Sony Xperia Z3 review: The no-frills flagship

Leaving Galaxys in its rear view.

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Sony Xperia Z3
  • Sony Xperia Z3
  • Sony Xperia Z3
  • Sony Xperia Z3
  • Expert Rating

    4.50 / 5

Pros

  • Great display
  • Exceptional camera
  • Long battery
  • Water- and dust- proof
  • Glass and aluminium body

Cons

  • Rare flagship without IR transmitter
  • No finger scanner

Would you buy this?

Six months on and Sony has updated its flagship smartphone with the Z3. Not enough time has passed for the company to release a brand new device. In fact, it’s best to think of the Z3 as a ‘lite’ version of the widely praised Xperia Z2.

That’s not to say the little tweaks haven’t made a difference. Turns out the Z2 only needed a light touch for it to be elevated from a good flagship to one that is great.

Most of the changes concern the appearance. Technically the Z3 is more powerful, and yet it is thinner at 7mm and lighter at 152 grams. Rounded aluminium now accounts for the frame and the unattractive flaps defacing the old smartphone have been swapped out for tasteful alternatives.

These seemingly insignificant changes have a profound effect on the appeal of the Z3. Finally, Sony has made its tired design beautiful.

Inherited from its predecessor is a 5.2in, 1920x1080 resolution display. The 424 pixel-per-inch screen remains a market-leader, only it benefits from improved stereo speakers.

Deep down the Xperia Z3 is a multimedia machine and its credentials extend beyond its screen and speakers. The music player on the Z3 wears the ‘walkman’ logo. It is compatible with high resolution formats, such as .flac and Sony’s HRA, while other formats, including MP3 and AAC, are upscaled in quality.

Sitting flush on its back is a 20.7 megapixel camera capable of recording videos in ultra high definition. Photos benefit from a wide colour gamut, a great amount of detail and little image noise. Viewing landscape shots elicits a ‘wow’ because the camera somehow translates the beauty of a scene from its lens to the screen nesting in the palm of your hand.

Apple has a computing ecosystem, while Samsung’s ecosystem is centred around its audio and visual technologies. The backbone of Sony’s ecosystem is its photography division. Handling a Sony phone is the coming together of its technologies, including its triluminos displays, cybershot cameras and Sony Pictures production company.

Captured with the Sony Xperia Z3 at 8 megapixels
Captured with the Sony Xperia Z3 at 8 megapixels

Read more: Sony Xperia Z3 Compact review: A flagship at 4.6-inches
Captured with the Sony Xperia Z3 at 8 megapixels
Captured with the Sony Xperia Z3 at 8 megapixels

Captured with the Sony Xperia Z3 at 8 megapixels
Captured with the Sony Xperia Z3 at 8 megapixels

The photo above cropped at 100 per cent - Captured with the Sony Xperia Z3 at 8 megapixels
The photo above cropped at 100 per cent - Captured with the Sony Xperia Z3 at 8 megapixels

It is possible to take the Z3’s proficient photographic prowess underwater. The Z3’s IP68 rating means it can be submerged in freshwater more than 1 metre deep for thirty minutes. Touch screens don’t work underwater, which is why Sony has gone the extra mile and included a physical shutter key.

Tradesman will appreciate the IP68 rating for yet another reason: it means the Z3 is certifiably dustproof. Gamers too will be drawn to the smartphone as its screen can be used with a controller to play PlayStation 4 games. (Good Gear Guide has seen this feature in action, but at the time it wasn’t available in Australia for us to review.)

Much of the internal hardware for the Z3 remains the same, although the quad-core CPU runs at a faster 2.5GHz. Joining it is an Adreno 330 GPU, 3GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage. The flap on its left conceals a microSD storage slot that is good for an additional 128GB of expandable memory.

Read more: Grab a $49 Android tablet with your grocery shopping

Sony doesn’t bother naming their overlay. To them, it’s intricately tied into Android 4.4 KitKat. The operating system would be near stock were it not peppered with proprietary applications, such as Sony’s Walkman music player, its PlayStation Network application and its Lifelog smartband application. The spiffy software leaves the impression Sony is adding onto Android and not trying to redefine the established operating system.

The app draw is stock; the messaging app; the shortcuts in the notification blind can be easily swapped out.
The app draw is stock; the messaging app; the shortcuts in the notification blind can be easily swapped out.

The Walkman's index; the album list; and an overview of the gallery
The Walkman's index; the album list; and an overview of the gallery

The smartphone does ship with some bloatware. All of the third-party applications can be uninstalled, along with approximately half of the Sony apps. Furthermore, Sony has a good track record when it comes to software updates and has pledged the Z3 will receive Android 5.0 Lollipop.

Integrated into the smartphone is a 3100 milliamp-hour battery. The battery may be 100 milliamps smaller in capacity, but intelligible software helps it last longer.

The Xperia Z3 didn’t last two days with us as Sony claims; a milestone reached by its Compact variant. We found the smartphone would last 27 hours under heavy use, and an impressive 30 hours with the power saving ‘stamina mode’ enabled. These remain solid figures for a flagship and a marked improvement over the Z2’s average of 21 hours.

Read more: EXCLUSIVE: Ingram Micro steps up mobility services play

Charging contacts makes it possible to charge the Z3 without opening the flap. The dock is an optional extra.
Charging contacts makes it possible to charge the Z3 without opening the flap. The dock is an optional extra.

Faulting the Z3 is tough. Points can only be discounted for what it doesn’t have, such as an IR transmitter for use as a remote control or a finger scanner for extra security.

What it does have, however, has been implemented flawlessly. The hardware works wonderfully with the software, the camera is brilliant, as is the display, the music player and the battery life.

This is a no frills smartphone that nails all the basics. We think it’s an absolute beaut.

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Read more on these topics: smartphone, Android 4.4, mobility, KitKat, sony
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