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August 30, 2018

Sony Xperia XZ3 hands-on review

by John_A

Research Center:

Sony Xperia XZ3

The Sony Xperia XZ3 is here and it boasts a gorgeous OLED display – the first in a Sony smartphone. As for the rest, it’s a refinement of the new design Sony established with the Xperia XZ2, which was unveiled barely six months ago. There are some intriguing highlights, but does the XZ3 offer enough to command a premium price tag and wrestle back some market share for Sony? Let’s take a closer look.

Ambient Flow design, fantastic screen

Sony’s smartphones were looking increasingly dated before introduced Ambient Flow, a new design language starting in the XZ2 series. The harsh angles were smoothed out as gentle curves came in and the fingerprint sensor made its way around the back.

We’re still looking at a glass sandwich here with an aluminum frame, but the curved back looks great and makes it more comfortable to hold. We like the feel of this phone, it’s nicely balanced, but it is also seriously slippery and quickly covered in finger smudges when handled.

The slimmed down bezels are still bigger than those you’ll find in most other flagships, but they’re not obnoxious and we’re glad Sony has resisted the urge to work a notch in there. It’s 5 percent bigger than the XZ2, but Sony has packed in a screen that’s 11 percent bigger, so it’s moving in the right direction of bezel-less phones.

The 6-inch OLED display with a modern 18:9 aspect ratio is the headline here. Sony has finally made the switch to superior OLED tech in its smartphones, just as it has done in its TV range. This translates to inky blacks and no risk of the backlight showing through because pixels are turned on and off individually.

Sony has finally made the switch to superior OLED tech in its smartphones, just as it has done in its TV range.

It’s also a Quad HD+ resolution, which means it’s not full 4K, but you’re unlikely to notice in a screen this size. More importantly, it does support HDR so colors really pop out of the screen. Make no mistake this is far and away the best display that Sony has put in a phone.

The display is flanked by speakers that are 20 percent bigger than the speakers in the XZ2, so we expect more treble, bass, and volume, which helps to make this a really attractive prospect for people who like to watch movies or game on their phone. There’s support for Hi-Res audio and Sony is sticking with its odd Dynamic Vibration System, which occasionally increases immersion with vibrations to punctuate the onscreen action as intended, but more often feels distracting.

Rich Shibley/Digital Trends

We watched a quick video on the Xperia XZ3 and it looked fantastic. We were also able to hear it above the hustle and bustle of the show floor at IFA 2018 without having to crank the volume all the way up.

The exterior is about as durable as glass can be with Gorilla Glass 5 protection on the front and back, and the frame is made of a tough aluminum alloy that should withstand a drop without cracking. We still think you’ll want a case because this is a slippery phone and it will scuff or crack if you drop it and you’re unlucky. There’s also an IP68 rating, so it can be submerged in water without worry.

Flagship specs, single-lens camera

There are no real surprises inside the Xperia XZ3. The ubiquitous, Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor is backed by 4GB of RAM, and will ensure this phone can handle anything you throw at it. There’s 64GB of storage and a MicroSD card slot for more space if you need it.

There are no real surprises inside the Xperia XZ3.

Sony dabbled with dual-camera tech with its XZ2 Premium, but it’s reverting back to a single-lens camera on the XZ3. It’s the same 19-megapixel camera, and in our Xperia XZ2 review we found it captured plenty of detail and accurate colors, but didn’t always get the exposure right.

There’s no doubt Sony has the skills to turn out excellent camera hardware, as evidenced by the fact that so many manufacturers use its sensors, but it’s software and tuning that really elevates camera performance to the next level and that’s where Sony can fall down. We need to test it out in the wild to see if there are any telling improvements, but we expect it be very capable, if not quite at the level of devices like Huawei’s P20 Pro, Google’s Pixel 2, Samsung’s Galaxy Note 9, or Apple’s iPhone X.

Rich Shibley/Digital Trends

It’s a different story with the front-facing camera, which has been upgraded to a 13-megapixel lens — good news for selfie fans. The f/1.9 aperture should allow it to handle low light a bit better and there’s support for bokeh portrait shots and beauty functions in selfie mode. You’ll also find the usual collection of Sony’s camera modes and Google Lens in the main camera.

Pie for you, day-long battery

We’re pleased to see that the Xperia XZ3 will run the latest Android 9.0 Pie out of the box, but there is a Sony skin on top and the usual array of largely unnecessary bloatware. Just like every other manufacturer at the moment, Sony talked about A.I. but didn’t reveal a great deal. There’s a nice Smart Launch feature that detects when you hold the XZ3 up in landscape and automatically launches the camera, though we couldn’t get it to work when we tried it.

It will cost $900, which puts it in the top tier.

There’s also a feature called Side Sense, which reminded us of Samsung’s Edge Sense. It brings up a shortcut menu when you tap the side of the Xperia XZ3 display, but it’s not the most intuitive feature. It’s supposed to get more useful as it learns your routine, offering music on your commute or email when you’re at work, but we think it might be one of those things you forget about until you accidentally trigger it.

The battery is rated at 3,330mAh which is a slightly larger capacity than the XZ2, and should easily be enough to see you through a busy day. We’re also glad to find support for Qi wireless charging.

Price and availability

If you like the look of the Sony Xperia XZ3, then you’ll be glad to know that it’s coming to the U.S. and will be available to buy at Amazon and Best Buy from October 17.

The less welcome news is that it will cost $900, which puts it in the top-tier market, up against phones like Samsung’s Galaxy Note 9. Whether it offers enough to compete in that kind of company is debatable, and with a new iPhone and the Pixel 3 around the corner, you’re not short of alternatives.

Sony Xperia XZ3 Compared To

Moto Z3

Moto Z3 Play

Moto E5 Plus

Nokia 7 Plus

Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS

Alcatel 3V

Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra

Meizu M3 Max

Huawei Mate 8

ZTE Grand X Max+

LG G Flex

LG Optimus 4X HD


Samsung Galaxy S II

Google Nexus S

We’re keen to spend some more time with the Sony Xperia XZ3, and the OLED looks great, but when you consider that it will cost more than the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that it’s too expensive.

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