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Thread: Our Sony Xperia Z3 review

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    Our Sony Xperia Z3 review

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    I don’t know about you but it seems Sony is constantly putting out new flagships. Indeed, recently they’ve had a policy of releasing a new flagship every 6 months. The problem with this is that that newer versions often don’t differ much from previous versions. The upside is that this helps to really put downward pressure on the prices of their older models which are almost as good as the newer ones.

    Of course, if you end up buying the latest model you might feel burned when rumors of its replacement start making the rounds a week later but I guess that’s part of the Sony Xperience.

    Here’s Sony’s latest, the Xperia Z3.

    What about the Xperia Z2?

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    Right now, the Z2 can be found for $100 less at the Sony store or much cheaper if you look for a used one.

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    Is the Z3 worth another $100? I’ll have to say a very definite maybe. For you extra money, you get a slight smaller phone with a brighter display and much better speakers. The performance is more or less identical as are the cameras.

    Actually, the best thing about the Z3 is that it really helps to clobber the Z2’s resalel values. Before the Z3 came out, the Z2 sold for $699 Canadian at the Sony store, now you can pick them up for around $400 Canadian. If you want a Sony that’s almost as good as the Z3 then just think about getting a Z2.

    What about the Xperia Z1?

    If follow the ‘just get a Z2’ reasoning, then what happens if you take it one step further and just get last year’s Z1?

    While the Z1 doesn’t do anything better than the Z2 or Z3, used ones can be picked up for less than half what a brand new Z3 costs. So what do you give up? First off, the Z1 has much harder corners so it’s not that comfortable to hold for long periods of time.

    The display has quite a bit of colour and contrast shift so that’s something else to think about.

    It has an older Snapdragon 800 SoC vs the 801 in the Z2 and Z3 but it’s probably not something you’d notice.

    I checked out Kijiji and you can pick one up for around $300. I’d say spend the money and just get the Z2.

    What about the Samsung Galaxy S5/S5 Active?

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    While there are plenty of flagships, the only others which are water resistant are Samsung’s GS5 and it’s more durable brother, the GS5 Active.

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    The Z3 has a slightly bigger display, an extra Gigabyte of RAM, larger battery, stereo speakers, plus its metal and glass body are a classier package.

    With the GS5, you get a removable battery, infrared blaster, a heart rate monitor on the back plus the regular version comes with a fingerprint reader. If you opt for the Active, you give up the fingerprint reader for some extra durability and an extra software button.

    As a GS5 owner, while I think the fingerprint reader is a genuinely nice thing to have, the rest of the Samsung features are just fluff. I never use the heart rate monitor, the infrared blaster is crippled with completely useless software.

    The Active on the other hand is a bit more competitive simply because there’s nothing else on the market that blends the Active’s toughness with it’s high-end feature set.

    Pricing:

    TELUS $80 contract
    TELUS $680 off contract
    Sony Store Canada $699.99 unlocked
    Rogers $179.99 contract
    Rogers $599.99 off contract
    Bell $179.99 contract
    Bell $699.99 off contract
    T-Mobile $630 total cost
    Sony Store US $629.99 unlocked

    For Canadians it looks like TELUS has the best deal on a Z3 on contract. Note that Rogers’ off-contract pricing is $100 lower than the other members of the unholy trinity.

    Body:

    Compared to to the older Z2, Sony has softened up the Z3 and made it friendlier to hold.

    The edges which were quite hard on the Z1 and softened up on the Z2 are now rounded on the Z3.

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    Most of the sides are still made from metal but the corners are now plastic. I’m guessing this makes the corners more resilient when you drop the Z3.

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    I don’t know about you but it also makes them look much cheaper. It makes it look like it’s actually plastic with metal paint that has chipped off in the corners.

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    Instead of have one door on each side, each of which was roughly the same size, the door covering the MicroUSB connector is now much smaller than the door over the Nano SIM and MicroSD slots.

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    Previously, I always got the 2 doors mixed up but now it’s really obvious, the smaller door is the one you have to open to charger the Z3. This also makes the Z3 easier to plug in, at night so this is a big albeit belated improvement.

    The doors themselves are also an upgrade. They feel much more sturdy and feel more water tight when you close them.

    The volume buttons are further apart so that it’s harder to confuse them.

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    Once again, the back is covered with a piece of glass and once again, it not as durable as the glass on the front of the phone so it doesn’t take too much to scratch.

    Size-wise the Z3 is slightly thinner and narrower than the Z2 though you’d never know unless you had them side by side.

    While both the Z2 and Z3 are water resistant, the Z3 has a higher water resistance rating (it’s more waterproofer). This is probably due to the improved door design.

    Like previous iterations, the Z3 is one of the only phones on the market that a hole for a lanyard. Now you can dust off your sushi shaped phone charm.

    If opening a door every time you want to charge isn’t your thing, there’s a proprietary connector on the side where you can connect a pogo plug. Sony is eager to sell you a dock that has this connector but I recommend you hit up eBay or Amazon and pick up a 3rd party cable with this connector.

    Why Sony just doesn’t just ditch this connector and put a QI charging coil on the back is beyond me. It would fit in perfectly with the Z3’s waterproof message.

    While the corners look terrible and horribly cheap, overall, the Z3 body is a nice improvement over the Z2.

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    MicroUSB port (behind door), charging plugs, lanyard connector.
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    Shutter button, volume, power buttons, (MicroSIM, NanoSIM slots behind door).

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    Headphone jack.

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    Nothing on the bottom.

    Display:

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    Both the Z2 and Z3 have 5.2” displays. Before I tried the Z3, I assumed its display would be very similar to the Z2’s but it’s actually very different. First off, it’s noticeably brighter. Off angle performance has also improved dramatically. There’s very little colour and contrast shift off angle, it also remains extremely bright.

    I could be wrong but the brightness comes at the loss of some contrast, sometimes the Z3 display looks slightly washed out next to the Z2.

    Sony has explained to me that triluminos displays are able to reproduce more colours. I don’t know about you but to me, this is just a nice way of saying that a screen is capable reproducing oversaturated colours. Indeed, the Z3 is slightly oversaturated but not to the point that it found it annoying to look at.

    While the Z2 display is slightly warm the Z3 is much cooler which may explain why it seems so much brighter- I find cooler displays look brighter to me. Anyways, there are colour balance sliders (red, green and blue) which you can fiddle with if you’re not happy.

    Black levels aren’t amazing, they’re slightly milky looking. Fortunately, the Z3 is just so blindingly bright they don’t seem that bad unless you look carefully.

    Camera:

    Both the Z2 and Z3 (and Z1) have 20.7 megapixel ˝.33 sized sensors. I took a bunch of test shots to compare both phones and I think Sony is using the same camera on both phones.

    By default, the Z3 captures 8 megapixel, 16:9 aspect ratio images. The only way to capture images at full resolution is to switch to manual mode, hit settings and change the resolution.

    When you do that, it captures 20.7MP 4:3 aspect ratio images, basically, the camera captures the same horizontal angle but it also captures more on the top and bottom.

    I think the reason why it normally captures 8MP and does everything it can to keep you from using the full resolution is hide the fact that the sensor is extremely noisy and because the Z3 needs to do a lot of image processing to get good looking photos.

    Sony calls the default mode ‘Superior Auto’. Sometimes, it takes really great photos but other times it really screws thing up. For example, if there’s the tiniest bit of movement, it switches to sports mode which results in really noisy and grainy looking images.

    Still, a lot of the time I get really good results with Superior Auto on or I should say, a lot of the time I get really good results despite Superior Auto.

    Like the Z2, the Z3 can capture 4K video. While there’s no hard limit to how long 4K videos can be, they’re limited by how hot the phone gets. Here’s where the Z3 really differentiates itself from the Z2. In my office, I can get about 7 mins of 4K video out of the Z2 before it overheats. The Z3 is able to go for over 14 min.

    Included are some next extras like an augmented reality mode. You can use it to superimpose moving 3D effects like elves into your pictures. Sure, it’s probably something you’ll only use once but it’s still a lot of fun. Another cool effect is that you can connect 2 Z3’s and use them to record video simultaneously.

    As always, you can launch the camera by pressing and holding the shutter button on the right side.

    Software:

    The Z3 runs Sony’s custom Android launcher plus it comes with a bunch of Sony apps. I used to think that Sony’s Android phones were pretty light in bloatware department but over time, I've found that Sony has started to pile on the extras.

    Sony has a lot of heritage as a audio and visual company so it’s cool that they want to include their own music, and video players, but they also include way too many other programs. Here’s a list:

    • Walkman
    • Album
    • Movies
    • PlayStation
    • What’s New
    • Sony Select
    • Lifelog
    • News from Social Life
    • Video Unlimited
    • TrackID
    • Smart Connect
    • Xperia care support
    • Backup & restore
    • TrackID TV
    • Xperia Center
    • AVG AntiVirus
    • Navigon by Garmin Xperia Edition (comes with 60 day trial)
    • Xperia Lounge
    • Sktech


    While a couple of these can be uninstalled, the others, are stuck there.

    A couple of extras is usually a good thing but out of the box, the Z3 has so much extra ‘stuff’, it can be hard to find the programs you actually want to use.

    I mean I don’t have a problem with Sony’s movie rental service Video unlimited but why couldn’t they just make it part of the movies apps? Ditto for the TrackID apps, they should just be built into other apps rather than being separate ones.

    Worse yet, Google has their own versions of some of Sony’s apps so you end up having 2 sets or programs fighting over your phone.

    I’m not a big gamer but apparently you can use the Z3 to play games from your PS4 remotely. I don’t own a PS4 and didn’t give this a try.

    Anyways, Sony has done a reasonably good job of keeping their phones updated so hopefully all these extra apps won’t keep them from being able to update the Z3 in a timely manner and hopefully they’ll keep it supported for a while.

    Performance:

    Powering the show is a 2.5Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801. The Z2 runs and Samsung Galaxy S5 Active have the same processor clocked at 2.3Ghz. Not surprisingly, all phones have very similar benchmark scores.

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    As a Phone:

    Maximum earpiece volume is average. Sound quality is good.

    Maximum speakerphone volume is good but it comes at the expense of sound quality which is a bit rough.

    RF performance is excellent.

    The large 3100mAh battery is one of the biggest out there and should last pretty much anyone including power users the day. It can even make it through half the next day for most.

    Media Capabilities:

    Sony has been marketing their phones as having xLoud speakers for a while now but the Z3 is first one that actually comes with really great speakers. They’re powerful, have decent range and you get two so they’re stereo

    The headphone jack is sounds great and is very powerful.

    You only get 16GB of storage of which around 10GB is available. Did I mention that recording 14 minutes of 4K video takes up around 6GB of space?

    Conclusion:

    While the Z3 doesn’t look like a big upgrade on paper, the brighter display and more powerful and better sounding speakers make a big difference as does the slightly smaller, more ergonomic body.

    More importantly, the speakers and display address the Z2’s biggest weakness when compared to other flagships.

    4 Howies out of 5.

    Pros:
    • Water resistant
    • Ergonomic improvements
    • Long battery life
    • Slick body
    • Separate camera shutter button



    Cons:
    • Too many extra programs
    • Camera software is obtrusive
    Last edited by howard; 11-19-2014 at 10:11 AM.

  2. #2
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    Nice review, Howard
    While I like reading about the flagships phones out now, it just seems to me like they are all pretty much the same with one thing or another to set them apart from each other. The same processors, nearly the same size, great screens, good batteries(they all need to be better here for the price, though some are getting it like this here Sony). Even the prices are pretty similar. It really comes down to brand loyalty, really, and for the prices you have to pay for these phones, it really isn't enough for me anymore. The days of one really innovating and standing apart are all but over unfortunately. Just my 2 cent's on this one

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    Wondering if the Z3 has that factory-applied screen protector... According to Android Central Sony ditched it mid-production in the Z2.

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    Quote Originally Posted by acurrie View Post
    Wondering if the Z3 has that factory-applied screen protector... According to Android Central Sony ditched it mid-production in the Z2.
    It doesn't have it.

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    Bell website shows the Z3 as $79.95 on a two year contract...

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