Sony Xperia Z3v review:

Verizon's spin on Sony's excellent Xperia Z3 is nearly as good

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MSRP: $199.99
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4 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good The Sony Xperia Z3v is a top-notch Android phone that's waterproof for up to 30 minutes, can stream games from a nearby PlayStation 4 via Remote Play, and has expandable storage.

The Bad The design is a throwback to earlier Xperia models, and not as slick as the standard Xperia Z3.

The Bottom Line Sony's variant on the Xperia Z3 is nearly the same excellent overall phone on Verizon, albeit with a slightly dated external design.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

8.4 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Features 9.0
  • Performance 8.0

Shopping for phones can sometimes be a maddening process: what makes one variation different than another? Let's say you've been craving Sony's latest Xperia Z3 , a really good and stylish phone. It's available in the U.S. via T-Mobile. But if you're a Verizon customer, there's the Xperia Z3v. Consider the "v" for "variant," or "Verizon," just know that this is very nearly the Z3: the same processor, storage, RAM, PlayStation 4 game-streaming abilities, 5.2-inch 1080p screen, waterproof housing and almost the same camera (a little on that in a bit).

The main differences are battery life and, well, design. There's no way about it: Verizon's Z3v is not as attractive a phone as the standard Z3. In fact, it looks more like the earlier Xperia Z2 .

This is a really good phone. Is it a great phone? In a landscape of increasingly impressive Android options packing bleeding-edge specs, the Xperia Z3v has a lot of new competition. But know that, if you can put up with slightly aged design, it's still one of the better smartphones of the fall: it's just not as cutting-edge as it would've been a few months ago.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Design

Sony's Xperia Z3 has a sleek, black monolithic design: large plates of black glass, metal edges and a sheer, cool, thin, minimal feel that's hard to find anywhere else.

The Xperia Z3v isn't the Z3. It's close -- this phone also has black glass on both sides (the Xperia Z3v also comes in white, which looks good, too). It's pleasingly clean-looking. But the body design is the same as that of the Xperia Z2 from earlier this year: a slightly thicker and chunkier but equally sleek look.

The sheer glass looks great, but it's a horrible fingerprint magnet: expect to polish it frequently. Black plastic bumper-type edges lend the Z3v a bit of a cheaper feel than the curved, metal-edged Z3.

The Xperia Z3v feels fine to hold, but it's a little squared-off and sharp in the hand. It lacks a curved, hand-friendly feel that other phones like the Motorola Moto X have. But it is one of the flatter phones on the market; it's a bit, in that sense, like the iPhone 6 (but thicker, and a lot wider and more squared-off).

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James Martin/CNET

A power button sits in the middle of the right edge, next to a volume rocker and a separate camera shutter button. Port doors for Micro-USB, microSD and SIM cards are hidden along the edges, and have to stay shut for the phone to be waterproof (or, should we say, heavily water-resistant: 1.5 meters of submersion for 30 minutes).

z3vwaterdunk.jpg
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The Xperia Z3v taking a bath. Scott Stein/CNET

It really is submersible: I dunked the phone in a glass of water and even took pictures with it while underwater, too. The separate shutter button is designed for exactly that. Don't use it in the ocean (it's freshwater-dunkable only), but this phone will survive spills, rain and other wet and wild adventures with aplomb.

Display and audio

The Xperia Z3v has a 5.2-inch IPS display with a full HD resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels; it's like having a 1080p TV in your pocket. The brightness and color quality look great, albeit a tiny step behind the ultra-bright OLED displays found on Samsung's top-end phones. However, to most eyes it'll look superb -- it's still one of the better displays I've seen.

Yes, there are now a growing number of Quad HD displays with far higher resolutions, offering pixel-per-inch ratios that approach the absurd -- but that also results in a battery hit without delivering an appreciable resolution improvement at this screen size.

There are narrow speaker grilles on either side of the screen that pump out sound, making it almost seem like the audio's emerging invisibly. Movies and games sound good, but the maximum volume's not that high; you'll want to plug in headphones.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Specs and performance

The Xperia Z3v has the same 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor as the Xperia Z3, which is just a bit better than the Snapdragon 801 in the Z2 from back at the beginning of this year. Its 3GB of RAM is better than average, though. In our benchmark tests, the Z3v was good and fast, but it fell in the mix with other top phones. This phone lacks a faster Snapdragon 805 processor, which can be found on phones such as the Droid Turbo (also a Verizon exclusive) and Google Nexus 6 . Even so, honestly, for almost anyone's needs, this is plenty of speed. No app lagged, and the phone felt very quick and responsive. But come early next year, this phone could seem a good step behind the curve.

The Z3v comes with 32GB of onboard storage, and can add another 128GB via a microSD card slot: expandable storage is a welcome addition, and not always a given on Android phones. The battery is not removable.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Camera

The Xperia Z3v has a camera similar to what's available on the Xperia Z3: a 20.7-megapixel rear camera with a wide-angle 27mm Sony G lens and 4K video recording capabilities. That sounds absolutely amazing on paper, but in practice it's a little less astounding. Still, it adds up to one of the best smartphone cameras on the market.

Sony's camera app has several modes, including a "Superior Auto" that's fully automatic, a manual mode with lots of exposure and color quality settings, some funky novelty augmented reality apps that cleverly add virtual dinosaurs or fish to your pictures (silly, but weirdly fun) and optional 4K video recording. In its normal mode, the camera shoots at 1080p.

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