Sony Xperia XZ3 Review: Hands-on Impressions

Sony has taken a bashing over the past few years, and it’s not totally justified. Very good phones like the Xperia XZ1 suffered because they did not look like the Galaxy S8 or have a killer camera.

But if you were a fan of Sony’s industrial angular designs then you will have been happy for years. The company changed the look of its flagship smartphone with the curved Xperia XZ2 and that choice has been refined in the Xperia XZ3.

The XZ3 is a slimmer all-glass device and marks the first time Sony has put an OLED display in a phone. With the power of its Bravia TV brand inside, the phone is looking like a winner. Here’s our hands-on review after its announcement at IFA 2018.

Sony Xperia XZ3: Price and availability

The Sony Xperia XZ3 will go on sale worldwide on 5 October. In the UK it will cost £699 SIM free and will be available soon from Carphone Warehouse, which is the exclusive UK carrier of the forest green model.

If you pre-order the XZ3 you’ll get a free download of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 on release day.

Sony Xperia XZ3: Design and build

While the XZ3 retains the style of the XZ2, as soon as you pick it up it feels more refined. The new Xperia has a slim, slight and well-thought out balance that it didn’t find in the XZ2 and certainly not in the hulking XZ2 Premium.

The curved glass back of the phone is now a subtle design choice and doesn’t add bulk for the sake of it, while round the front the tall display has curved corners for the first time on an Xperia.

A Gorilla Glass 5 sandwich with a 33mm aluminium frame, it’s not a light phone at 193g but it feels premium in its density. It keeps its IP68 waterproofing, which is excellent.

It’ll come in five colours: black, white, silver, forest green and Bordeaux red, the latter two particularly standing out.

In fact, the display shape recalls both the Galaxy S9 and the Pixel 2 XL thanks to those curves. The screen dips slightly at the edges too like those phones and it’s a more ergonomic all-round effect than Sony had before with a curved back and flat screen.

It’s thinner too, which is odd to observe when it’s still 9.9mm at its thickest point, but the shaping is more refined and subtler. With an 18:9 display the whole thing is simply more manageable and pleasant to hold than older models.

Don’t get us wrong, we were big fans of the unique Z and XZ series rectangles, but there’s no doubt the XZ3 is the right move for Sony at this point given the design trends in the smartphone market.

While there’s no headphone jack you get everything else with cameras, fingerprint sensor and USB-C all present and correct. Sony’s excellent dedicated camera button is on the right edge where your index finger lies naturally when in landscape along with a power button and volume rocker. The left edge is blank.

And yes, the fingerprint sensor is halfway down the back of the phone. We really don’t know why people got so agitated about it on the XZ2 – it isn’t that big a problem. After extensive use, you learn it’s there and it’s not an issue. The same will apply on the XZ3.

The phone is wonderful to hold and use and while it’s not a straight up ‘better’ design than before, it feels more modern, a better use of space and a more complete package.

Sony Xperia XZ3: Specs and features

Given Sony refreshes its flagship handset every six months, not a lot normally changes. But this time along with the refined design are a number of internal changes for the better.

The biggest change along with the shape of the screen is the screen itself. For the first time on a Sony phone there is an OLED display – and better yet, one that uses Sony’s coveted Bravia tech from its TVs.

It’s a 6in 18:9 QHD+ HDR OLED with no notch (phew), but more simply it’s a big improvement in clarity and colour reproduction compared to even Sony’s best recent phone LCDs.

In our hands-on time with the phone it was incredibly impressive, outshining an iPhone X for colour and clarity on video playback. Not only does the XZ3 benefit from OLED, it automatically upscales standard definition content closer to HD, with noticeably excellent results. Brightness and detail were very good.

A new feature called side sense is like a mix of Samsung’s edge screen and HTC’s edge sense where you can double tap on the edge of the screen to bring up a menu. You tap on the curved edge of the screen, not the metal frame, and it calls up a box with your most used apps and settings.

It was a tad temperamental, but we were using prototype hardware and software. Sony says the final software will learn your usage of the phone and suggest the most useful apps to you depending on time and location.

You can also slide down on the edge to go back anywhere in the OS, and it works on either side of the screen. We’ll see if it works well in our full review.

Dual front facing stereo speakers are the reason Sony said it’s keeping the forehead and chin on the Xperia XZ3 and not opting for a notched design, which is fine with us. The speakers got very loud in our test, and Sony claims they are 20% louder than on the XZ2. They certainly sounded it.

Unfortunately, the nothing other than gimmicky dynamic vibration system is back to weirdly vibrate along to music and films. Turn it off!

The camera hardware in the XZ3 is exactly the same as in the XZ2 with a 19Mp f/2.0 sensor. Hopefully things will have improved a bit in the software’s post processing, as the XZ2 couldn’t compete with other 2018 flagships for image quality (or even some of 2017’s to be honest). The XZ3’s 13Mp f/1.9 front camera is an upgrade.

Sony has added a feature where the XZ3 will start up the camera automatically if you raise the phone from a table or your pocket in landscape mode. A circle then appears on the screen that you have to tap to open the app fully, and it worked surprisingly well.

It’s cool, but feels a bit redundant when it’s one of the only phones on the market with a dedicated camera button. Sometimes Sony can’t resist adding features for the sake of it, and then leaving off desirable things like face unlock, as it does here.

Sony Xperia XZ3: Software and apps

A great boost for the Xperia XZ3 is it’s shipping with Android 9 Pie. Like the XZ1 with Android Oreo, this will be one of the first non-Pixel phones to have the software out the box when it goes on sale on 5 October.

This might not historically have helped sell many Sony phones, but it’s a great thing, and we have found Sony security updates to roll around monthly like clockwork. The company doesn’t mess too much with stock Android and its phones are all the better for it.

Still bundled is the weird 3D Creator app where you can scan people’s heads, as well as the Xperia Lounge and other annoying bloat that you can luckily largely avoid.

Better improvements are in the camera app that Sony has simplified considerably to make it much more noticeably user friendly.

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