Sony Xperia Z3+ review: Sony phones in another incremental upgrade to its flagship line

More of the same from Sony – but is that a bad thing?

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For

  • Slimmer build
  • Great media options
  • More power

Against

  • Only incremental upgrades
  • Loads of pre-installs
  • Disappointing battery

When is an Xperia Z4 not an Xperia Z4? When it's an Xperia Z3+. OK, it's not the most entertaining of puzzles, but it's a pretty accurate description of the state of the Sony Xperia Z3+.

Although the Xperia Z4 made an appearance in Japan, the rest of the world got the Xperia Z3+. The less exciting name was arguably a more honest one, as the incremental updates and tweaks found here don't really constitute a brand new flagship smartphone.

Instead the Xperia Z3+ is a slight upgrade of the older Xperia Z3. If you're looking for a larger leap – both in terms of specs and price – then the newly launched Xperia Z5 will probably be more to your taste.

But does that mean the Xperia Z3+ should be overlooked? Although it has been superseded by the Xperia Z5 so soon after its own launch, the newer hardware of the Z3+ at least makes it competitive with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S6, HTC One M9 and LG G4.

If you can't quite bring yourself to splash out £449.99 for Xperia Z5, then the £415 price tag of the Z3+ could also seem more appealing.

Although the gap in price doesn't seem too large here, with the Z5 hitting the scene, we'd expect the price of the Z3+ to drop, which could make it an easier decision if you're keen on Sony's flagships but you're on a budget.

Omnibalancing act

Sony's Omnibalance design, which has cropped up in previous versions of Xperia handsets, once again makes an appearance with the Xperia Z3+, providing a gorgeous look that also feels comfortable no matter how you hold the device.

At first glance you'd be forgiven for thinking the Z3+ looks exactly the same as the Xperia Z3, but while it's the same height and width as its predecessor, it's had a few nips and tucks as well, with a depth of just 6.9mm and weight of 144g.

That means is can slip into the skinniest of jean pockets, as well as being comfortable to hold and carry around. This refinement has come with some compromises, however, requiring a smaller battery to fit the slimmer frame (2900mAh down from the Z3's 3100mAh).

If you're the sort who likes to read (and then drop) your smartphone in the bath, or you have a habit of jumping fully clothed into swimming pools, then you'll be pleased to know that Sony has also retained the dust and waterproof IP65/68 ratings – and even better, it has now made the charging port completely waterproof – which means it doesn't need an annoying flap to cover it, like the Z3 did.

The port has also been moved from the side down to the more conventional bottom of the handset. These two changes combined make it much easier fit the cable when you need to top up the battery.

Snap happy

The Sony Xperia Z3+ also comes with a megapixel-stuffed camera that's sure to make smartphone photographers sit up and pay attention. At 20.7 megapixels, the snapper on the Z3+ blows the competition out of the water – on paper at least.

It's a heck of a lot more megapixels than the new and improved sensor on the iPhone 6S (which has been boosted to 12MP) and the Samsung Galaxy S6 (16MP). But of course, megapixels alone doesn't mean the camera will be any good.

For example the iPhone 6S not only comes with a boosted megapixel count, but it also an improved sensor that makes autofocus even faster and more accurate.

We were pretty disappointed to see Sony keeping the same camera tech as the Xperia Z3. Meanwhile the Xperia Z5 has rocked up with the improved camera components we've been waiting for – with a 23MP sensor and an incredibly speedy 0.03 second auto focus.

So how does the Xperia Z3+ and its 20.7 megapixel camera with Exmor RS sensor and ISO rating of 12,800 fare? It's not bad for taking snaps, but it's not quite as impressive as it should be.

For the best quality snaps you're going to need to dive in and play around with the (admittedly impressive) options, carefully tweaking the Xperia Z3+ to get the shots you desire. This won't be a problem if you like that kind of stuff and don't mind playing around, but if you're more of a point-andshoot photographer, you're going to be disappointed with the images you take.

They're not bad per se, but considering the technology behind the camera, the images it took didn't blow us away. While details in some areas is decent, in other areas it isn't great, especially if you zoom in on the snaps.

The Z3+ also shoots video – the 1080p footage I took was smooth and clear. And like the Z3, the Z3+ can shoot 4K footage. With Apple shouting from the rooftops that its iPhone 6S can now shoot in 4K, the Z3+ is a much cheaper option if you want to make some ultra HD videos.

While the rear camera has remained the same as the one in the Xperia Z3, the front-facing snapper has been upgraded from 2.2MP to 5.1MP – so if you love your selfies, the Z3+ is a compelling option to attach to the end of a stick and annoy everybody with.

PS4 anywhere

As with previous flagship Xperia handsets, the Xperia Z3+ supports PS4 Remote Play, allowing you to stream games from a PlayStation 4 to the handset.

Although it could be easy to dismiss this feature as a gimmick, if you've got a PlayStation 4 it is actually one of the best reasons for getting an Xperia Z3+. This is because once you've streamed games from your PS4 to the lovely 5.2-inch 1080p screen of the Xperia Z3+ while you're in another part of your house – or even when out and about – you'll be hooked.

Game streaming is smooth and reliable, and also easy to set up once you've downloaded and installed the Remote Play app. You can control games either via onscreen buttons – which isn't that well suited to most games – or by connecting up a DualShock 4 controller to the phone via Bluetooth. That means PS4 owners can turn the Xperia Z3+ into one of the best handheld gaming systems about.

What about the essentials?

Waterproof bodies and the ability to play PlayStation 4 games remotely is all well and good, but how does the Xperia Z3+ handle being an actual phone?

The good news is that the Xperia Z3+ handles the classic features of a phone well. Call quality is excellent, and it manages to find a signal even in notoriously difficult spots. Sony has tweaked the app you use to make phone calls, so it is a tad different from the standard Android experience. For example your most used numbers are included at the top of the screen, making it quick and easy to dial your friends and family.

The app for text messages has also been tweaked, giving the latest messages a background picture of the contact who sent you the message and it looks great.

Typing out text messages is easy and comfortable thanks to the onscreen keyboard, though you might find you hit the full stop instead of space now and again by mistake.

Idly browsing the web is now also considered an essential task for smartphones, and as the Sony Xperia Z3+ uses Google's Chrome browser as its default app, the experience is very good. Websites look great on the 5.2-inch screen, with the larger size of the display making it comfortable to read text-heavy websites.

Thanks to its 4G and Wi-Fi connections, browsing websites is also quick and smooth regardless of where you are. There is one fly in this digital ointment, however, as the body of the Xperia Z3+ gets quite hot when browsing in long sessions, and the battery drains pretty quickly as well.

Battery strife

Speaking of the battery, it appears Sony has sacrificed the size of the power pack to appease the gods of slim line design. So while we get a slimmer and lighter handset with the Xperia Z3+, its battery capacity has been cut from the 3,100mAh of the Z3 to 2,930mAh.

On paper at least this does point at a shorter battery life between charges, but all is not lost, as some of the newer hardware packed into the Xperia Z3+ is more power efficient – so along with any software tweaks it could mean the Z3+ is able to match the battery life of its predecessor.

In practise the Xperia Z3+ did pretty well on an average day, which involved the odd browse of a web page, streaming a few songs in Spotify and making some short phone calls. This usage left the Z3+ with a respectable 50% of its battery by 10PM.

Sony's claim that you'll get two days of power seems to be pretty on the mark then. However, by punishing the battery with a more hardcore workout, which involved a lot more internet browsing, watching high definition movies and playing games – nothing too out of the ordinary for some people – the battery dived to 14% by 6:30PM.

Web browsing was the biggest culprit when it came to guzzling up battery life, with the battery dropping almost 1% each minute of browsing. Watching high definition video is another battery-hungry pastime, with the battery losing 38% of its battery after a 90 minute HD movie.

So the battery performance of the Z3+ is a mixed bag. If you're only whipping the phone out of your pocket occasionally to fire off a few texts or ring someone, then you'll be perfectly happy with the almost two-day lifespan. However, if you want to use the Z3+ for gaming, media consumption and web browsing – something the handset otherwise excels at – then you might begin to look at that slim body and question if it was really worth the trade-off of having a smaller battery.

Media machine

With Sony's illustrious reputation in all forms of media, it's little surprise that the Xperia Z3+ is excellent at entertainment. The full HD display is bright and vibrant, making any videos you watch on the Z3+ look fantastic, and Sony's own app for video playback is a joy to use.

Music is also handled brilliantly on the Z3+, with support for Hi-Res audio as well as LDAC, which is an improved wireless streaming standard that makes listening to tunes with Bluetooth headphones or speakers much more impressive. It's here that the Z3+ really stands out from the competition, and if your smartphone is your primary method of listening to music, then there is a lot to like.

The Z3+ can also tell when you've plugged in a pair of headphones and will recommend settings to help you get the best possible audio quality from your cans. If you want to share your music with friends (or annoy fellow passengers on a bus or train), then the built-in speakers also do a good job of bringing the tunes, though they're not quite as impressive as the BoomSound speakers found on the HTC One M9.

As you'd expect streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify are supported – the latter is also nicely integrated into Sony's own Music app for the Z3+ - but if you want to keep your media local you'll find plenty of space thanks to the generous 32GB internal storage and support for microSD cards up to 128GB in size.

Overall if you're looking for a smartphone that will double up as a media player, the Xperia Z3+ is an excellent choice.

Verdict

So where does this leave the Sony Xperia Z3+? In many ways it's a great handset, with a lovely design and some nice extras that you won't find on its competitors. Its media playing capabilities are a particular highlight, and if you're happy to go without the very latest technology, then the Z3+ isn't a bad purchase.

However, it is also a rather unsatisfying release from Sony, as it's not the giant leap from the Xperia Z3 that many of us were hoping. For that, you're better off going with the slightly newer Sony Xperia Z5, which does a far better job of improving on almost all of the aspects of the Xperia Z range while justifying its flagship price.

In the end being upstaged by its successor so soon after its own launch proves that once again Sony's Mobile division can be its own worst enemy at times.

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