Sony Xperia Z3 and Z3 Compact

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Sony is releasing its second flagship handset in the space of six months, and it’s brought its little brother along with it – and what a difference half a year of tweaking has made

It was just six months ago that Sony unveiled its brand new top-end smartphone, the Xperia Z2. Though “brand new” is not strictly accurate for the Z1 was such a fantastic handset for its time that the Z2 didn’t really feel like much of an advance.

Half a year on and we have the Z3 in our hands – and we’re relieved.

This handset feels like everything the Z2 should have been. It almost feels like an apology from Sony, but a sincere one. And who could stay mad at Sony when it’s offered up such a superb device?

If you already own an Xperia Z2, then there aren’t a great number of reasons for you to upgrade, but seeing as its predecessor the Xperia Z1’s release was still only a year ago, that’s something we can look beyond.

One thing we weren’t delivered by Sony alongside the Xperia Z2 was a Z2 Compact.

The Z1 Compact is one of our favourite Android handsets, and one of few Androids to rival the iPhone’s design and performance.

Here we have something most unusual: a smaller smartphone with the same power of its larger sibling.

The Z3 Compact is nearly identical to the Z3 in every sense, with its size being the only real defining factor.

Screens
At 5.2 inches and 4.6 inches respectively, the Xperia Z3 and Z3 Compact should satisfy just about any smartphone user.

The Z3’s display is 1080p Full HD, while the Z3 Compact is scaled back to 720p HD. The pixels-per-inch counts may differ greatly between the two – 423ppi for the Z3 versus 319ppi for the Z3 Compact – but you will detect very little difference when comparing them side by side. As a general rule, you’ll be hard pushed to notice much difference over the 300ppi mark.

That said, what with the effort that Sony has made to make the Z3 Compact a real powerhouse, it is a shame that it didn’t actually get round to fitting it with a Full HD 1080p display.

Even so, the only discernible difference between the screens on the two major and minor handsets appears to be brightness levels.

The Z3 is a little brighter when cranked up all the way, but that only serves to highlight its own excellent display rather than diminish that of the Z3 Compact.

Performance
Behind those displays you’ll find the same processor in both handsets: a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 clocked at 2.5GHz. That’s extremely powerful. When placed inside a compact device, it’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before.

Needless to say, both devices absolutely fly, regardless of what strenuous activities you put them through. Any game on the Google Play store is able to run buttery smooth, and day-to-day use is a pleasure.

That’s despite the large amount of bloatware you’ll find installed by default. It’s unfortunate that Sony has decided to bog down its otherwise perfectly appealing user interface with a ton of its own-brand apps, the majority of which you’ll never use.

There’s a Sony-branded app for every type of media, and we’d be very surprised if anybody actually used them as their first port of call. They’re brash and take up a great deal of your home screens, but the plus side is that they can be removed.

It’s worth noting, though, that despite boasting a huge 3GB of RAM, the Xperia Z3 doesn’t show any noticeable enhancement in day-to-day performance because of it.

Apps and software
The user interface and navigation is pleasant, but it’s not as fluid as the HTC One M8.

There is one Sony-exclusive app that is a real draw for the Z3 range, though. If you own a PlayStation 4, you can actually play games on your mobile device.
PS4 Remote Play streams the game currently running on your home console to the Z3 or Z3 Compact smartphone via Wi-Fi.

You can then clip the phone onto your DualShock 4 controller via an accessory, and then play to your heart’s content – all without needing to use a TV.

That is extremely cool, there’s no two ways about it.

And this feature may be enough to sway you if you’re a PlayStation gamer weighing up which smartphone to buy next.

Design
Another much-appreciated feature is that both devices are fully waterproof. Just like on the Z2, there are sturdy covers hiding all the ports, meaning you can use them in the bath with wanton abandon.

It does once again come at the cost of neither device having a removable battery, but there is at least a microSD card slot for boosting storage with cards up to 128GB in size.

We’re perfectly fine with the lack of a removable back, though, as it means Sony has once again created a wonderful-looking pair of handsets.

The style is unmistakably Sony, with a few tweaks here and there to distinguish the two phones from their predecessors.

The all-glass rear panel is still a feature, but the sides of the Z3 are smooth, rounded metal rather than the flat, mirrored edges found on the Z2.

The Z3 Compact, meanwhile, features extremely grippy translucent plastic edges. The Z3 feels cooler to the touch, which adds to the overall premium feel of the device, whereas the Z3 Compact feels much more secure in your hand.

Both devices look great, even if Sony’s styling could probably do with a bit of a revamp.

The Z3 Compact deserves particular praise for how great it feels to hold. It’s so rare to have an Android device that both feels expensive, can be comfortably operated single-handedly, and also performs so well. Put simply, it’s the same feeling as the one you get when using an iPhone, and that is a rare achievement indeed.

Both phones are also blessed with twin front-facing speakers.

They may not quite rival the rich, booming sound of those found on the HTC One M8, but it’s still a rather large step up from most other Android handsets – certainly better than anything with a single speaker set into the bottom of the device.

Full article in Mobile News issue 579 (December 15, 2014).

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