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

dsc0031.jpg
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.

img20141031152900.jpg
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.

Now playing: Watch this: Trying out PS4 remote play on the Sony Xperia Z3v
1:12

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

Software

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

Conclusion

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.