Sony updates its flagship smartphone twice as often compared with most 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 review.See also: The best smartphones of 2014
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 at £549 but you can get hold of it a little cheaper elsewhere; Clove has it for £515 for example. 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. The new completely rounded edges do make a big difference in terms of how it feels in the hand.
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) and the display has bags of brightness so is a good performer outdoors. However, we can't escape the fact it's the same as before so it's one reason for Z2 owners to not bother upgrading.
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 and there's still 3 GB of RAM which is a healthy amount.
It's no surprise that the Xperia Z3 benchmarked almost exactly the same as the Xperia Z2 - see below for an overview. In general use the phone is once again very nippy.
GeekBench 3 (multi-core)
GFX Bench T-Rex
GFX Bench Manhattan
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. We found battery life to be exceptionally good and Sony is not lying when it makes those claims, this is one of the best smartphones money can buy in this area. It could perhaps have been even better without clocking the processor higher.
On the storage front you needn't rack your brains over which model to choose as there is 16 GB only. Luckily, the microSD card slot can now take cards twice the capacity at up to 128 GB.
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.
Sony Xperia Z3 hands-on review: New features
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.
Note: PS4 Remote Play will be launched for the Z3 range in November.
Secondly is the addition of High-Res audio (LPCM, FLAC,ALAC and DSD) – making it the first smartphone to support DSD playback. However, you will need a pair of headphones which support the feature 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 dedicated shutter button which also launches the camera app is still there and long may it remain.
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 better results in low light.
By default, it shoots at 8 Mp with an aspect ratio of 16:9 (below) but you can ramp things up to the full 20.7 Mp if you're happy with 4:3. You'll need to switch to manual mode to tweak the settings and a happy medium is the 15.5 Mp option in 16:9.
In manual mode, you can record video at up to 1080p and 60fps but the phone can record in 4K so open the '4K video' app for this.Other additions include improved SteadyShot with Intelligent Active Mode which keeps video smooth but is only available up to 1080p and 30fps.
There are a bundle of new camera apps like Face in (shooting with both cameras at one), Multi-camera (shoot the same scene from different angles with compatible cameras) and Sound photo (record sound to go with the photo). 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 interesting that Sony has made the app icons larger (above) which feels a bit odd coming from the Xperia Z2.
It may be more useful to us than you but nevertheless, Sony has made screen recording a built-in feature of the Z3. It now sits next to the screenshot option when you long press the power key.
For some users, keeping things simple this is a good thing (no in your face features like HTC's BlinkFeed and Samsung's Magazine UX) but we have to point out that the Z3 comes with quite a few pre-installed apps including Kobo, AVG AntiVirus, Garmin Navigation, Vine and OfficeSuite. Although Sony has kept it quiet, as pointed out by our keen-eyed reader Scott, you can now double tap to switch the screen on if you enable it in the settings.
The biggest software addition is the PS4 Remote Play feature which we mentioned earlier and it's a shame this won't arrive until November.
Buying Advice The Sony Xperia Z3 is undoubtedly a decent and desirable smartphone but Z2 owners will have little reason to upgrade unless PS4 Remote Play or High-Res audio are must-haves. In terms of the wider market, the Z3 is up there with the best and a solid choice even if it doesn't have the amount of bells and whistles which others do.