When the Xperia Z4 was presented in Japan earlier this year, it didn't seem like much of an improvement over the previous Xperia. This is partly because Sony's flagships come every six months rather than yearly like most other companies'. But no matter the reason, the marketing team clearly found it necessary to re-brand the Z4 as the Z3+ in Europe (although it's still the Z4 in the US and Japan). On that note, we present our Sony Xperia Z3+ review. (Head to the performance section for our new DIY overheating fix.)
- Design and build quality
- IP65 and IP68 certified
- General performance
- Heat problem in conjunction with the camera
- Slightly pale display
Sony Xperia Z3+ release date and price
The Sony Xperia Z3+ release date was June 11 in Japan (where it is known as the Xperia Z4) and June 26 in other parts of the world. The Xperia Z4v will be available on the Verizon network "later this summer". Black and white will be the initial color offerings (in the US), with Copper and Aqua Green options available later this year.
The Xperia Z3+ price is sitting between £474 and £549 GBP in the UK (unlocked), but there's no official US price as yet. We'll update this article as US pricing become available, but you can pre-register on Verizon's website for more information.
Sony Xperia Z3+ design and build quality
I've always liked Sony's OmniBalance design philosophy: the angular design in combination with a thin and delicate overall picture makes for a distinctive look.
This philosophy continues with the Sony Xperia Z3+, which, to all intents and purposes, looks nearly identical to the Xperia Z3. This can perhaps be expected with a device whose name suggests only a minor upgrade. As with the Z3, the sides are made entirely of matte aluminum with four so-called rubber bumpers on the corners, which act as shock absorbers.
The glass back on our Xperia Z3+ is an Aqua Green color. It looks fresh and futuristic, and is highly reflective; while not everyone wants a mirror-like phone rear, it's a boon if you're the kind of person who checks themselves out in the windows of parked cars.
The drawback of a reflective glass back is that it attracts fingerprints like nobody's business. As with certain variants of the Galaxy S6, the entire back of the Z3+ gets covered with greasy fingerprints after just a few minutes. Unless you're into the grubby look, you may well find yourself compulsively cleaning the front and back of the phone at every available opportunity.
The front of the Xperia Z3+ is as simple as ever and hardly differs from the front of its predecessors. The Xperia Z3+ features dual front-facing stereo speakers that are very discreetly integrated at the very top and bottom edges of the display glass, only noticeable when you look closely.
The infamous waterproof flaps that covered the microSD, SIM and USB ports on the Xperia Z3 have been deposed of. Fidgety and clumsy, they seemed a necessary evil last year, required to protect the phone against water and dust to IP65 and IP68 rating.
Sony has significantly reduced the number of flaps on the Z3+. The USB port on the Xperia Z3+ is now open with no cap, but retains the Sony Xperia Z3+'s water-resistance rating. The only remaining flap serves to protect the slots for microSD/micro-SIM and is, when compared to the Xperia Z3, much more elegant and inconspicuous.
It is also worth mentioning that the Sony Xperia Z3+ is 0.4 mm thinner than the Z3, with a total thickness of just 6.9 mm. The design changes are small but just right and ensure that Sony's OmniBalance design is further refined, without differing too greatly from its predecessors.
Sony Xperia Z3+ display
The Sony Xperia Z3+ display comes in at 5.2 inches with a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels (Full HD). It has the usual Sony features, including Triluminos, X-Reality and Live Color LED. This may all sound very exciting, but in truth it has the same screen as its predecessor, and so the Xperia Z3+ doesn't really score any bonus points in this section of the review.
I'd call the Xperia Z3+ an OK display, in much the same way as I'd politely call someone a 'nice' person when they've failed to make much of an impression on me. During my time with the Xperia Z3+ the display looked paler to me than the screens on the Galaxy S6 and LG G4. This is not just because Z3+ display is a lower resolution than those on Samsung and LG's flagships, but more due to the general color reproduction and brightness of the Z3+.
The viewing angles are spot on but even the preloaded demo photos didn't blow me away with their vibrance, color or saturation. The bottom line is that the display of the Xperia Z3+ is good, but doesn't compete with its rivals. The competition on this front from Samsung and LG simply offer a lot more for your money in terms of display quality and definition.
Sony's lack of innovation with the Z3+ display is a great pity. QHD is by no means a necessity, but I would have at least expected Sony to make some improvements in terms of color reproduction and brilliance.
Sony Xperia Z3+ special features
One of the stand-out features of the current Xperia smartphones is PS4 Remote Play, which allows you to stream games from your PlayStation 4 to your Xperia Z3+ over a Wi-Fi connection. It's pretty serious game-nerd stuff and we love it.
As mentioned above, the Sony Xperia Z3+ is also IP65 and IP68-certified. This means that it is fully protected from dust and can withstand being submerged in water up to a 1.5 m for half an hour. However, Sony's product page specifically notes that the Z3+ has an exposed USB port and that "you should not put the device completely underwater"; not what you want to hear about a phone that markets itself as water- and dust-proof.
Sony Xperia Z3+ software
Sony has incorporated the already-familiar Xperia UI in the Z3+, which hardly changes from its predecessor. The only remarkable difference is that it is now built on top of Android 5.0.2 Lollipop. The Xperia UI is still a stylish combination of stock Android UI elements with Sony's own design language, which is minimal and stark.
The Z3+ UI makes use of many standard elements of Lollipop, such as the lock screen, the Quick Settings menu and the card view of recently opened apps. It's one of the better integrations of Lollipop's Material Design aesthetic with an existing manufacturer skin.
The Sony Xperia Z3+ comes with a set of pre-installed apps (let's call them what they are: bloatware), which are only likely to be used by a small number of people. These include PSN (PlayStation Network), Xperia Lounge and What's New.
Sony Xperia Z3+ performance
Sony has utilized the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 octa-core processor as its chipset of choice in the Xperia Z3+. This is the CPU at the center of every overheating and thermal throttling scandal this year.
Having said that, the 810 does produce decent performance on the Xperia Z3+. Compared to the HTC One M9 and the LG G Flex 2, the Snapdragon processor in the Xperia Z3+ produces higher benchmark scores. The problem is that this performance is short-lived because the CPU gets warm very quickly and is then throttled back to limit overheating.
Combined with 3 GB RAM and an Adreno 430 graphics processor, the Sony Xperia Z3+ averages around 52,000 points in the AnTuTu benchmark. This is not as much as the octa-core Samsung Exynos 7420 processor found in the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, but is still significantly more than the Snapdragon 801 of the Sony Xperia Z3.
The Sony Xperia Z3+ heats up very quickly under stress. Ground zero for the heat build up is right where the NFC logo appears on the back near the camera lens. While it is not unpleasantly hot to hold, it is quite noticeable and the heat build-up requires the CPU to be throttled back.
The throttling occurs during high-intensity tasks, like benchmarking, hi-res gaming or using certain camera functions. However, due to the proximity of the heat build-up to the camera, the camera app frequently closes. The amount of heat produced during normal texting or emailing did not seem out of the ordinary, and it didn't affect the speed of the device in everyday use.
Sony released a firmware in response to the issue, but we've tested the Xperia Z3+ since then and have found that the camera app continues to crash as a result of overheating. This is a serious problem that Sony really should have resolved by now.
Sony Xperia Z3+ overheating fix
We came across this little gem of do-it-yourself Android ingenuity in the XDA Developers forum. A user there by the name of schecter7 came up with a very quick and simple solution to the Xperia Z3+ overheating problem. All you need is a case for your Z3+ and some aluminum or copper foil.
Simply layer a few sheets of foil in the case and then insert your Z3+ on top. This fix only drops the heat by a little bit, but it does increase performance considerably, as you can see in the consecutive AnTuTu benchmarks below. The first graph is just the phone, the second is phone plus case and the third is phone plus case with foil.
While the heat only drops by about a degree (the red line) you can see processor performance (the blue line) goes from just over 73 percent in the first run without foil to 80 percent in the last with foil. Not bad for a minute of your time and about a penny's worth of aluminum foil.
Just to be clear, the internal temperature is what you see plotted in the graph above. The cooling process is assisted by the addition of the foil and that additional heat dispersal means the CPU isn't throttled as quickly as it otherwise would be. You'll lose NFC and might have some antenna interference, but a faster phone might just be worth it.
Sony Xperia Z3+ audio
In terms of voice quality, the Sony Xperia Z3+ is beyond all reproach. The call volume and clarity on both ends is great and there was no crackling or other disturbances during calls.
The Sony Xperia Z3+ has also proved to be a bit of an entertainer, because the stereo front-facing speakers are quite good for a smartphone and can happily produce good sound for a small group of people. Of course, the Xperia Z3+ is no replacement for 'real' speakers, as the phone simply does not have rich enough bass or volume.
Sony Xperia Z3+ camera
The camera itself is really good on the Sony Xperia Z3+. The massive 20.7 MP resolution is great for those who want to shoot large, detailed images on their smartphones. But the camera has, in conjunction with the Snapdragon 810 processor, a serious thermal problem.
As mentioned above, when recording videos in 4K for a prolonged period, or using the augmented reality mode in the camera app (whereby you can place funny effects or animal faces on a moving subject in the viewfinder), the Z3+ heats up very quickly. The camera app then displays an overheating warning, and force-closes soon after that.
The front-facing 5 MP camera deserves a special mention here. Selfie fans will appreciate the jump from 2 MP to 5 MP. In terms of image quality of the front camera, the Sony Xperia Z3+ no longer lags behind other flagships from the likes of Samsung, LG and co.
Sony Xperia Z3+ battery
Xperia has the same peculiar backwards step with the Z3+ battery as the Samsung did with the Galaxy S6, shrinking it rather than increasing it. The Xperia Z3+ battery comes in at 2,900 mAh, compared to the Z3's, which had a capacity of 3,100 mAh.
But where the Galaxy S6 battery performs worse than the Galaxy S5's, the Xperia Z3+ battery seems up to the task. The smaller battery is optimized enough to get you through an entire working day of perusing emails and WhatsApp messages, occasional internet browsing and a quick gaming session or two.
But as with most flagships currently, the run time simply is not up to the title of 'full day'. Sony does an acceptable job with the Z3+ but that extra capacity would have been nice.
Individual results will vary based on usage habits, but you're more than likely going to be looking for a top-up at least once a day. Fortunately, the Xperia Z3+ supports Quick Charge 2.0, so the battery can be almost fully charged in as little as 45 minutes.
Sony Xperia Z3+ technical specifications
The Sony Xperia Z3+ is, as its moniker implies, an attempt at a careful update of select parts of the Xperia Z3 and not a true successor. There are subtle improvements in the design, such as the open USB port and the almost-invisible speaker placement. The biggest change is beneath the hood, in the form of a new Qualcomm chipset. While it should be good to see a high-performance processor in the latest Xperia, this particular one comes at the price of unreliable performance.
The camera issue related to heat is also of real concern, and the fact that Sony's attempted — and failed — to fix it is a major concern. The Xperia Z3+ is not a huge improvement over its predecessor but it is a nice one with some potential. We'd advise against rushing out to buy it just yet, on account of its ongoing overheating issues.
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