Verizon Xperia Z3v comes to the US, but should you wait for the Xperia Z3? (hands-on)

Waterproof, big-screened, and it works with PlayStation 4 games: the Z3v is out today and could be Sony's best US phone in years...but the Z3, coming October 29, could have a slight edge.

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.
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  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
5 min read

Sarah Tew

Fans of Sony's Android phones have had a tough time of it here in the US. Despite garnering praise from consumers around the world, the phones have been hard to find Stateside: thanks to a dearth of carrier deals, you could only get them unlocked via Sony's website.

But that's changed with Sony's latest hero phone, the Xperia Z3 . That exact model will be available on T-Mobile in the US as of October 29. But it's also available on Verizon starting today, in a slightly modified version known as the Xperia Z3v .

We've already reviewed the Xperia Z3 in our London office -- and loved it -- and we'll be updating that review as soon as the T-Mobile model hits next week. (It costs zero down, plus $26.50 a month for 24 months -- or $630 up front.) Strikingly designed, it also boasts an impressive battery life. And it's waterproof: up to 1.5 meters for up to 30 minutes.

As for the Z3v: we're still in the process of testing it, but I can verify that -- so far -- it's a really good phone. The Verizon exclusive is $200 on contract, or $600 off contract.

Watch this: Sony Xperia Z3v a Verizon-exclusive phone with most of the same features as the Z3 (hands-on)

Xperia Z3v vs. Z3

What difference does the "v" make? Actually, a lot: first off, the body design isn't the same as the Z3 we saw earlier this fall. Instead, it's more like the Xperia Z2 -- basically, a little thicker and less desirable. The difference between the two phones' batteries is something of a paradox too. While the Z3v has a 3,200mAh battery (slightly larger than the 3,100mAh of the Z3), the rated battery life has shifted from "over 2 days" for the Z3 to "over a day" for Z3v. You'd think it would be the other way around. It also has contactless, inductive Qi charging, compatible with Qi accessories and Sony's own optional wireless charging dock and battery pack.

One of the inductive charging accessories, sold separately. Sarah Tew/CNET

Indeed, our CNET video playback battery drain test confirmed a slight edge for the Z3 over the Z3v. We charted the Xperia Z3v at 11 hours and 31 minutes, while the Xperia Z3 clocked in at 12 hours 30 minutes.

Beyond the differences in body and battery, the camera on the Z3v slightly lags its sibling with a lower ISO rating. However, both sport a 20.7-megapixel sensor with a wide-angle 27mm lens, and can shoot 4K video.

Sony Xperia Z3v, hands-on: wireless charging, waterproof, PS4 gaming

See all photos

Beyond that, things are pretty well identical. Both phones have the same 5.2-inch 1080p IPS display, and a quad-core 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor. The phones are waterproof to boot (see details below). And both have 32GB of onboard storage by default, with a microSD card slot that takes cards up to 128GB for a total of 160GB onboard storage -- not too shabby.

The Snapdragon 801 processor gave reliably speedy results in my preliminary benchmark tests, but didn't soar above some recent flagship phones with faster processors like the Snapdragon 805. Still, it's very capable.

PS4 compatibility

Watch this: Trying out PS4 remote play on the Sony Xperia Z3v

PlayStation 4 compatibility is the big wild card for the new Xperia phones -- something they can deliver that no other phone on the market currently can. Both the Z3 and Z3v can 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 at Sony's Xperia event, 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. Unfortunately, Sony didn't send the handy controller bracket for me to use, but Remote Play works as advertised.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Z3v hands-on impressions

Because the Xperia Z3v is waterproof (or, at least, submersion-friendly for 30 minutes at a time), its ports are closed behind little snap-out plastic doors. The microSD slot and SIM card doors are clearly labeled, but the micro-USB port is hidden: it's actually right above the SIM door on the left side. The Xperia Z3v has inductive charging that works with optional charge plates or Qi-based inductive accessories you can buy in stores, so all you need to do is drop the phone down and let it charge on a table...but in the box, all you get is a long USB-to-micro-USB cable and AC adapter. Knowing where that USB door is helps.

Sarah Tew/CNET

This Xperia's rubberized sides and corners lend it a more "style on a budget" feel than the flashier Xperia Z3, but it's still an eye-catching phone. Sheer black glass on both sides make it a huge fingerprint collector, but its mirror-like, minimalist, monolithic design is clean and cool-looking. Some will love its hard-edged design; others will prefer something more gentle and curved.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Its 20.7 megapixel camera takes some pretty good shots, but it's not always as spectacular as its megapixel count sounds. The camera captures plenty of detail, and autofocus, while slower than that on the iPhone 6 , resulted in some crisp photos of my colleague Dan Graziano even while he was spinning around in his chair. The extra photo modes are clever: some gimmicky AR photo apps do a pretty amazing job of dropping virtual dinosaurs on your desk, if you so wish. On a more practical level, it also shoots 4K video.

Sarah Tew

Final thoughts (for now)

If the Z3's 5.2-inch screen is too large for you, note that the third member of the clan, the Z3 Compact , is available for preorder unlocked on Sony's website for $530. It's basically a Z3 shrunken down to a 4.6-inch screen with 1,280x720-pixel resolution and 16GB of internal storage. The unlocked version is compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile networks in the US. ( Read our full review here. )

As for the Z3 versus the Z3v: stay tuned for the final rated review soon. But so far, it appears that Verizon owners are getting their hands on a very capable phone -- albeit one that's not quite as slickly designed as the standard Z3. Despite the trade-offs, the Z3v seems at least close enough that happy Verizon subscribers shouldn't feel the need to dump their network of choice if they want Sony's best.

Of course, with the rumored Droid Turbo said to be announced next week (and also said to be a Verizon exclusive), and the Nexus 6 -- rocking Android 5.0 Lollipop -- also due soon, Android fans might want to wait until the dust settles in early November before locking in to a new purchase.