Sony XPERIA Z3 review

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I’ve had the Sony XPERIA Z3 in copper for about three months now so I think I have had sufficient time to reflect on my day to day impressions and overall review. I first saw wind of the Z3 after the 6 month period was coming close post XPERIA Z2 release. I was at first disappointed about a few things. I had been used to the 5.5 inch screen on my Galaxy Note II and wanted that size screen at least. The rumors stated that Sony was not changing the screen size on the phone from the then current 5.2 inch screen on the Z2. There was also a fairly unremarkable change in design from the Z2. Finally the camera was the same. While the 1/2.3 inch sensor and F2.0 Zeiss lens on the Z2 and Z1 was neat when it came out, it was clear that the sensor was not nearly large enough to make a substantial difference/advantage over its peers in camera phone prowness. It certainly was not something I felt a dire need to upgrade to. My Note II was running fine (then) and I wasn’t impressed with anything in the phone world at the moment, aside from the massive camera sensor in the Nokia LUMIA 1020. Alas, I ran into trouble with the Note II and then I had a chance opportunity to land a Z3. These are my thoughts.

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Design: I absolutely love the design of the Z3, particularly the copper color scheme. First the build quality is premium. Coming from the plasticky bodies of the LG G3 and Samsung Note II, the glass and aluminum build on the Z3 is impressive and rich. There are plastic tabs over the micro SD slot, SIM slot and charge slot, but the rest of the chassis is aluminum. The unfortunate part is that the alumnium appears to be a surface grade color so scratches show a silver scheme underneath. The most challenging aspect of the design is how slippery it is. The glass seems to let the device glide over surfaces effortlessly, such that putting it on a table warrants caution unless you place it far from the edges. Seriously, its like an air hockey table. Double concerns over falling because of the glass build. I was minorly satiated by watchign Z3 drop tests on YouTube which showed the glass to be quite durable, but I am not risking it. As well, the device is sealed for dust and water at a higher rating than the previous Z2. This provides some comfort, although I am fairly careful with water and electronics anyways. I’m also a HUGE fan of having a camera shutter button physically on the device. This reduces camera shake from tapping the electronic shutter button on the screen and its much easier to operate for me. Finally, I’m not really bothered by removing the flap to charge the phone so the magnetic port that is supposed to alleviate that concern is sort of a moot point for me. I would have much preferred media control buttons, particularly for the audio usage that I will detail later. I am certainly jealous of Blackberry devices continuing to have media control buttons. I hate having the unlock the phone to control media.

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Audio: This is probably the most distinguishing aspect of this phone for me. The audio is SUPERB off this phone. While I am certainly no high end audiophile, I do pride myself in having a decent collection and experience of audio equipment. You can certainly search my blog for the equipment that I use. For headphone use, there are a few devices I use regularly with the Sony Z3. For sit down study sessions/enjoyment, I have the Sony XBA-H3 hybrid driver earphones. What I enjoy about the Z3 is how it drives these earphones. I like my music colored and I have no problem not enjoying the flat response that a lot of audiophiles seem to prefer/emphasize. I like my highs to sparkle and my lows to hit hard. What I don’t like is for them to drown out absolutely everyhting (the problem of a broad term like colored means that its not immediately clear what frequency response one is favoring). The Z3 has two settings that I use for this- on headphones I use the DSEE (digitial sound enhancement engine) software and equalizer that Sony has equipped to increase the lost data in compressed music. While I am uncertain if this is really just a glorified equalizer, I don’t really care as long as it works. And it does work. I’m not going to try to describe the sound output because its quite subjective terminology, but suffice to say it is a better driver than the output on all of my audio devices to date (most recently all iPod variations – shuffle, touch, nano; Sony’s Walkman Z; LG G3; Sony SBH50). What I would say is that everything seems just a bit more punchy and a bit more clear, in a real measurable manner. I no longer feel the need to carry my Sony Walkman Z with me, because my phone satisfies me audio wise. Its not powerful enough to drive my bigger/power hungry cans like my Sony MDR-SA3000 and MDR-7520, but its good enough for my portable ones (the XBA-3, XBA-H3 and MDR-1R in particular).

Audio part 2- For speaker use, the built in stereo speakers are AWESOME. I switch to the clearaudio feature and this seems to make the most out of the dual speakers that are front firing. Two things here- I no longer feel the need to carry portable speakers with me to listen to music in my office from my phone, and front firing stereo is so so so much better than rear firing mono speaker. Don’t expect it to replace a set of speakers, but do note that in consideration of how small they are, they are already built in the phone and that they are sitting underneath a layer of waterproofing means that they are quite remarkable. I’ve heard they have less kick in the low end than HTC One M8’s speakers but they’ve also had to endure waterproofing which complicates the clarity of the speaker. I want to emphasize its not just having stereo front firing speakers, but having good speakers as well. These are great musically and fun to listen to. Finally, in terms of bluetooth streaming, the Sony uses aptX, a lossless BT codec. While my LG G3 used this as well, it cannot change the quality if the source sound is mediocore (the G3 was, the Note II was quite good). I use a wide range of BT streaming devices in the home and on the go and the Z3 works well with all of them. In particular, the Sony BTX500 and SBH50 speaker/head set both sound excellent (even though the SBH50 does not use aptX). Quite satisfied with the audio. Seriously.

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Call quality/reception: Honestly this is pretty meh to me. I’m not impressed with the reception because I seem to NEVER have full bars (I’ve heard that bars don’t represent reception strength well but I haven’t checked how to measure this without having to open an app regualrly). I don’t have a lot of dropped calls, but still. I seemed to have more reception in my Note II and G3. Wifi seems to be fine though. Call quality is meh. The voice doesn’t sound incredible – in fact my G3 was mind blowingly clear. I’m not sure if the G3 supports a special type of voice calling, but if that was what HD voice was, it was certainly not in my Z3. I would describe voice calling as adequate but not  a strength or feature.

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Battery- confusing. I use my phone quite a bit and if I am music/internet/reddit-ing I can kill battery quickly. Its a moot feature for me because I carry an external battery all the time, but its not what I would say impressive. The Note II battery was impressive. While they have similar capacity (around 3000 mah), the Z3 just chews through. Not as bad as my LG G3 (which I blame on the high screen resolution), but still. Not what I was expecting from the praise I read in reviews. However standby time is INCREDIBLE. Not using my phone all day means I finish work at 5pm from an unplug at 7AM, and I still have 88% battery remaining, with LTE on. Not bad.

Screen quality- this is a huge point for me. I am first, fine with the 5.2 inch screen. I now appreciate the ability to hand hold my device without trying to do Twister with my fingers trying ti hit buttons. Second, the 1080 panel is totally fine for me and I don’t need the 2K resolution that my G3 had. I seriously don’t notice any difference without staring incredibly hard at them side by side. What I do notice is the colors and brightness. Its brighter than the G3 and most importantly, colors appear natural to me with a slight saturation for fun. Its nowhere near the pop color that initially imperssed me on the Note II, that I later came to hate. I really despised the Note II screen- it felt like I was living life in VIVID mode on a camera and everything was a cartoon. No thanks. While there is some Bravia enhancement engine that staruates on video and photos, the Z3 still remains relatively natural for my eyes. Screen viewing angles are a no problem for me either. A huge difference from older XPERIA models (particularly before the Z1 line) because viewing angles were piss poor.

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Photography- probably my biggest gripe with this. Its better than my Note II and G3 for sure. Images look sharper and less flat/cameraphony. I get more definition in my images that make it seem more like a camera. But …its an entry level camera at best. Its nothing like the 1/1.7 inch sensor on my old Nikon P7700, but its certainly better than my older Sony pocket cams like the DSC-F77 and DSC-F88. Particularly the noise department- while there is smearing of details from noise removal, I don’t mind it for image sharing and blog shots. I set it on AUTO superior and let it have fun. It takes the 20 MP native photo and uses an algorithm to make an 8MP photo that removes noise and combines detail in the best manner. Combining this with the physical shutter button and I have a camera that is a lot less intrusive than my carry all Sony a6000, and great for shots that are impromptu and discreet. While it would not suffice as a stand alone camera for me, its good for the impromptu shots (like the Moist concert I shot only with teh Z3). I do hope that Sony will eventually move a large sensor to their XPERIA line like Panasonic did with the 1 inch sensor on their CM1 phone. But for now its fine for me, because I have my a6000 for those other more serious shots.

Everyday usage and conclusion- I use this heavily for media consumption, photography, and communication. I LOVE IT.The thing I love the most is the connectivity. First off, I love that the bluetooth proximity lock exists. It unlocks when certain (user specified) BT devices are in range. This means that I don’t need to unlock it everytime I access it. BOOM. Love that. Especially when I just want to change a music track. Second, it is stable and consistent with BT devices- I usually have a good range of BT devices paired at any given time and I’ve not run into the connection stability issues that I had with the LG G3 and Note II (aside from my Smartwatch 2- that’s for another review). Finally, I love the Play Memories connection- I can use my phone to remote fire my Aciton Cam/a6000 camera, access photos and resize photos to blog size automatically (this is a huge time saver on my multi photo posts). I use it for wifi hotspot on my laptop ….I use it a lot. I use this phone the most out of all my devices. Its a huge core resource for my day to day functioning and I would get it again in a heartbeat. Pros- audio quality, speakers, screen, build quality; Cons- needs a protective case for sure, slippery grip, call reception/quality

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Added review- Sony Smart Cover SCR24. I managed to snag the SCR24 during a Boxing Day sale at the Sony Store. I personally would have been hard pressed to spend 55 CDN on a cover like this for a few reasons. I had initially purchased the black cover and I absolutely despised it with the copper Z3- the inside of the cover was white and it completely clashed (first world problems, I know). The copper color, while looking initially like a giant blush pallette, works perfectly with the copper Z3 (particularly the copper tone inside). I like the build- it feels good, but its not premium IMHO. Its a leatherette like material overall, with two holes for the speakers, cutouts for ports and a window for the screen. The window is a clear plastic that lets you swipe and select without opening the screen- good for answering calls I suppose. The sides are exposed to the elements, so a drop on the side is unlikely to be protected because the cover doesn’t stick out enough to shield/buffer a fall. Its also flimsy enough that if a hard hit on the window could crack the screen. Its also connected through an adhesive on the back that connects to the back glass of the Z3. Its very strong and permanent like (you could peel the cover off but its a pain in the butt- its also a pain in the butt to apply it and make sure it fits the phone exactly). There is also a cut out for the camera with black out plastic so that the flash doesn’t reflect off the cover during a shot. Its magnetic so that it unlocks when you open the window. Perhaps most confusing is the implementation of NFC on the cover. You use this once to make the phone recognize the cover and that’s it. NFC is good for regular pair/unpairing, but this just seems rather gimmicky and really was uneeded/made it more expensive than it needed to be. I also don’t like how the camera shortcut from the button doesn’t automatically become a small window for the cover when closed. Overall, its a good but not great protective cover, mostly because it leaves the sides exposed. This may or may not be a good thing- I like that it highlights the copper build of teh Z3, but it does make me concerned about falls.

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