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UI and performance
- Runs Android 9
- Generally fast, but not always
It isn’t just an excellent screen Sony should be applauded for – the Xperia XZ3 ships with Android 9, the latest version of Google’s mobile OS.
That’s good news, because you’re about as future-proofed as you can get when it comes to app compatibility and security updates – and given how good Sony is at updating its flagships, the only devices in a better position than the XZ3 in this respect are the new iPhones and the upcoming Google Pixel 3 range.
Sony’s take on Android is also clean and zippy – for the most part. And this caveat is incredibly important, because when it isn’t, it leaves us bashing our head against a wall.
Inside is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chipset that works well and offers some of the best performance you can expect on a smartphone in 2018. Using Geekbench 4, we found the phone had a score of 8614.
That's a bit higher than the Xperia XZ2 that scored 8225 in the same test, and it's what we expect to see on a top-end phone in 2018. It does translate into real-life usage well too, and we often found apps loaded fast and generally moving around menus was snappy.
- Provides shortcuts to apps on the display edge
- Slow and unreliable
Sony has a new solution for enabling one-handed use on a phone with a 6-inch, super-long screen and it's called Side Sense.
When it works, it’s excellent, overlaying quick access to applications you use frequently on either the left- or right-hand side of the screen, depending on which side you double tap. Similar to the feature introduced on the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge, it’s very handy.
Sony has also gone one step further, enabling a ‘back’ input that can be activated by swiping up or down on the edge – a natural position for your thumb to rest, so you don’t even have to interact with the navigation bar unless you want to multitask or go home.
In principle, all the above is great, but in reality, it’s not perfect.
Side Sense can be temperamental and we found it didn't always activate and sometimes it activated when we didn't want it to. We've used two versions of the Xperia XZ3, and on one it often took around four seconds to open Side Sense when opening for the first time in a while.
Four. Whole. Seconds - for something that's meant to save you time. In four seconds, a nimble-fingered smartphone user could have found Instagram, opened it, seen that their last post has had seven new likes and closed it. We hope this is a quirk of one unit, and it seems to be as the other phone we used didn't have the same issue.
On the other phone, we found Side Sense to be less irritating but it did go off twice in about a week of us using it from just holding it in the hand. If you don't like it, you can easily turn it off but Side Sense is quite useful for navigating around your phone when it actually works.
- Lots of bloat, some of which can't be uninstalled
- Lots of UI customization options
We aren’t quite done with the UI bashing, with the next whack-a-mole topic being bloatware. 64GB is the bare minimum of storage we would expect to see on a flagship today, and to have any of that taken up by applications like Kobo Books or AVG Protection is painful.
Sony also includes its own 3D Creator, What’s New and Weather apps, as well as a few Amazon apps, Netflix, Spotify and Facebook.
Some of these can be uninstalled, but some you can only disable – so, for example, you can’t have a completely Kobo- or Facebook-free phone; the app just disappears from your apps tray if disabled, but still occupies internal storage.
The rest of the UI is great. Sony gives you plenty of customization options around the standard Android home screen setup, and it looks polished. 3D Creator, despite the bloatware complaints, is also tons of fun, and is much easier to use than when it first launched.
Sony could have just not installed the bloatware – that would have made this phone feel much more refined. As it stands, what you end up with is a mixed bag of bad and great, which you have to refine after a fair bit of frustration.
- No headphone port
- Great stereo speakers
- High-Res audio support
The Sony Xperia XZ3, like the Sony Xperia XZ2, may ditch the headphone jack, but that doesn’t mean it’s ditching the series’ focus on audio.
High-Res Audio support and Sony’s LDAC audio codec are here to boost performance when you’re using headphones, wired or wireless.
Meanwhile, the stereo speaker with S-Force Front Surround makes for an immersive experience when watching video. Fire up a Dolby Atmos trailer on YouTube, and between the visuals and the sound it’s a beautiful thing.
There’s also a USB Type-C to 3.5mm adaptor in the box, if you do want to use your wired cans.
Storage and connections
- 64GB plus a microSD card slot
- Supports fast downloads
- Has both a fingerprint and face scanner
The Xperia XZ3’s 64GB of storage is the bare minimum we would expect on a flagship nowadays, with some mid-rangers, like the Huawei Mate 20 Lite, also packing that.
This can be expanded via microSD card, something you’ll certainly want to look into if you plan on capturing 4K HDR video.
With support for Cat 18 internet speeds, the XZ3 supports up to 1.2Gbps downloads – if your carrier does too – and that’s paired with Bluetooth 5, NFC and GPS.
The rear fingerprint scanner works a treat, notwithstanding its awkward positioning, and in the settings you can also access Google’s Trusted Face feature to activate the less secure biometric unlocking feature – face recognition.
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Basil Kronfli is the Head of content at Make Honey and freelance technology journalist. He is an experienced writer and producer and is skilled in video production, and runs the technology YouTube channel TechEdit.