch this space.