Sony has long been belittled, either because of its stubborn adherence to a somewhat dusty design, or because it can't get the best quality out of its image sensors compared to its customers like Samsung, Apple, Google and Huawei. But those who have used Sony smartphones for years and lived with these peculiarities will notice that Sony Mobile has been on a long transformative journey, at least since the XZ Premium. The brand new Xperia XZ3 is just another further proof that Sony is changing.
The radical design shift from Omnibalance to Ambient Flow is the most visible sign that Sony has jumped another hurdle on the way to a new future. Unfortunately, the Xperia XZ2, the first Sony Mobile smartphone with a modern look, had a lot we could criticize. The smartphone was heavy, the display bezels don't match the modern look and the fingerprint sensor is an ergonomic hell, which you can't fully get used to after several months using it. Unfortunately, the latter critique of the Xperia XZ2 hasn't been addressed with the Xperia XZ3.
But, at least Sony reduces the weight of the Xperia XZ3 and gives the smartphone a less bulbous back, which leaves me with the impression that the XZ3 fits better in my hand. When you turn on the Xperia XZ3, you'll see another element that blends more harmoniously into the ambient flow design of modern Xperia smartphones: the display edges. As with many smartphones in 2018, these are now curved.
Of course, you rarely look right at the edges, but it's something that has bothered me about the Xperia XZ2. Much more exciting for the masses is the fact that Sony has installed an OLED display panel in an Xperia smartphone for the first time. The 6-inch panel is even curved in such a way that you would almost guess it's a Samsung panel.
In addition to these obvious design changes, smaller accents are hidden that distinguish the Xperia XZ3 from the XZ2. There is even a little notch, but not in the way you'd guess. Before the notch-haters start to panic, it's very small and sits on the back of the device as a transition from the aluminum frame above the USB Type-C port.
A display to fall in love with
Back to the display. At this time, it can't be said whether the new OLED panel will come from Samsung. More important than the panel manufacturer, however, is that Sony Mobile is finally pulling in the same direction as its television division. While the Japanese company could justify the use of IPS with the improved visibility in bright environments, OLEDs show their strengths more in dark environments.
The black values are really rich and the colors are vivid. Of course, according to Sony, the display of the Xperia XZ3 is already designed for HDR content.
Thanks to the curved sides of the display, Sony also gives the Xperia XZ3 a new feature, which has an odd name: SideSense. Unlike Active Edge on Google or HTC Edge Sense, Sony's SideSense is not integrated into the smartphone and doesn't involve squeezing the body of the phone. Rather, the curved sides of the display are used to perform actions. Single or double tapping on these display zones triggers actions such as opening the camera or voice assistant. It's a nice gimmick, which works quite well on our test device, but we'll have to wait and see if this really brings added value in our final review.
Old camera, new software
Finally, Sony has listened to my pleas and not only reworked the camera app, but redesigned it from the ground up. The hardware is still that of the Xperia XZ2, a 19 MP Exmor R sensor that can record super slow motion videos at 960 FPS. Gone are the days of confusion in the camera app and illogical settings.
When you launch the app, it feels like Sony has been inspired to develop Samsung software. But compared to the camera app still used in the XZ2 Premium, this is a huge leap forward. In terms of functions and features, however, there is nothing new in the app.
The new snapshot function is also interesting. Even though the Xperia XZ3 still has a dedicated camera shutter button, and you can use it to start the camera from standby, Sony thought it would be faster. By picking up the smartphone in a horizontal position, the camera starts automatically and displays a round camera opening like at the beginning of a James Bond trailer. A simple tap is now all it takes, and the image lands in the gallery of the Xperia XZ3.
If that's not enough as a gimmick, you can prepare yourself for the fact that 3D head scans on Sony smartphones will soon also master small animations such as winking and smiling. This feature won't be available until sales start, but will be added later via an update to the camera app.
The sale of the Xperia XZ3 is to begin shortly after IFA.
Sony will ship the Xperia XZ3 with Android 9 Pie as standard, so you can assume that the camera app and some model-independent features such as animated 3D scans will also arrive on older Xperia XZ models via software and app updates. Sony is aiming for a retail price of 799 euros, which is about $932 USD. As long as Xperia XZ2 models are still in demand, the model will continue to be sold, but the price will be probably be adjusted accordingly.
Sony has taken some of the criticisms of past devices, especially the XZ2, to heart. After a few hours with the Xperia XZ3, even if the software wasn't in its final version, the Xperia XZ3 made a much better overall impression than the XZ2. The 6-inch OLED panel makes the XZ3 a very good smartphone for consuming high-resolution videos, and thanks to powerful hardware, the XZ3 can also be a good device for gamers.
But the biggest questions still stand in terms of battery life, and the photo and video quality. We still need to find out in a final review whether Sony has kept its strong battery life in spite of switching to QHD resolution, and whether the new camera app is not only easier to use but also gives better photo and video results. As soon as the final test device reaches our office, we will answer these questions for you. Until then, you can't deny the XZ3's is ambitiously trying to be an alternative to the Samsung Galaxy S9+, Google Pixel 2 or Huawei P20 Pro.