The third time is definitely the charm for Sony's Xperia Z3 flagship phone.
When the Xperia Z came out last year, it showed consumers the new Sony design standard for its hardware and software, which it has faithfully maintained across its subsequent smartphone and tablet offerings.
The Xperia Z was not perfect.
Its biggest bugbear was a sluggish camera shutter and several flimsy covers that were meant to make the device waterproof.
The Xperia Z2 that followed was an improvement, inside and out. But it was clearly an incremental upgrade. Sony changed the seal covers, but kept the 20.7MP camera resolution sensor and, unfortunately, the same slow shutter speed.
With the Xperia Z3, Sony has made several improvements that make this more than a worthy successor to the Xperia Z name.
Yes, the camera has been fixed and the shutter performance now closely matches the prowess of its 20.7MP lens. There has never been a need to increase the megapixel count, as its 20.7MP has not been outmatched by most of its key competitors.
Its picture quality and details are sharper than those of the Z and Z2, and the overall controls are also smoother.
Like the Z2, the Z3 records video in ultra high-definition videos. But instead of shutting down in 4min because of overheating, it can now record a little over 6min of 4K video.
However, it would be remiss of me if I did not point out that Sony's rivals have also released newer and much more powerful devices in the interim. While the Z3 trumps Apple's iPhone 6 Plus and Samsung Galaxy Note 4 in image details, its competitors have improved on other aspects that may matter more to users.
Both the Note 4 and iPhone 6 Plus offer improved optical image stabilisation. This advantage clearly attracts potential buyers more than images that are better detailed.
Sony needs to buck up, to make sure its camera keeps up with the competition.
Unfortunately, the Remote Play feature for Sony's PlayStation 4 (PS4) game console, one of the more anticipated features, is not ready to be rolled out. Remote Play lets Z3 owners play video games off a connected PlayStation 4 by turning the Z3 into a companion screen. Both phone and game console must be connected to the same Wi-Fi network.
This feature will be available only from November, so I could not try it out in time for this review.
I had previously tried out Remote Play using the PlayStation Vita and also on demo units of the Xperia Z3 and found that a stable Remote Play experience depended mainly on a strong Wi-Fi network.
If battery life is a major worry, the Z3 has you covered.
Sony has always had an impressive array of power management features that can shut off connectivity when the device is on standby, or conserve power when the battery level is low. It now has an Ultra Stamina Mode that is even more miserly on power usage, thus prolonging battery life.
Unlike Samsung's Galaxy S5, which lowers the screen resolution to save energy, Sony simply cuts off access to a chunk of features, including data and browser, leaving only the basics - making calls, sending SMS messages and granting access to some apps like the camera, gallery, calendar and contacts.
This is rather extreme, as users cannot opt to turn on some important apps, such as Google Maps or WhatsApp. But for party animals temporarily without access to a power point, it leaves the essentials available.
I am a huge fan of the Z3's newly rounded edges, like the new iPhones', which offer a better grip. The covers for the micro-USB, SIM card and microSD card slots are also more stable in the Z3, and therefore less prone to accidental dislodging.
The front-facing speakers present a better audio kick than the down blasting or rear-facing speakers of other devices.
Still, it is unfortunate that compared with the new features of the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge, Apple iPhone 6 or HTC Desire Eye, which have generated so much excitement, Sony's Xperia Z3 has no stand-out feature to call its own. This is something that Sony desperately needs, if it wants to draw more users to its hardware.
The Xperia Z3 is Sony's best smartphone so far. It is more than capable of fending off the competition. It just lacks an updated killer feature to sing about.
This article was first published on Oct 8, 2014.
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