Sony makes great devices ranging from TVs, cameras, to the PS4 but forgotten in the mix of all the quality gadgets that they make is the smartphone. I’ve gotten to play around with a few Sony smartphones over the years all within the Xperia series. I didn’t however get to review one of their “flagship” model phones. Sony always made really good smartphones but the problems with them was that they always came along just a little too late and the design was just a little dated. This time around Sony went back to the drawing board, made some design changes added some incredible tech and what we got was the Sony Xperia XZ3. It’s a great flagship phone that kind of flew under the radar and unfortunately wasn’t talked about enough. It should have been.
Design, Look & Feel
I’m not a person that goes nuts over the design of smartphones nowadays because to some degree they all look the same with some minor nuances that just barely separate how they look. Sony for the most part has always had these very boxy and solid edge cornered type looking phones. They were never bad looking phones just slightly dated looking based on the curvy world we live in now. The Xperia XZ3 is different in that it has a sleek, thin and unique curvy design and a large screen. Sony brought back the “Ambient Flow” design from the previous XZ2 which basically means that they just smoothed things out to give you some rounded edges on the phone physically as well as what you see on the screen when you power the phone on with rounded edges on the corner of the screen as well making it much different a design than previous model Xperias. The XZ3 kind of has a Samsung Galaxy S9+ feel except the XZ3 is a little curvier in the back of the phone so it sits in the palm of your hand a little better than the S9+. The buttons on the phone are fairly tactile and on the right hand side of the phone. You have the volume up and down and centered in the middle of the right hand edge is the power button. This may seem a little odd that the power would be placed so low on the right hand side of the phone until you realize that there are no buttons at all on the left side. A risqué design choice indeed but one that doesn’t take away from the overall look of the phone. The screen is big at 6″ so you have a lot of screen real estate and you’ll understand it all once you see that screen. The design of this phone is up to date and it’s a good-looking phone.
The Xperia XZ3 is packed with specs, it’s a premium phone so one would expect nothing less and Sony didn’t cut any corners. It’s what makes this phone so good. What’s it got under the hood? For starters it’s got a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, 6″ P-OLED screen with a 1440 x 2880 resolution at 537 ppi and an 18:9 aspect ratio, Android 9.0 (Pie), 64GB of internal storage with an extra MicroSD card slot that supports up to 512GB, 4GB RAM, 19 MP rear facing camera with an f/2.0 and 25mm wide-angle, 13 MP front facing selfie camera, fingerprint reader, Qi wireless charging, available in four colors (Black, Silver White, Bordeaux Red and Forest Green) and you get all of that with no headphone jack. The speakers on this phone are damn good so I guess it’s not such a bad tradeoff. Like I said, this phone packed with a ton of technology and when you use this phone you feel just how premium it is when you look at the screen, watch videos and take pictures. The specs on this phone put it on par with any flagship phone you can mention right now and in certain features, it’s better.
I’m not a camera expert by any means but I know a good camera when I use one, just like I can tell when I’m using a crappy camera. The Xperia XZ3 has a pretty good camera. We can always debate which camera is better than the other, but the bottom line is when you buy a smartphone nowadays the camera you get with that phone especially a premium smartphone is going to be pretty good, such is the case here. The rear camera on the Xperia XZ3 is a 19 MP f/2.0 with a wide-angle option. The pictures you’re going to take on this phone are going to be good photos. I took a bunch of photos with the Xperia XZ3 and it’s a more than capable camera. Sometimes I found that the XZ3 in auto mode would sometimes overexpose shots in the day time, so I found myself using pro mode a bit, but it wasn’t too big a deal. Auto worked fine most of the time and the pictures overall were very detailed, color accurate, sharp and just looked great. I mean fantastic and when you look back at them on that OLED screen you’ll see how good they are. Some may complain that pictures could look better but that’s all preference. The camera does a great job of giving you a quality shot of whatever you’re shooting. Pictures at night is where this camera flops a little bit. There’s a built-in “Night Mode” that comes on when you’re taking pictures at night and in low light situations and for the most part it was helpful and other times not so much. It was kind of a 50/50 split but the pictures that came out weren’t too bad but weren’t that great either.
Selfies, if that’s your thing then you’ll have no problems with the XZ3. There’s a 13 MP front facing camera that takes pretty good selfies. I don’t know how to elaborate much more than that considering that that’s probably all most people ever use a front facing camera for anyway aside from the occasional video chat call and even then, the front facing camera on the Xperia XZ3 holds its own just fine. That selfie portrait mode is kind of messy, so I wouldn’t use it that much but that aside, you’re good. So, for my selfie people out there, taking a quality selfie on this camera won’t be a letdown. Camera technology on a phone is something that will never fully satisfy everyone. The Xperia XZ3 has the features and quality that most of us need in our smartphone cameras.
Things I didn’t really like
The Xperia XZ3 being a very good phone doesn’t mean that Sony didn’t flub a few things and add a thing or two you probably won’t like. Of course, we’re all different so I’ll try not generalizing, but here are the things about the Xperia XZ3 I just didn’t like. Side Sense is the main offender. I get that smartphone makers want to make access to your apps, contacts and menu somewhat easier like a snap out menu the Note 9 has or the squeeze thing from HTC phones, but these features are more annoying than helpful and they never really save you any time at all. It’s far easier to just tap your apps quickly and get to what you want to get to. I’ve never found these “shortcuts” a compelling reason to ever buy a phone, in fact, It’s more of a reason not to. They’re more annoying than anything else.
Second would be the lack of any buttons on the left side of the phone. It’s not a huge deal but it’s really weird. I can only assume that Sony did this for the sake of Side Sense. Really though? Most of us normal folk are used to having buttons on both sides of our phones. Put them back. Third, is the software. I won’t kill Sony for this because most smartphone manufacturers do this, but I universally hate it. The apps they add to your phone nobody wants to use and you can’t uninstall them either. I don’t need an Xperia software experience, I need an Android experience. I already have the phone. That IS my Xperia experience. Stock Android or as close to it as possible would be nice. I think Sony would get more folks interested if they scale back their native phone skin. Android users genuinely don’t like them. The things I don’t like aren’t things you should take as reasoning not to pick up an Xperia XZ3. It’s more along the lines of these are the things that if they refine it or remove it altogether they would have a killer phone.
The Sony Xperia XZ3 is a stand-up, good quality phone. Sony always makes great stuff. Over the time I used the Xperia XZ3, it felt premium, battery life is good and the screen was fantastic. I think it’s better than most screens on a smartphone except for maybe the Galaxy series phones which I would debate you about. Watching content on this phone or even just looking at the screen you can’t help but be amazed at just how bright and crisp that OLED really is. The camera was also really good. Some folks may say it could have been better but that’s just opinion but when I took pictures on this phone, I loved them, so you be the judge.
I didn’t have any negative takeaways from using the Xperia XZ3 except for maybe the Sony included software which I generally don’t like when any company does it, so Sony won’t be exempt from that criticism. Lastly, if Sony wants to make more noise in the flagship smartphone market it needs to make itself known more. Having a Sony phone right now kind of seems like having a novelty device. A device you have just because you like gadgets. When you think of smartphones, the usual suspects always come to mind i.e. iPhone, Galaxy, OnePlus, LG and now Huawei. This isn’t to say that those phones are just so good nobody can compete but they’re in the competition. Amongst my friends and colleagues nobody really has or uses a Sony phone although we probably would if there was more of a push on Sony’s part to use one. It’s hard to justify recommending you buy a phone for almost $1000 bucks that nobody really knows about. The Xperia XZ3 is a solid phone and I imagine that the XZ4 will improve on the little things (Getting rid of Side Sense) that were wrong with the XZ3 which could mean Sony will make another good phone that most of us may not hear about and that’s a shame. The Xperia XZ3 is a phone that more people should be talking about because it’s really good.