Sony Xperia Z3 in-depth review - It's the magic number

 Sony Xperia Z3 Review - It's the magic number

Review by Sunetra Chakravati,10/8/2014 4:09:39 PM


out of 10



out of 5

Look and feel


out of 5

Ease of use


out of 5



out of 5

Battery life


Great screen | Excellent camera | Market-leading battery life


Slippery, difficult to hold comfortably | Can overheat under stress | Feels like a small update over the Z2

This is the Xperia Z3, Sony’s third flagship Android phone in just over a year. It looks very similar to its predecessors - and inside the specs are almost identical to the Z2 - but a thinner chassis, better heat management and improved battery life mean this could be third time lucky for Sony.

Sony Xperia Z3: Look and Feel

Do not adjust your screen, the Xperia Z3 is at first glance almost identical to the Z2 from seven months ago. It has the same 5.2-inch display and inherits much of the trademark ‘Omnibalance’ design of the Z1 and Z2. But there are key differences here; the Z3 is 0.8mm shorter, 1.3mm narrower, and 0.9mm thinner, resulting in a weight saving of 9g.

This may not sound like much, but factor in edges which are more rounded than before, and it means the Z3 is now much more ergonomic and comfortable to hold in one hand.

A metal chassis runs around the outer edges, but new for the Z3 are four nylon caps covering each corner; Sony claims dropped phones often fall on their corners, and the nylon tips are designed to not chip or scratch as easily as metal.

A boost from IP58 to IP68 means the Z3 is slightly more waterproof than the Z2 - now it can survive being submerged in fresh water for 30 minutes to a depth of 1.5 meters, 50cm more than its predecessor. This means the microSD card slot, SIM slot and micro USB port are covered by two removable flap.

The front and back are both covered in glass, which looks good (despite being fingerprint magnets) and provide more grip than the ice-rink-slippery iPhone 6; but despite being comfy in your hand, the Z3 has a habit of slipping and sliding off almost any surface - a leather wallet, fabric sofa arm or uneven pile of magazines are no match for the Sony, which always find a way of tumbling to the floor. A great phone, just be careful where you leave it.

Sony sells the Xperia Z3 in black, white, green and copper.

Sony Xperia Z3: Screen

A glance at the spec sheet shows little change from the Z2 to the Z3 - both measure 5.2 inches, have a resolution of 1920 x 1080 and a pixel density of 424 per inch - but Sony has made the Z3’s panel much brighter, reducing issues of glare suffered by its predecessor and making it much more readable outside.

A strange problem when the touch sensitive layer of the screen reflected in bright sunlight has also been fixed, making the Z3 a much more pleasant phone to look at.

When cranked up to 11 the Z3 is brighter than the iPhone 6 and produces cooler colours, with whites appearing crisper and purer than the warmer and slightly yellow whites produced by the latest iPhone.

Sony Xperia Z3: Software and Performance

Look under the hood of the Z3 and you’ll find almost exactly the same powerplant as used by the Z2 - in fact, on paper, it’s actually a small downgrade. The Z3 has a quad-core, 2.3GHz processor with 3GB of RAM; the Z3 has the same amount of RAM and uses the same Snapdragon 801 processor, but here it’s clocked to 2.5GHz.

Such a tiny difference makes an imperceivable difference to real-world performance, so the Z3 is as speedy and gutsy as you’d expect from a high-end Android. Storage is also the same as before, at 16GB with a microSD card slot accepting upto 128GB more.

In general use the Xperia Z3 is as quick as the Samsung Galaxy S5 and iPhone 6; only when booting up big games like Real Racing 3 from cold does the iPhone pull ahead; once running, both phones play the game flawlessly - and loudly, thanks to the dual speakers, one either side of the screen.

So far you might be seeing very little reason to upgrade, but the Z3’s battery life is about to change all that. We’ve no idea how, but Sony has made the a slightly smaller capacity (3,100mAh vs 3,200) last much longer. We’ve found both the Z3 and Z3 Compact sip energy much more efficiently than any other handsets on sale today. Both are capable of two full days of average to heavy use, and when left to stream Netflix or YouTube over Wi-Fi all day (with Facebook, Twitter and Gmail notifications synced in the background) they both survived for over 10 hours.

We’ve yearned for battery life like this for years now, and finally Sony has given it to us; a flagship phone lasting a full weekend is now a reality.

As for software, the Z3 runs Android 4.2.2 KitKat with Sony’s familiar skin over the top. It’s a fairly subtle suite of visual modifications which makes changes to the lock and home screens, the swipe-down notifications and quick settings drawer. Some of Sony’s own applications double up on what’s already offered by Android, so when you open a photo the phone asks which app you want to use, which can be frustrating as it’s not clear which would be the better choice.

Unique to the Z3 range (including the upcoming Compact Tablet) is Remote Play, which lets you stream games from your PlayStation 4 console to the phone and play them using a connected Duel Force 4 controller. Perfect for when someone else wants to use the television, or you want to play PS4 games in a different room. The feature isn’t yet enabled, so we’ll update this review when it’s available.

Sony Xperia Z3: Camera

The same 20.7-megapixel sensor and Carl Zeiss lens used by the Xperia Z2 makes a welcome return in the Z3, along with a suite of features and shooting modes to help you shoot the perfect photo. There’s full auto and full manual, plus ways of incorporating augmented reality into your photos and videos - like dinosaurs walking around the room. You can also take time shift videos, shoot photos with both the front and rear cameras at the same time, record a sound clip alongside each photo, and shoot Full HD and 4K video.

4K (or Ultra HD) recording no longer shuts down due to overheating after around two minutes, as was the case with the Z2. I shot video for more than nine minutes before the app closed and my video automatically saved itself. However, a warning is still displayed each time you use 4K recording to explain that the app will close if temperatures get too high.

Image quality is excellent; although the camera is the same as the Z2’s, we found its post-processing to be less invasive and less likely to make low-light images noisy and grainy than Sony’s last flagship.

Sony Xperia Z3: The Verdict

A real stonker of a smartphone, the Sony Xperia Z3 is a top-end handset with looks, ergonomics and performance to match; it has a Full HD screen, quad-core processor, excellent camera, slim but sturdy design, and market-leading battery life.

It may have taken three attempts to make the Z range worth considering, but with Z3 Sony has created a genuine head-turner which excels in almost every situation. The occasional overheating (and even just a warning of its potential) is a cause for some concern, and although it’s nice and thin, the metal and glass chassis is often slippery - sometimes even precarious - to hold in one hand.

Those small niggles aside, Sony is on to a winner with the Z3. If you’re looking for an Android flagship with market-leading camera and battery life, this is the phone for you.