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Before I begin I’d just like thank Vodafone UK for sending the Sony Xperia Z3 out for TechFly.

It wasn’t all that long ago that I remained in love with HTC’s One M8. I had one on review for well over a month. I knew that I had liked the previous year’s HTC One that much that the new model, with its dual cameras, faster performance and more would keep me satisfied for quite some time to come.

And it did. I loved the One M8 right up until the point that I had to send it back to Vodafone.

I do a lot of traveling. I need battery life. I need something that can run a portable hotspot for hours without going flat if needs be. Having a waterproof phone is a major drawcard. I like effortless connectivity, form and function.

From what I had been hearing from other similar reviews on the Sony Xperia Z3, I had to check it out, and so I called up Vodafone, and settled on the bigger, and slimmer, Xperia Z3.

It has a nice big screen, a nice big battery, it is waterproof, it has a fairly decent camera, and while it doesn’t have wireless charging, the magnetic charging adaptor (and available docks as accessories) do the trick. It’s a fantastic package.

[divider]Camera[/divider]Before we jump into this review, there’s a couple of things to note. First, there are a great number of similarities between the Xperia Z3 and Xperia Z3 Compact, and so there is a bit of ground that we won’t cover again. Where appropriate, though, we’ll draw some comparisons so you can make up your own mind.

[divider]Physical Design[/divider]The Xperia Z3 is 14.6 cm tall, 7.2 cm wide, and 7.3 mm thick, and constructed of shatterproof front and rear glass panels surrounded by an aluminium bezel. Weighing in at 152 g, it’s a little heavier than the Z3 Compact (at 129 g) but you do get a lot more for those extra 23 grams.

That bigger dimension allows a bigger screen; 1080 x 1920 pixels at 5.2″, vs 720 x 1280 at 4.6″. For those handy with a calculator, you’ll immediately note that the Z3 has a pixel density of 424 ppi, which is above anything that Apple makes in a handheld, but a little behind some of its Android stablemates; the Galaxy S5 is slightly higher, as so is the HTC One M8. The resolution and size hasn’t changed from the Xperia Z2, but that shouldn’t be interpreted as a negative. The Z2 had a great screen, and the Z3 does too. The display is bright and rich, and it’s nigh on impossible to discern individual pixels.

 

From the front on, the Z3 looks just like the Z3 Compact, just a little bigger. The top of the Z3 sports nothing other than the 3.5 mm headphone jack, which for a waterproof phone surprisingly lacks a port cover. Apparently it isn’t needed. The bottom is even more devoid of features, having absolutely nothing at all, just a solid, flush aluminium panel.

The right side of the Z3 is its busiest aspect, with a MicroSD and Nano SIM slot towards the top, the power key below that, a volume rocker next, and lastly, a dedicated camera/shutter button. This little trickster can wake the phone from sleep and immediately launch the camera in around about a second, and once the camera is open, a second press will take a photo, and you can repeat ad infinitum. It’s great for capturing those special moments, and its even better when used in a damp environment, because there’s no need to touch the screen (which isn’t reactive under water, anyway).

The left side of the phone has a microUSB charger, though this is protected by a port cover, and a little lower is the magnetic charger port. This isn’t covered (because its sealed) and it makes charging the phone a breeze if you have a compatible dock. You can buy them from Sony for about £40 or so, or you can buy knock-offs on eBay for about £10 which do the same job. I thoroughly recommend investing in a couple of these if you’re going to get a Z3; opening and closing the MicroUSB port cover every time you want to put it on charge or put it in your pocket is an annoyance, but it’s not too bad. Even a chewed, mangled fingernail is sufficient to open it, so you won’t be going looking for the jewellers screwdrivers here.

 

The back of the Z3 is very plain; there’s another Sony logo, the camera (which we’ll go into, below), a small NFC logo to indicate where the optimum reception is, and some XPERIA lettering down the bottom.

All in all, it’s a beautiful, minimal physical design, and it just looks, nay, oozes premium. Better yet, it’s flat, so it’ll sit nicely on your desk (unlike the One M8) and it doesn’t have what I’ve come to call the bandaid effect like the rear of the Galaxy S5.

The downside, if I have to find one, is that being glass, the Z3 can get slippery when wet, or when hands are sweaty. I don’t care how shatterproof glass is, there’ll be a way to crack it, and I don’t want to find out what it takes, so I’ve taken to keeping the Z3 in a case just for a bit of extra peace of mind. That said, we’ve heard stories about Z3’s taking a dive of at least two stories onto concrete and they’ve survived.. so your mileage may vary widely.

The only other thing I’ve noticed, and it’s not a major deal by any stretch, is that the front-facing speakers do like to accumulate dust and pocket lint, so I’d recommend giving them a quick blow out every now and again to prevent a build-up. Especially so after use in water, because while the speaker ports won’t allow water ingress into the guts of the phone, water can hang around in the speaker holes for a while, and it will muffle your sound and reduce the volume quite significantly.

[divider]Guts and Internals[/divider]
So that’s the Xperia Z3 on the outside. What about inside?

The brains behind the Z3 is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 (MSM8974AC) which runs at 2.5 GHz with four Krait 400 cores. Paired with the defacto standard Adreno 330 GPU, the Z3 has a significant amount of power, but the Snapdragon 801 isn’t exactly new. It’s getting on to ten months old now, and it’s the same processor that’s in most of 2014’s top shelf hardware, such as the Galaxy S5, HTC One M8, LG G3, and more.

The Snapdragon 805 is the new kid on the block, and while the power increase is incremental, it hasn’t found its way into much consumer hardware just yet, being limited to primarily the Galaxy Note 4 and Edge, the Motorola Nexus 6, and a few other less common devices.

Don’t be fooled. The 801 is no lurch, and the Xperia Z3 feels as fast, if not faster, than just about everything else I’ve used this year (and I’ve used a lot, and in 2014).

3GB of RAM (an increase over the 2GB in the Z3 Compact) is coupled with 16GB on device storage, of which about 11.5GB is accessible to the user. There is a 32GB variant as well, but it is harder to find. Regardless, the Z3 storage can be taken up to 16+128GB with the addition of a MicroSD card, and while Android changes have reduced the function of MicroSD storage somewhat, probably the best use is for photos and media storage (which is easy enough to achieve) so you can capture a practically unlimited amount of photos and videos, as well as carrying music and movies with you for travel.

Probably the main remaining factor is the battery. Inside this sucker is a 3100mAh battery, which Sony quotes as lasting up to 740 hours in standby on a 3G network, and offering up to 16 hours talk time on 3G. For those who need a little help, 740 hours is a touch over a MONTH of standby time, and while I haven’t had the patience (or inclination) to test this, it does seem a bit excessive. I believe that this figure is quoted based on Ultra STAMINA mode, which turns off basically everything except phone calls and SMS. It takes a while to activate, and reduces your smartphone to a fairly dumb Nokia 3120 in terms of functionality, but the upshot is that you may well extract a few weeks of standby time from your handset. A good thing if perhaps you get stranded in the outback and you need to conserve power … but for everyone else, there’s the options of car chargers, battery extenders, and wall chargers.

I haven’t had issues with the battery life on the Z3. It easily lasts a day with 30-40% remaining in the evening, and if I turn on STAMINA mode (which turns off data when the screen is off), that figure is closer to 50-60%. You’d think this would cripple the phone, but it doesn’t. You can exempt apps from the STAMINA restriction, which allows (for example) Hangouts to continue to function, Gmail to continue to poll for mail, and so on. What it stops is the other, less visible background data being used, and it stops apps that don’t need to be running from actually doing much. All in all, it’s a fancy way of saying the battery life can be doubled just by flipping the switch, and you lose little (if any) functionality by doing so.

While the battery size is bigger than the Z3 Compact (at just 2600 mAh), the Z3 Compact does have a few tricks up its sleeve to really sip away quite gently at its battery; when GSM Arena ran its standard battery life endurance tests on both, the Z3 scored 85 hours, and the Z3 Compact scored a whopping 101 hours.

[divider]Screen / Display[/divider]
I’ve ridden Sony about the quality of screens they’ve used in flagships, and it seems others have too. The first Xperia Z had a rubbish screen; it was fine to view from front on, but tilt the angle slightly, and it became almost impossible to view.

That’s changed, and it changed a while ago. The Z3 has some of the shallowest viewing angles I’ve seen, meaning you can view it just about from side on, from either side, from the top, or from below.

Like the Z3 Compact, the viewing angles are great, and the colour reproduction is brilliant; colours stand out, and seem to pop, and the unrealistic over brightness (totally not made up word) of Super AMOLED screens just isn’t found here.

Double tap to wake is an awesome feature which other phones have found earlier this year, and while it isn’t required all the time, it’s nice to have (especially when the phone is sitting on a desk, for example).

[divider]Sound[/divider]
From what I gather, the Z3’s auditory performance is the same as the Z3 Compact’s. Front facing stereo speakers make mincemeat of monaural rear-facing speakers of the past, and while they’re not quite as loud as HTC’s BoomSound speakers, they’re pretty damned close. They’re more than adequate for watching a movie or TV show, and you could use them to listen to music too (if you don’t mind getting thumped by fellow commuters for doing so). I’d recommend headphones for music, but for watching some video, the front facing speakers are sublime.

Like the Xperia Z3 Compact camera before it, the Xperia Z3’s camera is pretty good. It’s the same sensor, and it’s been used in the line before the Z3, as well. Taking a good photo is fairly effortless; grab the phone, push the dedicated camera button, half-click to focus the shot, then complete the click to capture your image.The Z3 camera performs well across most environments. Night shots do show a hint of too much post-processing if you get too up close and personal, but the result can certainly be improved by taking a second or two more to really line up, focus properly and capture a nice shot without wobble. That said, if you’re a bit careless, you’re still going to get a usable image, but it might not be top shelf.One cool feature I just had to show off was the slow-motion camera. Capturing video at 120 fps allows you to perform some neat tricks, such as slo-mo lightning, as someone has already tested on YouTube.In short, you’re going to have a fair bit of fun with the Z3 Camera. It may not be an SLR, but it does take a decent shot with very little effort.  
[divider]Android OS[/divider]
Sony’s had a good reputation for keeping their phones bang up to date with the latest Android version at the time of release, and this has held true with the Z3 and Z3 Compact shipping with Android 4.4.4 (Android 5.0 was released just after these guys hit the market).Where Sony sometimes drops the ball is on updates, and although the company’s gotten much better at speaking to the customer base about updates, they’re still not exactly speedy in delivering them. The company’s announced its intention to update all Z-series devices to Lollipop, but there’s no specifics on timeframe, and the somewhat alarming words “later in 2015” appeared in their announcement (it’s already 2015!). To be fair, they’re not the only company that drags their heels a bit on updates, but compared to HTC and Motorola it leaves a little to be desired.Regardless, the Z3 is a powerful phone running near-to-latest Android software and that ain’t bad. Updates will come. Being the current flagship, the Z3 is likely to receive the Android 5.0 update before others, but waiting until January or February 2015 (at the earliest) is a bit of a disappointment.[divider]Third-party apps[/divider]

  • AVG Antivirus Pro *
  • Evernote *
  • File Commander
  • Garmin Navigation (“Xperia Edition”) *
  • Kobo e-book reader *
  • OfficeSuite *
  • LinkedIn *

Some of the third-party apps I could frankly do without. AVG seems to just want to upsell their products on you (“Want better performance? Install AVG Cleaner!”).

Garmin’s Navigation software (actually Navigon once you get into the app) is actually really poorly designed, doesn’t seem aware that 720p screens exist, presents scary dialogs to the user on first run and the map view is busy and hard to read — you may as well just not provide it, Sony.

Other software, like Evernote, is a way to ease users into well-established and popular services. It’s a little surprising that Sony’s preloaded software bundle doesn’t err more towards these apps.

File Commander is an easy to overlook application, but it has one notable, and powerful, feature that makes it worthy of your attention. Because it’s a system app, it’s not restricted in its access to the MicroSD card, meaning you can easily move files, media, videos, or whatever from your internal storage to the external card. Sure, most people won’t need this (you can set the Camera to capture directly to the MicroSD), but I like to move my photos into folders for easier importing into my desktop photo manager, and so File Commander makes this really easy. 

[divider]The Specs[/divider]

  • 5.2-inch IPS LCD display (424 PPI)
  • Snapdragon 801 chipset, 2.5Ghz Krait 400 CPU, Adreno 330 GPU
  • 3GB RAM
  • 16GB Storage, Micro SD (to 128GB)
  • 20.7MP rear camera, 2.2MP front camera
  • Wi-fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual band
  • Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-fi direct
  • GPS, GLONASS
  • Cellular:
    • GSM: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz
    • WCDMA: 850/900/1700/1900/2100 MHz
    • 4G LTE: 700/800/850/900/1700/1800/1900/2100/2600 Mhz
    • Nano SIM
  • Android KitKat 4.4.4
  • 3100 mAh battery
  • 146.5 x 72.4 x 7.35 mm, 152 grams
[divider]Conclusion[/divider]
That, really, sums up my feels on Sony’s current flagship line. They’ve just nailed it. The Z3 has some flaws, and they are annoying, but compared to some of the downsides offered by other flagship phones, I just feel that Sony have got so much more of it right.Great battery life. Great physical design. No cheap plastics. Underwater capabilities. The ability to charge without opening port covers. These are all great things.Some of the negatives bite. Notifications while you’re on a phone call make an annoying beep right in your ear, and you can’t turn it off. It’s very annoying, but there’s not much you can do, so you just get used to it.You should be able to turn sound off, and you can’t.Any phone that claims it is waterproof should be taken with a grain of salt. The Z3 boasts IP68 rating, which means it should survive immersion in water up to a metre or two for an hour or so without suffering any damage. Wrapping up, all phones have their quirks, and to expect any device to be 100% perfect is a big expectation. No phone that I’ve ever used has ever been 100%. We just look for the best fit we can find, and in my case, Sony is fitting like a fine leather glove.I would recommend you buy the Z3, and without hesitation. I can’t really think of anyone who it would not be suitable for. It’s just a great phone, it works really well, and it has very few flaws. You can get the Z3 now from Vodafone UK with Pay-monthly contracts starting at £34.50 or if you live in Edinburgh, a new store has opened up at 117 Princes Street, Edinburgh EH2 3AA.

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