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Featured Review: Sony Xperia Z3(T-Mobile)

November 16, 2014 - Written By Justin Diaz

It’s only been a couple of months since IFA in Berlin where Sony officially announced the existence of the Xperia Z3. It was in some ways a great improvement over its predecessor the Sony Xperia Z2, but in a lot of ways it was much the same which is just fine as the Z2 was a solid device and definitely a top tier phone. The Sony Xperia Z3 improves on certain details, in places where tweaks were needed, but left the stuff that was awesome on the Z2 because if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it right?

When it comes to the feel and build quality of the Sony Xperia Z3 compared to other flagships like the Galaxy S5, HTC One M8, LG G3, and others, the Xperia Z3 is definitely a cut above. The metal frame around the edges just feels smooth and fantastic. It’s comfortable to hold, and it looks beautiful. The edges are a little more rounded than they are on the Xperia Z2, giving the Xperia Z3 a slightly updated look without deviating too far from a design that was already stylish and sleek. While the Xperia Z3 is a T-Mobile only device technically when it comes to the carrier offered phones, you can still purchase an LTE unlocked version on the US Sony Store, and Sony also launched a Verizon Wireless variant called the Xperia Z3v, which is near the same specs as the Xperia Z3 but inside of the Xperia Z2 body.

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When it comes to the specs the Sony Xperia Z3 is packed with good hardware. It starts with the 5.2-inch IPS LCD capacitive display with 1080 x 1920 resolution and 424 ppi.(pixels per inch)The screen is shatter proof, which helps to protect it from scuffs, scratches and cracks, although I certainly recommend trying to prevent from dropping this device. Up top and on the bottom you have the dual front facing stereo speakers providing you with a really great quality sound. It came through clear when playing music while I was sitting at my desk during the work day, and it really shined through during those times I’ve been firing up games to play.

The cameras are where this device seems to really display its superiority. The rear camera at least. It holds the Sony 20.7MP camera on the back, and a more modest 2.2MP camera on the front. For storage, the T-Mobile model has 32GB of internal memory, double that of the unlocked LTE model. It also comes packing 3GB of RAM and has the ability for expandable storage up to 128GB via the microSD card slot. It runs a Qualcomm MSM8974AC Snapdragon 801 CPU with an Adreno 330 for the graphics, which helps the Xperia Z3 perform extremely well. It’s running Android 4.4.4 Kit Kat out of the box but it is slated to get the update to Android 5.0 Lollipop sometime in the future. It’s powered by a 3100 mAh battery which Sony stated will give it about a 2 day battery life on a single charge, the mileage will vary of course based on the things you use. The Xperia Z3 also has Sony’s highest waterproof rating to date, with an IP68 certification.

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Editor’s Note: I’ve had the T-Mobile model of the Sony Xperia Z3 in my hands for about a week and a half, and everything feels pretty solid albeit for a couple of restarts I had noticed on the device during my time with it. Other than that it’s been flawless.

Hardware

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Earlier I briefly talked about the build quality of the device, with the metal frame and smooth rounded edges. This may not seem like much, but it really gives the phone that extra special something that makes it feel more comfortable in the hand than some other devices. The rounded edges actually help quite a bit as it makes the phone feel more conformed to the contours on the inside of your hand compared to devices with flat edges on the sides. Past the metal frame, the Sony Xperia Z3 has the glass back which gives it more premium look and a sense of style. Coming from the Nexus 4, this was something I personally didn’t want to lose as it feels great and also looks good. The glass can be prone to a scratch here and there but nothing major, and it actually scratches less easily than the Nexus 4 in my experience. I did however find it to be a tad bit more slippery than that of the Nexus 4. Thanks to the IP waterproof rating I was able to use the phone in more more wet conditions without hesitation, which is a huge plus. On the top of the device you have just the 3.5mm audio port, and on the bottom you have nothing. This is because the charging port is on the left side of the device, and you can actually charge it in two different ways.

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Sadly it doesn’t have the Qi Wireless charging like the Xperia Z3v(which is weird)but it does have the golden contacts for placing the phone in a cradle or dock, or you can open up the port closure and plug it in with the microUSB. Flip it over to the right side and you have all your buttons, with the volume rocker in the middle, the power button just above it, and the dedicated camera button towards the bottom. On a side note, the dedicated camera key makes taking pictures so much easier especially when trying to take a picture on the fly. All the way at the top you have the closure door for the microSD card slot, which can store up to a 128GB microSD card for expandable storage, if you need it. Not that you’ll use it, but there’s also a slot on the bottom left corer of the phone where you can insert a lanyard or wrist strap. Overall, the hardware is very solid and the build quality is top notch.

The dual front facing speakers are discrete and appear small, but they actually pump out some pretty good quality audio, something I wasn’t expecting from speakers the size of the ones on the Xperia Z3. Every time I played a game on here or watched a video on YouTube i was impressed about how clear the audio was and how loud it could be turned up without distortion. When it comes to the display, not having 2K resolution might make some think it couldn’t possibly look as good as the G3, but on the contrary everything on this screen looks absolutely stunning. Horn from Phosphor games has never looked so good.

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Sony touts 2 days of battery life on this device without skipping a beat and before you need to give this bad boy a charge. Results will certainly vary from user to user, but the 3100mAh battery on the inside surely keeps Sony’s claims within reason. In the week and half I have had, I have only charged the phone three times. No more, no less. With every other phone I’ve had a nightly charge was needed. No matter how you stack it, that’s amazing. I have even completely replaced using the Nexus 4 this entire time to get all my daily driver needs out of the Z3, so it has definitely been getting use.

Xperia Z3 Battery Life

As of Friday after noon around 4 p.m. which you can see from one of the above images, I was at 34% battery and having been off of the charger for about 1 day and 7 hours. I hadn’t thrown it on the charger until about 9 p.m. that evening where it was down to about 22% left. So, not quite a full 48 hours before I plugged it in but had I needed to go a little longer before a charge I could have, and if it came down to it I could always turn on the Ultra Stamina mode.

Call Quality

Probably one of the most important parts of any phone review should be how the actual phone functions work right? They are phones first after all. I was able to place a quick couple calls here and there with the T-Mobile number embedded within and audio came through clear and had no issues. My call recipients came through loud and clear. Most of the calls I made with this device though were placed with my Google Voice number using the hangouts dialer, which came through just as clear as the call over T-Mobile’s network. I was able to hear everything just fine, and from the info I gathered from the call recipients my voice came through clear to them as well. It may seems silly that we take a look at the call quality on a top tier device, I mean they are high end flagships right? So naturally they should have excellent call quality. This isn’t always the case though. With the Sony Xperia Z3, call quality was just as good as anyone could hope.

Waterproof

If there’s one thing Sony devices are now known for, it’s their uncanny ability to continue usage even when wet or dusty. The IP68 rating for the Sony Xperia Z3 makes it dust and waterproof, which you probably won’t have to use too often if you don’t live in a state that gets a little more rain, but accidents do happen and should something spill onto your device you can feel safe that it will continue to operate as intended without damage. While this is awesome, you do have to make sure that all ports are closed so that water or moisture can’t get into the device. There are only two ports you need to worry about, the microSD slot and the charging port, so as long as you remember to close those two up you’ll be fine. It’s been raining quite a bit here in Oregon this week, so luckily I was able to test it’s usage outside, as well as using the device under water for a minute to test the immersion. It performed quite well but as Alex suggested in the review on the Xperia Z3v, having Glove Mode turned on certainly improves the experience and makes the screen more responsive when wet. Or wearing gloves of course.

SoftwareXperia Z3 Software

This is one of the strong points of the Sony Xperia Z3. It’s UI is lightweight without a lot of extra fluff. It looks elegant and clean and feels much more like stock android than most other UI’s out there, and for the Sony fans it feels a little like a PlayStation UI too. Which is kind of cool. Beyond looking and feeling stylish and clean, it also feels and acts straightforward. There is usefulness where it needs to be, and no extras when they would just feel like clutter and make things feel overwhelming. Sony has a few extra additives though with things like the Lifelog app, which we’ll get to in a bit, and the slide out hamburger menu in the app drawer that gives you full control and management of your app drawer as well as uninstall management.Let’s start with the slide out menu within the app drawer.

You can customize and organize your drawer from here. You can filter out all but your most used apps, perfect for anyone who uses and generally installs a ton of apps,(like myself)so as not to be bogged down by all the other apps you tend to use on a more occasional basis. While this is there and it is extremely useful, you’re not required to use it. The slide out menu is easy to access as you just open your app drawer and swipe in towards the middle of the screen from the left edge. Also inside is the ability to uninstall apps, so you don’t have to go all the way into settings and finally the apps menu, and to the “all apps” tab just to remove an app from your device. There’s also an “own order” option which allows you to organize your app drawer any way you like. Bring all your games to the front page and list them all first, put them in alphabetical order if you wish, even organize them into folders so you can really clean up the drawer.

Sony obviously takes big pride in their cameras, and they should. The Xperia Z3 takes some of the best pictures we’ve seen, and personally I feel they take the best pictures of any smartphone so far. Sony has made it easy to access the camera in their software UI by adding the camera button to the lock screen, just like with plenty of other devices of course. Simply drag up after touching the camera button on the lockscreen to unlock to an open view finder. This isn’t something really unique as many other phones have this, but it’s nice to know that Sony makes it accessible as an alternate option to pressing the dedicated camera button.

Lifelog

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The Lifelog app basically tracks various data from your day to day activities and logs it all into this app for views in various forms. Some of the data can be collected via the various activities and sensors on your phone, while other data is collected and tracked via your Sony smartwear device. To get the full experience out of the Lifelog app, you’ll need something like the Sony SmartBand to track specific things, but the app can still serve a purpose for those that don’t have a Sony smart device. The cool thing about Lifelog is that it takes all the collected data and puts a view of it on a visually appealing graph at the top of the app’s main screen. You can see things as they happened each day with little icons denoting what each activity was. You can enter some stuff manually, but most of the data is tracked and logged via devices like the Sony SmartBand, SmartBand Talk, or Sony SmartWatch 3. They have implemented a map button so you can see where you were on any given selected date, and you can use Lifelog to create bookmarks called Life Bookmarks which are special moments that you want to save in detail. It feels like a mesh between an activity tracker app and a journal that lets you log your active life activities as well as other memorable moments.

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I did a review of the PS4 Remote Play prior to the full review of this device, which you can check out here if you like. Remote Play is a benefit to those who have a PS4 console and want to be able to stream their games to their device and play them on the phone. It comes in useful when someone else wants access to the TV in your home, giving you the ability to share the room and both get what you want. Since you’re on the device though, you can freely move about without having to be tethered to the TV too, so even if you have the TV all to yourself you can play games more comfortably from any room in the home, or anywhere you can be connected to WiFi. You can use the on screen digital controls if you wish. Everything is there that you would find on the controller, but without physical buttons.

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These virtual controls can feel a bit cramped and I don’t recommended them for more competitive type games or online play, but if you’re playing something a little more casual and need to charge your controller, these will work just fine. For the best Remote Play experience, you’ll definitely want to connect up your DualShock 4 controller, and attach your phone to the DS4 controller mount that Sony produced so you can don’t have to prop the phone up on a stand, giving you full traditional controls to play any game, with the phone screen at a comfortable viewing angle closer to your face so you can see everything. As I stated in the review, when you have blazing fast WiFi speeds and are playing in the best of conditions, Remote Play is flawless and doesn’t forfeit any of the experience. If the speeds of the WiFi network you’re connected to are slightly less than stellar, Remote Play is still useable but you may experience some disconnect from time to time or a little bit of lag like I did. When you get right down to it though, Remote Play for the PS4 works great and is an amazing feature of the device, so long as you keep in mind that a fast internet connection is a factor to consider.

ThemesXperia Z3 Themes

Sony is one of the very few OEMs that has implemented themes into their device out of the box. They offer a collection of colored backdrops with an interactive setup(live wallpaper), as well as the “Xperia Theme” which combines all the colors into one theme. You can also download more themes from the store many or all of them free, which not only changes the wallpaper, but also some of the system UI accents like icons, nav buttons etc. Think of themes for Nova Prime, Apex Pro, Go launcher and others. Sony’s is just built-in. The ones that come stock on the phone are elegant too and not overwhelming. They still make the phone look clean and yet provide an element of personalization.

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The camera we’re working with here is a 20.7MP rear facing camera. it takes some of the best shots I’ve seen from any smartphone currently on the market, I even personally feel that it takes better shots than any other top flagship out there, including the Galaxy Note 4 which I have also tested and grabbed pictures from. We know that megapixels don’t exactly make for an amazing camera all the time, in this case though they certainly help the Xperia Z3. Not only can it take some really great images with a handful of awesome and useful camera shooting modes like timeshift burst, timeshift video, AR Fun, background Defocus, as well as Live On YouTube and others, but it’s also possible to record 4k/UHD video. The Xperia Z3 isn’t the only device that can accomplish this but it is only one of a small handful of devices that have the capability. The camera in the Sony Xperia Z3 is the same as the camera inside the Sony Xperia Z3v for Verizon Wireless, which our own Alex Maxham reviewed previous to me reviewing the Xperia Z3 for T-Mobile. With that said, I won’t go into much detail about the features as we have already covered that, and you can check out Alex’s comments about the camera here. You can also check out a collection of the camera shots I got with the Sony Xperia Z3 below.

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The Sony Xperia Z3 is a top quality device, and one that anyone would be happy with. It comes with an amazing rear camera for what are quite possibly the best smartphone images out there, 4K video recording and live casting to YouTube. It has a lightweight UI(not too unlike the LG G3)that doesn’t stray too far away from stock Android but still puts a nice touch of personalization on the phone. During my week and a half of use, everything has felt fluid and snappy, which the 3GB of RAM surely contributes to. The design is stylish and the screen is big but not too big. Although it offers a ton of awesome features, what might be the best thing about the Xperia Z3 is the battery life, boasting somewhere between a day and half and two days depending on what you use and how often. For anyone looking at a top quality flagship device with great features, stellar battery life and amazing picture  and video quality, the Sony Xperia Z3 is one to look out for.