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Hands On with the Sony Xperia XZ3

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Aug 30, 2018, 8:10 AM   by Eric M. Zeman
updated Aug 30, 2018, 6:08 PM

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Sony’s latest flagship smartphone packs tons of features into its metal-and-glass body. It offers a 6-inch screen, Snapdragon 845 processor, 19-megapixel camera, and advanced audio capabilities. It boasts new camera software and Android 9 Pie. Here are our first impressions.

This is an inspiring piece of hardware. The Xperia XZ3 is an update to the XZ2 in more ways than one. While many of the features are the same, the chassis is bigger, smoother, and more impressive to behold.

The XZ3 relies on Sony's liquid design. It has a razor thin series 7000 aluminum frame that is sandwich by two curvy Gorilla Glass 5 panels. It is perhaps the smoothest, most seamless device I've seen from Sony. The curved glass edges blend into the aluminum frame perfectly. There are no hard edges, only silky glass all the way around. I'm smitten.

Xperia XZ3  

The phone comes in several hues, including black, white, red and green. The green is my favorite thanks to the sparkles that are buried in the coloring. The effect is subtle, yet satisfying.

It's fair sized. With a 6-inch screen, it's hard to keep the dimensions in check. The 18:9 aspect ratio gives the phone a tall, narrow look. Sony managed to keep the bezels incredibly thin, resolving one of the biggest complaints I've had with Sony phones over the years. It's a joy to hold and use. You can slip it into near any pocket.

The materials and build are top notch. It feels as good as it looks thanks t the aluminum and glass. The phone is rated IP68 for protection from dust and water. That means it can handle a 30-minute bath in up to 1.5m of water. Don't drop it. Gorilla Glass is more impervious to scratching, but is not as shatterproof as Gorilla Glass 3.

The display is eye-popping. It is an OLED panel with quad HD+ resolution. It pumps out an incredible amount of light while keeping blacks utterly black. Colors look great. Viewing angles are very good. I really like the rounded corners, which match the curvy design. The bezels are practically non-existant. It's as fine a display as has every graced the face of a Sony phone.

You won't be surprised by what you find along the phone's edges. Three buttons are positioned on the right side, including the volume toggle, screen lock key, and dedicated two-stage camera button. The buttons are rather thin and I wasn't pleased with the feedback. These are perhaps the only part of the phone that doesn't live up to the flagship hardware.

Sony placed the USB-C port along the bottom and the SIM tray on the top. The SIM tray can be removed with your thumbnail sans tool. I like that. The left edge is clean.

Sony is one of the few phone makers yet to adopt a two-camera setup on the rear panel. The phone has a single 19-megapixel camera with what Sony calls Motion Eye technology, which combines OIS and EIS to make for sharper shots. It can snag 960fps super slow motion and 4K video. The 13-megapixel user-facing camera can capture bokeh photos.

The camera UI is a bit simpler. For example, you can now easily jump from using the camera to the videocamera by swiping the viewfinder left or right. Sony also added a really neat feature. Pick the XZ3 up and hold it horizontally as though you're going to take a picture and the camera will launch automatically. Cool.

Sony's placement of the fingerprint reader is questionable. Like the XZ2, it is located practically in the middle of the rear panel. This is awkwardly low and requires you to crook your finger a bit more than I care for.

On the software side of things, the XZ3 will be among the first to ship with Android 9 Pie. The UI looked clean and it was certainly fast. Sony has injected some of its fonts and colors, but the basic architecture of the home screen panels, app drawer, and settings are stock Android.

XZ3 Home Screens  

One of the other new software additions is Side Sense. This feature is borrowed from Samsung's Edge Screen. Tapping either side of the Xperia XZ3 will call up the Side Sense drawer. It is a customizable space where you can put shortcuts to apps, contacts, and so on. It looks clean and pops open immediately. I'm not exactly useful it will be, as I never use the Edge Screen on Samsung phones.

XZ3 Side Sense  

Sony plans on selling the Xperia XZ3 to U.S. consumers via Amazon and Best Buy. That means it will be available unlocked with support for AT&T and T-Mobile. It costs a hefty $900, and is likely worth every penny.

About the author, Eric M. Zeman:

Eric has been covering the mobile telecommunications industry for 17 years at various print and online publications. He studied at Rutgers Newark and University of Kentucky, and has a degree in writing. He likes playing guitar, attending concerts, listening to music, and driving sports cars.

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