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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Xperia Z3: Still happy six months later

I'm an Xperia fan(boy).  My first ever cellphone was the Xperia arc, and while it wasn't the best phone at the time of purchase (December 2011), I've grown to love the phone throughout the three years of my contract.  I also own an Xperia Tablet Z, which I bought in June of 2013, which is a device I consider to be an extra portable laptop when my laptop is just too much of a hassle to carry around.  When time came for me to upgrade my phone in December 2014, I had a few options resonating through my mind.  I might've been a bit biased in my decision, but the Xperia Z3 was the device I ended up choosing to have as my phone for the next two years.  It's been a bit more than six months since I first acquired the phone and the lustre of having a new phone has gone away, so I'm here to give you my experience with the Z3 after six months.

I'm going to be skipping a Camera section in my review as I don't feel comfortable talking photo quality due to my inexperience with judging photos and the inability to compare photos to other comparable devices.

Hardware & Display

The Z3 isn't a small phone by any means.  With dimensions of 146 x 72 x 7.3 mm, the Z3 is a thin, yet tall device.  The sides of the phone are curved, in contrast to previous iterations on the Z series, and I have to say that the curved sides definitely help with handling.  All the buttons are located on the right side of the device, and I believe Sony's button placement makes sense for how I hold the phone.  From top to bottom, there's the trademark aluminum power button, volume rocker and dedicated camera button near the bottom of the phone.  The power button isn't the most tactile button, but it isn't mushy so it gets the job done.  The volume rocker is good in terms of tactile response.  The camera button is a two-stage camera button, which allows for focusing before shooting like many cameras.  This camera button I find easier to handle versus the camera button on the Xperia arc as it's bigger and not as stiff as the one on the arc.  There are two protective flaps on the phone covering the USB port and SD/SIM card slots.  The ports are easy to open and generally easy to close, though there have been a few times where I had to readjust the cover in order to properly seal it (usually the USB cover gave me the most trouble).  Regarding materials, the phone is a glass and aluminum sandwich, with glass on the front and back of the device surrounded by an aluminum frame.  At 152 grams, the phone is weighty enough to feel substantial in your hand(s) without being overbearing.

The Xperia Z3 sports a 5.2" inch 1080p screen.  Coming from the 4.3" Xperia arc, the 5.2" Xperia Z3 is quite a big jump in size.  That being said, I've come to become very comfortable with the overall size of the Z3.  Only rarely do I have difficulty reaching my thumb across the screen to tap something (I have fairly small hands).  The screen is also good to look at, though comparing it to my two other Xperia devices, I noticed that the Z3 was quite cooler in temperature than the Tablet Z and arc.  It's been said that the Z3's display is inaccurate and is quite off in terms of temperature, but I don't think it's enough to mark the screen off as terrible.  You can adjust the white balance in the settings menu to help alleviate this for your own eyes.

I should also mention that the Z3 is rated IP65 & IP68 on the Ingress Protection Rating system for water and dust resistance.  According to Sony's fine print on the product page for the Z3,
Provided that all ports and covers are firmly closed, the phone is (i) dust tight and (ii) protected against low-pressure jets of water from all practicable directions in compliance with IP65; and/or (iii) can be kept under 1.5 m of fresh water for up to 30 minutes in compliance with IP68.[1]
 While I haven't taken my phone into a swimming pool for a swim, I have dipped my phone underwater in my sink.  Yes, as long as the ports are sealed properly, the phone will survive underwater.  You can't use the phone properly underwater due to the touch screen not being able to properly sense your fingers, but you can use the camera button to take pictures while underwater.  There is a small app that allows you to turn off the touch sensors so your phone won't register erratic touches from the water.  More on that and other apps in a bit.

Software

The Xperia Z3 shipped with 4.4.4 KitKat, but was given the Lollipop 5.0.2 update around March 2015.  If you've used any Xperia device in the past, the software experience hasn't changed much.  At its core, Sony's skin of Android is more like a light coat of paint, as they leave a lot of stock Android functionality and just paint over it with their colours.  You notice this as you power on the device.  The lockscreen has the same layout as stock Android's except with Sony's clock offerings.  The launcher the stock app tray icon from the Google Now Launcher (the KitKat one, not the recent Lollipop one).  The on-screen buttons (with the exception of the home button) are exactly the same as stock Android.  The notification tray is practically a carbon copy of the stock Android one, with a bit of extra functionality (editing toggles and Sony colours).

If you enjoy stock Android, Sony's skin isn't going to deter you away with anything offensive in terms of functionality.  I've given a fairly in-depth overview of Lollipop on the Z3 here, so I won't go into too much detail about it again.  The few gripes I've had with Lollipop still persist, including the status bar colour, the new interruption system and missing sound toggle.  With the latest firmware update, Sony have re-introduced with Close all button in Overview, so if closing all your apps at once is something you do often, you'll be glad to know it's back in the software.

Performance & Battery

Sony opted to use the same processor in the Xperia Z3 as they did in their previous model from the same year, the Xperia Z2.  The only difference between the Snapdragon 801 in the Z3 compared to the Z2 is a slight increase in clock speed -- bumped up from 2.3 GhZ to 2.5 GhZ.  I haven't used a Z2 or any other Snapdragon 801 device with the same clock speed, but I'm sure the difference is negligible.  Either way, I've found performance to be snappy and fluid.  Seldom have I had moments of delay or lag in the software experience, or moments where I wished the phone would perform faster.  Even 6 months later, the Z3 still holds up well in the performance department, and shouldn't be a concern when using your phone on the daily.  I don't do a lot of mobile gaming, so I can't speak a lot about the gaming experience, but I wouldn't expect it to be a slouch in the gaming department either.

The battery in the Z3 is 3100 mAh, which is 100 mAh smaller than the Z2's battery.  Despite this, many have reported the Z3's battery life to be similar to Z2's.  From my prolonged personal use, I've noticed that battery life on Lollipop has been slightly worse than the battery life on KitKat.  On KitKat, getting through a day has been easier to achieve than on Lollipop.  In the past couple weeks, I've had to bring my charger around in fear of depleting the battery before getting home, though I've only had to plug in a couple times.  Of course, that being said, your usage will probably differ greatly from mine.  I would consider my usage heavier than most, as I tend to check social media, browse the internet, and listen to music all day (Snapchat is a big battery culprit, since it requires the camera and that takes up a fair amount of battery).  Again, I don't game on my phone, so if you do game, take that into consideration.

One thing to note as a user of Xperia devices is that in Lollipop, Location-based WiFi has been removed from the Power Management settings.  If you relied on this feature in KitKat (which I did), you'll have to find alternate ways to get this feature back, or toggle the WiFi yourself.

Conclusion

I like my Z3.  It's held up quite well in the first six months compared to my Xperia arc.  It's still a very reliable device, and it's only been succeeded by one device at this point (the Xperia Z3+/Z4), so Sony should continue to support the device until I switch phones in about a year and a half from now (Sony has promised Android 5.1 for the Z series, so the update train is definitely still rolling).  If you're looking for a reliable phone that shouldn't be too expensive on a subsidized contract, I definitely recommend the Z3.

Latest software version: 23.1.A.1.28 (Android 5.0.2 Lollipop)

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