Overnight at its keynote presentation at IFA 2014 in Berlin, Sony introduced two world-beating smartphones — the latest iteration of its Xperia Z range. Two different screen sizes, two almost identical specifications sheets, and one beautifully refined design language make the two new phones the big attraction of the show so far.
Campbell Simpson travelled to Berlin and IFA 2014 as a guest of Sony Mobile Australia.
The crucial thing to realise with the Z3 and Z3 Compact is that they're almost the same phone. Apart from different screen sizes and screen resolutions and battery capacities, the hardware is effectively identical and the software is similarly the same. You're not getting a cut-down experience when and if you buy the smaller device.
This means that both phones are rated to the highest IP65 and IP68 levels of dust- and waterproofing, making them more accident-proof than competitors' water resistant handsets. Both phones use a 20.7-megapixel 1/2.3-inch imaging sensor with a new 25mm Sony G lens, with a maximum sensitivity of ISO 12800 for faster capturing in low-light environments. Both phones are Sony's first to support Hi-Res Audio, with onboard amplification and noise cancelling and audio upscaling that required a $300 breakout box on previous models. And, in a master stroke, both phones can play games remotely from your PS4.
Both the Xperia Z3 and Z3 Compact will be coming to Australia "before Christmas" according to Sony, and all the major telcos — Optus, Vodafone, Telstra — are on board for the larger model. The Z3 Compact might get a slightly more limited run, but both Telstra and Optus should be stocking variants. Pricing isn't yet confirmed, but as in previous years we'd expect the phones to be priced competitively with Samsung's, Apple's and LG's top-end models. The previous Z1 Compact, for example, cost $550 outright from Sony while the flagship Z2 was $759, so use these prices as a guide for the upcoming handsets.
Sony Xperia Z3
Sony's just-announced Xperia Z3 is a continuation and refining of the flagship lineup that started with the Xperia Z. Put an Xperia Z2 alongside the new Z3 and you won't see too many physical changes, but stack an original Z against the new superphone and the refinement becomes immediately obvious. It's noticeably slimmer than its ancestors, but that dimensional difference isn't reflected on paper — 7.3mm versus the original Z's 7.9mm. The difference is largely visual due to the Z3's wonderfully smooth curved edges, with a metallic frame coated in a scratch-resistant coating. Four colours — white, black, copper and silver green — will be available.
In terms of crucial specs, the Xperia Z3 trades blows with the Samsung Galaxy S5, HTC One M8 and LG G3 with an up-to-date Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 2.5GHz quad-core processor. It's not using the Snapdragon 805 which is appearing in competitors' superphones, but using a slightly older chipset means it's cheaper and still supports the latest 4G mobile networks (Telstra's new 700MHz band is, of course, included). 3GB of RAM joins the SoC CPU for generally competitive performance, and microSD cards of up to 128GB can boost the phone's 16GB of internal memory.
The Z3's 1080p 5.2-inch LCD screen is a TRILUMINOS one, using a blue LED backlight and larger red and green subpixels to dramatically boost the colour gamut and energy efficiency of the smartphone's display, and X-Reality image processing for edge detection and detail refinement on images and video playback. I've loved Sony's TRILUMINOS tech since it came to the BRAVIA TV line-up, and in the same way as the Z2's screen you can genuinely see an improvement with especially saturated colours. All of that running power comes from a 3000mAh battery, which Sony says is good for a full two days of regular 'active battery' usage (in Sony's internal testing). You can push that even further with improved Stamina Mode power-saving settings that should provide that little bit extra when you need it.
Just as importantly, the phone's software has improved substantially. The big, big, big selling point of the Z3 (and the smaller Z3 Compact) is that it supports PS4 Remote Play, previously restricted to the PS Vita. If you have a PS4 — and plenty of people do — you can use your Xperia Z3 to play PlayStation 4 games via your console via your home Wi-Fi network, using the PS4's DualShock 4 controller (and an optional phone mount for said controller). As long as you have a solid enough Wi-Fi network, you can use the new Z3 series phones as a miniature TV to play PS4, and the PlayStation app also functions as a second screen for watching gameplay, administrating your PSN account or buying and downloading new games.
Being a long-term owner and regular user of the Xperia Z and then Z2, it really is fantastic to see how the Z3 has evolved. It's not a revolution from any feature or design cue of the previous models, but it's a series of subtle and incremental improvements. The hardware, as usual, is top notch, but crucially Sony is using its giant network of interconnected companies — the PlayStation group, display development, and Sony's digital imaging arm — to make further improvements on the software side of things as well. Sony has pushed its Xperia Z line in the past as "the best of Sony in a smartphone", and this time it looks like the Z3 genuinely hits that claim head on.
Sony Xperia Z3 Compact
What is most interesting about the Xperia Z3 Compact is that, like the Z1 Compact before it, it's largely identical and otherwise comparable to the full-fat and full-size Z3. It doesn't make any sacrifices in processing or graphics power, it doesn't use cheaper materials, and while it is smaller it stands alongside the Z3 as a properly high-end smartphone.
Like the Z3, Sony's new Z3 Compact comes in a range of colours, although they're slightly muted compared to the glossy all-out yellow of the Z1 Compact. Where the Z3 uses metallic tones the Z3 Compact is pastel, with orange and aqua green joining the standard black and white. All the colours will be coming to Australia, although some carriers might get exclusives or first dibs on the brighter ones.
With a 4.6-inch display, the Z3 Compact has more screen real estate than the Z1 Compact's 4.3 inches, but it is identically sized in height and width (127mm tall and 64.9mm across), although it's significantly slimmer at 8.6mm versus the Z1C's 9.5mm. That 4.6-inch screen is only a 1280x720 pixel one, but this is a necessary compromise in a smaller display and fewer pixels means better graphics performance and longer battery life. The screen itself is, of course, one of Sony's awesome TRILUMINOS displays, which have a significantly wider colour gamut than competing LCDs.
The Z3 Compact's battery is fractionally smaller than the Z3's at 2600mAh, but the smaller size and less demanding visual hardware does promise a Sony-rated battery life of 1.5 days. Otherwise, there's not too much that is novel about Sony's Xperia Z3 Compact — and that's a very good thing. It shares all its vital statistics with the larger Z3, and that means that it is almost unique in the world of mid-size and small smartphones in that it is perfectly suited to smaller hands, but doesn't sacrifice outright power to get to that point. In a way, the Z3 Compact is even more impressive than its larger sibling.
More Sony News From IFA
• Sony IFA 2014 Live Blog: Follow The News As It Happened • IFA 2014: Hands On With Sony's Xperia Z3 And Z3 Compact • IFA 2014: Sony's New Z3 Tablet Compact, SmartBand Talk And SmartWatch • Sony Xperia Z3 And Z3 Compact: Everything You Need To Know • Sony QX1: A Weird Interchageable-Lens Camera You Strap To Your Phone • Sony SmartBand Is An E-Ink Wristable That Works With A Snap • Sony Action Cam Mini: A Shrunken-Down Shooter For The Adventurous