Hands on: Sony Xperia Z3+ review
The Sony Xperia Z4 was supposed to be the last major flagship launch of 2015, but following a quiet launch in Japan earlier this year Sony decided to rename it before bringing it to Europe. The Z4 became the Sony Xperia Z3+, and what had been set to be one of the biggest products of 2015 turned into one the dampest squibs instead.
If its marketing executives were worried that us canny Europeans would suss out that it wasn’t much of an upgrade, then they were right, because after some hands-on time I can confirm there isn’t much difference at all between the Z3+ and its predecessor.
Design and software
It’s still the same size and a very similar design; even from up close, the layman would struggle to tell them apart. The Z3+ is the same size as the Z3, with the same 5.2in IPS display; it has the same softly rounded edges and dead-flat back; it has its predecessor’s slightly curved corners and a sealed flap covering the SIM card slot; and it still feels a little slippery in the hand.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I loved the slim, compact frame of the Z3, and the Z3+ is no different. It will slip inconspicuously into most pockets without stretching the seams, and it’s very light too.
And there are some departures in design over the Z3. The curved edges have a smoother, more silky feel to them than the original Z3, and the corners have been polished so that they shine like chrome.
The new phone is a touch slimmer than the old one, at a mere 6.9mm, and a little lighter at 144g. The keen-eyed might spot that the edges are a little freer from clutter, too. That’s because the flap covering the phone’s micro-USB port has disappeared.
As we reported last month, the Z3+ now has a “capless” port on the bottom edge – in other words, it’s open to the elements and not covered by a flap as it is on the Z3. However, the phone retains its trademark IP68 rating, which means you can submerge the phone in 1.5m of water for up to 30 minutes, and it will survive an accidental encounter with a pint of bitter or hot cappuccino
So, how do these changes affect the look and feel of the Z3+? After all, the original was pretty sleek to start with. The good news is that they do make a difference: those shinier edges and corners lend the phone a more opulent, lavish look, and the phone does feel a bit nicer in the hand.
The capless USB port will be a boon for charging, since you’ll no longer have to pry off the flap every time you need to plug it in, and the fact that it’s now on the bottom edge is a great move, too, especially for anyone who uses their phone in the car as a satnav.
The bottom line, though, is that not a great deal has changed from a physical point of view. Neither is the software much different. It runs on a base of Android 5 with Sony’s subtle tweaks atop it, and there really isn’t anything important to note about it. It’s virtually indistinguishable to the software running on Z3 handsets right now.
When it comes to core hardware, however, it’s a different matter entirely. The Z3+ is powered by an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor – the daddy of the smartphone SoC world – which is a big upgrade over the Z3’s quad-core Snapdragon 801. The 810 comprises a pair of quad-core CPUs running at 2GHz and 1.5GHz, and here it’s backed up by 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage.
Although I wasn’t able to run any benchmarks at the hands-on session (the prototype I was using deleted any benchmark app I attempted to install), it felt perfectly zippy and responsive. But then the first Z3 was no slouch.
Given the 1080p screen resolution (another thing this handset inherits from its predecessor), we expect it to be a close match to the HTC One M9 in performance terms, which is itself among the fastest phones around.
While I’m on the subject, the screen looks every bit as bright and punchy as the original, although there’s no change in size (5.2in) or resolution (1,080 x 1,920). I haven’t yet had the chance to test it scientifically, however.
Likewise, the camera is another component that hasn’t seen any movement forward. Its 20.7-megapixel snapper is based on a 1/2.3in sensor, just like last year, and I expect its results to be little different, especially since there’s no sign of optical image stabilisation or phase-detect/laser autofocus to help things along. Except, perhaps when taking snaps of your supper – there’s a new “Gourmet” mode in the camera software for avid food photographers.
One potential downsides that the Z3+ has a smaller battery, at 2,930mAh compared to the old phone’s 3,100mAh. Given that stupendous battery life was one of that handset’s great strengths, we’re a little worried.
After getting up close and personal with the Z3+ for the first time, I have to admit I’m more than a little underwhelmed. Yes, I admit the Z3+ looks a little nicer than the original, and it’s likely to be much quicker, too, but is that really enough in today’s cutthroat smartphone market?
I’d suggest not. Even if the battery life is as good as the Z3’s was, the lack of movement on the camera front and the screen resolution and size, means there’s likely to be very little practical reason to buy a Sony Xperia Z3+ over the still excellent Xperia Z3.