Loud auditoriums, ballet dancers, camera flashes, YouTube video reviews and then silence. This is the short, floodlit, winding road that is universally traversed by all global players in the mobile industry when unveiling “the next big thing”. Sooner or later – usually sooner – the bandwagon then moves on to the next, “next big thing”. So, over 6 months after launch, we look back at the Sony Xperia Z3, in Retrospect.
Way back at the 2014 Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin, or IFA if you’re linguistically challenged, Sony unveiled its new flagship smartphone, the Sony Xperia Z3.
The Z3 was just a little bit smaller in every dimension that its predecessor, the Z2. Whilst, thinner, shorter and narrower than the Z2, the Z3 was also lighter weighing in at just 152g. Under the hood, the Z3 stuck with the same 5.2″ IPS 1080p (424ppi) panel found on the Z2, but increased the screen to body ratio to just over 70%. The same 20.7MP rear camera is found on the Z3 as Z2 but the software post-processing delivers a slightly more detailed and sharp look to its pictures. The camera is also capable of 4K video recording at 30fps, 1080p video recording at 60fps and 720p recording at 120fps for those slow motion clips.
The same Quad Core Snapdragon 801 SoC running at slightly faster 2.5Ghz clock speed with 3GB RAM, 2.2MP front facing camera, and Fast charging capabilities are found on the Z3 this time around, with the only difference being a strangely smaller 3100mAh battery than that which is found in the Z2.
So, what was the unique selling point of the Sony Xperia Z3? Whilst a very good question, the answer is, unfortunately, there isn’t really one stand out specification here. The Sony Xperia Z3 debuted in the same calendar year as its predecessor, the Z2, and therefore somewhat unsurprisingly, offers only small iterative benefits over it. The Z3 does offer Remote Play which streams Playstation 3 and 4 video and audio directly to the phone. A very cool feature, but one that has been retrospectively added to the Z2 also.
The Z3 certainly does up its game in the weather proofing stakes, this time sporting an IP68 rating which delivers dust proofing, as well as water resistance over 1 metre for up to 30 minutes. There are many reasons why this could be useful, but aside from the fun and games you might have with it at bath time, it certainly helps an otherwise delicately designed device, to feel a little more hardy in terms of the elements.
Using the Z3 is like revisiting an old friend. You feel you know them, understand that strengths and weaknesses, but perhaps don’t see them as often as you’d like. The Z3 certainly fits into this category. Whilst in Europe the Z3 is a well-known device, over pond, our cousins in the US have no such freedom to purchase the device. Only Verizon Wireless carry the Z3V, a carrier variant which is bulkier than its Z3 cousin, but sports Qi Wireless Charging support.
Whilst sales figures are difficult to come by, it’s safe to assume things didn’t go that well. At the back-end of 2014, Sony revised their smartphone shipment forecast for 2014-2015 down from 43 million, a figure that had previously been revised down from 50 earlier in 2014. Not a good sign. This is no doubt indicative of the lip service Sony seemingly pay to the US market in terms of smartphone marketing and carrier integration.
So how does the device hold up? Very well by all accounts. Despite the underwhelming iteration over its predecessor, consumers who purchased this device won’t have been disappointed.
The device is sleek, and well crafted. It’s slightly curved edges make it a good fit in the hand and comfortable for long usage. The device is on the slippery side however and any minuscule gradient is highlighted by the Z3 when placed upon the surface. Be particularly careful of tables, worktops and desks as this has had us exercising our Vampire-like reflexes on more than one occasion in order to save its glass construction from the inevitable. The display itself is bright, vibrant and detailed enough at 1080p, and the 3GB RAM along with a speedy processor helps things tick over nicely. In addition, callers were easily heard and stated that we too were easily heard, even on a busy street. The phone does, what a phone should do first and foremost and that is adequately facilitate a telephone call. Even in today’s messaging/social media embroiled world, the good old phone call is still relevant, and the Sony Xperia Z3 still has you covered.
The software hasn’t aged terribly well however. The Sony Xperia UI very much resembles a Playstation 3 theme, and whilst the wallpaper can be changed, there are only a small number of Themes available and the menu items brightness and cartoonish nature are maintained. This is something we’ve seen on Samsung TouchWiz devices, and it’s only slightly more bearable here. Square lines, large icons and bold colours are the order of the day here, but the positive is that the user interface is easily navigated and interacted with on that basis.
A few customisation settings are available. Themes are available but we found very few that looked acceptable on the device from the Play Store. The stock themes are coloured variations on the Playstation swirling theme. Thankfully the usual array of Android customisation is available with widgets and icons viewed via a long press on the home screen. Additionally users can customise the quick settings in the pull down shade which is a nice touch.
The battery that powers this beautiful device is a 3100mAh nonremovable unit. The battery fared very well in our testing. Through medium to low usage (mostly pictures and video recording and Twitter use) we managed to get through 7 days of standby time and managed over 5 hours of screen on time. That’s very good indeed! It’s safe to say that you still won’t be reaching for the charger every day if you’re packing this device. In order to help with battery life Sony has included some battery saving software. Here sliders are displayed to allow customisation of the power profile. Moving the device into STAMINA or Ultra STAMINA mode will change the devices’ operation to varying degrees solely to improve battery life and enable you to eke that last little drop of juice from the unit.
The Camera is perhaps one of the stand out features of the Sony Xperia Z3. It has a speedy shutter speed, and with its 21MP resolution, manages to capture some sharp detail in general day-to-day use. Colours seem vibrant and true to life but with a slightly cool hue when compared to other devices. The device does a good job when it comes to shutter speed with daylight shots being captured almost instantly. Low light shots are more challenging however and Auto mode will detect when there is low light and change the mode accordingly. Shutter speed is increased to gather as much of the light as possible which invariably leads to blurred/unfocused shots. The results in terms of brightness are sometimes brilliant, however you’ll have to have a very steady hand in order to get a good night shot. The selfie camera on the other hand is somewhat disappointing, with loss of detail and some noise creeping in. Not bad for a 2.2MP shooter though. The camera software itself also has many features to rival current generation flagships and won’t look out-of-place next to a Samsung Galaxy S6 or HTC One M9 in terms of fun tricks! One of our favourite modes was the Augmented Reality mode that had us looking at a T-Rex in our own room! Very good fun.
As for video recording, the Sony Xperia Z3 is capable of shooting in 4K and does a pretty decent job of it too. As the thinness of this device might have forewarned, there is no Optical Image Stabilisation to be had here. Instead Sony’s software processing attempts to do away with jittery movements enough to deliver a smooth video recording experience.
The auto focus is particularly fast, as can be seen in the above videos, and helps to give pseudo-smoothness to the playback. Too often devices are jittery when hand-held as well as having slow auto-focus performance which simply accentuates the flaws. The Sony Xperia Z3 manages to avoid this pitfall.
After all of the above, is this device still worth looking at with new flagship devices starting to ship at the time of writing and Sony themselves readying a successor? If the rumours are to be believed, the Z4 will be another relatively iterative update which shines an even brighter light on the Sony Xperia Z3 as a potential purchase. At £450 for a brand new Sony Xperia Z3, I don’;t think we could possibly recommend it with what is on the horizon, however if you can pick up a second-hand Z3 (and they are readily available as people look for the new flagships) for anywhere from £250 to £350 it might well be worth looking at. The specifications are still very capable and the Camera will remain one of the better cameras in Android’s line up for a few years yet.
Suffice to say those that have the device won’t regret their purchase, even if that purchase comes 6 months after its release.
A big thank you to Vodafone UK for providing us with the Sony Xperia Z3 for this article.