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Review: Sony Xperia XZ3

Hardware Software Wrap-Up Comments  

Nov 1, 2018, 10:40 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   @phonescooper

Editor's Choice
Sony Xperia XZ3

The Xperia XZ3 is one of the most cohesive phones to come from Sony's designers and engineers. This silky Android smartphone offers a tasty slice of Pie with sophisticated updates to the user interface and camera capabilities. Here is Phone Scoop's in-depth review.

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Is It Your Type?

The Sony Xperia XZ3 is for those who want a svelte, sculpted phone that comes from a company other than Apple, Samsung, or LG. This sleek metal-and-glass affair manages to pack an amazing number of features into a stunning piece of hardware. If you want good looks and top performance, this is the phone for you.

Body

This is an inspiring phone. While Sony carried over many of the basics from last year's XZ2, the new XZ3 has a smoother exterior and more cohesive personality.

The XZ3 makes good use of Sony's liquid design. The phone has a narrow series-7000 aluminum frame between two panels of Gorilla Glass 5. It's perhaps the smoothest, most seamless device I've seen from Sony. The curved glass edges on front, in particular, blend deeply into the aluminum frame. The glass on back has a more rounded shape. There are no hard edges anywher; only silky smoothness from top to bottom. I will point out that the shape appears to be inspired a bit by the Samsung Galaxy S9+.

Xperia XZ3  

The phone comes in several colors, including black, white, red, and green. Our review unit is white and incredibly glossy. There's no texture at all to the glass.

The XZ3 is tall and narrow. With a 6-inch screen, you know the dimensions are going to stretch what's comfortable in the hand. It's as tall as an Apple iPhone XS Max or Pixel 3 XL, but noticeably narrower than both. The narrow width really helps with in-hand comfort. It's painless to hold and use. You can slip it into nearly any pocket. Hold on tight, however, as the phone is among the most slippery I've ever tested.

Smooth Glass

Smooth Glass

The materials and build are top notch. It feels as good as it looks thanks to the strong aluminum and curvy glass. The exterior pieces are fitted together perfectly. 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 5 is tough, but not impervious to breakage. Like many others, this is a fragile flagship.

Sony finally has the face figured out. The side bezels are all but gone, and the phone has acceptable bezels above and below the display. This resolves one of the biggest ongoing complaints I've had with Sony phones over the years. It's almost as close to "all-screen" as we can expect right now without something like a notch. I like that the screen has curved corners that match the radius of the hardware. The only non-screen elements you may notice on front are the small slit for the earpiece and user-facing camera.

XZ3 Hand Fit  

The XZ3 adopts Sony's long-established side button configuration. Three buttons are positioned on the right side: 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. The screen lock button is okay, but the volume toggle left me wanting more. The camera button is tiny. Sony could have done better here.

Right Side Buttons

Right Side Buttons

Sony placed the USB-C port along the bottom, but there's no headphone jack, an annoying absence on modern flagships. (Sony does include an adapter in the box.) The SIM tray is on the top and, as per the norm for Sony, can be removed with your thumbnail. I like that.

USB-C

USB-C

The location of the fingerprint reader is questionable. Like the XZ2, Sony put the XZ3's fingerprint reader about 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. It got really old after a few days of testing. More often than not, I tapped the camera module instead, leaving photo-ruining fingerprint smudges on the lens. I'm befuddled by this arrangement.

Camera and Fingerprint

Camera and Fingerprint

The single, circular camera module pops up a bit from the rear glass. The accompanying sensors and LED flash are lined up above the camera.

You cannot remove the rear panel; the embedded battery is inaccessible.

The Xperia XZ3 is as fine a phone as we've ever seen from Sony.

Screen

The 6-inch display is eye-popping. It's an OLED panel with quad HD+ resolution and an 18:9 ratio. The resolution is fantastic. On-screen elements are well-defined and smooth. I have no complaints about pixel density, which is over 500ppi. The display pumps out an incredible amount of light. I was able to use the XZ3 indoors and outdoors under sunny skies no problem. Since it's OLED, blacks are utterly black and colors look great. The XZ3 supports HDR playback if you can find such content. Viewing angles are very good.

It's the best display to grace the face of a Sony phone.

The XZ3 offers more control over the display than most phones. Not only can you set auto-brightness and the nighttime blue light filter, but you can also manage the color profiles, manually tweak white balance, and boost video performance (i.e. over-saturate colors when watching videos.). These settings are all fairly straightforward to adjust.

Display  

Signal

The Xperia XZ3 is available unlocked in the U.S. It doesn't have quite the support for U.S. LTE Bands that its predecessor did. It has the basic bands for AT&T and T-Mobile, and T-Mobile's newer Band 66, but not 71. This means it should perform on par with most T-Mobile-branded devices. Inexplicably, the XZ3 doesn't have either Band 29 or Band 30 for AT&T, which means it won't do as well as AT&T-branded phones, and this bore out in testing.

I tried the XZ3 on both AT&T and T-Mobile and found that, owing to its band support, it performed better on the Un-Carrier than Big Blue.

On T-Mobile, nearly all calls connected on the first dial, even under the worst network conditions. Calls remained engaged during miles of highway driving on both networks without interruption. Data speeds were very good. I was able to download apps over LTE, as well as browse social networks, stream media, and surf the web without any hiccups.

On AT&T, the biggest issue is LTE performance. In areas with congestion, you'll likely notice slower speeds because the XZ3 isn't able to use the newer bands, which are sometimes less crowded. That said, calls connected on the first dial and data speeds were fine most of the time.

Sound

As far as call quality is concerned, the XZ3 does all right. Voices sound clean and warm through the earpiece. I was pleased with tone and clarity. Volume was reasonably good. I was able to handle calls on the sidelines of soccer games and running errands at the mall. A room full of screaming 11-year-olds, however, had me running for cover. Those I spoke to through the XZ3 said I sounded "excellent."

Calls pushed to the speaker are loud, thanks to the powerful amplifier. You will notice some distortion when you set the volume to the max, but you'll be able to hear calls in moving cars or just about anywhere else.

Ringers and alerts are very loud.

The XZ3 carries over Sony's S-Force Front Surround. It's nearly imperceptible to the eye, but there is a tiny, tiny notch in the front glass right where it meets the bottom portion of the frame. This is your speakerphone and the second speaker needed to create stereo sound. Like many such implementations, the bottom speaker is somewhat more bass-y and the top is somewhat more treble-y. The system works surprisingly well and generates clean, loud sound that's good for watching video with stereo sound.

The XZ3 also includes Dynamic Vibration, which is kind of a subwoofer for your phone. Dynamic Vibration taps the haptic engine to vibrate the device when listening to music or watching movies. The result adds dimension to the sound. It's cool. It may not be practical, but there's nothing wrong with having a little fun with your movies.

The haptic engine also delivers a good jolt when it comes to alerts.

Battery

Sony improved upon the XZ2's battery slightly by boosting it from 3,180mAh to 3,300mAh for the XZ3. On days that I used the phone normally — general app usage, browsing social media, sending messages — it easily pushed from breakfast to bedtime with plenty of power to spare. If you ramp up usage of the camera or games, you'll notice it konks out a bit earlier. I never saw less than a full day from it.

Sony's Stamina Mode and Ultra Stamina Mode will help extend battery life if you find yourself running short. While the former tamps down vibrations, notifications, brightness, and processor output, the latter puts the XZ3 into feature phone mode and shuts down most apps.

The XZ3 supports Quick Charge 3.0 for quicker power-ups, as well as Qi wireless charging. Plugging in for as little as 20 minutes boosts the battery by as much as 25%.

Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, WiFi

Sony didn't skimp on the secondary radios.

First up, Bluetooth 5.0 with support for aptX. This is a good start for audiophiles, and Sony is always looking to attract audiophiles. The phone connected to various headphones, speakers, and my car painlessly. Calls routed to headphones and my car sounded clean. Music streamed to aptX-capable headphones sounded above average.

The GPS radio performed flawlessly. It pinpointed me in a snap and accuracy was as close as about 10 feet.

The NFC radio made for easy pairing with select Bluetooth accessories. It also supports mobile payments via Google Pay, which I was able to set up no problem.

The WiFi was fantastically quick. The phone includes its own VPN software, which I highly recommend you activate.

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