Sony Xperia Z3 review: Sony's Xperia sequel hits all the right notes

Are you curious about how the Xperia Z3 holds up against the current crop of Android flagships from the major brands? Here's our handy chart:

Sony Xperia Z3 Samsung Galaxy S5 LG G3 HTC One M8
US base price (with two-year agreement) TBA $199 $199 $149
UK base price (unlocked) £500 £350 £400 £480
Australia base price (unlocked) AU$849 AU$900 AU$644 AU$899
Display size/resolution 5.2-inch 1,920x1,080 IPS LCD (424 ppi) 5.1-inch 1,920x1,080 Super AMOLED (432 ppi) 5.5-inch 2,560x1,440 IPS LCD (534 ppi) 5-inch 1,920x1,080 Super LCD (441 ppi)
Processor 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon (Krait 400) 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon (Krait 400) 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon (Krait 400) 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon (US)/2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon (Asia) (Krait400)
RAM 3GB 2GB 2GB / 3GB 2GB
Internal storage 16GB, 32GB 16GB, 32GB 16GB, 32GB 16GB, 32GB
Expandable storage Yes (microSD) Yes (microSD) Yes (microSD) Yes (microSD)
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system Android 4.4.4 Android 4.4.2 Android 4.4.2 Android 4.4.2
US carriers T-Mobile (coming soon) AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon

Camera

The Sony Xperia Z3 comes with the same 20.7-megapixel camera found on the Z1 and Z2, and like the Z2, but with a few improvements -- ISO sensitivity now hits 12,800 and it has a wider lens as well as better image stability. Like the Z2, it's also able of capturing 4K video.

Now, the Z3's camera seems pretty decent, but with a few caveats. Despite it having 20.7 megapixels, Sony uses pixel-binning for most of its modes, and produces a picture of around 8 megapixels.

Auto-focusing still seems a little slow compared with the iPhone 6 I have to hand, but I would imagine Sony is likely to take a page from Samsung and Apple in a future phone and add phase detection for better focusing.

Also, the camera doesn't always seem to get the focus right the first time, but a quick tap on the screen seems to solve this. Colors also seem a little drab, but you can tweak the settings to obtain warmer tones.

One last thing to note is that the physical camera shutter button is pretty handy to have, and the automatic mode seems capable of handling whatever shots you need.

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Outdoor test shot. Aloysius Low/CNET
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Shadowed areas can be a little noisy. Aloysius Low/CNET
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Macro shots can give you very pleasing depth of field. Aloysius Low/CNET
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Here's an underwater shot of the HTC Butterfly 2 in a pail, because I don't have a swimming pool handy. Aloysius Low/CNET
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The Z3 manages to capture the details of the bonito flakes. Aloysius Low/CNET
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Indoor test shot. Aloysius Low/CNET

Performance

With the Z3 packing a quad-core Snapdragon 801 2.5GHz processor, the phone was quick and snappy. While it's not the latest Snapdragon 805 processor found in newer devices, you'll have no performance issues with this phone, that's for sure.

On the Quadrant benchmark, the Z3 scored 20,425, which is similar to other phones that use the same processor. The result of the Linpack multi-threaded test is also similar, scoring 843.333 MFLOPs over 0.2 seconds, which is pretty good.

The results of the Z3 are comparable to other phones using the Snapdragon 801 processor, such as the Samsung Galaxy S5, which had a higher Quadrant score of 23,707, or the LG G3, which managed 23,103. Bear in mind though that benchmarks don't tell the full story -- some manufacturers have been to known to tweak their phones to get them to score higher in these tests.

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Screenshot by Aloysius Low/CNET

Call quality

I found no issues with call quality, and I even used this phone to do a radio interview. The radio hosts had no problems with the quality, and that's always a good sign. The front-facing speaker volume was also pretty good, though not as loud or as clear as HTC's own front-facing BoomSound blasters.

Battery life

Here's where the Z3 shines. Sony claims that the phone is easily able to last two days, and while I didn't quite get there, I easily lasted one and half days of heavy usage. I spent at least a full morning browsing on the phone and checking emails while waiting for an appointment, followed by a lull period back at the office, and then Web surfing on my evening commute. I left it uncharged at night, and the phone survived till around noon-ish through my usual morning activities, which included taking pictures and tweeting at an event. If you're a moderate user (checking emails and Web browsing occasionally during the day), I think you'll be easily able to hit that claimed two-day mark.

In the CNET Video Lab test, the Z3 measured 12.5 hours, which puts it ahead of the iPhone 6, HTC One M8, and LG G3 but behind the Galaxy S5.

Conclusion

Sony's Xperia Z3 doesn't have a brand new design, but it's an evolution of what the company has been working on the last few years. It's a great phone, but it's still early to say if the Z3 will make a Sony global force in smartphones. After all, HTC is a prime example of a company making great handsets, but struggling to stay afloat.

That said, if you haven't already upgraded from the Z1 to the Z2, skip it and jump straight to the Z3. It packs a brilliant display, waterproof features and a good camera into a slim and sleek design. While the UI could use a little tweaking to better suit the phone's sexy design, the Z3 definitely impresses.

While we await to test the PlayStation 4 remote play feature, I daresay the Z3 is one of the best Sony phones to date. It's as good as the LG G3, but with the promise of much better battery life -- plus, I'll be honest, the "Quad HD" screen of the G3 is cool, but it's not really required right now.