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Sony has been making waves with its latest smartphones, the Z3 Compact and the flagship Xperia Z3. I just sent a loaner Xperia Z3 back to Sony after several weeks of enjoying its big screen Android experience. This is one nice-looking smartphone and just in time for winter snow showers, it’s waterproof. And don’t get me started on the battery life. Read on for my full Sony Xperia Z3 experience.

First Impressions

I’ll come out and say upfront that I’ve always admired Sony’s industrial design. When it comes to looks, the gear Sony produces is right up there with Apple. 

The Z3 doesn’t look a whole lot different from its predecessor, the Xperia Z2, but it is a little narrower, thinner and lighter. It features a glass back and metal frame in a slab-like form factor that both looks and feels premium —corners are plastic to prevent dents, but that’s hardly noticeable. You won’t want to drop it, though. My tester was a brilliant white and there’s also a more conservative black option. And while not in phablet territory, the Xperia Z3 is big. In the photo below, I put it side by side with the iPhone 6 (left) and Moto X (middle)

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The Xperia Z3 was plenty zippy with everything I asked it to do. Mostly that was watching HD streaming video, reviewing photos and surfing the web but it never felt sluggish.

If you have small hands, you might want to check out that Xperia Z3 Compact, but I found the full-sized Xperia Z3 felt just about right.

Xperia Z3 Key Specs

  • 5.2-inch Full HD TRILUMINOS display with X-Reality picture engine
  • Quad-core Snapdragon 801 CPU @ 2.5GHz with 3GB RAM
  • 16GB storage with microSD card slot for expansion
  • Sony 3D Surround Sound with Clear Audio+
  • 20.7MP primary camera with Exmor RS sensor with pulsed LED flash, Steady shot optimization, burst mode and 4K video
  • Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, USB 2.0, Ant+, Micro USB
  • Dual band 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
  • Playstation Certified, PS4 Remote Play
  • IP65 waterproof and IP68 dustproof
  • 3,100mAh Li-on battery rated at up to 16 hours talk time, up to 10 hours video playback
  • Runs Android 4.4 with custom Sony UI
  • 14.6 x 7.2 x 0.73 cm, weighs 152 grams
 

Display

As usual in Sony devices, the Xperia Z3 has an excellent display. It’s Full HD and looks great with natural-looking colours, excellent viewing angles and it’s plenty bright. Some competitors at this size pack in more pixels but the Xperia’s certainly doesn’t look any worse for being 1080p.

You’ll see lots of jargon around proprietary Sony display technology such as TRILUMINOS and X-Reality. I can’t explain what it all means (other than to say the result looks fantastic), but Sony can:

Camera

The camera is often one of the highlights of Sony smartphones. The company supplies image sensors to half the industry, so it clearly knows what it’s doing when it comes to snapping photos.

With its large Exmor image sensor, the Xperia Z performed well in low light situations and autofocus was quick to lock on target.

Outdoor photos look even better. Sony used a wider angle (25 mm) lens, which means you get more in every shot —without even needing to use panorama mode. There is plenty of detail (as you’d expect with a 20.1MP image sensor) and colour reproduction looked good. I didn’t have any inspiring vistas to shoot while I had this phone and the weather was rather grey and dreary, but here’s an uncropped (or edited) shot of the back of my yard that shows the detail and the wide angle this phone’s camera offers.

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The Xperia Z3 also shoots 4K video, if you have a display capable of handling that resolution.

Waterproof and Dustproof

Once again, Sony is leading the way when it comes to smartphones you can use outdoors. Previous Z models were also waterproof and dustproof, but the Xperia Z3 ups the ante by improving to IP65 waterproof and IP 68 dustproof ratings. That means you can dunk the Xperia Z3 in 1.5 metres of water for half an hour, if you were so inclined. In reality, it means your morning commute needn’t be cringe-worthy, even if you have to check your e-mail in the rain.

To keep water out, ports are covered. The microUSB port is a little fiddly to get at, but Sony has included an exposed magnetic charge port on one edge so you don’t need to pull covers off to recharge it. Not that you would need to very often, which is my segue into battery life…

Amazing Battery Life

The Xperia Z3 has a 3100mAh battery. That’s a larger capacity that the Galaxy S5 (2800mAh), Moto X (2300mAH) and HTC One M8 (2600mAH), and much larger than the iPhone 6 at 1810mAh.

While Sony is fairly modest in its estimates for the Xperia Z3, I found the battery life for this smartphone was extremely impressive. After a typical day of experimenting with various with settings, snapping a few photos, browsing the web, listening to music and playing a half an hour to an hour of streaming HD video, I’d regularly have 80 percent or more of the battery remaining. 

Even with heavy use, I think this is one of those phones that most people would only need to charge every other day.

Playstation Certified and PS4 Remote Play

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For anyone who is a gamer, the Xperia Z3 has a big advantage over other smartphones. It runs Android, so you can make the most of the games for the platform through Google Play. 

However, the Xperia Z3 is Playstation Certified, which means it can play games developed for Sony’s Playstation consoles that have been optimized for mobile devices. 

sony in hand one.jpgThe Xperia Z3 also supports PS4 Remote play. I didn’t have a Playstation 4 to try this out, but the feature lets players use an Xperia Z3 to play PS4 games over Wi-Fi that are running on their Playstation 4 —instead of having to sit in front of the TV the game console is hooked up to. Sony even offers a special optional adapter to mount the Xperia Z3 onto a PS4 controller to create a rather awesome-looking, PS4 game-playing mobile device.

My primary smartphone is an iPhone 6, but after using the Xperia Z3 for several weeks, this Sony phone is the one I would choose if I were to switch to the Android camp. If I had a Playstation 4 as my game console, it wouldn’t even be a contest…

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Brad Moon
Editor Computing solutions
I’m a long-time electronics and gadget geek who’s been fortunate enough to enjoy a career that lets me indulge this interest. After 13 years as a product manager with a leading Canadian tech company, I transitioned into a full-time career of writing about technology. I’ve contributed to a range of publications and websites including Forbes, Wired, Gizmodo, Lifehacker, About.com, MSN Money, the Winnipeg Free Press, InvestorPlace Media, Shaw Media and—combining technology and my three kids—I’ve been a Core Contributor to the award winning GeekDad blog since its launch in 2007.