Most smartphone manufacturers introduce new flagship phones once per year, but Sony's in a hurry to catch up to the leaders and has therefore set itself an accelerated timetable of refreshing its best phone once every six months. That's how we find ourselves looking at the Xperia Z3 precisely a year after the introduction of the Xperia Z1.
The new 5.2-inch phone from Sony lacks for nothing, with a 1080p screen resolution, quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor, 3GB of RAM, and a familiar 20-megapixel camera sensor that has now been boosted to reach an unprecedented 12,800 ISO sensitivity. The lens has been made wider, with the new 25mm-equivalent field of view capturing more of the scene around you, and there's improved image stabilization for video, which can once again be recorded at 4K resolution.
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Though it's hard to find faults with the Xperia Z3, it's also not immediately obvious how this phone stands out from its competitors or even Sony's most recent Android flagship. The answer is in the design. Every time Sony updates its symmetric all-glass design, it makes the device that little bit thinner, lighter, and easier to handle. While that difference was subtle between the Z1 and Z2, it feels dramatic when moving to the Z3. The more elliptical curves around the aluminum frame of the new phone make it much nicer to hold, and Sony has somehow managed to shave nearly a millimeter in thickness without sacrificing the battery size, which is still a healthy 3,100mAh.
Small incremental upgrades have made for a highly refined design
Citing improvements in the efficiency of the display and processor, Sony also says that the Z3 will last a full two days on a single charge. As a comparison, the company rates its older Z2 at 1.4 days and the Z1 at 1.2 days using the same metric. Two new colorways are being introduced for the Z3, with a classy bronze and a weird but attractive silver-gray complementing the standard all-black option. Sony's not doing anything crazy with the software, which remains pretty much unchanged from its current Android skin, though it is adding high-res audio support and a new option to stream video live to YouTube. The Xperia Z3 will launch globally later this autumn and is anticipated for an October release in the UK.
Joining the Z3 on Sony's IFA stage this year will be the 4.6-inch Z3 Compact and the 8-inch Z3 Tablet Compact. They share the same basic hardware platform as the Z3 and are similarly rated for IP68 water and dust protection. They are also slim, attractive devices, and in the case of the Z3 Compact, can even be considered more attractive propositions than Sony's chosen flagship.
The 8-inch Z3 Tablet Compact has slightly higher resolution than the Z3 with 1920 x 1200, though its most impressive feature is a thickness of a mere 6.4mm. Like the 10-inch Xperia Z2 Tablet before it, it's feather-light in the hand and ranks right alongside Apple's iPad in terms of industrial design. It's just tough to recommend it without more Android software exploiting its full screen size.
PS4 Remote Play could be the Z3 Tablet Compact's killer feature
One of Sony's hidden synergistic weapons here, though, may be PS4 Remote Play. The company's rolling out this feature, currently available only on the PS Vita, to its Xperia devices starting with the Z3 family in November. That means that you'll be able to play games running on your PS4 directly on the Z3 Tablet Compact, whose size is well suited to making portable the big-screen visuals that console games are designed to deliver.
The Xperia Z3 Compact cuts back a bit by eschewing the aluminum frame and 1080p resolution of the bigger devices, but is actually my choice for most compelling device from Sony's new range. It has the ideal size for a smartphone while making almost no functionality compromises. Look out for the full range of Sony's new gear later this autumn, together with the new QX lenses, SmartBands, DualShock controller mount, and whatever else Sony can think of to accessorize your mobile life.