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Sony Xperia Z3+ review:

Despite good looks, this phone is a bad choice

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Sony Xperia Z3+ (black)

(Part #: XPERIAZ3+BLK)
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The Good The Sony Xperia Z3+ has a gorgeous minimalist design, a vivid screen and its waterproofing means it won't shut down the first time it gets dropped in the toilet.

The Bad It suffers from a worrying overheating issue, the battery life doesn't impress and the camera software is awkward to use.

The Bottom Line While the Sony Xperia Z3+ is a great-looking bit of kit, its mediocre battery life, software quirks and of course its serious overheating issue makes it one to avoid.

5.4 Overall
  • Design 9.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 6.0
  • Camera 7.0
  • Battery 6.0

Review Sections

I'm a big fan of Sony's flagship Z series smartphones, but its new top model, the Z3+, is unquestionably one to avoid. It looks almost identical to the standard Xperia Z3 (which I loved), with only slight tweaks to the processor and front-facing camera. What really lets it down though is a concerning overheating issue.

Using the various camera modes or shooting video will quickly flash up warnings that it's getting too hot and then the app will simply shut down. This, coupled with less-than-stellar battery life, means the existing Xperia Z3 is the superior choice over the new Z3+.

It's a shame, because on paper the Z3+ seems a good bit of kit. It has a brilliant 5.2-inch screen, plenty of power and a gorgeous minimalist design. It's still waterproof too, so don't worry if you spill a drink on it. However, the specs aren't enough of an upgrade over the standard Z3 to make it an appealing choice, and the overheating is a killer problem.

Sony has given me a statement which explains that a firmware update is rolling out that addresses the overheating issue. At the time of writing, it wasn't on my review handset, so I haven't been able to test it. I will of course thoroughly check what difference it makes once it arrives and will update this article -- and the phone's rating -- accordingly.

In the meantime, I do not recommend opting for the Z3+ while the overheating issues persist.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

If you are keen for some reason, the Z3+ is on sale now in the UK, and will set you back £499. Here's where it gets just a little confusing: Sony has already unveiled the Xperia Z4 for Japan, which is actually identical to the Z3+ in all but name. 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. For reference, £499 converts to $765 or AU$1,080.

Design and display

  • 146 by 72 by 6.9mm
  • 144 grams (5 ounces)
  • 5.2-inch display
  • 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution

Even when you look up close, it's difficult to tell much difference between the Z3+ and the existing Z3. There's the same glass front and back and a metal band running around the edge with Nylon corners. These absorb some impact if dropped, to help prevent those glass panels shattering into pieces. With both Samsung and LG opting for fresh designs for its flagships in the form of the S6 Edge and leather-clad G4 respectively, sticking with a pretty much identical (even if attractive) design may not be a great decision by Sony.

There are some tiny changes to note however. It's thinner, for one, and in fact Sony boasts that the Z3+ is the "slimmest Xperia Z-series smartphone" to date, measuring only 6.9mm thick -- an odd boast, given that its own Xperia Z Ultra is slimmer still at 6.5mm. The Z3+ is 0.4mm thinner than the standard Z3 which isn't a life-changing reduction by any means, but it does feel very slim and thoroughly luxurious to hold, and the stark, minimalist aesthetic does look gorgeous.

The metal band has been given a gloss paint job on the black version, rather than the matte metal of the previous model. I don't like it as much, largely because it's easier to scuff and indeed the model I was given for review already came with various chips and scuffs to the paintwork from the previous user, making it look decidedly second-hand. I don't imagine this phone will look sleek and beautiful over time in quite the same way the standard Z3 might.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

My review model came in stark black which is certainly the most boring shade available. You can also find it in a nice cool blue-grey colour (the one I used in the pictures throughout the review), or with a copper hue too. I would recommend opting for either of those colours to give your phone a little more style when sliding it out of your jeans. It's available in white too, if colours aren't really your thing.

The Z3+ retains the Z3's waterproof credentials. Not only can it withstand a spilled drink on a night out, but it can also 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 pool-side holidays -- the physical camera shutter button means you can take photos underwater. 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.

The display, measuring 5.2 inches diagonally, is both the same size and resolution (1,920x1,080 pixels) as the standard Z3's. It's every bit as bright, bold and crisp as the Z3, so I'm pretty certain Sony has simply used the exact same panel. It's a great display, that's very well suited to watching videos, looking at high-res photos or playing colour-rich games.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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Although many phones can get a bit warm during intense use, the Z3+ has a real problem with overheating when using the camera and it's an issue you should keep in mind when considering this phone. When using camera modes, alerts will begin to pop up warning that if overheating occurs then the app will close. True to its warning, when it overheats -- and it does, regularly -- the camera app will simply close until it has cooled down. You can feel the area around the camera becoming uncomfortably hot to the touch.

While simply taking a few pictures didn't cause it to shut down, I found that almost all of the selectable modes (augmented reality, dual-shot) as well as shooting video in 4K would cause overheating, leading to the app closing.

It does at least seem to be an issue that's isolated to the camera though. Playing demanding games, editing photos and streaming video over Netflix for several hours didn't cause the phone to become hot enough to warrant app closures. Recording five minutes of regular full HD video caused the phone to feel hot, although didn't cause a closure. When shooting in 4K however, a temperature warning flashed up after only 45 seconds, and the app shut down after two and a half minutes.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

I'm not the first person to have found this issue by any means (it's reported in various other reviews) so I asked Sony for its official statement on the matter. "During pre-launch testing, Xperia Z3+ and Xperia Z3+ Dual did not generate overheating beyond what's accepted across the industry for high performance 64-bit octa-core devices," Sony explained.

"As soon as we became aware of consumer reports that in some cases additional heat may cause an application stop (e.g. camera app), we released a firmware update to limit heat generation and ensure consumers can continue to get the best experience from their Xperia device and its advanced technology. As is standard across the industry, we regularly release firmware updates to add new features or improve the operation of devices after they are released. The update started rolling out from mid-June, and customers are recommended to update to this software as soon as it has been made available to them for download either over the air or via PC Companion.

"We also advise any users who have concerns about the performance of their device to get in touch with their local contact centre who, if necessary, can arrange for their device to be checked by our service network to ensure it is performing as expected."

At the time of publishing, this update was not available for my review device, but I will test and then update this article when it arrives.

Processor and software features

  • Android 5.0.2
  • Sony interface
  • Too many pre-loaded apps
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor (octa-core)
  • 3GB RAM

The phone comes with 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.

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