Just six months on from the release of the Xperia Z2, Sony has yet another flagship phone on the market, its new Z3 device.
This biannual release schedule is bound to irk those who invested in the Z2 just a few short months ago and can no longer boast the latest Sony device, but even punters eager to own the most up-to-date technology will struggle to find a reason to upgrade if they already own the older edition.
The Android OS, resolution, pixel density and storage space are all identical on both phones, while both also feature a 20.7-megapixel camera with the Z3’s software adding just a few non-essential bells and whistles.
And though there’s been a slight upgrade to the processor – powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chip – it’s hardly noticeable in normal day-to-day use.
You’ve got the look
Where upgraded users may find a difference, however, is in the design. While there’s been no radical change to the Z3’s dimensions, the device features more rounded edges, which are a nice touch to the aesthetics.
Sony’s trademark power button, as well as a specialist camera button, are nice and chunky but don’t detract from the phone’s sleek look. There’s a headphone jack at the top, and typical of Sony, the dock connector is unusually positioned on the left-hand side of the device.
But while the dual glass panels and a metal frame make it a handsome device, the surface makes it is very slippery in your hand. Operating the Z3 one-handed is an awkward task with the phone sliding around as your thumb makes its way around the screen. On calls that lasted longer than a few minutes my palm began to ache, likely a result of rarely used muscles being engaged in order to keep hold of the glossy device.
Worst of all, I found the phone would hit the ground at least a couple of times a day because of that resistance-less glass finish. Place the Z3 on any kind of surface that isn't perfectly horizontal and watch it slide off. On some occasions it took as long as 45 minutes to eventually give way, but sure enough, even the slightest angle caused it to crash.
Inevitably, after numerous falls during my few weeks with the device, that attractive glass panel finally gave way and the back of the phone badly cracked on impact. Interestingly, the Z3 becomes just the second smartphone we at Siliconrepublic.com have damaged in the course of reviewing, the other being the also glass Z2.
These problems can, of course, be solved by purchasing a cover for the device, but needing such an add on, rather than it simply being an optional extra, leaves a bit of a bad taste.
On the plus side, however, the Z3 is IP-certified water and dust-resistant, so while bumps and falls are to be feared, you don’t have to worry too much about keeping it clean and dry.
Nothing comes for free
As the differences between the Z2 and Z3 are minimal, I assume Sony’s decision to release both devices in such a short time period was financially motivated, and that assumption was only furthered upon switching the phone on for the first time.
Prepare to be bombarded with links to apps, games, albums and other not-for-free extras upon your first interaction with the phone. Removing all that clutter from the main screen and creating a display that works for me took some time, but most frustrating was the feeling that the company really is trying to suck every last euro out of you.
I even had to dump built-in music player the Sony Walkman as I found it impossible to untangle my own uploaded MP3s from links to new albums Sony was encouraging users to buy.
Once you’ve banished the built-in apps elbowing their way onto your homescreen, the Z3 features a familiar look about it that won’t take long for seasoned Android veterans to get to grips with. Generally phone calls, messaging and internet use via Chrome all work as expected, and most of your standard apps are going to operate perfectly on the device.
Scrolling between apps is quick and painless, and while bugs are generally at a minimum, I did have strange issues each time I went to unlock the device, as tapping in my four-digit code seemed to give the phone all sorts of problems as the number pad frequently wouldn’t respond to touch.
However, the Z3’s interface is incredibly easy to navigate. All of your phone’s applications can be found alphabetically in the app drawer, while allowing for five fully customisable screens where users can easily place their most valued apps.
The screen, too, is a high performer, allowing for top-level video streaming. Best of all, the Z3 boasts a mega battery life. In practise, I got through two days of light-to-medium use without needing to reach for a charger. A power management system can even extend that lifespan if necessary.
The rear-facing camera, although not radically different from that of the Z2, impresses, with reliably accurate exposure and sharp focus. Taking photos night and day, in all different sorts of lighting, almost every shot came out looking well – no mean feat for any smartphone camera. What I did find a little tricky though was the on-screen control icons, which seemed to disappear and reappear at will.
The Z3 is a real looker and will appeal to Android users not keen on change, but its impractical glass construction, occasional bugs and Sony’s insistence on trying to wrestle more money out of your pocket at every turn make it difficult to love for the high-end price you’ll likely have to spend. Three-and-a-half stars out of five.