Sony had already announced its flagship smartphone – the Xperia Z2 – at this years Mobile World Congress and the units started appearing on the market May onwards. It has been just four months since, and Sony has already announced another flagship device – the Xperia Z3. This is nothing new for Sony, as it had done the same with the Xperia Z2, which was launched five months after the Sony Xperia Z1 launch. But is it really a drastic improvement or just a minor iteration? We will have a look, but first lets look at the build quality.
Build and Design
Sony Xperia Z3 has made some minor modifications to the build. Instead of having the half-curvature, half-flat design on the edges, Sony has gone with a completely curved design on the edges. While it certainly feels good in the hand, we wished Sony had used a more grippy material instead of the smooth metallic finish. Sure there is the dock connector on the left hand side and the power/standby, volume rocker and dedicated camera shutter buttons on the right edge to break the continuity, but at times the smooth edges paired with the glass back can get slippery.
The microSD card slot, the nano SIM slot and the microUSB charging ports are neatly hidden under flaps. Bottom edge is clean and there is a 3.5mm audio jack on the top left hand corner. The aluminum and glass construction exudes elegance. Even the speaker sections which used to peep out from the top and bottom edges on the Z2, have a smaller opening on the Z3 and are located a few millimeters from the edges which is a better implementation than the Z2.
It comes with an IP68 certification which as opposed to the IP58 seen on the Z2. IP stands for Ingress Protection and the two numbers indicate dust-resistance and water-resistance. The range for dust resistance is 0 to 6 and that for water resistance is 0 to 9. So the IP68 rating indicates that the phone is fully dust resistant whereas the water-resistance is the same as was seen with the Xperia Z2 which is water resistant over 1 meter and for 30 mins.
The bezel on the top and bottom makes one-handed operation a bit painful, but then if you are investing in a 5.2-inch screen size phone, that is a given. But now that we are seeing a lot more push towards having thinner bezels on flagship phones, it would have been better to see Sony shave off a few millimeters from the top and bottom to give us a phone which isn’t as tall. Thankfully Sony has managed to make the Z3 slimmer and lighter than the Z2. The Xperia Z3 measures 7.3mm thick as opposed to 8.2mm on the Z2 and the Z3 weights 152gm as compared to 163gm on the Z2.
Sony Xperia Z3 sports the same Snapdragon 801 SoC but the quad-core processor is not clocked at 2.5GHz instead of 2.3GHz as was the case with Xperia Z2. Apart from this the Z3 comes with Android 4.4.4 out of the box as opposed to the Z2 which has Android 4.4.2. Barring these two features, most other specifications are pretty much identical on both the Z2 and Z3. While the Sony Xperia Z2 came in just the 16GB variant, the Z3 comes in 16GB as well as 32GB variants. We tested the 16GB variant which offers usable memory of 11.5GB.
Some of the similar features include: 3GB RAM, Adreno 330 GPU, 5.2-inch full HD IPS screen, Triluminous display with the X-Reality engine and so on. On the camera front, the Z3 sports the same 20.7MP 1 / 2.3-inch sensor camera with a 2.2MP front facing camera. The rear camera allows you to shoot 4K@30fps, 1080p@60fps and 720p@120fps. The battery capacity on the Z3 is 3100mAh, which is a 100mAh less than that on the Z2.
Another brand new feature is the PS4 Remote Play. This lets you connect your Xperia Z3 to the same wireless network as your PlayStation 4 console, and you can pause the game on your big screen TV and continue from there on your Xperia Z3 using a PS4 controller.
Sony Xperia Z3 sports a 5.2-inch full HD screen and thanks to the IPS panel, you get brilliant viewing angles. The brightness levels are quite good. In fact Sony claims that this is the only phone with a brightness level of 600 candelas. Despite the high brightness levels, the black levels aren’t that disappointing. Of course, it does not come close to the blacks on AMOLED displays. Colours appear vivid and legibility in sunlight is quite good with brightness levels around 50 per cent as well. The glossy surface of the screen can be a bit annoying if you’re watching dark scenes in movies as it tends to reflect a lot.
Connectivity and Call quality
Sony Xperia Z3 supports quad-band 2G and 3G. Unlike the Xperia Z2, the Z3 will support LTE (4G) in the Indian market. You also get all the connectivity goodies such as Wi-fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, DLNA, GLONASS, assisted GPS, NFC and wireless tethering feature among others. There were no issues with the call quality. The speaker is loud enough and conversations were clearly audible even at high volume levels, with no noticeable distortions. We did not experience any dropped calls while testing, although that depends a lot on the network.
Sony multi-media features are similar to the ones seen on the Z2, but Sony has added the Hi-Res audio feature which tends to improve the audio quality. Songs with the Hi-Res feature will come with a small HR logo on the bottom corner of the album art. Audio quality is great for the most part. Thanks to the brilliant screen, the video output is also quite good. You can easily watch a movie in your room with audio provided just by the speakers (without using a headset).
We played a lot of games such as RipTide, FIFA 14, Temple Run 2 and so on and did not face any lag issues. The phone is quite responsive to graphics heavy games, just that it tends to heat up. But things didn’t get so bad that the app would crash altogether.
One of the best features on the Xperia Z3 is the camera. Although it is the same 1 / 2.3-inch sensor 20.7MP G sensor seen on its predecessor, Sony has added on a few features on the Z3 to enhance photography. Some of the interesting features include Face in, Multi-camera, AR Fun, Time-shift video, background defocus and so on. Face in allows you to capture yourself (the size of your selfie is adjustable as well) as you are shooting with the rear camera. Multi-camera lets you connect two more smartphones to your Z3 and you can then use the cameras of these two smartphones, along with your own Z3 to shoot from three different angles at the same time. At the launch event, we were told that as of now this feature is available only on the Z3 and Z3 Compact – which means you will need to own the latest smartphones to use this. Sony may have the intention to sell more Z3 handsets with this, but it would be much more practical if the feature is extended to other Sony / non-Sony phones as the communication protocol uses Wi-fi Direct. We hope it is extended to other Xperia branded phones at least.
AR Fun is another addition which lets you tinker around with your images with animations or drawings. The app behaves a bit strangely at times and we found it to be a hit and miss affair. But when it works, it gives you a lot of creative possibilities. We hopes the annotation option gave more responsive brushes.
All these extra features tend to heat up the smartphone quickly which is a bit annoying. For instance, while shooting in the Time-shift mode, we kept getting the ‘Overheat Control’ notifications telling us that the phone was overheating, and would automatically shut down the app if temperatures reached critical levels. If you are shooting outdoors in hot conditions, the rear side of the phone can get hot when using the special camera features.
PS: Please click on the images to see the go to the Flickr page having the full resolution images.
Image quality is excellent as is expected from Sony, but we just felt that the AF speed could have been faster. The Superior Auto mode makes shooting a breeze, and although shooting at 20MP, you will get a downscaled output of 8MP. To get the full 20.7MP resolution, you will need to shoot in the Manual mode. The centre sharpness is good, but details become softer around the edges. But we were impressed with the handling of artifacts such as purple fringing around fine edges. While Sony Xperia Z3 boasts of sensitivity level going up to ISO 12800, you will start noticing patchy details from ISO 3200 onwards. For sharing online, using higher ISO levels is fine, but if you are planning to print photographs, ensure you stay under ISO 3200.
Video shooting is also impressive with good colours and details. Modes like Time-shift video let you play around with the speed of the videos. It also offers 4K video recording mode. Indoor videos tend to be a bit more noisier for the same ISO levels vis-a-vis outdoor videos.
The Sony Xperia Z3 comes with a 3100 mAh battery and on after our rigourous 8-hour battery drain test (2 hours calling, 2 hours HD video playback, 2 hours audio playback and 2 hours video streaming and web surfing) the camera still showed around 41 per cent battery remaining. This is without the power-saving modes activated. That is an impressive number and you can easily use the phone regularly for more than a day and a half. But the drain is noticeable when you’re shooting videos or using AR and other special camera features. Under Settings > Power Management, you have the Stamina mode, Ultra stamina mode and low battery mode which when activated tend to ensure you get more juice out of your phones battery. Overall a phone that will easily last over a day and a half on regular usage.
Verdict and Price in India
Sony Xperia Z3 impresses on most counts. Apart from the heating issue, there was barely anything major to criticise. The camera performance and battery life performance in particular are quite good. The refinements in the design are a welcome change, although we would have liked the use of a grippier material on the edges. So overall a good product, but for one thing – Price!
The Sony Xperia Z3 is priced at Rs 51,990. When we had reviewed the Xperia Z2, we had mentioned that its price of Rs 49,990 was a bloated – and that was despite the fact that it came with a free Sony SmartBand. With a 50k plus price point Sony makes it difficult for us to recommend the Z3 outright, as the price points of Samsung Galaxy S5, LG G3 and HTC One M8 – all wonderful devices in their own league – are all under Rs 40,000. Build quality, features and performance wise, we are impressed with the Z3 and it certainly is worth the flagship title – but definitely not at the Rs 51,990 price point. Somewhere closer to Rs 45,000 would still make sense. The Sony Xperia Z2 comes for around Rs 40,000 as well, so if you really want a Sony phone, the Z2 isn’t bad either.