Sony Xperia Z3v review: A Sony flagship finally comes to the U.S.

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Sony is known for great TVs, cameras, and the PlayStation, but a lot of people, at least in the U.S., don’t know they make smartphones. Sony is a heavy duty name brand, but for whatever reason, it has taken a while to leverage it with U.S. wireless carriers. The tide might be turning as the Xperia Z3 made its way to T-Mobile and a variant known as the Z3v made its way to Verizon Wireless. Why a variant? Knowing they have more control, Verizon loves to force the up and coming manufacturers to alter their devices. The guts of the phone is almost the same, but the outside appearance is dramatically different. Many might say it’s a lot worse. However, the bigger issue here is if you should be considering Sony for your next smartphone?

Design

Unfortunately I was never able to review the Xperia Z3, so I cannot make a direct comparison, but I can let you know the differences based of common knowledge.

The Z3 and Z3v both feature a glass back, but the Z3v isn’t as rounded as the Z3. Instead, it has more of an industrial look, resembling last year’s Z2. I am not sure I will ever be a fan of a glass back since it’s both delicate and a smudge magnet. Ironically, the device isn’t as slippery as one would think, which is good news. The Z3v is also a lot thicker and slightly larger than the Z3, 148.5 x 73.4 x 8.9 mm vs  146 x 72 x 7.3 mm. The size isn’t the issue so much, but the thickness is a major difference.

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The sides of the device look like metal, but they are actually plastic. Another “great” Verizon influence, but it doesn’t look cheap in my opinion.

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The one huge advantage that the Z3v (and Z3) has over other phones is its IP68 rating. You can submerge it in 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) of water for 30 minutes, but you can also capture pictures while under water. Interestingly enough, Sony lists the phone at both IP65 and IP68. Apparently when it comes to low-pressure jets, it is IP65 compliant. Because of the high ratings, everything on the device is covered including the USB port. In fact, I had a hard time finding it until I finally looked at the plastic film that is always on the display when you first take the device out of the box.

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All in all, the Xperia Z3v is a solid phone, but the glass back is delicate, and you have to wonder why Verizon forced Sony to go backwards with the design by taking away the rounded sides and thickening it. I actually don’t mind the overall look of the Z3v, but the thickness bothers me. It’s not that it’s too thick, it’s the fact that I know the “real” model is so much thinner.

Hardware

The Xperia Z3v features a 5.2-inch 1080p (1920 x 1080) TRILUMINOS display with X-Reality (424 ppi), a 2.5 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor, an Adreno 330 GPU, 3 GB of RAM, 32 GB of internal storage, microSD slot for up to an additional 128 GB of storage, 20.7 MP rear camera with an aperture of f/2.0 and 12800 ISO, 2.2 MP front facing camera, front facing stereo speakers, IP65/IP68 rating for dust and water, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac dual band, and 3,200 mAh battery.

Radios

GSM: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz, CDMA 850/1900 MHz, WCDMA: 850/900/1900/2100 MHz, LTE 750/1700 MHz

Performance

The Z3v packs the Snapdragon 801 and 3 GB of RAM, which is nearing mid-range these days. However, the 801 is still more than enough for most people.

Sony makes gorgeous TVs so you wouldn’t expect anything different with their smartphones. It’s not the best of the best in terms of resolution, but 1080p (1920 x 1080) still gets the job done. It’s TRILUMINOS and includes the X-Reality for mobile picture engine. All that sounds fancy and it is. TRILUMINOS  is supposed to give you more natural colors while X-Reality ensures that images display as they are meant to “in reality.” Traditional LCD displays uses a white backlight to pass through conventional Red, Blue, and Green  (RGB) filters, but Sony’s TRILUMINOS display uses a blue LED light that passes through a film of quantum dots. X-Reality  splits the display signal by color, contrast, outline, and texture. It then analyzes each of the components and processes them individually. The result is a pretty good display. but not anymore jaw dropping than any other phone. Colors are vivid and viewing angles are adequate. And for those that like to tweak things, you can turn off X-Reality or set it to Super Vivid.

The Z3v sports low profile front-facing stereo speakers, which is a nice addition. They don’t sound as good as HTC’s BoomSound, but they will provide more pleasure than most phones when watching YouTube videos.

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Battery

One advantage the Xperia Z3v has over the Z3 is in the battery department. It comes with a slightly larger battery, 3,200 mAh vs 3,100 mAh. I ran my usual video rundown test in which I run continuous video while the display is turned up to 2/3’s brightness and connected to 4G LTE. I was able to get 10 hours and 42 minutes, which is pretty good. It’s unlikely that you will be running video all day, but it provides a good indicator on how it fares against other devices. In the same test, the DROID Turbo came in at 10 hours and 29 minutes. When you consider how much bigger the DROID Turbo’s battery is, the Xperia Z3v performed incredibly well. So how does all this translate into your typical day? With moderate use, you will have no problem getting through the entire day without ever needing to charge it. In fact, you will probably have about 20 to 30 percent left when you hit the sack.

Another advantage the Z3v has over the Z3 is wireless charging. The phone sports Qi charging so most wireless charging pads will work with it.

Software

Android 4.4.4 KitKat is on board, and although not stock, the Xperia UI isn’t that far off. You can certainly tell that you aren’t running stock Android, but the overall feel is pretty close. The launcher feels like what Google used before the Google Now launcher, and they even offer the two finger swipe down gesture to open the quick settings. Sony did make some tweaks here and there, but overall, I’m satisfied. As on how close it is to stock Android, I would put it in middle of what Motorola offers and HTC’s Sense.

As far as proprietary apps are concerned, Sony really doesn’t offer a whole lot. They have their own Video Unlimited service to sell you movies and tv shows, but I had a hard time finding HD content. They also offer the Walkman app, which is Sony’s own music app. You can also sign up for the Music Unlimited service ($9.99 per month), which isn’t any better than the other streaming services out there.

Another app is Sketch, which is a drawing app that allows you to use any stylus. You can work with existing photos or screenshots, plus they offer a Sticker Store allowing you to download various sticker packs to use in your drawings.

Then there is the Xperia Lounge, which has been around for a few years. It offers sports, music, and film content. While the app is available to other Android devices, Xperia users enjoy some exclusives.

Last but not least is the PS4 Remote Play, which might be the best proprietary app Sony is offering with the device. Assuming you own a PlayStation 4, it allows you to play your PS4 games from your console right on your phone. All you have to do is sign into your PSN account and you will not only be able to fire up games from anywhere in the house, but you will also be able to pair a DualShock 4 controller, making it the ultimate miniature gaming experience. You can even check notifications, invitations, game alerts, and purchase games through on the phone.

The only app that is useful here is the PS4 Remote Play app. If you’re a hardcore gamer, it might be worth buying the phone for this reason alone, but understand that it only works in the same house as your PS4 console. I am sure most hardcore gamers would rather play on the console, and leave the phone for other things.

Camera

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Sony is a one of the leaders when it comes to standalone cameras, so they should know a thing or two about translating their technology to smartphones. It’s also worth noting that Sony supplies many of the other smartphone manufacturers with camera sensors. The Z3v (and Z3) sports the Sony Exmor RS IMX220 for the rear camera, which is 20.7 MP and has a 25 mm wide-angle Sony G lens, an aperture of f/2.0, and 1.12 micron pixels. The downer here is that there is no optical image stabilization (OIS). However, the camera does have digital optimization and something no other smartphone camera has….12,800 ISO sensitivity. And just like most other flagship phones, the Z3v (and Z3) can record video up to Ultra HD (4K).

The camera software is pretty straightforward in that the average person can just point and shoot, or the more experienced photographer can easily tweak some settings. Sony offers a slew of modes, which can be a little overwhelming, and something Samsung has already learned about. Superior Auto is set by default for the point and shooters. However, in this mode, you cannot adjust the resolution of the photos, only the aspect. 8 MP is the default. If you want to capture full 20.7 MP images, you will need to move over to the Manual mode. By the way, only 4:3 images will be 20.7 MP, widescreen images will be 15.5 MP. The Manual mode also offers you the ability to tweak white balance and exposure values. You will also have the ability to select the scene, of which includes Soft Snap, Landscape, Night Portrait, Soft Skin, Anti Motion Blur, Backlight Correction HDR, and more.

Photography aficionados will love the dedicated shutter button. I found it a little annoying as in I seemed to tap it a lot when I was doing other things. However, if you decide to take the phone underwater, the dedicated shutter button is a must have.

Most of the other modes appear more gimmicky. For example, there is AR fun, which allows you to add virtual objects to your photos and videos. Face In allows you to add yourself to a photo by utilizing the front facing camera. However, there are a couple of interesting things like Multi-Camera, which allows you to record video using more than one camera. You can connect to one Sony WiFi/NFC camera or two other Xperia smartphones. Then there is Live on YouTube, which allows you to stream a live broadcast to YouTube.

As far as the quality of images goes, the Xperia Z3v (and Z3) does a pretty good job, even with the lack of OIS. Bright light and action shots do show a lack of saturation though, but low light shots showed minimal noise. The Xperia Z3v even did a fantastic job in extreme low light.

Here is a few example shots from a variety of situations.

Outdoors

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Action

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Low Light – No Flash

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Extreme Low Light – No flash

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Closing

It’s nice to finally see Sony smartphones available here in the U.S., but I wished Verizon offered the actual product. However, if you had nothing to compare it to, as in if the “real” Z3 didn’t exist, the Z3v wouldn’t be a bad phone. It has a decent display and great battery life, but the camera isn’t as good as I had hoped for. The glass back also isn’t my thing. For the same money, I would grab the LG G3 over this one. It has a slightly bigger screen with a higher resolution and a fantastic camera.

 


About the Author: Robert Nazarian

Robert lives in upstate New York where he was born and raised. Technology was always his passion. His first computer was a Radio Shack TRS80 Color that used a cassette tape to save programs, and his first laptop was a Toshiba T1200FB that sported a CGA greyscale screen and two 720kb floppy drives (no hardrive). From the early 90’s through late 2011, he only owned Motorola phones starting with the MircroTAC all the way through to the Droid X. He broke that streak when he bought the Galaxy Nexus. Now he's sporting a Galaxy Note 4, and absolutely loves it. He has a wonderful wife and a 6 year old son. In his free time he enjoys sports, movies, TV, working out, and trying to keep up with the rapid fast world of technology.


  • Two ForMe

    What a clickbait article title. Tmobile has carried Sony flagships for years…

    • RobertNazarian

      I thought about that, but there was always a long delay as to when T-Mobile would launch the devices. Although the Z3 and Z3v didn’t launch here in the U.S. as quickly as the global launch, it was a lot of closer. Sony also held a press event for the U.S. launch giving it more of a feeling that Sony is committed to a presence here in the U.S. In the past, the majority of Sony devices had to be purchased unlocked via Sony’s website. Hopefully that’s is going to change.

  • Sony Kadavil Abraham

    Writer, About the extra Thickness, it comes with wireless charging ..

    • RobertNazarian

      I mentioned wireless charging in the battery section, but you’re right, I didn’t attribute it as the reason. Still, most people don’t have wireless chargers, so it wasn’t that important of a feature to add.

      • Sony Kadavil Abraham

        Same opinion here

  • http://goheadcase.com/ Head Case Designs

    The original design of Z3 is already great and I think Verizon should have just kept it that way.