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Sony Xperia Z3v review: Verizon's spin on Sony's excellent Xperia Z3 is nearly as good

It's not exactly the Xperia Z3, but if you're already a Verizon customer, the Z3v comes close.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
8 min read

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).


Sony Xperia Z3v

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.

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET


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).

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).

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.

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET


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.

Xperia Z3v photo of the family bear, auto mode. Scott Stein/CNET

The camera took great-looking shots in general, with a shutter response that's a little slower than the iPhone 6's. It also lacks instant autofocus, but its focus happens speedily enough if you use the dedicated shutter button: half-press to focus-lock, and press further to snap like a real camera. A larger 1/2.3 camera sensor also means better photo quality.

Like fellow CNET reviewer Andrew Hoyle said about the Xperia Z2, standard shots taken in Auto looked a little cold, but manual mode added some warmth back to colorful shots full of kid toys.

Cropped photos look great, too: one of my kid (auto mode) Scott Stein/CNET

4K video recording isn't a feature most people need, and the Xperia Z3v's 4K video quality is impossible to perceive unless you're using a 4K TV. The better news is that regular video recording looks great: no surprise, since Sony's camera tech is some of the best around.

Oddly, the maximum ISO on this camera is 6,400, which is not as good as what the Xperia Z3 offers. But it's not noticeable for most everyday use. If even higher ISO for super-low-light shots matters to you, wait to get the Xperia Z3 on T-Mobile (or unlocked).

In short: it's a standout phone camera. It's still one of the best available, and has a lot of manual control options.

PlayStation 4 Remote Play: It plays PS4 games

PlayStation 4 compatibility is the Z3v's wild card: this is one of the first smartphones, along with the Xperia Z3, to act as a PlayStation 4 remote-play device. You'll be able to connect wirelessly to a local PS4 console and stream games, just like you can on a PlayStation Vita . Of course, with this phone, you'll also need a controller. Sony sells an optional Game Control Mount phone cradle that docks on top of a DualShock 4 controller for mobile gaming. I tried it out with LittleBigPlanet 3, and it works really well: games play seamlessly between big-screen TV and on the phone's display. It's not an on-the-go gaming option, really, but it works well as an in-home second-screen gaming gadget if you have a PS4. This feature is launching soon; at home, it still wasn't working, but stay tuned for an update when it does.

A phone bracket lets you attach your phone to a DualShock 4 controller. Sarah Tew/CNET


The Xperia Z3v comes with Android 4.4.4, but will get Android Lollipop 5.0 , though it's not clear exactly when. Sony's own version of Android UI is pretty clean, but there's a fair amount of preinstalled apps: Sony's own Video Unlimited player and store, the Walkman music app, Lifelog fitness software, the PlayStation app for remote streaming, plus Verizon's own software and launchers, and even some Amazon apps. These can't be uninstalled the way you'd normally delete other apps. It's annoying if you like clean phones.

Sony's own apps are actually pretty nicely made and are among the better preinstalled Android apps out there, if it's any consolation. But there are still spammy apps like Xperia Lounge that basically are full of ads for Sony movies. You don't need them -- there are plenty of alternatives on Google Play.

A separately sold inductive power pack for the Xperia Z3v. The phone itself comes with a Micro-USB charger. Sarah Tew/CNET

Battery life and charging

Compared to the Xperia Z3, which has a 3,100mAh battery, the Z3v's battery is a bit larger at 3200 mAh. And yet, the rated battery life has shifted from "over 2 days" on the Z3 to "over a day," according to Sony and Verizon.

On our video playback battery test, it lasted 11 hours and 31 minutes. The Xperia Z3 lasted 11 hours and 55 minutes. You're basically getting similar battery life.

One advantage for the Xperia Z3v is it supports Qi inductive charging, so if you have a charge mat or buy one of Sony's optional charge mat or power pack accessories, you just lay down the phone and it'll charge up. But in the box, it comes with a Micro USB cable and power adapter. Finding the Micro-USB port on the side isn't easy, and charging takes a while (over 2 hours of charging only got me from 0 to 61 percent).

Sarah Tew/CNET


Verizon's version of the Xperia Z3v is really somewhere between the Z2 and Z3. Will that kill you? No, unless you're dead-set on the Z3's slightly sexier design. Of course, if you're sticking with Verizon that's not an option -- and the Z3v's standard pricing ($199.99 on a two-year contract) and solid storage (32GB of internal capacity plus expandability) make it a solid smartphone deal.

Then again, there are plenty of great alternatives: the Motorola Droid Turbo , also a Verizon exclusive, has better battery life, a faster processor, and a higher-res screen for the same price. The new Nexus 6 has a humongous 6-inch screen, and is the first phone to run Google's updated Android 5.0 operating system. Both of them will tempt Android upgraders seeking the bleeding edge on Verizon.

And that's really the only rap on the Xperia Z3v. A couple of months ago, it would have been a top-notch phone. Unfortunately, now, it's already a half-step dated compared with those models -- and that may be the saddest strike against it. But, for its waterproof design, camera and PlayStation capabilities, it's still a really compelling phone, too...even if it's got an "older" design.


Sony Xperia Z3v

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 8