Sony Xpe­ria XZ3

Price: £699 inc VAT from fave.co/2xKAIg5

Android Advisor - - Contents -

Just six months af­ter the Xpe­ria XZ2 in­tro­duced the new Sony smart­phone look, the XZ3 re­fines it by adding a curved edged, curved cor­ner OLED dis­play that bor­rows from Sony’s Bravia TV range.

This is the best-look­ing Sony phone for some time, look­ing equal parts Pixel 2 XL and Gal­axy S9, but with a unique glass back that you’ll ei­ther love or hate. We still aren’t sure it does enough for us to rec­om­mend it over those phones though, de­spite its high points.

But all credit to Sony, it has made a beau­ti­ful piece of phone hard­ware at a rea­son­able flag­ship price and

im­proved in key ar­eas. If you like where it’s com­ing from, this could be the phone for you.

De­sign

While the XZ3 re­tains the style of the XZ2, as soon as you pick it up it feels more pol­ished. The new Xpe­ria has a slim­mer, slight and well thought out bal­ance that it didn’t find in the XZ2, and cer­tainly not in the hulk­ing XZ2 Pre­mium.

The de­sign is what Sony, de­bat­ably, should have done about two years ago. We were al­ready fans of its rec­tan­gu­lar de­signs, but with Sam­sung push­ing so ag­gres­sively for­ward with the de­signs of the S6 edge and S8, Sony was left be­hind a bit.

A Go­rilla Glass 5 sand­wich with a 33mm alu­minium frame, it’s not a light phone at 193g but it feels pre­mium in its den­sity. It keeps its IP68 wa­ter­proof­ing, which is ex­cel­lent. The phone is avail­able in four colours: black, white, for­est green and Bordeaux red, the lat­ter two par­tic­u­larly stand­ing out.

There are fierce fans who will de­fend Sony to the hilt, and that’s fine. But as good as the XZ3 looks, its de­sign comes af­ter the curved dis­plays of Sam­sung, and sim­ply ex­ists be­cause of this.

That aside, it is gor­geous. It is marginally less bul­bous than the XZ2 and has a sub­tle glass curve on the rear, but it still rocks when placed on a sur­face and is a slippy phone that we con­sis­tently nearly dropped, though this is true of all glass hand­set.

It makes the XZ3 thick and very hard to hold with­out drop­ping. This is a phone you re­ally might have to use in a case.

We also placed the phone on a tiled floor briefly (with­out case) and the back im­me­di­ately and au­di­bly scratched. We can see our lovely for­est green re­view de­vice look­ing a lit­tle worse for wear down the road.

We don’t see a prob­lem with the fin­ger­print sen­sor place­ment. It’s in the mid­dle of the back of the phone, a choice that has been panned. We re­view a lot of tech and yes it’s a tad un­con­ven­tional, but if you buy the phone and keep it for many more months than we might, then you’ll get used to it. It’s not a prob­lem.

There’s a sin­gle cam­era on the rear of what is oth­er­wise a slick de­vice, one that also has a ded­i­cated cam­era but­ton on the right edge. There are also still bezels at the top and bot­tom of the 6in 18:9 dis­play – but they house stereo front-fac­ing speak­ers. Well done, Sony.

While it’s not a straight up ‘bet­ter’ de­sign than be­fore, it feels more mod­ern, and a more com­plete pack­age, with IP68 wa­ter re­sis­tance.

Dis­play

The stand­out change of the XZ3 is its OLED dis­play, a first for a Sony phone. It’s a marked change, and blacks looks ex­cel­lent across the curved cor­ners of the de­sign. The glass also curves down on the left and right edges of the sides, an­other first on an Xpe­ria de­vice. It’s a 6in 18:9 QHD+ HDR OLED with no notch, but more sim­ply it’s a big improve­ment in clar­ity and colour re­pro­duc­tion com­pared to even Sony’s best re­cent phone LCDs. The dif­fer­ence is in­cred­i­bly im­pres­sive, out­shin­ing an iPhone X side by side for colour and clar­ity on video play­back. Not

only does the XZ3 ben­e­fit from the OLED up­grade but it au­to­mat­i­cally up­scales stan­dard def­i­ni­tion con­tent closer to HD, with no­tice­ably ex­cel­lent re­sults. Bright­ness and de­tail are very good, too.

The phone can clev­erly auto-up­scale most video to the next level of res­o­lu­tion. It’s done sub­tly and you won’t no­tice, but it’s great to have on board.

Side sense

A new fea­ture called side sense is like a mix of Sam­sung’s edge dis­play and HTC’s edge sense where you can dou­ble-tap on the edge of the screen to bring up a menu. You tap on the curved edge of the screen, not the me­tal frame, and it calls up a box with your most used apps and set­tings.

Sony says the soft­ware will learn your us­age of the phone and sug­gest the most use­ful apps to

you de­pend­ing on the time and your lo­ca­tion. This seemed to be true, but it didn’t make us use it more, par­tic­u­larly when we ac­tu­ally went to trig­ger it (cor­rectly with a dou­ble-tap) and it didn’t work.

It is quite tem­per­a­men­tal in the same way edge sense is on the HTC U12+. You can turn it off, and we turned off the swipe down to go back func­tion sim­ply be­cause it was trig­gered just by grip­ping the phone in one hand. The palm re­jec­tion is not great here, and we got a lot of false in­puts.

These fea­tures on phones are nice to have, but when they get in the way of ac­tu­ally just us­ing the phone, they are an­noy­ing. Of­ten, we’d be read­ing an ar­ti­cle with one hand and the phone would in­cor­rectly de­tect a touch and go back.

Pro­ces­sor, me­mory and stor­age

Bet­ter is sheer per­for­mance. The Snap­dragon 845 also found in the XZ2 is still ex­cep­tion­ally fast in con­junc­tion with Sony’s light An­droid skin. 4GB RAM keeps things tick­ing along okay and it doesn’t feel like Sony needed to match the 8GB touted by OnePlus.

64GB stor­age is your only op­tion for the XZ3, but a mi­croSD card slot can ex­pand up to 512GB.

It’s a com­plete pack­age, and runs pretty much as fast as the OnePlus 6 and Pixel 2, the two An­droid phones that set the bar in 2018 for swift per­for­mance.

Per­for­mance

Here are some bench­marks that show how the XZ3 per­forms against the XZ2 and other phones with sim­i­lar specs. They are all ex­tremely fast – Geek­bench

mea­sures pro­cess­ing power, GFXBench graph­ics and JetStream browser speeds.

It scores a lit­tle lower than the XZ2 on GFXBench, but this due to the im­proved res­o­lu­tion on the XZ3 – trust us, it’s a bet­ter dis­play.

Con­nec­tiv­ity and au­dio

Un­for­tu­nately, the noth­ing other than gim­micky dy­namic vi­bra­tion sys­tem is back to vi­brate along to mu­sic and films. It works, but also never needed to ex­ist. It might add some­thing to cer­tain rac­ing or shoot­ing games, but for most sit­u­a­tions it’s a big no.

Sony re­tains the ex­cel­lent stereo front-fac­ing speak­ers from its older phones, so we can cope with the slight bezel on the phone for that. You also get Blue­tooth 5.0 with aptX and Sony’s great au­dio op­tions. Some need wired head­phones to work (thank­fully there’s a head­phone don­gle in the box) and im­proves com­pressed mu­sic files and streamed au­dio. Clear Au­dio boosts the mids and high ends, but is good for some mu­sic and tastes, whereas the DSEE HX mode is sub­tler but pos­i­tively no­tice­able.

You can also cre­ate sur­round sound ef­fects. It’s pretty great if you ap­pre­ci­ate good au­dio on a smart­phone and it’s good to see Sony, along with LG, still value this.

Cam­eras

The sin­gle cam­era on the back is a 19Mp sen­sor with f/2.0 and pho­tos are the best we’ve ever seen on a Sony Xpe­ria. Fi­nally. Sony has had real trou­ble repli­cat­ing the ex­cel­lence of its ac­tual cam­eras with

the ones on its phones. This is not the best cam­era on a hand­set but im­ages are crisp, and de­tail and colour re­pro­duc­tion are good in sun­light. On closer in­spec­tion there is a lot of noise in shadow and low light, and even well-lit in­door shots. The Pixel 2 cam­era is still leagues ahead here, and we also rec­om­mend the cam­eras on the OnePlus 6 and Huawei P20 Pro over the XZ3.

You do get 960fps slo-mo video shoot­ing, but you have to tap to cap­ture at the ex­act right mo­ment or you miss the ac­tion. Sam­sung and OnePlus’s longer shoot­ing sys­tems are prefer­able. But the cam­era app is still a bit creaky; you get a pre­view of the photo you’ve just taken, but it’s pixel­lated heav­ily, so you are never sure if you have got a good photo or not.

The front-fac­ing cam­era is a 13Mp sen­sor that does all the selfie work you could dream of – you might want to turn off the beauty modes though. It’s also no­table that, un­like umpteen ri­vals, Sony does not in­clude a face un­lock op­tion. This is pretty stan­dard on flag­ship phones now and should be here.

Bat­tery life

As we have writ­ten many times, the bat­tery life of this phone will last you a day. It’s not re­mark­able, but it’s not un­der par ei­ther. Straight down the mid­dle. That’s it. Pack your charger overnight.

Wire­less charg­ing is a nice-to-have, and it uses the Qi stan­dard as most stands and mats do. It’ll charge faster with the in­cluded fast charger, though.

In the Geek­bench bat­tery test with screen bright­ness set to 120cd/m2, the 3,330mAh bat­tery

scored six hours 33 min­utes. This is good con­sid­er­ing the high res­o­lu­tion of the OLED screen, and is sim­i­lar to the OnePlus 6’s score of six hours 43 min­utes.

Soft­ware and apps

Sony doesn’t mess too much with An­droid, which is great. The best part here is that the XZ3 has An­droid 9 Pie. It’s the first non-Google phone to have the op­er­at­ing sys­tem on a sta­ble, non-beta build and it’s great. Oddly, Sony adds Gallery and Video apps where on the XZ2 it prompted you to use Google Pho­tos, but along with the Xpe­ria bloat pre-in­stalled it’s easy to dis­able or ig­nore if you want to.

An­other strange ad­di­tion is rais­ing the phone to wake the cam­era. It must be land­scape and you have to be hold­ing it cor­rectly, but it does work. Some­times. It seems odd though to strive to

in­clude this on a phone that has a ded­i­cated cam­era but­ton. Also, with auto ro­tate on you might find the screen turn­ing to land­scape when you place the phone down be­cause of the curved back. It’s not as big a prob­lem as it was on the XZ2, but we did end up lock­ing ro­ta­tion to por­trait.

These an­noy­ances can be over­looked though, such is the strength of the rest of the phone, but it shows that Sony is still iron­ing out the creases.

Ver­dict

The Xpe­ria XZ3 is Sony’s best phone yet, and it’s about time. The dis­play is ex­cel­lent, the de­sign can hold a can­dle to Sam­sung and the cam­era – while not the best – will be enough for all but the pick­i­est of pixel peep­ers. It still lacks face un­lock, and we are scep­ti­cal about the cam­era im­prove­ments. Side sense is not sta­ble and raise to wake the cam­era is a gim­mick where sim­plic­ity would do. But it’s a pretty com­plete pack­age and is com­pet­i­tively priced. With An­droid 9 Pie and great au­dio fea­tures there’s fi­nally rea­son to plump for Sony again in a crowded mar­ket. Henry Bur­rell

Spec­i­fi­ca­tions

• 6in (2,880x1,440; 537ppi) P-OLED ca­pac­i­tive touch­screen

• An­droid 9.0 Pie

• Qual­comm SDM845 Snap­dragon 845 pro­ces­sor

• Octa-core (4x 2.7GHz Kryo 385 Gold, 4x 1.7GHz

Kryo 385 Sil­ver) CPU

• Adreno 630 GPU

• 4GB RAM

• 64GB stor­age (mi­croSD up to 512GB)

• 19Mp rear-fac­ing cam­era: f/2.0, 25mm (wide),

1/2.3in, 1.22μm, pre­dic­tive PDAF and laser AF

• 13Mp front cam­era: f/1.9, 23mm (wide), 1/3in, 1.12μm

• 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi

• Blue­tooth 5.0

• A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS, GALILEO

• NFC

• Fin­ger­print sen­sor (rear mounted)

• USB 3.1, Type-C 1.0 re­versible con­nec­tor

• Non-re­mov­able 3,300mAh lithium-ion bat­tery

• 158x73x9.9mm

• 193g

The XZ3’s dis­play it its stand­out fea­ture

The Xpe­ria XZ3 is the first non-Google phone to come with An­droid Pie

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