Sony Xperia XZ3 Review

Sony Xperia XZ3 Mobile

Sony have had a very hard time with their phones lately. Although getting better every time they release a new one, they’ve never really managed to compete with the likes of Samsung, Apple or Google when trying to reach for that top spot.

We’ve not seen a Sony phone in a while now, with the last one we reviewed being the Xperia XZ Premium, which we liked a lot. So hopefully this time round Sony can really hit the mark with their now Sony Xperia XZ3 handset.

Design

The Sony Xperia XZ3 has come a long way since the original XZ Premium in terms of design. It’s a lot rounder than its older sibling, meaning Sony has now ditched the square corporate look. However, this does come with some setbacks.

Being pretty much covered in a glossy finish, the roundness of new new handset makes it incredibly difficult to hold for one handed use. It’s incredibly slippery. And I know I mentioned in my last review that the Google Pixel 3 was slippery due it its frosted back, but that felt like holding a rough pebble whereas the XZ3 in comparison is like a bar of wet soap.

But that’s not to say this handset doesn’t look good. It looks great in fact. The shiny gloss finish looks very premium indeed, and button placement is very good, and reachable with one hand too. The finger print sensor is below the camera, although feels identical to the camera itself, so you’ll probably confuse them from time to time like I did.

One thing that has disappeared from the latest Sony handset is its headphone jack. While I’ve learned to live with this through the other handsets I’ve been asked to review, it does require some  adapting to if you were once a wired headphone user. Annoying for those who have spent a decent amount on a quality pair of wired cans. However, it does still retain the USB Type-C to 3.5mm aux port adapter in the box, so you can use that.

The lock and volume rocker are down the right hand side, with the lock button being well in reach of your thumb if using with your right hand. There is a third button, a shutter button for when you’re in the camera. It also acts as a quick launch key too if held down. You can access the camera from anywhere including your lock screen.

Sony Xperia XZ3 Mobile

Features

One feature that feels pretty unique to the Sony Xperia XZ3 is its ‘Side Sense’. This is also where AI learning starts to kick in too. It’s a simple feature to use, but can get a little annoying. I’ll explain. Side Sense is like a quick menu when on your home screen. Double tap either side of your phone and a small menu appears with some favourite apps.

You can also swipe inside of apps to go forward and back through the pages you’ve visited. This is the annoying part. Your natural movement when holding a phone, adjusting it in your hand makes your hand slide across the side, which confuses the phone to send you back. Pretty tedious when reading am article or watching a Facebook video. There’s a setting to turn the sensitivity down, but it doesn’t help much. Other alternative is to turn it off all together.

The screen on the other hand is one of the best I’ve seen on a smartphone. Sony have integrated their new P-OLED technology into the device, giving great brightness and accurate colour reproduction, especially when watching media. It’s six inches corner to corner with an aspect ratio of 18:9 and sports a QHD+ resolution of 1440 x 2880. One bonus is that there is no notch anywhere! What more, Sony’s visual drivers – TRILUMINOS Display, X-Reality, and Dynamic Contrast Enhancer – can push the screen to a better maximum height than any competition right now, and that’s 1440p with HDR at 60 frames-per-second. You heard that right, this screen is an absolute force to be reckoned with.

Again with audio, Sony have really thought about how users are going to be listening to their music, YouTube videos and Netflix shows. With the DSEE HX enhancement, you can upgrade compressed audio to near Hi-Res quality. It does this by restoring high-end sounds. Although this does only work with wired headphones unfortunately.For you wireless users out there, you got Clear Audio+ which optimise sound sources and a dynamic normaliser which tries to tackle different volume levels from recorded sources.

The phone supports microSD cards up to 512GB in a dual sim card/memory card tray which is great if you’re going to be taking advantage of that awesome 4K video camera on the back. It has an IP68 rating so it’s water and dust proof and also covered in its entirety in Gorilla Glass 5 for added drop protection.

One interesting feature that I’ve not seen on other handsets before is the fact that the Sony Xperia XZ3 gives you some haptic feedback in the rhythm of whatever music is playing. It’s called Dynamic Vibration, and it’s designed for immersion. It works wonders for music and games, but not so much for video. I felt that setting one was best, that way vibration wasn’t too much, but subtle enough to give you a decent sensation when holding your phone.

Sony Xperia XZ3 Mobile

Performance

Under the hood you can find a Snapdragon 845 processor clocked at 2.7 GHz and 1.7 GHz respectively. There’s also 4GB RAM inside, but 6GB is available in Taiwan of all places according to GSM Arena. There’s plenty of power under the hood, and I never felt as if the phone was going to let me down. I could switch between apps extremely quickly, and with the Side Sense active, multitasking was easily doable.

It comes with Android Pie from the box which is Android’s latest operating system, but it is covered with Sony’s own Xperia UI, which doesn’t stray too far from stock, but this is definitely a personal preference on how you prefer your Android to display.

Geekbench 4 also threw back some pretty decent scores too with a single core processor coming in at 2319 and a multi-core score hitting 8760. The phone is powerful enough as well to run the latest Android games, be it Fortnite, Asphalt 9 racing or Monster Hunter Stories.

The device runs off of a 3,300mAh battery, and a whole host of power saving features named STAMINA mode. This helps the battery life by only using the functions that the phone needed to function. I was able to get a good day’s use out of this phone before having to put it on charge overnight for the following morning. If I was a light user however, I could have easily got maybe a day and a half from this device. There’s a fast charging feature for those needing a quick top up on the go, and Sony’s STAMINA mode protects its battery by reducing the time it takes to get the phone to 100% if left in for long periods of time overnight. The AI feature on the Sony Xperia XZ3 detects your regular patterns, and times the 100% battery target for then. Sony do offer wireless charging as an alternative and also supply a USB Type-C charger in the box.

Sony Xperia XZ3 Mobile

Camera

Sony have gone down the route of only sticking a single camera on the back of their device, which for such a new handset, is kind of strange to see now. However, photos that you can get from the Sony XZ3 are good, but they do lose out to the likes of the new Google Pixel 3 and Huawei Mate 20 Pro. It does use the same Sony Exmoor sensor from the XZ2 and has a lens aperture of f/2.0 for those low-level lighting shots.

In broad daylight, you can get some pretty decent results. Images can look sharp and full of detail for various different types of shots. The bokeh mode which came preinstalled on the phone we were sent produced some sharpish portraits, but was really not as good as competitor handsets from Samsung and Google. Again, the 8x digital zoom did not perform too well in any conditions.

However, where this phone really fell down was with its dynamic range. On bright sunny days you can see that the sky can get blown out. It doesn’t handle highlights very well, especially at this price point when you’ve got something like the Google Pixel 3 available right along side it. There is however an exposure slider in auto mode available to you, which is a must if you want to get as perfect an exposure as possible.

Where the Sony Xperia XZ3 does shine though is in its ability to shoot some rather impressive 4K video. But of course, Sony are known for this as we’ve seen in their impressive mirrorless lineup of late. Dynamic range completely out-performs that available on the stills camera, and the HDR capabilities of the phone give some real punch to the colour and dynamic range. And on top of that, you get image stabilisation too, giving you some smooth pans with minimal warping. Easily one of the best phones on the market for video capabilities for sure.

Now the slow-motion capture that Sony is pretty well known for is a difficult one to really enjoy. On one hand, having a maximum of 960fps is a definite bonus, but on the other hand you can only shoot short moments at a time. You can’t capture an entire video at 960fps like you can on other mobiles. There’s a slo-mo mode that enables the camera to shoot at 120fps, but of course, that’s much faster than the 960 max frames-per-second the phone is capable of. According to Sony forums, this is a hardware limitation. The camera captures around four seconds of slow motion in a single moment at 960fps and unlimited slow motion recording at 120fps.

Verdict

The Sony Xperia XZ3 is a beautiful looking handset that has all the spec it needs to boot. It’s got everything you need to get through a decent day’s use, and performs exceptionally well. The camera for stills can’t compete with something like the Google Pixel 3, but its 4K video performance is definitely the best on the market at this time thanks to its HDR capability. The finger print sensor could have done with being a little higher but swings and roundabouts I suppose. Thanks to Vodafone, we were able to check out this sweet handset, so make sure you head over to their website for some of the most competitive contract deals around.

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