The Sony Xperia Z2 isn’t even a year old – and in Malaysia, it’s been on sale barely four months – but Sony’s six-month cycle for flagship smartphones means that there is a new Sony flagship: the Xperia Z3. This six-month cycle, Sony claims, lets it iterate faster and introduce new innovations in a manner that the competition can only catch months later. I’m not a fan of this policy since it makes new owners of Sony flagships have “the old version” within six months of purchasing one, but with the new Xperia Z3, I can at least begin to understand why.
[Update] Added more images of the Xperia Z3 taken from the show floors.
The Xperia Z3 is promising to fix a lot of issues that plague smartphone owners. The changes between the Z3 and the Z2 aren’t big visually, but just like the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 that we saw earlier, Sony has iterated on what it deems to be a winning formula and tweaks it to be even better. Take the exterior of the Z3, for example. Sony’s made the Xperia Z3 smaller and lighter than the Z2, and while it isn’t immediately apparent, previous Xperia Z, Z1 and Z2 owners will notice that the sides have a more pronounced roundness to them. Eagle-eyed users will also notice that the device is also no longer using a single piece of aluminium for a chassis.
All of these visual changes has its own set of merits. The smaller profile means the Xperia Z3 is that much easier to use with one hand, while the rounded edges mean it will sit more comfortably in the hands than before. These same corners are now also made from a hardened resin, which the company claims is able to better withstand drops compared to a standard aluminium frame. The company’s research showed that most accidental drops often hit the corners of the phone, and Sony decided to reinforce it with a hardened material. It’s a different approach from Samsung, which opted to make the edges of its Galaxy Alpha and Galaxy Note 4 thicker for better durability.
Perhaps the best part is the fact that this resin blends in perfectly with the rest of the chassis, and with the exception of the borders where the resin meets the aluminium frame, the OmniBalance design language is still very much apparent on the Xperia Z3. I still don’t like the glossy glass back which is a total fingerprint magnet (the fact that virtually every Sony promoter has a microfibre cloth on them says a lot), but this is by far my favourite Sony smartphone design compared to the previous Xperia Z smartphones.
Of course, with every new iteration, the hardware has also been updated. Sony’s always been slightly slower when it comes to its hardware; the Xperia Z2 shipped with a slower Snapdragon 801 chipset compared to basically every other Android flagship. It doesn’t change with the Xperia Z3, where it is (only) now fitted with the AC version of the Snapdragon 801 chipset, which has a 2.5GHz quad-core processor and Adreno 330 graphics. It’s also now got 3GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage (and support for up to 128GB microSD cards), and it’ll run on Android 4.4.4 KitKat out of the box. For those who appreciate it, the Xperia Z3 also supports high-res audio, in line with its latest high-end audio offerings.
Having used the Xperia Z2 recently, one of the first things I noticed about the Z3 is the display. Despite sharing a similar Triluminos display as the Z2, the Xperia Z3 noticeably looked better, without anything specific to point out. A quick chat with a product expert at the show floor confirms my observation: the Xperia Z3’s display has a new contrast enhancement technology which not only boosts contrast, but also offers better visibility under the sun.
Round the back, Sony has again tweaked the 20.7MP rear camera on the Xperia Z3. Sony’s mobile division has worked closely with the Cyber-Shot and Handycam team to introduce some new technologies in the Xperia Z3 that make it truly exciting. There’s a new 25mm wide-angle G Lens on the Z3, while it is also the first smartphone in the world to offer ISO 12800, which will allow for even better low-light shots. The Xperia Z3’s video capability has been enhanced with SteadyShot with Intelligent Active Mode, which helps stabilise videos in a manner that is even better than conventional optical image stabilisation on other smartphones. Take a look at the comparison in the video above, and you’ll understand why this could be a huge deal.
On a similar note, the new Xperia Z3 will also support PlayStation Remote Play for the PS4, which allows you to play your favourite PS4 titles with a Dualshock controller mounted on your smartphone. The Xperia Z3 will connect to your home WiFi to stream the game wirelessly from the PS4, which theoretically means you can play your favourite games on the PS4 virtually anywhere at home.
Sony’s increasingly deep partnership between its internal divisions is very, very apparent on the Xperia Z3, and the consumers will benefit from this.
Sample images taken from the Xperia Z3 (note that this was from a marketing unit, and the final unit performance may be different from what is shown here)
That’s not all. Sony seems to be actively trying to fix one of the biggest hurdles faced by every smartphone user: battery life. With most smartphones these days barely making it through the day, Sony claims that the Xperia Z3 will last for two days. And that’s before any of the power-saving modes has been turned on. There’s the usual Stamina mode that takes it past the two-day mark, while Ultra Stamina Mode turns your Xperia Z3 into a dumbphone with weeks of battery life on standby.
So how does Sony achieve what other phone makers seemingly can’t? The solution, according to Sony, is a pretty simple one in theory, but perhaps needed quite a bit of software and hardware tinkering to actually make it happen. The first is something Sony calls Memory On Display, which utilises the phone’s RAM to cache non-moving images and prevent the processor from actively reloading static images such as the home screen. The second, and likely more important feature, is something called Stamina Clock. It addresses an issue among many smartphone users these days who wake or unlock their phones just to check the time. When Stamina Clock is enabled, the phone will restrict data syncing if it detects that the user is merely unlocking the device to check the time and nothing else.
Sony is also experimenting with new colours with the Xperia Z3. Besides the usual black and white, the Z3 is also available in Copper and Silver Green. While the latter is rather hit-and-miss, that Copper colourway is pretty fetching, and gives a steampunk feel to it.
Better design? Check. Improved performance? Check. Upgraded camera? Check. Significantly longer battery life? Check. If Sony can deliver everything it has promised on the Xperia Z3, then this would undoubtedly be the best Android smartphone of 2014. We may not have to wait long too: our sources have indicated that a regional launch of the Xperia Z3 is set to take place this month itself.