Sony Xperia XZ3 review: Sony’s first OLED smartphone

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Smartphone innovation is a mixed bag. On one hand, we’re treated to fancy all-display beauties and triple camera arrangements, but on the other end of the spectrum… well, you’ll find silly side-squeezing features and naff 3D facial-scanning technology.

Many phone manufacturers squeeze in a gimmick or two to help grab the attention of the pundits. Sony, however, has something rather special under its sleeves this year, and this lavish addition might be enough to divert your gaze from the usual smartphone big hitters. My goodness, Sony might just pull this off.

Sony Xperia XZ3 review: What you need to know

The Xperia XZ3 represents the next era of Sony flagship smartphones. Featuring a swish new design in a range of new colours, its camera capabilities are much improved and, perhaps best of all, this is Sony’s first ever smartphone with an OLED screen.

What does this mean for the average Carphone Warehouse-goer? For once Sony isn’t lagging behind when it comes to screen quality – this particular 6in QHD display features Sony’s own Bravia TV tech – and it’s about time one of Sony’s flagships levels out with the competition.

All is well when it comes to the rest of the phone’s particulars, too. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 chipset powers things, along with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of expandable storage. The XZ3 also benefits from the latest version of Google’s mobile operating system – Android 9 Pie – straight out of the box.

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Sony Xperia XZ3 review: Price and competition

So, what can we expect to pay for such a device? Sony’s Xperia XZ3 launches in phone shops up and down the country at a SIM-free price of £699.

At that sort of price you have plenty of alternatives to consider. Samsung’s Galaxy S9 is arguably the most widely-known, which you can currently pick up for around £700. If iOS is more your thing, then Apple’s similarly-priced iPhone XR will be doing the rounds soon, as long as you’re willing to wait a few weeks until release.

If your budget can’t quite stretch that far, then the OnePlus 6 is our current mid-range favourite at £469, while Sony’s previous flagship, the Xperia XZ2, can be scooped up for around £530 on Amazon.

Sony Xperia XZ3 review: Design and features

The screen of the XZ3 has finally caught up with the times. While Sony is still rather fresh-faced when it comes to 18:9 all-display handsets, this latest model has a gorgeous 6in OLED screen on the front. This is framed by minuscule notch-free chin and forehead bezels, above and below the screen. The panel wraps around the sides of the device ever-so-slightly, too, just like the Samsung Galaxy S8.

The Xperia XZ3 actually has another enticing feature akin to Samsung’s outgoing flagship. “Side Sense”, as Sony calls it, allows you to double tap anywhere along the length of either side of the screen, which launches a sub-menu for easy access to your most-used applications. “AI learning” plays a big part here, too, with the phone adjusting the displayed apps depending on the time of day and your location. Essentially, the phone will make sure the apps you want are always at your beck and call.

Likewise, this feature allows you to navigate forwards and backwards within applications by simply swiping your finger across from the edge of the screen. You can also snap a picture by double tapping the side of the display in the camera app. The strength required for your double taps can be adjusted in the settings.

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Elsewhere, the colour and design of the materials are just as luxurious, with four styles available in the UK: Bordeaux Red, Forest Green, Black and White Silver. While the latter pair are rather bog-standard as paint jobs go, the other two are nothing short of beautiful, with an attractive colourful sheen when the phone catches the light.

As for the practicalities, there’s enough here for any aspiring flagship. On the right edge of the phone, you’ll find the volume rocker, power button and dedicated camera shutter button, while the nano-SIM and microSD tray sits on the top. A USB Type-C charging port is on the bottom, and the phone is also IP68 dust- and water-resistant.

On the downside, Sony has again omitted the 3.5mm headphone jack, which is a real shame. I hope you have a nice pair of Sony-branded Bluetooth headphones if you’re set on buying the Xperia XZ3.

Sony Xperia XZ3 review: Display

Rest assured, the Gorilla Glass 3-coated OLED display looks gorgeous on first impressions. The first of its kind for Sony, the HDR Bravia-branded screen measures 6in across the diagonal, with a resolution of 2,960 x 1,440. Watching the trailer for Sony’s upcoming Venom film during my hands-on session, colours looked much more natural when compared with the same footage played on my OnePlus 6, with more realistic flesh tones and deeper blacks.

Now that I’ve had the chance to turn our colour calibrator loose on a review unit, I can confidently say this is one heck of a smartphone screen. Packed with Sony’s fancy Bravia TV tech, the XZ3’s contrast ratios are effectively perfect and the phone is capable of reproducing 99% of the sRGB colour gamut in the phone’s “professional” display setting.

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I do have one rather tiny niggle with the XZ3’s display, however; an issue that’s most noticeable when white text is displayed on a black background. There’s clear evidence of colour fringing here, with hints of purples or blues in the outlines of text. While this issue is common with OLED-fitted smartphones – my OnePlus 6 suffers from it to a lesser degree – it is much more noticeable than with any other phone screen I’ve tested. As I said, it’s a niggle rather than a deal-breaker, but it’s a shame when Sony gets so close to smartphone screen perfection.

Sony Xperia XZ3 review: Performance and battery life

Sony’s latest flagship is powered by Qualcomm’s fastest-ever mobile chipset, the octa-core Snapdragon 845, which is clocked at 2.8GHz and paired with 4GB of RAM. There’s a healthy 64GB of onboard storage too, which can be expanded up to 400GB via microSD. The Xperia XZ3 also manages to one-up the recently-launched Galaxy Note 9 by shipping with Android 9 Pie, the latest version of Google’s mobile operating system, straight out of the box.

Performance, as you might expect, is practically the same as with every other 845-equipped handset to launch in 2018. Running Geekbench 4’s duo of single- and multi-core CPU tests, the XZ3 reached similar performance speeds as its predecessor, the Xperia XZ2, and Samsung’s Galaxy S9. No surprises there, but the iPhone 8 is ever-so-slightly faster than Sony’s equivalent, thanks to the inclusion of Apple’s own A11 Bionic chipset.

Similarly, GPU performance is as good as you might wish for from a £700 flagship phone. GFXBench’s Manhattan test was capable of reaching an average frame rate of 45fps (which is slightly slower than its rivals, thanks to the demanding 4K native resolution display) and PUBG: Mobile ran without any noticeable frame drops, even during high-paced frenetic firefights.

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As for the phone’s battery life, our continuous video playback test recorded a 13-hour lifespan before the phone needed to be recharged. That’s certainly not too bad – the XZ3 lasts longer than both the iPhone 8 and Galaxy S9 – but it isn’t quite up there with the XZ2 and its 20-hour longevity.

Sony Xperia XZ3 review: Camera

Finally, let’s discuss the Xperia XZ3’s rear camera. Specifications might not look particularly intriguing; Sony’s latest flagship is fitted with a 19-megapixel f/2.0 snapper, which benefits from Electronic Image Stabilisation (EIS) for super steady shots. Sony’s effective predictive phase-detect and laser autofocus setup is also included.

In use, though, the camera performs phenomenally. Images taken outdoors in the unusually-bright September weather are packed with detail, with the likes of neighbouring brickwork, chimney stacks and tree foliage being picked up beautifully.

HDR mode also effectively helped subtly boost images by brightening up shadows, without losing intricate details such as wispy cloud layers. Colours looked nice and natural, especially in low-light conditions, and images are packed with contrast. This is a great camera for stills photography.

As for video capabilities, the phone allows you to record footage at 4K resolution with HDR enabled, just like its predecessor, and the XZ3 can capture super-slow motion Full HD video at 960fps. Videos look crisp with loads of detail and, although 4K HDR footage is capped at 30fps, I didn’t notice any framerate juddering issues.

Sony Xperia XZ3 review: Verdict

Sony’s Xperia XZ3 is a welcome return to form. Following an abundance of middling handset launches from the Japanese firm, the XZ3 successfully ticks all the boxes that matter: notably, top-tier performance, screen quality and a swish redesign.

Why, then, am I not recommending Sony’s flagship? Well, £700 is asking a lot for a phone that doesn’t do anything better than its cheaper rivals. The OnePlus 6 is just as good in all departments, if not better in some, and it costs a whopping £230 less. You do the maths – you simply can’t argue with that.

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