It was only a year and a half ago that Sony launched its Xperia Z range of flagship smartphones and we have already seen the launch of four models in this series. No other company launches a top-end smartphone in the same series every six months, but there seems to be a method to the madness. With each upgrade, Sony has tinkered with the hardware and software little by little, making changes that improve the user experience in one way or other.
So, has Sony finally achieved perfection with Xperia Z3, the latest and greatest in its Xperia Z series? We find out in our Sony Xperia Z3 review...
Xperia Z3 is the most refined version of Sony's smartphones yet. It sticks to the Omnibalance design theme, but the small design tweaks Sony has added to Xperia Z3 compared to Xperia Z2 add up to make a lot of difference.
Like Xperia Z2, the front and back panels of Xperia Z3 are made of glass, while the rim on the sides remains metallic. The corners are more rounded this time and the glass back has rather silken feel to it, which makes it feel as premium as any all-metal smartphone in the market. The volume rocker and camera keys are flat instead of curved as they were in Xperia Z2.
A major change in the design is that it is more compact than Xperia Z2. Sony has shaved off 0.8mm in the length, 1.3mm in width and 0.9mm in thickness of Xperia Z3 compared to that of its predecessor. This may seem like a small difference in the dimensions of the two smartphones, but the real difference becomes apparent only when you hold Xperia Z3. It feels much smaller in size than Xperia Z2 and is easier to hold as well as slip in and out of the pocket.
Being a water- and dust-resistant smartphone, Xperia Z3 has metallic flaps that cover the microUSB as well as sim+microSD card slots. These flaps are fixed into place with just a light press, but don't let in any water as we saw in our review period. You can take a dip in the water while keeping Xperia Z3 in the pocket and will not have to worry about water damage at all.
Like other top Sony smartphones, Xperia Z3 has points of contact for docking station on the left edge.
At 5.2-inch Sony Xperia Z3's display size is same as that of its predecessor's. The two smartphones have the same Full HD resolution and, therefore, pixel density. However, there are a couple of subtle differences that we noticed.
Firstly, the Xperia Z3 display is much brighter, not only compared to that of its predecessor but also to that of all other smartphones we have reviewed recently. Sony says that this smartphone can push the brightness to 600 candela, the highest among smartphones and we are inclined to believe this claim.
Secondly, the colours are more vivid by default, but you can alter the colour temperature and tone in settings. However, shades of blue were not accurate in some of the videos we watched on the display.
In terms of display quality, we observed excellent viewing angles; you will not see the display lose colours even when seen from acute angles. Sunlight legibility is also great, as the colours and clarity under direct sunlight were great even when the brightness was at 50%.
When hardware specifications are compared, Sony Xperia Z3 seems like only a minor upgrade over its predecessor. It has the same quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor as its predecessor, but the four cores run at 2.5GHz this time instead of 2.3GHz. This is of course not the latest smartphone processor in the market, as that title belongs to Snapdragon 805 (which is present in the global version of Samsung Galaxy Note 4, but not the Indian model).
The graphics processor remains Adreno 330 in Xperia Z2 and Z3, and RAM remains constant at 3GB. The connectivity options are also the same between the two smartphones. The rear camera maintains the 20.7MP resolution, but it has a wide angle lens this time. Battery capacity has been reduced from 3,200mAh in Xperia Z2 to 3,100mAh in 3,100mAh in Z3.
There are not too many software additions in Xperia Z3 compared to Z2 or even Z1. The smartphone runs on Android 4.4 with Sony's custom UI on top. The menu button looks like the one used in Nexus launcher, but there is no other hint of Google's software skin apart from this. The only useful apps, according to us, in the smartphone are Walkman, Album and the small apps (floating apps that can be moved around the screen with a flick of the finger).
You also get access to Sony's content ecosystem with this smartphone. Sony has preloaded its LIV, Music and Sports apps on the smartphone, along with PlayStation Network app.
Though it has Play Store access, Xperia Z3 also has a separate Games Store and What's New apps, which show curated content (such as apps, music, games) that users can buy. Though recommendations by these apps are okay, they take you to Play Store eventually in order to download the app.
What you may have observed till now is that the software as well as hardware of Xperia Z3 is quite similar to that of its predecessor and it will be only natural to think that it will offer the same level of performance with only a little difference. However, the difference in the performance levels of the two smartphones in actual, everyday usage is vast.
Whereas Xperia Z3 is a fine performer that feels a little behind HTC One (M8) and Samsung Galaxy S5 when put under the same battery of tests, Xperia Z3 comes out as the clear winner, that too by a significant margin. The user experience is easily among the smoothest we have used in a long time and it feels much more fluid than Xperia Z2's.
Xperia Z3 came out with flying colours irrespective of what task we threw at it. Switching between apps quickly was a butter-smooth experience and the phone did not show any lag whatsoever. This smartphone certainly belongs to the big league.
Our experience with gaming on Xperia Z3 was also similar, as it did not falter while playing resource-hogging, graphics-intensive games like 'Injustice: Gods Among Us' and 'Real Racing 3'. There were no dropped frame rates or jarring when punched in several actions in the game at all. The Full HD display renders graphics very nicely, so you can notice the small details in such games with ease.
As Xperia Z3 has a 5.2-inch screen, it is only natural to use it as a multimedia device. The Full HD screen is great for watching videos, and can easily handle all video formats. But the real pleasure of playing content on Xperia Z3 is not with the video but the audio. The audio quality is great, and next only to HTC One (M8)'s in the smartphone industry. The rich sound is high on output and does not betray even a hint of the tinny sound that smartphones are prone to delivering at high volumes. The front speakers are not as prominent as HTC One (M8)'s BoomSound speakers, but deliver a pretty great experience.
Battery life of Xperia Z3 is also pretty good, matching the day and a half life that its predecessor delivered. With moderate usage, you can even squeeze out two days of battery life. During our testing period, we played music for approximately three hours, made calls for around an hour, played games for half an hour and watched YouTube videos for approximately an hour.
Xperia Z2's Ultra Stamina power saving mode is present in this smartphone too. It keeps only the basic phone functions, namely dialler, messaging, FM radio, alarm, calculator and calendar, active and disables the remaining functions. When our review unit's battery was at 82%, it showed expected battery life of over 17 days in this mode. Other smartphones like HTC One (M8), Samsung Galaxy S5 and Note 4 also have such battery saving modes.
One problem we faced with Xperia Z3 is that it keeps slipping out of the hands. The material that gives a silken touch to the glass body also makes it vulnerable to accidental drops. This needs to be fixed as we almost dropped the smartphone more than a few times during the review period.
Sony Xperia Z3 has a 20.7MP rear camera with LED flash; this camera has a wide-angle lens that helps capture more area than most other smartphones. This smartphone has the same camera app that Sony uses in other smartphones. The camera app has modes like Superior Auto, Manual, Sound Photo, Multi Camera, Timeshift Burst etc.
Photos we took in Manual mode show accurate colours, excellent level of detail, no shadows in relatively dark areas and pretty good white balance in daylight as well as indoors. Shots taken at night also offered decent amount of details due to a sensor that can support up to ISO 12800 when most other smartphones are in the 800-900 ISO range. By default, photos are taken in 8MP resolution, so you need to set the resolution to 15.5MP (16:9 aspect ratio) or 20.7MP (4:3 resolution).
In Superior Auto mode, you get photos that have a glazed look to them due to the overprocessing that the sensor does to the object. Therefore, whatever little noise you will observe in Manual shots will not be noticeable in Superior Auto photos.
All in all, the Xperia Z3 camera finds itself a place among the best smartphone cameras in the market today, and way ahead of what Xperia Z2's camera offered.
Sony Xperia Z3 is a pretty good smartphone, one that can easily give tough competition to smartphones like Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Alpha, HTC One (M8) and iPhone 6. Its slippery body is a concern, and the lack of any fancy features (such as fingerprint sensor, heart rate monitor or dual rear cameras) keeps it out of consideration of people who want a smartphone with something different.
Nevertheless, Xperia Z3 is a great smartphone that can go head-to-head with the best smartphones in the market and hold its own. It is Sony's most well-rounded smartphone yet and shows that the tinkering with the smartphone every six months has paid off for the company.
At Rs 51,990, it is a pretty expensive buy, and though we like the smartphone, recommending it at the price is something we would rather avoid. But if price is not a consideration, then Xperia Z3 should be definitely in your list of probables.