In the world of smartphones the name Sony Xperia is as strong as it ever has been thanks to the consistently well performing devices that the Japanese firm have been producing over recent years. The Z3 is the newest addition to the family that launches only six months after the Z2.
Whilst there is nothing stopping you upgrading from the Z2, the Z3 is less of a significant upgrade more of a slight refresh. The Z3 is a powerhouse and you will be struggling to find fault with the specification on offer. Over and above the Z2, the Z3 has become more powerful with a marginal processor boost, but the same amount of RAM. Believe it or not the internal battery has decreased by 100mAh but the device has also lost just shy of 1mm in thickness. For some and I will include myself in this, the amount of internal memory could be greater, 32GB would be better, but the microSD support for 128GB cards does give some real options as do the connectivity options and modern cloud storage and streaming services, should one become particularly short of space. A quick glance would not really allow you to distinguish between the Z3 and any of the previous Z range, but there are small, but noticeable differences when you take the time to look. The ‘biggest’ improvement on the Z3 is the profile of the device in the hand. The edges have become considerably more rounded which not only makes the device look more appealing, makes for a more comfortable grip. The 4 corners of the device have colour coded inserts if you like. They fit the frame of the device exactly, but on inspection you can see that they do not form part of the main frame and have been added for a particular reason. That reason is to assist in protecting the device should it be dropped. Unlike some competing handsets, Sony have not yet chosen to opt for a quad HD display and have therefore retained what is perhaps the more practical full HD IPS display with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 and a very respectable 424 Pixels Per Inch. Like any phone manufacturer the technology inside is tweaked to produce the best on screen results. The result is personal opinion, but within the Z3 there are two key technologies that have been used to assist in producing what you see. The first is TRILUMINOS which uses LEDs to emit purer reds and greens creating a brighter and more uniform light. The second part is X-Reality for Mobile which optimises images to improve colour reproduction, sharpness and contrast, as well as remove noise. The same 5.2” IPS screen found on the Xperia Z2 ensures good viewing angles, bright and realistic colours. Sony have made some further tweaks to make the screen a little brighter than the Z2 and more power conservative and this is why they could afford to lose 100mAh out of the battery. Whilst the vast majority of what you do on the Z3 will be with the devices itself, on the subject of displays, the Z3 from Sony does support external connectivity options including MHL 3.0 video out, which is ideal for sharing photos and videos with an even larger HD display. Being MHL 3.0 certified, the Z3 is amongst a minority in its ability to output true 4K footage. Whether you like it or not, with a Sony smartphone, the version of Android you get will have been tweaked to fit their design theme and vision for user experience. Whilst not overly engineered there are a variety of value added applications and customisations that you may or may not like. For the purist, removing what you can may be necessary, but there is value in some additions. Additions primarily include Sony’s multimedia suite of applications from Sony Music Unlimited to to TrackID, but there are a few others I feel are worthwhile additions. You will get the very latest version of Android 4.4 KitKat and Sony are reasonably good with their updates. Yes there will be delays, but they have made marked improvements from where they used to be with the number of updates and speed of updates they bring. For some time now Sony have been doing their best to look after those who like mobile and even console gaming, by making many of their handsets PlayStation Certified and this continues with the Z3. Being able to play PlayStation games on the move has been a great feature as has the ability to connect up a controller for that real gaming experience. However, things are about to get a whole lot better. From November 2014 if you have a PlayStation 4 console, you will be able to play the games on your console on your mobile via a wireless connection, thanks to Remote PLAY. For example, you are playing a game on your PS4 at home. You are kicked off the TV by a family member, but you still want to play. Take your PS4 controller, attach the optional Sony GCM10 game controller mount and play that very same game you were playing moments ago on your phone. The solution runs over WiFi and the processing of the game is all done on the PS4 yet you are viewing it on your Z3 screen. A pretty good addition you have to agree. The quality of the game is downscaled to boost performance, but we can live with that! The Z3 is a powerhouse and with 3GB of RAM supporting the 2.5GHz quad-core processor, multi-tasking is effortless. Lag is not really a word you will be considering when operating this phone. If you are new to Android, then one of the key appealing factors is the mass array of applications available from the Play Store, from games to social to productivity apps, all the big titles are there for you to download, a large proportion of which are free. Another great ability is the way in which you can make the phone yours, personalising and tweaking to make yours different to every other. If you already use Google services with a matter of seconds you can be signed in and minutes later all your key data restored to your Z3. If you are making the switch from the Apple or Nokia camp, Sony help to make this transition as simple as possible, especially when moving from iOS thanks to Xperia Transfer application. Also built into the Xperia Z3’s software is Glove Mode, which as the name implies, enhances the screen sensitivity so that you can use the phone in colder climates. Smart Backlight Control keeps the screen on when you look at the phone, no need to actually touch the handset. Smart Call Handling allows you to answer a call by bringing the phone to the ear, rejecting a call by shaking it and silencing a call by turning the phone over. Tap To Wake Up turns the screen on after a double tap on the display. Other small extras included on the Z3 include ‘small apps’. Press and hold on the running apps key and at the bottom you are presented with list of apps such as a calculator, stopwatch, sound recorder and screen capture tool. These small apps sit in windows on top of Android, can be moved about on screen and retain their position even as the phone is being used in the background. Only upon closing them will they disappear. A flagship Xperia comes with all the connectivity you could really expect from both a wired and wireless perspective. Bluetooth, WiFi, DLNA and GPS including GLONASS standards are all included so basic functions such as Internet connectivity, music streaming and street level navigation are covered. 3G and 4G LTE are present too so you can get high speed mobile data. You can use the magnetic pins on the side of the device to charge the phone without opening the slightly fiddly port covers. You will require a Sony DK48 magnetic charging dock. Copy and paste files to and from a USB memory stick via the Z3 using a USB host cable. Perfect when a colleague hands you a presentation or you need a copy of some photos. MHL 3.0 enables 4K output from the phone, so 4K video captured on the camera, or downloaded to the device can actually be output in full 4K Ultra HD rather than the more common 1080p. NFC is being championed by Sony and whether you pick up one of their speakers or SmartWatch’s one touch NFC pairing is usually present. What is missing? Wireless charging. It has become increasingly more popular in the last 6 months and Sony intend to add this to the Z3 in the form of the WCR14 Qi enabled case. It is not the best solution, but one none the less. The Z3 now has DSEE HX (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) and Hi-Res Audio. Together they work to try and provide a studio like quality to the sound from an audio file considerably smaller than the original. The Z3 continues with the stereo front facing speakers which are a marked improvement on the Z1. Close, but not quite as good as HTC’s One M8 speakers I am sorry to say. The Z3 produces results on the decibel meter in the mid to high 80’s at full volume. Stereo speakers go a long way to assisting in the audio experience and with the Xperia Z3. The speakers managed to fill the surrounding space very well. There are no marked differences on the camera from the Z2 but a few software tweaks and improvements around ISO to try and produce better results. Xperia Z or Z1 users will most likely notice the biggest improvements. The Z3 sits with its head held high next to the competition in the Android ranks thanks to its 20.7 megapixel camera. The Z3 takes extremely good photos in well lit conditions and if you take some of our sample images into consideration you will be hard pressed to knock them. Whites do blow out a bit and zooming in does quickly lose some quality. Editing of images is infinitely more possible than it used to be even for the novice user, so if you are not too happy a few simple tweaks can make a good picture very good. The LED flash certainly helps in low light or night time photos. A grainy or noisy result does occur quite regularly, but there are improvements. You will get a better low light shot on the Z3 than most other phones. Unlike the standard camera interface on Android devices, Sony have put a lot of work in here and this is perhaps where their tweaks are most noticeable. Like its predecessor the Z3 offers full 4K Ultra HD video recording. 4K does mean a lot of memory gets used and the phone can get hot; and no, you are no longer limited to 5 minutes. There are many interesting shooting styles under the creative effect option within the camera app. Give your images and video a sketch, nostalgic, vivid, mosaic or old film filter amongst many more. Steadyshot is the Sony branded name for their Optical Image Stabilisation, and gives an equivalent effect, if not quite as good results to the offerings from competitor’s cameras, reducing shake and motion blur in footage. Shooting in Superior Auto mode is likely to be your go to shooting mode. This detects the scene during shooting to provide the best settings as the phones determines suitable. Whilst the advantages speak for themselves, the image size is also adjusted automatically, so to consistently achieve the full 20.7 megapixel experience you need to use manual mode. When the screen is locked, the dedicated camera key on the Z3 can be held down for a second to quickly access camera app. This of course also acts as the shutter button. The volume keys can act as zoom controls too, but the results are a little disappointing here. Due to its very nature, digital zoom is not great but the Z3 does a reasonable job. Sony have shown on past devices how the pocket point and shoot camera can be replaced by a smartphone and the Z3 just reiterates that point. The 3,100mAh battery on the Z3 is 100mAh bigger than the Z1, but 100mAh smaller than the Z2. Simply put the technology has moved on yet again and the screen now draws less power meaning the battery could be reduced in size to keep the phone thin. Up to 2 days with Sony’s STAMINA mode is possible when being a little conscientious about your use. Most phones will last a working day and I could not put the Z3 in the camp of particularly good or particularly bad under my normal usage. A daily charge will likely be necessary. Customise STAMINA mode based on your needs and you may surprise yourself, 2 days is possible but I feel you will not really be using the phone to it’s full potential! All told, I think Sony could have kept the extra 1mm of thickness and filled it with battery! At the time of recording, the Z3 from Clove SIM free for £515 including £40 of accessories for free. This is on par with most other new flagship handsets. Give it a couple of months and the price will likely settle around the £475 mark which is roughly where the Samsung Galaxy S5 sits after several months on the market. Whether you buy now or wait, it is up to you, but the price is relative to its features and in-line with the market. So regretfully the Z3 is not going to be the bargain of the century, but you will not feel robbed either. It might be their fourth attempt at an Xperia Z smartphones, but with every attempt improvements are made. Whether you agree with a six monthly upgrade cycle or not, what you can not falter is Sony’s commitment to these devices and to providing you and I with what we want. The Z3 may not be perfect in everyones eyes. It is too big for one handed use for me, but that is a personal opinion. From the sheer processing power, to the memory, to the connectivity to the IP rating all the bases are covered with the Sony Xperia Z3 and I do truly believe you could do a lot worse when choosing a smartphone. That said, it is a buyers market and the number of choices you have are great, just pick what is right for you. I just can not help but wonder, what is coming next.