The Xperia range started out as a bunch of unexciting yet well-featured smartphones that have got better with each release. Now it’s the Z3’s turn. As the successor to the already impressive Xperia Z2, the big question is this: what’s the big deal?
Sony has stuck to a tried and proven design, adding a beefed up camera. The Z3’s waistline has also shrunk. All the good stuff that created a buzz around the Z2 are there and in some cases, better than before.
A lot of the Z3's refinements are incremental but the Z3 manages to keep up with competing devices from the likes of HTC, Samsung, LG and Apple.
Look and Feel
Looks-wise, the Z3 isn’t all that different from the Z2. Its design language is pretty much unchanged and it sports the same combination of a glass front and back with alloy sides. Features such as front-facing speakers and waterproof design are still there too.
This said, the Z3 must have put some serious time at the local Jenny Craig clinic as it has shed quite a bit of weight. Measuring in at a mere 7.3mm deep, it’s slimmer than the Z2 but still not quite as thin as an iPhone 6.
I was also taken with the Z3's curved sides. Not only do these help the Z3 look good, but they also make it comfy to hold too. The narrower chassis also translates into great one-handed use.
You can have a Z3 in any colour you want as long as its black, green, white or copper. All told, the Z3 is pretty easy on the eyes regardless of colour.
Its glass and alloy finish looks great, lending it a premium feel. About the only downside is that it was prone to slipping off sofa arms, my lap and most other sloping surfaces.
Bells and Whistles
Another handy feature of the Z3 is its water resistance. Sony has made the Z3 even more waterproof than its predecessors, and it is now IP68 certified. In layperson speak this means the Z3 can take a dunking in 1.5 metres of water for thirty minutes. Just make sure to seal all the SIM/Micro SD and charging flaps beforehand.
One of the bigger selling points of the Xperia are their screens. Sony must of known they were onto a winner with the Z2’s display and have reprised it for use with the Z3.
This translates into a good-looking 424-ppi 5.2" ISP LCD display. It is vivid enough to impress but also bright enough to double duty as a pocket-tanning clinic. Even in direct sunlight the display was usable. Even though it wasn't a 2K display like the G3, it still impressed nonetheless.
Powered by Android 4.4.4 KitKat, the Z3 uses Sony’s user interface. With the exception of Motorola hardware, the Z3's interface is about as close to stock Android as I’ve seen on a flagship smartphone.
If the interface impresses, the amount of bloatware on the Z3 doesn’t. There’s a bunch of Sony apps plus others such as Sketch and Kobo. They take up a shedload of scarce onboard storage with just under 12GB free from the Z3’s 32GB. Excluding the PlayStation app, less should be the new more with the Z3.
One of features I’ve long been a big fan of with the Xperia range is their keyboards. Most touchscreen keyboards drive me nuts, yet the Z3’s was usable. Its keys were well spaced and let me type at a faster clip with fewer errors.
It’s also quite astonishing to think how much computing power People tuck into our pockets and purses. The Z3 makes use of the Snapdragon 801 processor, clocking in at 2.5GHz. There’s also 3GB of RAM. The newer Snapdragon 805 may have superseded the 801 processor, but in use the Z3 felt quick. Games such as Real Racing 3 ran smoothly with was no sign of lag.
The Z3 packs a similar camera set up to the Z2, sporting a 20.7-megapixel, image sensor and an LED flash. Its ISO sensitivity tops out at 12,800. This should in theory make for better low-light shots. Another feature that is simple but oh so useful is a dedicated camera button that even works underwater.
The Z3’s camera app has loads of different shooting modes. These range from Automatic through to background defocus. Sony's trademark augmented reality option that puts dinosaurs in photos is also there.
Video shooting has also had a major boost and the Z3 can shoot great 4K video. One mode I didn’t test was the multi-camera setting that uses several Xperia's to shoot footage from different angles. A time lapse and live broadcast to YouTube modes are also present.
The selfie crowd will like that the Z3’s front camera can also shoot 1080p HD video. HDR modes are present as is digital image stabilisation to keep footage wobble-free.
The Z3 can shoot 4K video (4x 1080p) at 30FPS, and its footage looked super-crisp on the Z3’s display. Unfortunately the lack of 4K TVs in my house meant I was unable to test its playback on a big screen.
4K video looks fantastic, but there are drawbacks. Shooting 4K unfortunately disables shooting modes such as HDR and SteadyShot. The LED flash was still usable.
A big plus is the addition of a 3,100mAh battery. It might be smaller than the 3,200mAh battery on the Z2, but is still bigger than that on the Galaxy S5 or the LG G3. In use the combination of a big battery and energy efficient silicon meant the Z3 had a huge battery life.
I managed (with typical use) to wring a couple of days use out of the Z3. What impressed was the fact that I didn’t have to resort to stamina mode to achieve this. With heavier use I managed a still impressive 12.5 hours.
If solid battery life was one selling point, but the other for PlayStation 4 owners will be the PS4 Remote Play app. It allows the Z3 to connect to the PS4 and play PS4 games - As long as you’re on the same Wi-Fi network as the console.
This is possible via the official PlayStation app, which comes pre-installed on the Z3. Once connected, you can use the Z3 as a second screen, a keyboard for messaging. You can even power off the console. Playing PS4 titles using a Bluetooth smartphone games controller such as the Phonejoy is just 50 shades of awesome.
The Z3 is the best Xperia phone to date. It mightn't be perfect, but none of its flaws are showstoppers. Sporting a stylish design, its battery just refuses to die. It can also take a dunking and its camera is pretty darned good too. Perhaps the biggest challenge facing Sony now is how to improve on the Z3 with the Z4.
Network (2G) 850/900/1800/1900 (3G) 850/900/1700/1900/2100 (4G) 700/800/850/900/1700/1800/1900/2100/2600
Dimensions 146 x 72 x 7.3 mm (5.75 x 2.83 x 0.29 in)
Weight 152 g (5.36 oz)
Waterproof IP68 certified - water resistant 1.5m for 30 minutes
DISPLAY IPS LCD 1080 x 1920 5.2” (424 ppi)
MEMORY/Storage (Card) microSD, up to 128 GB/Internal 16/32 GB, 3 GB
WLAN Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA, hotspot
Bluetooth v4.0, A2DP, apt-X
CAMERA (Rear) 20.7 LED flash (Video) 2160p@30fps, 1080p@60fps, 720p@120fps, HDR, check quality (front) 2.2 MP, 1080p@30fps
OS Android OS, v4.4.4 (KitKat)
Chipset Qualcomm MSM8974AC Snapdragon 801, Quad-core 2.5 GHz Krait 400
GPU Adreno 330
BATTERY Non-removable Li-Ion 3100 mAh battery