2018, the year the smartphone industry got interesting again. Over the last couple of days/weeks Martin has been test running the latest big shots in the form of the Google Pixel 3 XL and the Huawei Mate 20 Pro. Yes, they are great phones ready to compete against the Apple’s and Samsung’s of the world but aren’t we missing one of the main competitors in the race to be crowed top dog? Sony… one of the major forces in the tech world. As a company Sony have cornered the TV, gaming and camera industries with ease and while their smartphones haven’t been able to recreate the companies success, it’s probably only a matter of time until they crack the code. And that’s exactly why the new Xperia XZ3 could be the surprise smash hit this year.

I personally have been using the impressive Samsung Galaxy S8 as my day to day phone for awhile now and I haven’t had much reason to really look for a change…Until now. Over the last couple of weeks I have been using the latest flagship from Sony, the Xperia XZ3 and I must say it’s by far Sony’s most impressive phone to date. So let’s take a look…

The Sony Conundrum

Before I get into the good stuff let me take a moment to get this one big gripe of my chest. Sony make really high quality products. Every single model they release has a spec sheet that is comparable if not better than most of the competition. The big problem for the Japanese manufacturers is simple…they release far too many phones. In their pursuit to gain a credible market share and to have the most powerful smartphone on the market at any point in time, Sony are releasing a new phone every 6 months. Apple for example really only release a new product every two years with the interim S models containing only slight under the hood tweaks while Samsung are operating in a very similar manner. This means from product to product we can see huge strides in innovation making their phones far more intriguing to most users. Beyond that, moving to an annual release means that brands like Apple and Samsung are spending more time tweaking their new toy to perfection before release whereas Sony are constantly working on the fly. The Xperia XZ3 is a well crafted phone with great specs, an amazing display but the problem for a customer will be this.. if I get a Samsung on a two year contract, by the time they are ready for an upgrade they are only one model behind but with Sony there have been four new releases. If Sony move on to an annual release I’m telling you this for a fact, they will be a huge force to be reckoned with. Anyway onto the good stuff.

Sleek Design

 

From the moment you open the box it’s hard not to be impressed by the Xperia XZ3. To be fair to Sony they have made huge strides in their design over the last number of years and once again we have a phone that delivers sexy appeal in spades. Just look for yourself.

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It feels almost sacrilege to put something this good looking in a case but we would highly recommend it. With a high gloss finish and a curved shape on the front and rear of the phone we would imagine this would be quite susceptible to scratching. To give the Xperia XZ3 credit it’s a sturdy smartphone – due to the high gloss finish I find the phone a bit slippy in the hand (hence getting the case) but having dropped it a couple of times I can say that the polished frame has not picked up a single ding or scratch. This is as a result of the Gorrilla Glass 5 that the display and body are made from.

Just in terms of design alone, at 9.9mm thick and weighing in at 193g the Xperia XZ3 is not what you would class as a slender or light phone. Not that is matters one bit, thanks to its tapered design it still feels elegant and comfortable to hold.

On the rear of the phone you will notice the single lens camera mounted in the centre line about a third of the way down the body with the fingerprint scanner just below. The placement of both have been up for debate on the last couple of releases from Sony and to be honest I struggle to understand the reasoning for placing the finger print scanner in such a location. My stubby fingers mean I regularly put my fingertip over the camera lens, leading to smudges which isn’t ideal. Having said that the scanner itself is very quick and accurate so just on a personal note if the camera position and fingerprint scanner were slightly higher up the phone it would be perfect.

Other highlights in the Xperia XZ3 design include a SIM card/microSD card tray that can be removed without a pin and a physical camera button which is always a nice touch. I also enjoy the fact this is probably the only flagship phone I have seen without “The Notch” but they have gone with the crowd and removed the 3.5mm headphone jack which might not be to everyone’s taste but they Sony do supply the 3.5mm to USB-C dongle in the box.

In summary, move the fingerprint scanner and you have possibly the most attractive phone I have seen on the market this year. That’s before we even look at the best part.

TV Quality Display

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Here’s where things get very interesting, the screen is essentially a shrunken down version of their Sony Bravia TV which is incredible considering over the last few years Sony have taken a bit of stick for their display quality. Not anymore! Sony has gone OLED and it’s a real game changer for the brand.

The OLED display delivers deeper blacks and supports HDR for better contrast and more lifelike colours. Watching a YouTube clip alongside my Samsung Galaxy S8 an iPhone X and the Sony Xperia XZ2 it’s hard not to pick the XZ3. I would be willing to put a wager on with Martin the screen on this piece of kit will trump anything he has been testing with the Pixel and Mate hands down. Why? simply this display is just that good, vibrant colours, deep blacks and fine details, it’s the best screen I have seen on smartphone to date.

The reason it’s the best display on the market, the XZ3 also gives you resolution options that no other phone on the market supports right now, up to 1440p, 60fps in HDR, with the Note 9 only going up to 1080p with HDR and the iPhone not even specifying HDR at this moment in time.

But that’s not all…. if you go into the setting on the Xperia XZ3 you will notice there are a bunch of options to improve video enhancements which will take effect across all main video applications not just the camera. Don’t be shocked if we see Apple doing business with Sony in the future to create the next generation of future iPhone displays.

Sont company has finally bridged the gap between its not-quite-sharp-enough Full HD flagships of old and its overkill 4K Premium series. Couple this with HDR upscaling, Sony’s TRILUMINOS Display for mobile, X-Reality, and Dynamic Contrast Enhancer you really get a display that works in tandem with the XZ3 design to produce the best smartphone display on the market.

Battery Power

I might not have been totally honest coming into this.. I am a bit of a Sony fan. Back in the day when working in the old phone shop I sported the Xperia Z1 through to the Z3. Even since those days the battery on Sony phones has been something to admire, with the new Xperia XZ3 being no exception. At a whopping 3,3300mAh this is the biggest battery Sony have wedged into a phone but with a bigger display to handle the question was, would it last the day?

I decided to give the Xperia XZ3 a proper test, go a full day start to finish without a top up charge and see how long it lasted. Now obviously it couldn’t be a normal day, I really wanted to see what the Sony was made off. From waking up at 7:30am to putting down a full work day, heading to the airport, flying to London and finding my hotel by 10pm, the XZ3 held up amazingly well. Using Instagram, Spotify, Acast and Maps throughout the day and with the help of the extremely handy Stamina mode that kicks in on the last 15%, we made it to the hotel that night with just 3% left in the tank. Well played Sony, well played.

That’s a serious heavy workload for any phone so if you just use your phone for the normal everyday stuff, the XZ3 will easily clear the day. Unless you watch a lot of video, then you might want to pack a powerbank just to be safe.

Camera Quality

Main/Rear Camera

Who ever thought we would see the day where we have to define that the camera on the back of the phone is the “main” one. Guess that’s the selfie loving world we live in now. Anyway the XZ3 is equipped with the same 19MP f/2.0 that the original XZ1 model sports but while the spec might look the same, rest assured the camera in the XZ3 is much better.

In the Xperia XZ3, Sony have streamlined their user interface which means less swiping to change between the different modes. Better again the frequently used settings are always shown on the screen so you spend less time fiddling about while prepping your shot. While the UI is much better, image quality is also greatly improved vs the previous models. Showing off better clarity, low-light performance and dynamic range the XZ3 feels like a brand new camera.

The new Google Pixel and Huawei Mate just edge the new Sony in terms of overall camera performance thanks solely to their dynamic range and detail. That’s not to say the XZ3 is a bad camera, honestly it’s by far the best camera Sony have produced just if the main camera is the main reason you buy a phone then there are better available.

Selfie Cam

I’m not the biggest man for selfies in the world as most front facing android cameras have a habit of showing of my many chins but again the Sony Xperia XZ3 managed to exceed expectations. With a souped up 13MP camera with a wide 23mm equivalent lens and improved digital stabilization means selfies have never looked this good.
Luckily for me Sony have integrated a beauty mode that will brighten you eyes and slim down your face (goodbye chins!!). Alternatively if you happen to be one of them pretty people you can turn this feature off for more natural looking pics or you can use the bokeh mode too blur out the background to make that strong jawline pop even more. I showed this to my rather pretty housemate and he might have lost himself in the lens for longer than either of us would care to admit. So all around big seal of approval for the front facing camera on the XZ3.

Video

Now this is where Sony really comes into its own. The XZ3 digital stabilization will work incredibly well in good lighting, while the 4K HDR footage is just a joy to behold.

This is another area I would happily put the Sony up against any of the competition and fully expect it to come out on top. The dynamic range on video is far better than any of the competition when viewed on a compatible HDR screen which means if you’re a video buff and your willing to put in the time to get the best results then no other phone on the market is going to come close to the Xperia XZ3. Put it like this, there is no other phone on the market at all that can capture 960fps in Full HD slow motion. If video is your thing then forget the competition because there is none.

Side Sense

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This shall be dubbed the Marmite feature because you are either going to love or hate it, there is no middle ground. In the XZ3 we see a new way of enabling one-handed use of the long 6inch display. It’s called Side Sense.

I thought it was quite interesting, double tap either side of the screen and you get this quick menu to access the applications you use the most. It’s very similar to what we saw on the Samsung Note Edge in a way but here Side Sense has a back button that can be activated by swiping up or down on the edge of the display. Quick access to your most used bits and pieces can be cool but it’s not for everyone. If you accidently do the swipe motion on the corner of the display then Side Sense will pop up exactly like it should but I can see how some people might be bothered by this. Grand, if you don’t like it just hop into the settings and turn it off. Personally I found it useful as although I have about 101 apps installed on my phone there are only about 6 that get used on a regular basis.

Sony Xperia XZ3 Spec Sheet

Xperia XZ3

Google Pixel 3

Size

158 x 73 x 9.9 mm145.6 x 68.2 x 7.9 mm

Display Size

6 inches5.5 inches

Weight

193g148g

Protection

IP68 dust/water resistant (up to 1.5m for 30 mins)IP68 dust/water resistant (up to 1.5m for 30 mins)

SIM

NanoNano and eSim

Display Type

pOLED QHD+
(2880 x 1440) HDR display4
• TRILUMINOS™ Display for mobile
P-OLED capacitive touchscreen, 16M colours

Operating System

Android 9Android 9

Internal Memory

64GB64GB or 128GB

Expandable

Yes, micro SD upto 512GBNo

RAM

4GB4GB

Main Camera

19MP12MP

Selfie Camera

13MP2 x 8MP

Cable Type

USB CUSB C

Headphone Jack

NoNo

Battery

3330 mAh2915 mAh

 

I’m just going on a hunch here but I reckon that the Google Pixel 3 and the Sony Xperia XZ3 here are both going to be slugging it out for market share and as you can see from the above the two are way to close to call. The main differences in Sony’s favour really surround the battery, display quality and the expandable memory. The only thing that could affect Sony is a perception that the software is “buggy” which might put of potential customers. The XZ3 has shown zero problems on that front and I would happily move over to this as my day to day phone without hesitation.

Pricing and Availability

Right now you can get the Sony Xperia XZ3 directly from the manufacturer for €799 or from Three for €579.99 on prepay or on the Ultimate Flex Max €60 per month contract with an upfront cost of €79.99.

Three have managed to get the exclusive launch access so once pricing becomes available on the remaining networks we will update the pricing here.

The Verdict

The Sony Xperia XZ3 is almost perfect. This is by far the best phone Sony have produced and by God it’s a true beauty to behold. It’s sleek, sturdy and the screen quality is downright gobsmacking. Personally I wasn’t a fan of the fingerprint scanner placement but that’s really a minor annoyance in the grand scheme of things.

Realistically the new Google Pixel and Huawei Mate 20 Pro are taking the plaudits right now as the new players in the game, but don’t rule out Sony just yet. Between the incredible OLED display and the 4K HDR video capture, Sony have made a phone that is ready to step up and join Google and Huawei in the race to knock the big boys of the top. Should you buy it? It’s really a matter of taste and what’s you prioritize in a phone, I personally like Sony and anyone like me should definitely consider their latest edition. If your not a big Sony fan but you enjoy watching YouTube or Netflix on your phone, then this could be the one for you.

What did you think of that?