Sony Xperia XZ3 review (early verdict): a stunning OLED screen and lithe new design

Can Sony's latest Xperia smartphone return the Japanese maker to the big time?

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Sony Xperia XZ3 key specs

Dimensions: 158 x 73 x 9.9mm

Weight: 193 grams

CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 845

RAM: 4GB

Storage: 64GB

Rear camera: 19MP

Front camera: 13MP

Battery: 3,300 mAh

Here's T3's early verdict Sony Xperia XZ3 review. I've been waiting to see what Sony had up its sleeve for months now, following its release of the Xperia XZ2 and Xperia XZ2 Compact earlier in 2018, so I was interested to see how the Japanese maker was going to build on those great if not excellent devices.

Both the Xperia XZ2 and XZ2 Compact were technical powerhouses, yet fell down slightly in terms of their design, aesthetic and 3D Creator tool, which still needed work doing to them to bring them up to a level where they could compete with the top flagship-level Android devices like the Samsung Galaxy S9.

Foremost among those issues was definitely the XZ2 range's slightly dated aesthetic, with comparatively large top and bottom bezels, as well as slightly chunky profile. If the XZ3 could address this while maintaining its top-rate technical hardware package, then I feel Sony could definitely have taken another step forward to delivering a top-table Android flagship.

Recently I got to briefly go hands-on with the new Sony Xperia XZ3 phone, and what follows is my early verdict impressions of the handset.

Sony Xperia XZ3 review: price, colours, and availability

Sony Xperia XZ3 review

The Sony Xperia XZ3 is available in black, white, silver, red and green colourways.

The XZ3 is available to pre-order from August 31 and will be released on October 5th, 2018.

Pre-order the Sony Xperia XZ3 and you get a free copy of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 and access to the Blackout Private Beta.

The Sony Xperia XZ3 costs £699 SIM-free and will be available from a wide range of operators and retailers at launch.

Sony Xperia XZ3 review: design and build

Sony Xperia XZ3 review

Pleasingly the Sony Xperia XZ3 has had a total redesign, with a tall new 18:9 form factor, Samsung-style curved display, and lush new 3mm aluminium frame. 

This frame is, according to Sony, constructed from the same grade of aluminium that aircraft are built from, and it certainly feels the part in the hand, radiating a coolness and rigid premium that can be lacking from more plastic-heavy phones. According to Sony, the XZ3's aluminium frame is 40 per cent stronger than the XZ2's.

The rear of the phone features a shiny gloss backplate, which is a fingerprint magnet on the darker colourways, while the layout of the phone's rear camera and circular fingerprint reader remain in the same central locations as on the XZ2 range.

Sony Xperia XZ3 review

In terms of buttons and ports, the XZ3 does not feature a 3.5mm headphone jack, but does retain the series' dedicated physical camera button, which is located on the lower right hand side of the phone. Power and volume buttons, as well as a USB Type-C port complete the package.

I would be lying if I didn't say the Sony Xperia XZ3 looks very similar to the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus, but this slightly characterless similar design I feel is still a step forward from the slightly dated, noticeably-an-Xperia one that was evident on the XZ2.

In something that I always like to see, the XZ3 is both IP65 and IP68 rated.

Sony Xperia XZ3 review: screen and hardware

Sony Xperia XZ3 review

What looks like it is going to be a highlight for the XZ3 is its new 6-inch, ,18:9 QHD+ HDR screen. This is a notchless OLED panel and has been designed in conjunction with Sony's Bravia engineering team, the chaps who design the screen tech for the firms TV sets.

From my brief time with the XZ3 I can confirm that this panel is bright and colour rich, easily going toe-to-toe with the premium panel installed on the HTC U12+, and arguably exceeding it in terms of peak vibrancy.

This new OLED screen also features some very advanced tech, too, including X-Reality for Mobile (upscaling tech that can take SDR videos to near QHD HDR), a Dynamic Contrast Enhancer and Triluminos Display for mobile.

Sony Xperia XZ3 review

Obviously, until I can get my hands on the phone for an extended testing session I will withhold judgement, but early signs indicate it is going to be one of the best mobile panels on the market.

The curved, borderless screen is also fitted with 3D Gorilla Glass 5, so that should on paper grant some heavy duty scratch and chip protection.

In terms of internal hardware, the XZ3 is equipped with a similar hardware package to the XZ2. You get a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 CPU, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage space, and a 3,300 mAh battery. This is a flagship-level spec, but it is outgunned by phones like the OnePlus 6 and Samsung Galaxy Note 9.

Again, until I can benchmark the phone I will withhold final judgement, but I am guessing that the phone will return strong numbers.

Sony Xperia XZ3 review: camera, OS, and features

Sony Xperia XZ3 review

One of the big new plays on the Xperia XZ3 is its new Side Sense functionality, which allows you to undertake a series of tapping and swiping gestures on either side of the phone's frame to actuate certain things, in a similar manner to HTC's Edge Sense.

For example, while browsing online a slide down the frame on either side let's you go backwards to the last page, while a double tap on either side will launch the Side Sense app interface, which works like an expanded version of Samsung's Edge Screen, allowing you to quickly access your favorite apps.

You can also use Side Sense to open the XZ3's camera application and take pictures.

During my hands-on time with the phone I can confirm that Edge Sense does indeed work, however until I can test its full range of actions and its reliability, I won't pass judgement on its effectiveness. It does, at least right now, look like another string in the new Xperia's bow though.

Sony Xperia XZ3 review

In terms of cameras, you get the same 19MP rear camera on the XZ3 that was installed in the XZ2, which is good and delivers detailed shots, however I was slightly disappointed that you don't get the super sweet dual camera system as installed on the Xperia XZ2 Premium.

Regardless, this camera is capable of 4K, HDR video recording, and can capture super slow-motion footage (960fps) at 1080p, which remains a best in the world feature.

Round the front, though, things are different from the last range, as the XZ3 comes packaging an upgraded 13MP f/1.9 selfie camera.

Unfortunately, I can confirm that the XZ3's camera system does not support biometric face unlocking.

Sony Xperia XZ3 review

Lastly, the Sony Xperia XZ3 comes running Android 9.0 Pie out of the box, which I feel is a major plus point for the phone. It will be one of the very first phones to benefit from the new, improved version of Android, and should help it deliver a rapid and intuitive user experience in terms of day-to-day navigation and usage.

Sony Xperia XZ3 review: early verdict

Sony Xperia XZ3 review

Overall, then, I feel the Sony Xperia XZ3 looks like a quality new flagship phone for Sony that dramatically fixes one of the biggest issues that has held back the Xperia range for years, delivering a lithe, Samsung-style aesthetic and build that well and truly banishes the bezels and chunk of the past.

It also delivers Android 9.0 Pie as its OS out of the box, too, which adds a level of cutting edge to the package not found elsewhere, and its new OLED Bravia-engineered screen looks like one of the best and most vibrant on the market.

Sony Xperia XZ3 review

The base hardware package is lower-end flagship, though, being comfortably beaten in core areas like RAM and storage space by other handsets, and I do have a few reservations about its camera system, which doesn't deliver biometric functions and doesn't deliver the XZ2 Premium's dual camera setup, either.

Other new additions, like Side Sense, also remain a largely untested question mark, despite looking promising.

I will therefore look forward to getting my hands on the Sony Xperia XZ3 soon for a complete test, so be sure to check back in to T3.com soon for my full review.