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Sony Xperia Z3+ receives processor boost to battle Galaxy S6

With the Xperia Z3+ Sony has given its existing Z3 phone new spit and polish to help it spar with the smartphone top dogs.

Sony has given its sleek, powerhouse flagship phone an update to help it joust with the new flock of smartphone big boys, the Samsung Galaxy S6 and LG G4.

The new version is called the Z3+ and as the name suggests, it's very much an evolution of the existing Xperia Z3, rather than a totally overhauled new flagship. It has the same 5.2-inch, full-HD display, the same 20.7-megapixel rear camera and the glass-and-metal waterproof design looks almost identical too.

So what exactly is new? Well, it's slimmer, the front camera has been boosted from 2.2 to 5 megapixels and it has the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor at its heart, with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The Z3+ is due for a Europe-only launch in June, but here's where it gets just a little confusing: Sony has already unveiled the Xperia Z4 for Japan. Although the name suggests the Z4 is a new flagship altogether, it is in fact identical in all but name to the Z3+. It seems that Sony is simply selling the phone with different names for different regions.

Sony has yet to say whether the Z3+ or Z4 will make it to the US or Australia, and at the time of writing, pricing details aren't known, but we'll update this article with more information when it becomes available.

Design and display

Even up close you won't be able to tell any real difference between the existing Z3 and the Z3+, as they're almost identical. There's a glass front and back, with a metal band running around the edge and protective Nylon corners. There are some changes however.

Sony boasts that the Z3+ is the "slimmest Xperia Z series smartphone" to date, measuring only 6.9mm thick, making it 4mm thinner than the standard Z3. It's not a life-changing reduction by any means, but the phone does feel very slim and thoroughly luxurious to hold, and the stark, minimalist aesthetic still looks gorgeous.

The Z3+ also retains the Z3's waterproof credentials. It can not only withstand a spilled drink on a night out, but can be fully submerged in water up to 1.5 metres deep for up to 30 minutes. That makes it a great phone for underwater photos on those sunny beach holidays. Better yet, Sony has added waterproofing to the Micro-USB port, meaning it no longer has a rubber flap over it that has to be removed and replaced every time you charge it.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The display, measuring 5.2 inches on the diagonal, is both the same size and resolution (1,920x1,080 pixels) as the standard Z3's. In my hands-on time, it seemed every bit as bright, bold and crisp as the Z3, but I'll leave my final verdict on the display quality for the final review. The Z3's screen was excellent so I have high hopes.

Processor and software features

The phone will arrive with the latest Android 5.0 Lollipop software on board, with Sony's usual custom interface over the top. I quite like Sony's interface as it's neat, makes it easy to organise the app tray into custom orders and isn't so bloated as to slow the phone down. Sony does tend to throw a fair few of its own apps into the mix, which can make it seem a bit cluttered right out of the box, but hopefully it hasn't gone overboard here.

The processor is one of the main areas that's been updated from the Z3. The Z3+ packs Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 810 processor -- a 64-bit octa-core chip -- along with 3GB of RAM. That's a potent lineup, and I expect it to deliver a blistering performance for gaming, photo editing and everyday social networking. I will of course be seeing exactly how it stacks up against its rivals and its predecessor for the full review.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Camera and battery life

The rear camera specs remain much the same as the predecessor, with a 20.7-megapixel sensor, but the front camera has been boosted from 2.2 to 5 megapixels, which is a hefty serving of pixels to add clarity to those selfies. The front camera also apparently has an improved automatic mode, as well as HDR shooting for more even exposures.

The battery has shrunk slightly from 3,100mAh to 2,900mAh, presumably as a result of the phone being made slimmer. On paper that's not great, but Sony still reckons you can get two days of careful use from a single charge, thanks to software and processor optimisation. I found the Z3's battery to be among the better you'll find in a lot of top-end smartphones, so I'm hoping for similarly good battery life in the Z3+.

Outlook

If you were hoping for a full refresh of the Xperia Z3 then you will be disappointed. The Z3+ is very much a minor update to the existing phone, instead. Still, a slimmer body and upgraded processor are nothing to be sniffed at and may be worth a look if you're hoping to upgrade from one of the older Z-series phones.

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