Sony updates its flagship smartphone far more often than rivals so the Xperia Z3 is already upon us. We've taken a look at the new Android handset so here's our Sony Xperia Z3 hands-on review.See also: The best smartphones of 2014
IFA 2014 is the setting for Sony's biggest ever launch of new mobile devices with the Xperia Z3 taking the lead. The firm has also unveiled the Xperia Z3 Compact, Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact, Xperia E3, SmartWatch 3 and SmartBand Talk.
It doesn't feel like long ago when we saw the original Xperia Z but we're already on the fourth generation of Sony's flagship device. The Xperia Z3 will go on sale this month with a 'premium' price tag. Read: Sony Xperia Z3 release date, price and specs.
Sony Xperia Z3 hands-on review: Design
As we've mentioned in other Sony Xperia reviews recently, the firm has been using the same staple design for a good couple of years – much like how a car manufacturer sticks to certain shapes and lines so you recognise it as a certain make or model.
The Xperia Z3 is no departure from what is now the classic styling of an Xperia smartphone with the square shape, side mounted buttons and rounded sides. It continues the combination of glass and aluminium although a new element to the design is the introduction of nylon corners (where it is likely to land in a drop) so in theory you don't make a huge dent in the metal.
Sony continues to offer a dust- and waterproof design so that means all ports apart from the headphone jack are underneath flaps. The phone is IP68 rated which is slightly higher on the dust side of things and can be submerged in 1.5m of water for up to 30 minutes.
You'll notice that new colours are available beyond black and white so you'll be able to choose from copper or silver green too (see main image).
So the design may not have any new wow factors but after the last two iterations of the Xperia Z series being somewhat chunky and unwieldy, it's nice to see Sony putting some effort into slimming the device down.
The new Xperia Z3 is 7.3 mm and 152 g which is some good progress. However, at 72 x 146 mm it's still a big phone.
Sony Xperia Z3 hands-on review: Hardware
Design changes are smaller, and things are largely the same on the hardware front too meaning Xperia Z2 owners will have little reason to upgrade.
Despite the LG G3 with its Quad HD screen, Sony has stuck to a Full HD resolution (and the 5.2in size) claiming that the higher resolution isn't noticeable or worth sacrificing battery life. Sony does offer its solidly impressive display technology including Triluminos and X-Reality (intuitive contrast enhancement) but we can't escape the fact it's the same as before.
Something else which is the same is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor (so no 64-bit here in preparation for Android L). It is clocked higher at 2.5GHz compared to 2.3GHz but we're not sure this was even necessary. There's still 3GB of RAM which is a healthy amount.
Despite the higher clocked chip, and the fact the battery has slightly lower capacity at 3100mAh, Sony claims longer battery life of two days in normal use or even more with Stamina mode switched on.
There are small upgrades on the storage front with the addition of a 32GB model (on the spec sheet at least) alongside the traditional 16GB. The microSD card slot can now take cards twice the capacity at up to 128GB.
As you would expect from a top-end smartphone, there is support for 4G networks but when compared to some other flagships, is missing features like an IR blaster, fingerprint scanner and wireless charging.
So far, Sony owners will have no major reason to upgrade, but there are a couple of new features which might just tempt a few users.
The first is for the gamers out there who own or plan to buy a PS4. The Remote Play feature which allows PS4 games to be played on the Vita is available to the Xperia Z3 (plus the Z3 Compact and Z3 Tablet Compact). This works over Wi-Fi in use with the DualShock 4 controller and an optional GCM10 Game Control Mount. Technically it will work if you're not connected to the same network as the PS4 but Sony will not advertise this as the experience may be unplayable.
Secondly is the addition of High-Res audio (LPCM, FLAC,ALAC and DSD) – making it the first smartphone to support DSD playback - when using headphones such as the MDR-1A range. Sony claims that any tracks which aren't in high resolution can be upscaled via Sony's DSEE (digital sound enhancing engine) HX technology to near High-Res quality. As with the previous model, the Xperia Z3 also supports noise-cancelling with the right pair of cans.
Sony Xperia Z3 hands-on review: Cameras
You may be able to guess that Sony has stuck with the same 20.7Mp camera with its own Exmor RS sensor which is used in previous Xperia Z devices. We can hardly blame Sony with such as high resolution and the camera is one of the best money can buy inside a smartphone.
The firm hasn't left the photography department jobless though, as the Xperia Z3 has a new 25mm wide-angle lens so you'll get more into the picture and introduced an ISO of 12800, the highest available on any smartphone so you will get, in theory, better results in low light.
Other additions include improved SteadyShot with Intelligent Active Mode and a bundle of new camera apps like Face in, Multi-camera and Sound photo. During out hands-on time with the Z3 we were very impressed with the camera. The front camera remains top quality at 2.2Mp.
Sony Xperia Z3 hands-on review: Software
Moving on to software and there is little change as the Sony Xperia Z3 has Android 4.4.4 KitKat out-of-the-box. It's the latest version of Google's OS until Android L and anyone buying a Z3 can expect an upgrade.
Sony's user interface remains essentially untouched with a clean, simple and stylish look and feel. It's arguably lacking additional features which you can find elsewhere. From small things like double tapping to unlock (LG G3) to included apps like Kids Mode (Samsung Galaxy S5) or news feeds like BlinkFeed (HTC One M8).
The biggest software addition is the PS4 Remote Play feature which we mentioned earlier.
Buying Advice The Sony Xperia Z3 is undoubtedly a decent and desirable smartphone but it is far too similar to the Xperia Z2, and in a number of ways, the Xperia Z1. Xperia owners will have little reason to upgrade unless PS4 Remote Play or High-Res audio are interesting. We wish Sony would refresh its range less often to present bigger changes and upgrades.