11 September 2014

Sony Xperia Z3 first impressions

Sony's only gone and done it again. Made a phone, let the paint dry, sold it to the masses, then make another one. The Z was followed instantly by the Z1, which was shadowed by the Z2 a few months later at MWC... and now, in what feels like three sleeps later, the Z3 is here.

Sony Xperia Z3 first impressions

But, apart from the fact it's going to confuse consumers and annoy those that finally decided to make the jump to the Z2, only to find it's been usurped as the best Sony phone around, the Xperia Z3 is actually pretty darned impressive.

Don't take that to mean it's amazing. It doesn't feel special, but that's because it is, once again, an iterative update on a phone I've seen three times already.

Sony Xperia Z3

But it's not just a 'bit' better than the Z2 - it feels like this time Sony has made a phone that it can be really proud of.


The design of the phone is unquestionably familiar - it looks the same as the previous devices at first glance, thanks to the chunky bezel above and below the screen, which Sony is inexplicably hell bent on using every time.

Sony Xperia Z3

But the bezel on the sides is virtually gone, meaning the phone is a lot slimmer and sleeker in the hand, despite maintaining the same 5.2-inch screen.

The overall design compared to the Xperia Z2 is really impressive, as it's now shed the sharp glass edges in favour of the (still glass) rounded frame. The edges are a dull metal, and the corners covered in a hard nylon covering which, according to Sony, is due to the fact users will tend to drop their phone that way and dent the metal.

Sony Xperia Z3

The effect is more pronounced than you'd think, especially when held side by side with the Z2. The 10g of weight shaved off is noticeable, and the rounded edges are pleasant to feel.

The ports, which keep the phone waterproof, are also more snug - but this does mean they're hard to push back in, so you'll need to watch that when you're messing about watching videos in the shower.

The Sony Xperia Z3 is IP65/68 rated, making it more waterproof than ever before. Why this is important is beyond me, apart from a marketing gimmick, as in reality all we need from our phones is the ability to survive spills and the like. But it makes users feel safer, so it's probably warranted.

Sony Xperia Z3

The Sony Xperia Z3 will come in four colours at launch: black, white, copper brown and a silver/green shade (thankfully, I've not had the lurid marketing names shoved at me yet. Let's stick with the above, shall we?)

PS4 compatibility

Given the evolutionary nature of this phone, it's hard to say what the real USP is, meaning it's a phone without a real headline spec.

However, the most impressive upgrade is probably the fact the Sony Xperia Z3 (and Z3 compact) can now repeat the trick first seen on the PS Vita and play games from your main console wirelessly.

Sony Xperia Z3

The idea is simple: you turn on the PS4, the phone is connected to the same Wi-Fi network, you boot up the app and your phone takes over as the screen for the gaming experience.

In order to play you'll need to have a PS4 controller, and ideally the connector shown (although you don't need to - you can just prop the phone up and play normally as the controller and phone are connected via Bluetooth).

The even better news is that this doesn't need some weird cable that Sony doesn't sell - the PlayStation Mobile experience before was marred by the ability to play using a PS3 controller, but only if you had this mythical connection.

Sony Xperia Z3

Nothing of the sort here - although there was no PS4 on show to test the theory out. The controller/phone combo worked well though, and Sony even says it will work (in theory) over mobile networks or connected to another Wi-Fi network anywhere in the world.

The brand was keen to point out it didn't advise this though - while it's possible, the likely latency issues mean that it would rather you did it on the same home network for the best possible experience.

I can see this working brilliantly for some people, and not others - the truth is though that any kind of increased latency will ruin most games, so using your PS4 on a bus doesn't seem possible just yet.

A word of warning for those early adopters though: the feature won't come to the phone at launch, rather in November when it will have been on sale for a month or two. Why? Who knows. It's not good to have your top feature not ready for launch... is it, Sony?


The other bold claim Sony is making with the Xperia Z3 is the ability to last two days on a single charge - and that's not even with the power-saving Stamina Mode activated.

It's a really rather startling claim, as both the Z3 and Z2 have a Snapdragon 801 chipset from Qualcomm, meaning it's hard to see where the longer battery life will come from, given the newer model has a slightly lower-capacity power pack.

Sony Xperia Z3

Sony told me that it was due to a new screen technology that could manage the on-display images better, so it will in effect 'remember' what's on there to reduce the amount of refreshing needed.

This is combined with a newer version of the 801 core, which together will make a big difference apparently.

In tests, the screen seemed fine and responsive, so the worry that it will be slow or stuttery seems to be thrown out the window.

Sony Xperia Z3

But I really want to give this phone a thorough thrashing, as I can't see where Sony has gained nearly 50% of battery life really - if it's managed the feat, then this is a huge step forward.


Sony's not done a huge amount to improve the camera on the Xperia Z3, keeping the resolution at 20.7MP and using the G Lens technology again. The Bionz engine is again in effect, along with the Exmor RS sensor, so the full gamut of Sony buzzwords is on show here.

Sony Xperia Z3

There are some tweaks though: the ISO capabilities of the Xperia Z3 have been pushed to a whopping 12800, which the brand reckons will get rid of all the noise that so tarnishes its current crop of phones at low light.

The other change is the G Lens is now a wider 25mm equivalent, which allows more of what you're snapping to get into the picture - it's not a big change, but it will make a difference for that landscape you just want to smoosh into your head.

The effect might sound evolutionary, but the snaps themselves were as clean and as crisp as can be - the hands on pictures don't really do the quality justice. It was bright, clear and well defined throughout, although I need to check it out in darker scenes too.

Sony Xperia Z3

Sony also claims it's begun to fix the 4K problem with its phones (ie the fact they overheat if you take too much 4K footage) but is still suggesting you only record in bursts of a minute or two.

High res audio

Another addition to the party is high-res audio, which allows the use of both hi-fi quality files and the upscaling of normal tracks.

The latter, through a technology called DCEE HX, seems to work pretty well, but it was really hard to say definitively whether it made that much of a difference, as each change to the setting was followed by a two-second pause.

Again, one to test out properly, but anything that makes your music sound better (apparently by enhancing the higher tones of tracks to make them 'as the artist intended' should be good. Or it could just be marketing speak, the equivalent of converting 2D to 3D on the fly, and will be nothing but a smoother audio experience).

Sony Xperia Z3

But if you're an audiophile who has a load of really high bitrate tracks, then you'll be able to get the most out of them this way. Good times.

Screen and UI

The screen on the Sony Xperia Z3 is the same as the Z2 in theory, with a Full HD resolution, Triluminos technology and the X-Reality engine. Sony loves those brand names.

In truth, it's just a really nice and clear screen with good colour reproduction, thanks to the use again of in-plane switching (IPS) for the LCD. If you've not come across that term before, it just livens up the colour of the screen and makes it look less washed out, and really improves the look of photos and videos on the phone.

Sony Xperia Z3

The other big change, and it's a good one, is the screen can go even brighter now: up to 600 candelas, which is nearly 50% better than the Xperia Z2.

As you can see in the side by side comparison, the difference is marked, as it enhances darker pictures really well and gives movies more pizazz too.

Will it affect battery life? Hard to tell, but if Sony can boost that by 50% too while keeping this mode active, we can only assume it's started to dabble in witchcraft.

Sony Xperia Z3

The other change is to the user interface - well, it's less of a change, more of a flattening and smoothing throughout as Android 4.4.4 is on board. The lettering is nicer, the fonts slightly nicer and all in all you feel this is a step forward again for users looking to get a decent smartphone experience.


The Sony Xperia Z3 isn't a phone that's going to get anyone excited, simply because it's been churning out flagships at a rate of knots for years now.

That said, and I know it sounds obvious, but this is the best phone that Sony's ever made... and it's better than I expected. The new design is the result of Sony's chassis-folk finally getting it right, and if that camera can function better in low light then Sony might finally have made a class-leading cameraphone to rival a compact.

The brighter screen is a huge boon when needed, and while it's sad not to be there at launch, the PS4 capabilities are nifty and will make the phone a big purchase consideration for a lot of console owners.

Will the battery life claims hold up? I'm not sure, as I've heard such things before. But if Sony can bring all this together, then it will have made a really good smartphone even better.

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