Sony Xperia Z3 Review
“Sony colors” no more, as the camera takes very natural-looking photos, while the software video stabilization rivals that of some OIS systems.
At first brush, Sony's newest flagship sports the same 20.7 MP 1/2.3” Exmor RS sensor with 1.12 micron pixels as its predecessor, the Z2, but Sony touts that the kit now has a new 25mm G Lens optics (f2.0), and other improvements under the hood, such as boasting up to 12800 ISO sensitivity. The most intriguing aspect of this camera package remains the large 1/2.3” sensor though . It is considerably bigger than the sensors found in most flagship smartphones out there. For example, the iPhone 5s and One (M8) have sensors of 1/3”, while the Galaxy S5's one is 1/2.6”. The massive Lumia 1020 has a larger 1/1.5” sensor, but it's way thicker and bulkier than the rest of the high-end crop. The Xperia Z3 camera records a shot, and is ready for another one almost instantaneously, for a fraction of a second. Since there is a two-stage shutter key on the right, you can also set it to fire up the camera app and take a picture from a locked screen, which takes just about a second or two.
The Sony Xperia Z3's camera user interface is mostly easy to use, especially when you're sticking with Sony's Superior Auto mode, which attempts to automatically pick the best settings for you, depending on the scene you're trying to photograph, and tends to be pretty accurate most of the time. By default, the Sony Xperia Z3's Superior Auto mode shoots at 8 MP. It does use the full resolution of the 20 MP sensor, but scales the pictures down - this way, the user ends up with high-quality 8 MP photos of 'easy-to-share' size that don't exhibit less visible artifacts when viewed in actual size. Furthermore, the Superior Auto mode enables you to use the camera's Clear Zoom feature, which produces good-looking, lossless-like digital zoom. Having in mind that one rarely needs a gigantic, 20 MP shot, we believe the Superior Auto mode is the more appropriate shooting mode for most consumers, due to its more easily manageable photos and the lossless zoom capability. Sony has also included a Manual mode, which allows you to shoot HDR photos, and tweak a variety of different settings on your own, and also lets you take 20 MP photos, if you happen to need this. We've used the Superior Auto mode to capture most of the sample images that can be seen in the gallery below, though at full resolution.
There are also some other interesting camera modes in the Z3. For example, there's Info Shot, which will attempt to give you useful information about the object that you're photographing. Or, there's also Social Live (powered by Bambuser), which lets you livestream up to 10 minutes of video directly to your Facebook feed. There is, of course, a number of picture effects, as well as the gimmicky AR (augmented reality) effects, which attempt to blend the real scene in front of you with a 3D scene of your choice. Some other cool shooting modes include Background Defocus, which aims to achieve the trendy shallow depth of field effect that's also possible with the HTC One (M8)'s Duo camera, or the Galaxy S5's Selective focus. Another nice feature is the Timeshift video mode, which lets you create slow-mo video. Sony's implementation of this mode is mighty fine, as it allows you to create 720p video with only certain moments of your choosing being rendered in slow motion. A couple of new regimes wiggle their way into the Z3 as well. Live on YouTube does exactly what it says, streaming up to 10 minutes of video directly to a YouTube channel in real time. The Multi Camera option allows you to record with another Xperia, or an NFC-equipped Sony camera, and see the scene from different angles simultaneously. Face in is another mode, resembling Samsung's Dual Camera, as it can record your face with the front camera, while commenting on something you shoot with the rear one, picture-in-picture style.
We were, frankly, surprised to see how natural the color representation of images taken with the Sony Xperia Z3 is. Sony usually boosts the color saturation and contrast a bit (or a lot), resulting in flashy hues, which are not representing the scene in front of the lens in a completely credible manner. With the Z3, however, Sony tweaked takes a what-you-see-is-what-you-get approach, producing natural colors. The automatic white balance measurements are valid with most every shot, leaving no weird overcasts in the scene. Last, but not least, the phone is able to grab a fine amount of detail..
Indoors, color presentation stays mostly natural. The images become a tad softer than they should be, and noise rears its ugly head, though not to a glaringly visible level. The LED flash does a decent job at illuminating a small scene in a fairly even manner, without casting weird shadows or changing the colors significantly.
The 2.2-megapixel front-facing shooter does a pretty good job when taking selfies, with natural colors, enough detail, and correct exposure most of the time outdoors. Indoors selfies become slightly softer and noisier, but are perfectly usable. We only wish that Sony had put a wide-angle front camera, as now it's only you and half of another friend's face that can fit in the frame comfortably, so it's hard to take the trendy “usie” group selfie with two or more people.
The 1080p video recording with the Xperia Z3 can be done with either 30fps, or smoother 60fps count. It is pretty good, too, with very natiral color presentation, right amount of detail, and quick exposure adjustments while panning around. Here we have to say some nice words for the software image stabilization tech of Sony, called Steady Shot, which is on by default while shooting 1080p footage at 30fps, and is so good, it can trick you that the phone has an optically-stabilized camera. The sound captured by the handset's microphone sounds lively, and isn't devoid of low frequencies. There's also 4K video recording on board, which looks great with the many details it captures, but will heat up the phone, and eat up your storage pretty fast. A heating warning appears when you fire up the 4K mode for the first time, and the thin phone indeed started warming up for the 30 seconds or so that we were filming. Moreover, those 30 second of 4K footage occupied the whopping 200 MB of storage at the end.
Sony separates itself in the audio department with Hi-Res quality upscaling, and active noise-canceling headphones support.
With the large, 5.2” IPS display, images, video and games really look gorgeous. The video player supports all the popular formats, and even if you manage to find a video that is not playable with the stock player, you should be able to fix this by downloading a capable third-party player from the Play Store.
The Walkman music player is quite cool and full with eye-candy. It sports some interesting features like ClearAudio+, which aims to give some more clarity to the sound, though it's basically a specific EQ preset. There are also some other sound enhancing tools like xLOUD, as well as a regular equalizer with many presents, including a custom option, allowing you to set your own equalizer, if you're feeling adventurous.
The Z3 includes Sony's DSEE HX (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) technology for the first time, which allows it to upscale tracks (MP3, AAC) that aren't in Hi-Res quality. It's like analyzing and enhancing the files' frequency range, reducing noise and distortion. Of course, the results aren't as if the file wasn't heavily compressed at all, but there is an audible difference with low-quality tracks.
The picture and video galleries present the user with a pleasant experience. The apps have a fresh and consumer-centric design – typical Sony – though they don't skip on the editing options, which are built right into the gallery interface.
The Sony Xperia Z3 comes with front-facing stereo speakers, but don't hold your breath for HTC BoomSound-like volume and quality. Indeed, the tones coming out of the speakers are pretty decent and having some nice depth to them, but they aren't very powerful at all. It's always cool having a duo of front-facing speakers, but in this case, Sony should have worked a bit more on squeezing some loudness out of it, if it's at all possible with such thin waterproof speakers
In some regions, the Xperia Z3 ships with no earphones in the box, in others it could come with the MH-410c model, which is capable of reproducing fine sound. They also have a convenient form-factor that makes them usable even for longer periods of time. Also, the Xperia Z3 can take advantage of the more premium, MDR-NC31E noise-cancellation in-ear headphones, which sound very nice and bassy. And, of course, they'll use the smartphone's processing power to negate ambient noise.
In addition, you can use the phone as a remote screen to connect to and control your games on PS4 with the so-called PS4 Remote Play for the Xperia Z3 series. Thus, when the TV is occupied, you can hook up the handset to the PS4 via Wi-Fi, and game with the DUALSHOCK4 controller, while the Z3 is resting in front of you on the separate Game Control Mount accessory.