2014 may be over, but Sony’s Xperia Z3 still holds a place in our heart for the best phone of that year, bringing speed, design, and quality to a package that’s hard to ignore. Six months later, does it still hold up?
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, but when it comes to phones in this country, we’re all spoiled for choice.
There’s big, small, and plenty in the middle, with phones priced from $49 to $1449, and that can make selecting a phone for the next two years an interesting game for people.
Flagship phones, though, are the area most people tend to look at, eyeing the logic of if they spend the most amount of money, surely they’ll get the best result, the best value for the next few years.
And we totally get that logic, because it’s not just about best value, but also best technology and best style, something only the top tier products get on a yearly basis, with the results gradually trickling into subsequent middle and budget releases.
Last year, Australians had some of the best choices they’d had in ages, with excellent offerings from all camps. There was the dual-camera curiosity from HTC (M8), the heart-rate tracking Galaxy S5 from Samsung, a big pen-replacing phone with a curved screen from Samsung (Note Edge), and a 5.5 inch super high-res phone from LG that hardly felt like a 5.5 inch phone at all (G3).
Sony also had a couple of models available, with the Z3 and Z3 Compact, both of which were stellar smartphones, but one clearly outshone the other.
With a frame of aluminium, and front and back material of glass, it was hard to go past the Sony Xperia Z3 as something of a bit of a legend, designed well and made very well, with Samsung opting for a similar concept in design in this year’s Galaxy S6.
Sony was here last year, though, and even featured water-resistance and upgradeable memory, two things Samsung did away with in the 2015 release of its smartphones, much to the surprise of everyone.
Last year, we rated it as one of the best phones, offering an excellent screen, superb camera, and features that we so desperately wanted to see on other devices, such as a battery that could achieve more than a day, a camera shutter button, and even a neato magnetic charging dock that unfortunately was proprietary to Sony but did turn the phone into a sort of horizontal alarm clock when it was docked.
Six months on, Sony’s Z3 is still going strong, and we’ve even seen an update to the very latest operating system, with Google’s Android 5.0 “Lollipop” now rolled out across the device.
For the most part, the look of Sony’s take on Android is still here, a softer stance on the Google operating system, with as many as four program shortcuts at the bottom of the phone, several widgetised home screens, and a menu of apps that you can sort by most used with an uninstall option easy to find by swiping from the left.
Android looks a little different in some areas, and Sony now relies on the same sort of dropdown bar we’ve seen on every Lollipop device, meaning a quick settings menu you can expand with one flick of a finger, notifications that you can swipe away, and the options for something new — new phone call, new message, new email — appearing at the very bottom atop the main screens, making it very easy to make a phone call or writing a message.
Sony has even left the lock screen in a style closer to that of stock Android, simply with a phone call, unlock, and camera function. It’s not complicated, that’s for sure, and people who like easy access will surely like it, even if it is a pretty stock option not like that of Sony’s phones in the past.
On-screen soft buttons are still the name of the game, and even though the quad-core Snapdragon processor used here isn’t top of its game compared to some of the phones we’re seeing in 2015, we’re still not seeing any real lag, with solid performance as we jump from app to app.
We have found a couple of bugs rearing their head, such as the flash always being on with the camera when we switch it on, as well as the WiFi not always staying on when we need it to, switching to 4G some of the time, but these seem to be the bulk of the bugs the upgrade to Android 5.0 “Lollipop” has brought.
Overall, six months later, the Xperia Z3 is still as strong as it was when we reviewed it, and that’s not just a great thing, it’s a totally excellent thing to see, giving us hope this will last the rest of the year, and possibly into a second.
Sure, there are some scratches on the back and one or two on the front, though they’re harder to see than on other phones we’ve been carrying, and the phone is still water-resistant, which is a feature we love, especially since it means we can take pictures of our efforts in the kitchen, and then wash the flour and sugar off simply by running the phone under a tap.
We’re even fans of Sony’s specialty magnetic dock, and while we normally ignore proprietary ports, this one allows a $20 bit of plastic to not only charge our phone, but also turn it into a horizontal alarm clock when it sits on the bedside table.
Wireless charging would have been nice, sure, but after living with a phone that acts as an easy-to-read bedside clock when you’re lying bed, you have to wonder why there aren’t many other landscape docks for other phones out there?
Some side notes we found while using this phone for the past few months include the glass, which some have reported as easily cracked, but we have little issues. In fact, we noticed the contrary, with less obvious scratches on our Z3 compared to the highly obvious ones the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 amassed in that time.
The slick metal frame of the Xperia Z3 can make for an interesting phone to grapple with out of a pocket, not just because it’s big, but because it can be a little slippery, so make sure to hold the phone well when you’re taking it out, as the size can end up a little cumbersome.
Mostly, though, we’d still be happy with this phone, and given that we’ve seen at least one 2015 phone with the same sort of Full HD screen and a similar camera (strangely with lower performance on that model), it gives the Xperia Z3 footing to compete against phones from today, not just yesterday.
Still highly recommended, still excellent.