Sony have been relentless at launching Z series flagships once each 6 months or so and this is their latest iteration. Their previous Z2 checked most of the right boxes and this one, the Sony Xperia Z3, is its evolution, it’s refinement.
The Zs have been historically big and chunky when compared to the other top tier smartphones of their times and that’s what Sony worked to improve on the Z3. This one lost quite a few grams, a few millimeters around its waist and is considerably thinner than the older Z2. In fact, it is one of the thinnest smartphones out there, right next to the soon to be launched iPhone 6 (here’s a quick comparison between the Z3 and the iPhone 6S, BTW).
Keep in mind though that I’m reviewing a pre-production model of the Z3 here, that’s why I won’t be able to get into details regarding benchmarks and camera performance. But I will update those sections as soon as I get my hands on a final release unit.
Sony Xperia Z3 Review
Design and looks
There’s no trace of plastic on this thing anymore, as its sides are now entirely metallic, with a special coating on top meant to prevent them from scratching and denting easily. At least that’s what Sony claims, time and abuse will show if they’re right or not.
Now, all these combined do lead to a phone that still feels premium, solid made, but is at the same a bit more comfortable to grab, lift up and use every day. Its front and back faces are still made of glass which is going to catch smudges the second you get this out of the box, and the rounded metallic edges are a bit slippery, that’s why handling the Z3 feels somewhat like handling a precious piece of jewelry that could slip through your fingers any moment now. And if it were to take a plunge, there’s a fair chance this will land on glass and shutter. So treat it nicely, maybe even put a bumper on it, I know that’s what I’d do.
Anyway, I digress. The Z3 gets IP68 certification (a bump from the IP58 of the Z2), meaning it’s waterproof and dust-resistant. That’s why its ports and trays need to be covered by protective caps, which are now smaller than on the older Xperias. The MicroUSB slot sits on the left edge, while the NanoSIM and microSD slots sit on the right, behind this larger flap.
These aside, you’ll notice a small redesign of the round Home Button, which I find somewhat easier to find and press on the rounded side of the Z3. The volume rocker and the shutter key are still present, firm and made out of metal.
There are a few other minor changes of the Z3. One of them are the speakers. We still get two of them, facing forwards towards the user, but these no longer reside on the edges of the glass and have a smaller cut. They still sound really well and are louder than what you can usually find on smartphones. But one thing to keep in mind though: because the speaker cuts are now smaller and placed on the glass itself, it’s actually easier than before to cover and muffle them with your fingers when using the device in landscape mode.
Another aspect that was changed on the Z3 is a notification LED, which is now tiny and placed in the top-left corner of the front face, clearly not as visible or as interesting looking as on the older Z2.
To sum these all up, not as lot has changed on the Z3, except for its slightly redesigned and thinner body, as well as a few small outer details. And the same can be said about the internals.
This phone still packs a large screen with an IPS Triluminos panel and 1920 x 1080 px resolution, one of the best you can find on any handsets, bright, sharp and capable of delivering natural colors and clean whites.
Some might still complain about the rather poor viewing angles, but since you’ll be watching this screen headson most of the time, that shouldn’t be a major concern.
Hardware and daily use experience
Moving on, there’s still a Snapdragon 801 platform powering the whole thing with a quad-core processor now bumped up to 2.5 GHz and Adreno 330 graphics, paired with 3 GB of RAM, so again, only a minor improvement from the Z2.
But this is one of the fastest hardware solutions available out there and is capable of pushing the device fine through anything you might throw at it, from basic activities like taking calls and texting, to browsing, running benchmarks, watching movies and playing games.
On the other hand, the phone’s back still gets warm fast when dealing with serious tasks, but I for one can’t really hold a grudge for that to a device as sleek as this one.
To sum it up in a few words, my everyday experience with the tested Z3 was pretty much flawless. Everything loads fast on this thing and there are basically no hiccups, no sluggishness, no lag. Its retail version is going to run Android 4.4.4 KitKat, again a small update to the 4.4.2 version on the Z2, with all the UI tweaks and modifications we’ve seen on Sony smartphones before and a few proprietary apps presinstalled, like the Walkman and Playstation apps, Sony essentials, Xperia Lounge, Album or Music and Video Unlimited.
The Xperia Z3 can also hold its charge, mainly thanks to the fairly large battery inside. The Z2 was quite a performer when it came to battery life, and the Z3 is not a slacker either, despite only packing a 3100 mAh one, as it got me 2 days of everyday use with enough to spare, which is what I’d expect from such a phone these days.
One final thing to mention here is the main camera. I can’t tell you much about it though for the time being, as this review unit does not feature the final shooter, so the results might be misleading. However, I will update this section and I’ll add a bunch of samples for you guys there as soon as I’ll get my hands on a retail version of this phone. So stay tuned for that.
I can share that I was mostly satisfied with the camera on this samples, but the Superior Auto+ is still annoying, still only takes 8 MPx pics and still mushes up details. Hopefully the final versions of the Z3 will do better, but I’ve been waiting for Sony to fix this since the initial Xperia Z was launched, so I’m not going to hold my breath for it. Perhaps on the Z4, early next year…
Alright, at the end of the day, the Z3 is an evolution for the Z2, with whom it shares most traits and features. It focuses on addressing the heft of the previous Z and is now thinner, thus easier to use everyday. And it does change a few aspects here and there, but not all of them are for good (the speaker cuts or the notification LEDs, for instance).
Thus, if you already own a Z2, the Z3 is not worth an upgrade and perhaps not even if you own a Z1.
But if you are looking for a top-tier Android handset right now and don’t mind the large form-factor, than the Xperia Z3 should definitely be on your list, probably on top of most of its rivals, including the HTC One M8 and even the Samsung Galaxy S5. Here’s how the Z3 fares against the Galaxy S5, and in this post you’ll find it compared to its smaller kin, the Xperia Z3 Compact.
So, there you have it, this was my review of the Sony Xperia Z3. It’s your turn to tell me what you think about it now in the comments section below, whether it’s what you expected or not, whether you plan on buying it or rather get something else instead. I’ll be around to reply.