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Sony Xperia Z3 review

Has Sony added enough to warrant a Z2 sequel already?

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Our Verdict

An improvement over the Z2, but not a huge one. It does pack a great, bright screen but needs to be better packaged to fight the best on the market.

For

  • Brilliant battery
  • PS4 Remote Play is brilliant
  • Premium build

Against

  • Bugs in the operating system
  • 4K still doesn't work properly
Sony Xperia Z3 review

Sony Xperia Z3 review

Sony Xperia Z3 review

Sony Xperia Z3 review

Sony Xperia Z3 review





The Sony Xperia Z3 isn't a phone that you'd have thought would make a lot of sense. After all, the Xperia Z2 was a nifty little handset and yet it's now been replaced barely six months later.

The new phone, from the outside at least, doesn't seem to add much more into the mix, merely improving things a little more and tweaking elements that were already pretty good. So has Sony really done enough?

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 told me 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.

Sony Xperia Z3 review

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.

So is the Xperia Z3 that phone? It does come in attractive colours (white, black, copper gold and 'silver green') and has a shrunken frame, improved camera and that all important Sony PS4 Remote Play compatibility.

Sony Xperia Z3 review
Black, white, a silvery-green and copper are your choices

Those things alone would be good enough for most, and the IP68 rating (which might not really change the way 99% of people use their phone) is at least a good 'peace of mind' marketing tool.

But what about when the new Xperia Z4 lands on shelves? Surely this model will be seen as clumsy and outdated too, despite a lower price point?

Design

The design of the Sony Xperia Z3 is something that surprised me from the word go - I didn't expect to be as impressed as I am.

This is a phone that has dimensions of 146 x 72 x 7.3 mm, which compared to the Sony Xperia Z2 (146.8 x 73.3 x 8.2 mm) doesn't seem all that different.

But the slightly shrunken nature of the chassis is very nice indeed (especially the millimetre thickness shaved off the phone), and something that I really want to laud the brand for.

Sony Xperia Z3 review

The ergonomics still don't quite impress - this is, after all, a slab of light-feeling glass encased in a metal band, and the flat edges make it slightly harder to hold and grip (and easier to drop, as I did a couple of times).

But in terms of aesthetics, it somehow impresses me every time I look at it. Yes, the bezels above and below the display aren't anything to get excited about (they're just too large to look nice, but presumably pack some important components) but the overall package looks premium.

Sony Xperia Z3 review
OK to hold, easy to drop

The copper colour I had on test is also something I didn't expect to like - after all, this is really a brown phone - but it again seems to exude a quality that belies the slightly lower price tag.

On top of that, the edges have been rounded to make holding the phone an altogether more pleasant experience. I wasn't expecting to feel much difference between this and the Z2 given the similarity in dimensions, so this was a nice surprise.

Sony Xperia Z3 review
Why the dock connector?

The rest of the phone is largely as expected: the Omnibalance key at the side is pretty easy to strike, and although the volume key is positioned just below and theoretically too close, the larger size of the phone makes it easy enough to differentiate in the hand.

I do hate that Sony keeps putting a dock connector on the left-hand side of the device - this confuses in the hand, feeling a bit like the volume key, and I can't see that it's something many people would actually use given the smaller sales of such aftermarket accessories.

Then there are the port covers. We clearly need these to make sure the phone is fully waterproof of course, but the problem here is that they ever so slightly stick out, even when pressed in as hard as possible.

The main culprit is the cover for the microSD and SIM card (which is now a nano option, showing Sony is starting to fall in line with the rest of the industry) which just protrudes slightly and therefore ruins the sleek, premium air the Sony Xperia Z3 has.

Sony Xperia Z3 review
The port covers just don't stay flush

The other change to the design is the nylon covers in the corners of the phone - apparently these are cleverly added to stop the phone looking so damaged. According to Sony, most phones land on these corners when dropped, so putting the covers on helps stop the tarnished metal.

Except, well, it doesn't. The corners on my review device are fine, but even before dropping the phone later in the test, there were already two small nicks in the metal band in just over a week.

This is the same thing we saw with the iPhone 5, and anyone that's owned one of those and kept it out of a case will see the scratched up monstrosities that some people are walking around with.

I don't think the Xperia Z3 will suffer to quite that degree, but it's interesting to see the effect happening so quickly.

The front facing speakers are worth a mention here too. Not only do they help to justify the oversized bezels, they also provide some pretty good and rich sound.

Sony Xperia Z3 review
Great front facing speakers

While not in the same league as the HTC One M8, the smaller and more discreet design will appeal to those that want good quality audio without the compromise in aesthetics.

And Sony, of course, continues with the dedicated camera button. I mention it last as its presence is always something to be celebrated: an easier way to fire up one of the most-used applications on the phone and a more stable method of snapping away.

Sony Xperia Z3 review

Thank you Sony, long may the camera key continue.

Should you wait for the Sony Xperia Z4?