IFA 2014: Hands On With Sony's Xperia Z3 And Z3 Compact

With the launch of the new top of the line Xperia Z3 and Xperia Z3 Compact, Sony has announced two giant-killer smartphones here in Berlin, and it's genuinely hard to pick which one is the more interesting of the two. Here are our first impressions of what both phones are actually like to use in real life.

Campbell Simpson travelled to Berlin and IFA 2014 as a guest of Sony Mobile Australia.

Sony Xperia Z3

The new 5.2-inch Xperia Z3 feels great when you pick it up and actually use it. Compared to the Z2, it's not massively different, but anyone upgrading from a Z1 or original Z will definitely notice the smoother edges and rounded corners that are much more comfortable even for larger hands. Over the course of a few hours the earlier Xperia Z phones started to dig into your palm and could get quite uncomfortable after a long phone call, but I expect the Z3 will almost entirely eliminate that complaint.

No-one is going to be floored by the Xperia Z3's specifications. The same has been true of every Xperia Z release, which comes a couple of months after competitors release their flagship handsets — in this way you might say the Z3 is playing catch-up, but I'd suggest it means the phone is on a level playing field with the best of the best with the advantage of a slightly lower price for the trade-off of a longer wait until release day. A Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 2.5GHz processor, 3GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, are all equal with top-of-the-line competitors and are all perfectly capable for everyday usage.

Not having a 2560x1440 pixel display like the LG G3 means the 5.2-inch Xperia Z3's display is, on paper, similarly outdated (if you were the kind of person that wanted the best of the best of the best at every moment in their life). It's important to remember that it's not all about resolution, though — contrast ratio, colour accuracy and vibrancy and the incremental level of brightness adjustment are objectively more important the number of pixels you're pushing. And, of course, fewer pixels means significantly better battery life — all points in the Z3's favour.

Sony has never been one to layer Android with too many fripperies and unnecessary visual accoutrements — it's far more like Motorola than Samsung in that regard. I tried a Z3 with pre-release firmware and even that experience was generally smooth and free of any noticeable lag or jerkiness, which is a point in the favour of the handset's basic and simple software suite. Of course, that software suite can't be talked about without mentioning the Z3 (and Z3C)'s PS4 Remote Play, which works identically to the way in which you'd use a PS Vita — as long as you're on the same Wi-Fi network, and no-one else is already using it, you can use the Z3 as a small-screen TV and play you PS4 games with the DualShock 4 controller.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact

Almost more exciting, in a way, is the Z3 Compact, which has all the power of the Xperia Z3 in a smaller and slightly more compact design. It's the more pocket-friendly of the two, as well, and the fact that it has all the same software features — including the brilliant PS4 Remote Play — makes it a genuinely compelling device. I really liked the Z1 Compact when I reviewed it in May, with all its inherent compromises, and the Z3 Compact further smooths out almost all of the complaints I had.

The new colours are great, although I'd imagine most will opt for either the classic black or the standout orange — in the same way that my non-Aussie-stock yellow Z1C got a lot of attention. The Z3 Compact differentiates itself from the Z3 in that its colours are glossier and more vibrant where the Z3's are metallic and slightly more professional, catering to somewhat different markets and potential buyers. Like the iPhone, it's a good size in the hand and is much easier to use one-handed than any 5-inch-plus flagship device.

You might discount the Z3 Compact straight away due to its lower-resolution 720p display, but at 4.6-inches it still has a perfectly respectable 320ppi and you can't see an immediate difference in the quality of text or images between the two phones. For my money, it's almost the better of the two phones — it's not as outright stunning as the monolithic Z3, but that smaller chassis hides just as much power and just as many fancy software features. It's a slightly more secret-agent experience than the 5.2-inch Z3.

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.

We'll have a full review of both handsets, as well as Sony's other announcement from IFA 2014, as soon as we can.


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