Review: Sony Xperia Z3v for Verizon Wireless
The Xperia Z3v is a media powerhouse. It offers an insane number of ways to consume content. As you can guess, the Google Play Store and its selection of books, magazines, music, and movies is on board. These are the same apps found on most Android devices. They work well.
Sony uses its own Walkman and video player apps for sideloaded content. The Sony Walkman app is a feature-rich music player and surpasses the Google Play Music app in terms of usability and features. I like the way it arranges playlists and albums, and it has a nice visual look and feel. It has a great equalizer for customizing the sound. The video player is similarly good.
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The Xperia Z3v also includes Sony Videos Unlimited. The Videos Unlimited service offers movie rentals. Pricing for the rentals varies by title. It's run by the Sony Entertainment Network. You need to use your existing PlayStation account in order to use it.
If all these aren't enough, take heart; Verizon stuffed Amazon Music, Amazon Kindle, Audible, Kobo (for reading books), NFL Mobile, and Slacker Radio onto the Z3v. I'd trade all of these for an FM radio.
Sony did give the Z3v a handful of compelling sound optimization tools, but they come with caveats. For example, there's ClearAudio+. You can turn it on or turn it off. I have no idea what it does, but if you turn it on, it negates any sound effects you may have customized. The dynamic normalizer balances out volume peaks and valleys in music and videos. The Z3v also supports high-resolution audio, but you need to use USB and connect to a freaking digital-to-audio headphone amplifier. I hardly know anyone — even audiophiles — who uses a DAC headphone amplifier. Last, you can actually tell the Z3v what type of Sony headphones you have (assuming you have Sony headphones.) This ostensibly customizes the sound further to compensate for whichever pair of Sony headphones you happen to be using.
Last, the Z3v has its own stereo speakers, which makes watching video more enjoyable when you don't have a pair of good headphones laying about. I thought the stereo sound was quite good.
The Z3v's camera app is more or less carried over from the Z1s and Z2. It's a solid piece of software that I find works well. One of its best features? You can wake it with a long press of the dedicated camera button. This is by far the fastest way to launch the camera, and it takes under 2 seconds. You can set the feature to launch and fire a shot, or launch and start recording video, if you wish. Cool.
On the screen, the main buttons (camera, video camera, modes) are all on the right, while buttons for the flash, user-facing camera and settings are all on the left.
The default shooting mode is called Superior Auto. It's good at detecting various types of scenes and then adjusting the settings to match what you're looking at. Basically what this means is that it can switch between macro photography (shooting close-ups), HDR photography, and regular photography automatically. It's also good at noticing low-light situations and adjusting the flash accordingly. I found Superior Auto worked incredibly well on the Z3v. It's much faster than the Z1s/Z2, probably due in part to the Snapdragon 801 processor.
There are 15 other shooting modes, and I find them to be overwhelming. It's just way too much to digest, even if they are fun to use and create interesting results.
Those extra modes include: Manual; Sound Photo (takes photos with background sounds); AR Fun (use virtual objects to enhance photos); Multi Camera (use both cameras at the same time); Face In (use both cameras to put your face in either photos or videos); 4K Video (obvious); Timeshift Video (high frame rate for slow-motion results); Live On YouTube (broadcast live video to YouTube); Background Defocus (blurs the background); AR Effect (take photos with virtual scenes and characters); Creative Effect (select effects - i.e., filters - for artistic photos and videos); Info-Eye (augmented reality search tool); Timeshift Burst (takes a quick burst before you press the shutter button to increase likelihood of getting good shot); Social Live (publishes directly to Facebook); and Panorama. Sound like a bit much?
Each of these individual modes works fairly well. I didn't have much luck with the Info-Eye feature, perhaps because I live in the sticks of NJ and there's nothing of interest around. The AR Fun tool will probably appeal to teenagers and those looking to be silly. I don't see much to be gained from the artistic filters in the Creative Effect tool, as so many filters are available from so many other apps. The Background Defocus function is perhaps the most useful, as it can create usable portraits. Maybe the most important addition over Sony's earlier handsets are the tools for adding yourself to the shot, because, you know, selfies.
The Z3v can also detect smiles, and can make various different shutter sounds. I like that the flash has four settings, including fill-flash. Fill-flash helps take photos when you have a light background and a dark foreground and you want to make the foreground pop a little bit (it uses a lower-power burst than the normal flash mode.)
Everything about the camera is fast. It focuses quickly, and shoots/saves images quickly.
The camera is another feature that Sony likes to adorn with way too many adjectives. Ready for this? The Z3v has a 20.7-megapixel camera with f/2.3 Exmor RS for Mobile image sensor, BIONZ for Mobile processing engine, and a wide-angle 27mm G Lens. I know, right? What does all that gobbledygook mean? The Xperia Z3v takes mostly good photos.
Sony's Z-class smartphones have used the same size image sensor for a while now, but each one has been successively better at delivering good results. The Z3v is Sony's best yet in terms of photo quality, though the Samsung Note 4 and Apple iPhone 6 best it. Images created by the Z3v are mostly sharp, accurately exposed, and have proper white balance the majority of the time. The only problem I saw was an occasionally grainy shot. The huge sensor means you can blow images up to enormous sizes and not lose detail. Most people will be able to rely on the Z3v for both everyday shots and special events.
By default, the Z3v shoots 1080p HD video, but it can record 4K video, too. These are your only options in terms of video resolution. Obviously, 4K footage is a waste if you don't have a 4K screen on which to watch it. The 1080p footage I captured looked great. I was very pleased with the results across the board. I found the low-light results impressive, despite a small amount of grain. Focus, exposure, and white balance were all good most of the time. I'd say the Z3v is a capable video camera for all but the most important personal events.
The gallery app is another that we've seen before from Sony. It is way more fun to use than the stock gallery app from Google, that's for sure. The grid of thumbnails in the main view can be expanded and reshaped by using pinch-to-zoom gestures. By default, one thumbnail (the most recent image) is somewhat larger than the others. Grab that and do a reverse pinch gesture and it will grow to fill the screen. You can use these gestures to make all the thumbnails visible at the same time, or as few as three visible at a time. It makes dealing with the gallery more enjoyable.
Beyond this user interface, the Sony gallery has all the tools you expect to find on a modern smartphone. Individual photos and albums can be easily shared with others via messaging apps or social networks. Sony incorporated a handful of its own tools, as well. For example, you can send a photo to the Info-Eye tool for searching purposes, or to the Xperia Share service, and so on. Photos can also be cropped and rotated, as well as adjusted for exposure, etc. Sony pulled the editing tools directly from the Android gallery app.
The Google+ Photos app is also on board. This app can be used to backup, access, and edit any photos you've saved to Google+. This app will eventually replace the stock Android gallery app, so you may as well get used to it. It has its own editing tools that are slightly better than the stock Android app.
Last, Sony included an app called Sketch. Sketch lets you draw on photos, or add photos to drawings and everything in between. It offers a wide range of pen, pencil and brush tips, a variety of colors, and the ability to insert text and silly graphics. It should appeal to creative types who aren't satisfied with static, boring old photos.
There are 64 apps preinstalled on the Z3v, and a fair number of them are Verizon-branded apps, such as Caller Name ID, Cloud, Message+, My Verizon Mobile, NFL Mobile, VZ Navigator, and VZ Protect. Many of Sony's apps - such as Walkman and Update Center - duplicate functions that are already baked into the Android platform.
Other Sony apps worth calling out include Sony Select and Xperia Lounge. Sony Select is an app recommendation tool that works similarly to the Samsung Hub on Galaxy devices. It offers a selection of apps and games that Sony thinks you'll enjoy. The Xperia Lounge is sort of "Hey, check out all this cool Sony Xperia stuff!" news app. It is organized like a magazine and offers articles and updates on all things Sony.
The Z3v's Bluetooth radio functioned perfectly in my tests. I was able to make calls both through headsets and speakers. I was pleased with the quality of voice calls via Bluetooth, and volume was good, too. The Z3v supports the aptX Bluetooth profile, which means you'll get the best possible wireless sound from your phone and headphones and/or speaker. I was very impressed with Bluetooth music playback.
Chrome is the only browser aboard the Z3v. Chrome is a solid browser and wasn't tripped up by the Z3v or Verizon's network. It delivered web sites quickly and rendered them well on the bright and sharp display. I never had trouble surfing the web, even under less-than-optimal network conditions. As always, Chrome can be used to sync browsing history and bookmarks with the desktop version of Chrome.
The lock screen clock is a white, digital clock that's positioned at the top of the display. It's a bit thicker and easier to see than the clock on earlier Z models, but it still isn't customizable. There are a number of clock widgets for the home screens, but the time is almost always displayed in the status bar at the top.
The Z3v includes Google Maps and Verizon's VZ Navigator. Both are adept when it comes to planning routes and following guided directions from Point A to Point B. Verizon's service costs $5 per month and is a bit faster at rerouting you if you miss a turn, but Google Maps is free and is dramatically superior when it comes to search. The Z3v's GSP radio always found me quickly.
The Z3v is the first smartphone to support PlayStation 4 Remote Play. This feature lets the Z3v remotely connect to the PS4 to play games. Sony envisions this feature being used most often when the TV set attached to the PS4 console is being used by others. It allows kids to play their games even if Mom and Dad are watching TV. The Z3v connects to the PS4 via Wi-Fi. The PS4 can stream the gaming content to the handset. It works with the PS4's controller and a mounting accessory (sold separately) to hold up the phone during gameplay.
The Z3v also has a separate PSN app. It hooks you into the PlayStation Network to access your PS3/PS4 and other Sony content and services. You can also access your PSN messages through this app, and conduct IM chats with other PSN users.
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