It has been a tradition for years: Sony releases new high-end Xperia phones once every six months. First at the MWC in Barcelona, then at the IFA in Berlin. Usually there is a large smartphone and a Compact variant and the latter usually makes us the most happy. The reason is that there are so few relatively small smartphones in the high-end segment. Sony introduced the Xperia XZ3 at the IFA, but unfortunately no XZ3 Compact. So we’re a little sad about that. Whether it will come later, or whether we will only see a Compact variant again at the MWC, or whether … we hardly dare to think: there will be no more Compact at all, we do not know. Perhaps the XZ3 offers Sony enthusiasts a compact plaster on the wound, because that device has an OLED screen and if it is a nice one, makes the device more interesting in our opinion. Of course, that’s not all, so let’s start at the beginning.
Since the beginning of 2018, Sony has favored a new design called Ambient Flow. The Omnibalance design finally went into the trash. Finally, not because it was necessarily ugly, but because a product series can sometimes use some innovation. We have to give Sony credit that the manufacturer’s phones were always easily recognizable and that was probably the idea, but the best-before date of the design had already passed as far as we were concerned. We are reasonably satisfied with the new design of the XZ2 family, but they were on the heavy and thick side. That has been addressed with the XZ3 and that is good news in our opinion, especially because the battery capacity has only improved and the battery life of the XZ2 was already quite good .
In reality, the XZ3 measures 9.9 mm at its thickest point, which is secretly still not very thin for a smartphone. Due to the curvature at the back and the rounded screen with the thin metal frame in the middle, the device does not feel as thick as it is compared to other devices. That frame is now made of strong 7000-series aluminum, perhaps because it would otherwise be too flexible due to the thin frame. The phone therefore feels very sturdy and that will also be due to the Gorilla Glass 5 curved on two sides. The buttons in the frame are also very thin. You might say that it might be a bit fiddly with those narrow buttons, but it’s not annoying in any way. The buttons feel equally solid, have good traveland give good feedback.
If you look at the front of the phone and compare it with the XZ2, you will notice that the space above the screen has become a bit larger and the space below the screen is a bit smaller. There are still stereo speakers that are front-facing and they are said to be improved in quality and volume compared to the XZ2. That would be nice, because the XZ2’s stereo speakers didn’t make us very happy. The relative screen size of the XZ3 is also a bit more at the level of the high-end competition, which is of course nice with an already large phone like this.
|Screen Format||6″, 18:9
|Relative screen size||80.6%||76.1%||70.6%|
All in all, the XZ3 is comfortable to hold, feels solid and has its own style. Perhaps it most closely resembles a Galaxy S9, but the comparison does not actually hold. The XZ3, like the XZ2, is still quite heavy. You can find that a disadvantage, but personally we do not find it very disturbing. A clear disadvantage to the design of the XZ3 is still the very low placement of the fingerprint scanner. We press on the camera lens when we stretch our fingers normally and that’s not very convenient. It can also be a downside that the gap between the glass and the metal is quite large at some points, especially with the somewhat special bulge of the metal frame on the back. Dirt could collect here and it is difficult to get it out again, in our experience.
Touch-sensitive OLED curvature
from 1080×2160 to 1440×2880 pixels. The pixel density, therefore, amounts to a very sharp 537ppi.
A new feature that Sony introduces with the XZ3 is side sense. Because of that term, we initially thought that you should be able to tap on the metal side of the device, but this is about the side of the screen. Swiping along the edge does the same thing as the back button. That’s quite handy, because you don’t have to stretch your thumb to the bottom left of the screen for this common action. When you tap twice, a menu reminiscent of the edge menu of Samsung phones opens.
With Sony, the menu is a bit simpler. It consists of frequently used apps based on your location and time, for example. You can also install apps of your choice. Below that are quick toggles and you can immediately switch to one-handed mode and you can conjure up your notifications. It’s a nice idea from Sony and can certainly come in handy, but we certainly didn’t always manage to get the menu out in the short time we’ve had the XZ3 in our hands. Maybe it’s just the right thing, or something else is going on, but we’re hoping it’s just a matter of getting used to, or some tweaking on Sony’s part.
Same camera, new tricks
A disadvantage of the Xperia XZ3 is that it does not have a dual camera on the back. That is quite striking for a phone of 800 euros, because almost all devices in this price range have a double camera. You therefore do not have a lens with an extra large field of view or ‘optical zoom’ on the XZ3. There is a portrait mode, but we have not yet been able to test it properly in the time we had.
It is also a pity that Sony has not put optical image stabilization in the XZ3. Stabilization is therefore done electronically and in photography that is normally less pleasant in moderate lighting conditions than the optical variant, because the shutter speed can then be a bit longer. Of course we can’t judge the camera quality based on a few photos in an exhibition hall, so we’ll save that for the review. On the right you can see a photo that we took with the XZ3.
Although the camera hardware on the back has been the same since the XZ Premium, Sony is of course happily tinkering with the software. While we have to wait for a review sample to test it, Sony has improved two things in the algorithm. Firstly, more detail should be seen in moderate lighting conditions and that’s certainly something Sony has some room for improvement in our experience. Second, the camera software should recognize certain scenes. That does not work like the Note 9, where you see that a scene is recognized in a certain way and the settings are adjusted. Sony has identified certain situations that are often not captured properly. One of the examples is that objects in the frame are underexposed in photos with a lot of sky on them. That then adjusts the software,
As mentioned, the hardware of the camera on the back is still the same as with the XZ2. It has an IMX400 sensor with a size of 1/2.3″ with 1.22µm large pixels and an f/2.0 lens. With this you can still record 960fps slow motion. You can also shoot 4k videos in HDR and there is predictive capture again and the camera prevents the rolling shutter effect.The front camera has been improved, as it is now a thirteen-megapixel camera with an f/1.9 aperture, where the XZ2 had a fairly basic five-megapixel sensor on the front.
The XZ3 has a new feature where the camera app opens automatically when you take it out of your pocket or pick it up and hold it in landscape mode. That works well in practice and it is a handy find from Sony. That is, if you don’t have to perform a second action to open the camera. That is the case, because you first have to tap in the circle on the screen to actually use the app. We have not been able to find an option to turn this off, but we are curious whether there will be one and especially how useful this is in daily practice.
The camera interface itself has also been updated. The first thing you notice is that it doesn’t look so dated anymore. For example, the icons of the modes are simpler and the whole looks clearer. You can also create shortcuts on the home screen to, for example, the professional photo mode, which is quite handy.
Sony has put the latest version of Android on the XZ3, making it one of the first devices running on Android 9 Pie that we have in our hands. The manufacturer does this quickly and that is in line with Sony’s reputation for fast Android upgrades. The mobile operating system runs smoothly on the XZ3 in combination with the smooth and fairly clean Sony skin, which just looks a bit fresher.
The Xperia XZ3 has a lot of functions and features. Sometimes as editors we have the idea that very little changes per device, but if you add all the functions that were previously in predecessors to the novelties, there are sometimes a lot. The Xperia line is a good example of this. The elements introduced in the past are actually all on the new models. That makes this XZ3 a very complete phone. For example, the smartphone is IP65/68 waterproof again, it has the 960fps slow motion function and, for example, Sony’s dynamic vibration system. It also has the same Snapdragon 845-soc and the same storage and memory as the XZ2.
Still, the XZ3 is a lot more appealing to us. The design is distinctive, the beautiful OLED screen is an important factor in this and the device is quite complete, including wireless charging and stereo speakers. Still, some of Sony’s picks still surprise us. For example, there is no dual camera and there is no optical image stabilization on the camera.
We are more impressed with the XZ3 than we expected in advance and since the price has remained the same at 800 euros, we look forward to testing the device extensively and seeing how the battery life and camera quality in particular turn out. It does not always say anything about our final verdict, but the first impression is in any case positive.