Sony has faced a few years out in the smartphone wilderness.
Their Xperia devices have continued to pack premium features but simply haven’t been all that thrilling.
But that appears to be changing with the new XZ3 putting the Xperia brand firmly back on the smartphone map.
This device was announced in August but has just gone on sale in the UK and is certainly worth your attention – especially if you love consuming content on the move.
With this new phone packing a glorious HDR OLED display there’s very little that comes close to this visual experience.
And it’s not just the screen that excels as there’s plenty more to like about the XZ3
We have to start with the Xperia XZ3’s screen as this is, without doubt, its greatest feature.
Sony has used its vast TV experience to bring this 6-inch OLED QHD+ screen to its mobile device and the results are simply incredible.
This is possibly the best screen we’ve ever seen on a smartphone with content looking brighter, sharper and more colourful than its rivals could ever dream of.
Watching the latest 4K content is a joy to behold especially with the Xperia XZ3 also feature HDR (High Dynamic Range) technology.
HDR helps makes whites brighter and blacks darker and it really makes the XZ3 stand out from the crowd.
Sony has also been clever by making sure lower quality content is upscaled to make full use of this terrific screen.
If we have one slight criticism of this new display it would be that it’s not fully edge-to-edge with a fairly chunky bezel top and bottom.
Sony says this decision is partly due to getting the best front facing S-Force Surround Sound speakers included but we’d probably ditch the audio for more display space.
Although the display doesn’t fully extend to the base and top, Sony has pushed the screen to the very sides of the device and added a slight curve which looks stunning but can be distracting when trying to consume written content on the phone as words get very close to bending over the edge.
However, these are small criticisms of what is otherwise a truly dazzling display that Sony should be extremely proud of.
Sony improved the Xperia design with softer curves when it launched the XZ2 earlier this year.
This new look continues to impress on the XZ3 with stunning colours adding to its appeal.
Our review unit featured a Purple design which is a real head-turner and certainly makes a statement when you pull it from your pocket.
The curved glass back also makes the XZ3 feel comfortable in your hand and all the buttons are situated within easy reach on the sides of the device.
It’s hard to find fault with the overall design but there is one glaring issue that simply can’t be ignored.
When Sony released the XZ2 earlier this year many reviewers slammed the position of the rear fingerprint sensor.
This scanner had been plopped right in the middle of the phone and had exactly the same shape as the rear camera which sits just above it.
This meant you constantly placed your grubby fingers right on the lens rather than the sensor.
Despite a swathe of complaints Sony appears to believe this is the right place for this security feature and has kept the design identical on the XZ3.
It’s a very odd decision and continues to be a bugbear of ours.
Despite us making a conscious effort not to try and unlock the phone with the camera lens we kept tapping it rather than the scanner which is infuriating.
Although we continue to hate that fingerprint scanner the overall look and feel of the phone is excellent with a solid build quality that should help it survive the perils of your pocket.
We happened to drop our review unit on a concrete floor and it survived without a scratch which seems to show the XZ3’s Gorilla Glass is made from tough stuff.
This is a Sony device so, of course, it’s also fully water resistant.
On the rear of the phone, you’ll find just a single 19-megapixel camera.
If you’re wondering why this new flagship only has a single camera, Sony says it’s leaving that camera upgrade exclusively for owners of the XZ2 Premium.
Despite the lack of dual lenses you’ll still be treated to an impressive snapper which has a plethora of neat tricks up its sleeve.
This includes 4K HDR Movie recording which Sony is keen to point out makes its device one of the only in the world that lets you record and view footage in full 4K quality.
Shooting in this mode will produce some incredible results but it’s worth noting that you’ll only get the best experience if you own a 4K HDR ready television.
Another added bonus is that Sony has upgraded its super slow motion recording which now means the 960 frames per second footage gets Full HD quality.
For photography, there’s an improved rear Motion Eye camera which has been created using Sony’s knowledge from its award-winning ‘α’ and Cyber-shot camera ranges.
There’s also a new Predictive Capture which is able to automatically buffer images when it detects action or even a smile.
Once the shutter button is tapped, the XZ3 will give you a selection of images before and after, so you can pick the best shot.
And to help improve images even further a technology called Autofocus burst intelligently follows your subject adjusting the focus to make sure your action shots stay sharp.
Pictures from the XZ3 continue Sony’s impressive photography form and there’s plenty going for.
However, with devices such as the P20 Pro, Pixel 3 and iPhone XS all pushing the boundaries of photography there are now better phones if you want to ultimate smartphone snapper.
Along with the eye-popping display, nice design and decent camera, Sony has also added plenty of tasty extras to its new phone.
Perhaps the biggest change is something called Side Sense.
This basically allows users to interact with their phones without touching the screen.
A simple tap on either side shows your favourite apps in an intelligent pop-up window.
You can also use this feature as a back button with a swipe navigating you through your phone.
It’s a nice idea but in reality it seems much easier just to tap the app drawer on the home screen.
When it works, Side Sense is a really good feature but we found it a little hit and miss which becomes irritating over time.
This new technology isn’t the only intelligent feature arriving on the XZ3 as Sony has also made it easier to take a photo.
Lift the phone up, as if to take a snap, and the camera app instantly launches.
Again, it’s a great concept but you have to move in a very specific way to make it work and it’s simply easier just to launch the camera app manually.
One thing that impresses on the spec sheet and in the real world are the front-facing S-Force Surround speakers which boom out audio loud and very clear.
There’s also Sony’s unique Dynamic Vibration System which makes the phone rattle in time with what’s on the screen.
This PlayStation-style feedback is a fun gimmick which you’ll probably turn off but we guess it’s something a little different from Sony.
One final thing to mention is there’s no headphone port on the XZ3 but this device does feature enhanced Bluetooth technology which can handle near High-Resolution Audio.
SPEED AND BATTERY
With Qualcomm’s impressive Snapdragon 845 processor under the hood of the XZ3 you’ll get a super slick experience on this device.
Everything seems effortless and the XZ3 really is a delight to use.
It also comes out of the box running Android 9 Pie which only goes to make the experience even better.
Powering the phone is a relatively small 3,300mAh battery but during our tests there was no problem getting through a day.
Sony continues to bring its unique battery saving technology to the Xperia range which helps the longevity of the device and the battery can be boosted wirelessly.
If you compare the XZ3 to some of its flagship rivals it’s actually pretty good value.
This device arrives in your pocket for 799€ which is less than the Galaxy S9 and new Pixel 3.
However, it does seem expensive when you compare it to the ever-growing Android competition.
Devices such as the OnePlus 6 offer similar specs but at a much lower price.
There’s no question that the XZ3 is a seriously solid device.
The screen is unbelievably good and it features an abundance of power to get you through your daily digital life.
There’s also a decent camera, loud speakers and a design that will certainly turn a few heads when you pull it from your pocket.
The new edge sense and auto camera features are a bit of gimmick but you might find them useful from time to time.
And the fact it ships with Android 9 is a big bonus especially as most of its flagship rivals are still arriving with Oreo installed.
We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our time with the XZ3 and the only niggles come in the form of that terrible fingerprint scanner and the fact the screen isn’t fully edge-to-edge.
If you’re one of the many Xperia fans out there then the XZ3 should be top of your shopping list.
The XZ3 has put Sony back on the map and let’s hope this is the start of more great things to come.