Monday, 13 June 2016

Sony Xperia Z3+ Review by mark2410

Sony Xperia Z3+ Review by mark2410

Thanks to Vodafone UK for the loaner.

First Impressions:  Being a loaner unit and not exactly a brand new device the box has seen a bit of wear on it.  The box is a box, nothing very fancy but I do note that there is a micro USB cable and charger plug.  The charger plug has Sonyericsson written on the side so I’m guessing it’s not the one that’s supposed to be paired with it.  Does that matter?  No, that’s the point of USB charging, a socket is a socket.  The phone, well it looks like a phone.  A flat, black rectangle.  Picking it up though, ooooh it feels nice.  The LG G5 didn’t feel so nice on first touch.   Hitting the power button and it powers up, the boot animation looks good too, really polished, again I’m noting that the G5 didn’t give me this good a first impression and that the Z3+ isn’t even Sonys current flagship phone.  Damn they know how to make a nice object in your hands.

What exactly is the screen on this thing ooooh it’s so pretty.  Oh my, it’s so nice, blacks look so black for an LCD, Triluminos apparently is the term they give for whatever magic they have cast upon it.  What exactly that means I don’t know, a marketing term rather than meaning anything technical I suspect.  Either way, damn it’s a nice looking screen, really bloody nice and I can’t help thinking the G5’s screen wasn’t this nice.  Mind you Sony have been making the best TV’s since before I was born so they should have some people working for them that know a thing or two about configuring a good display.  Is first impressions go, that screen makes a seriously bloody good one.

What is less great is that flappy door on the side, where the sim and micro SD cards go.  I didn’t need to add any as Voda have provided me a sim card to abuse, err I mean use.  Once it’s closed you don’t really notice it but the rest of the phone feels so awesome and that little door feels so meh.  Also its located where I expect the volume controls to be and what are they doing away down the bottom of the phone?  It’s not “bad” a place to have them just unusual.  Mind you that it has a real camera button, woo hoo!  No having to touch the stupid screen while trying to hold the damn thing.  All phones should have a dedicated camera button. 

Hardware:  The Z3+ on paper is pretty top spec’ed, not quite the very top any more as its aging a touch but still it up there fairly high.  1080 screen, snapdragon 810 CPU, 3GB of RAM etc etc.  While it isn’t quite flagship spec anymore, nevertheless it’s still good.  Though one thing that is a little maybe bit questionable is that CPU.  At the time there were stories of it eating power and getting super-hot, the back of the Z3+ would seem to indicate that that chip can get bloody hot, bloody fast too.  Right where the NFC icon is on the back the phone would get extremely hot if you do anything with it.  It does make me wonder why Sony opted to put on a glass back when if they had gone with metal they could have made use of the entire back as one great big heat sink surely? 

The rest of the spec of the Z3+ are all fine, last year flagship grade and it’s still more than sufficient for use and is better than typical mid-range devices from this year though potentially for similar money.  I really don’t care actually, what I do care about is that the phone feels strangely snappy. It’s really, really snappy and responsive, Sony must have tweaked something in the software but what I don’t know.  Its instantaneous in operation, making it exceedingly pleasing to use a device.

Where the hardware really shines though is in how it feels in your hand.  The glass on the back may be impractical and demand if I owned it that it live in a case, still feels great.  The phone feels so solidly constructed. The “Omni balance” where they phone is evenly weighted, it just feels great to hold in your hand.  If only it had a soft touch, and therefore grippy plastic on the back this could be one of the best phones just to have sit in your hand.  It feels so nice, so well made, as if it’s had so much attention to detail, it’s all so exactly what you would want a phone to be.  It is beautiful to hold.

Screen:  Gorgeous, I’m not convinced it’s the most colour accurate screen in the world but it looks superb.  The blacks on it are just so good and the colours, are all fantastically good.  The clean black and white theme that it has by default, the whites are soooooooo clean against that black background.  My word Sony really do know what they are doing when it comes to screens.  Oooooooh so pretty.   The viewing angles too on it are stunningly good.  The more I look at it the more I start to think I wonder if Vodafone would notice I didn’t send it back.  It’s so just so good looking, the contrast levels, white on black, are sooooooooooooooo good.  The colour gambit is outstanding too, such vibrancy, maybe a tiny bit over saturated but who cares.  It looks so good, everything looks great on it.

Audio Software:  You can of course install whatever you wat but it being a Sony I have a certain level of expectation and they don’t disappoint.  Sadly they have tossed the “Walkman” brand and just call the app “Music” how very original Sony, did it take you long to come up with that did it?  However the app itself, is actually really impressive despite its moronic name.  It seems to be able to play most things, FLAC certainly, then what it does is really fun, it pulls in a bunch of data from Gracenote, not just album art though.  It also pulls in some related image, usually a photo of the artist or band.  Is it important?  No it’s obviously not but it feels like Sony have given some serious attention to things, to the app, to the phone in general.  These little things they get so right make me feel that the Z3+ is a nicely polished device. 

One feature I have grown to love very quickly is that you can set the phone to automatically start playing when you plug in something to the hp out jack.  A simple little thing but it pleased me.

Audio Hardware:  Given the distinct lack of information about what components are used in the audio, that I could find anyway.  In fairness the stupid name of the thing, Z3+ meant that googling it constantly brought info regarding the Z3 too.  I do not understand why Sony didn’t call it the Z4 like they did in Japan.  Anyway I’ll presume it’s some Qualcomm thing but they have been not bad in other recent Qualcomm powered phones so fingers crossed here it’ll be not bad.  I hope so, it’s a Sony and I’d rather unhappy if its audio wasn’t good.  Given the software features they have going, like DSEE HX and ClearAudio+ I’d like to think they have a put a bit of effort into it.  Not that I like electronic playing about with things, still fingers crossed its good.

Lows:  Grabbing the RHA MA-750i’s it strikes me a good quality and yet plausible pairing for a phone such as this.  Hmm where is the drama and the dynamics?  The 750 is a bouncy beast and its feeling a little staid.  Flicking to a more rambunctious song and there we go, it’s beginning to come to life now.  Hmm it wants a little bit of the volume dial getting worked.  Very briefly turning on the electronic modifications and they certainly make a change.  Why so many of them though?  Hmm the lows here they just aren’t giving it the oomph I want.  The 750 should be inclined to punch a little bit and they aren’t, they aren’t expansive and soft either which I’d have given so a fair trade.  It just isn’t powered like it should.  It’s not bad per say, flicking over to the big E9 and yeah, its power gives an extra layer of authority.  Hmm maybe I need to fish out something more weedy?  I gave the EX500 a go as it’s a Sony but that wasn’t a great pairing.  Moving to the Senn Momentum In-Ear, that’s a perfectly plausible pairing right?  They also worked much better, they are exceedingly bassy normally and the weedy Z3+ output couldn’t make them be their fullest but that worked well.  It’s a very complimentary pairing. 

The bass however in quantity is moderate, they simply don’t have the power to really let rip unless you’re going with something very bassy and easy to drive so their weakness serves to tame that over blown bass, yes Momentum I’m looking at you.

Mids:  Competent.  They are nicely unflavoured without any of the weird EQ options in play.  Dynamics lack a bit as there isn’t the power to really express things to their fullest.  Still with the Momentums in use, an IEM that’s made for phone use, it works perfectly and became a really rather compelling match.  They are easy to drive and its exuberance meshed with the more staid and plain output of the Z3+.  It’s a weirdly good pairing in fact.  Like there is something happening that shouldn’t, even the EX500 wasn’t this well pairing.  Mids could be doing with more forwardness in the combo but they themselves are perfectly unenhanced.  Tonally they are very much unflavoured.  The rather remind me of the G5 actually, I wonder if they have the same Qualcomm audio bits inside.  Neutral, bland, lacking output power.  They themselves are really nothing special worth making a fuss about but neither are they bad.  I just hoped for more from Sony than a bunch of fancy EQ settings and DSP.

Highs:  They are fine.  They have pretty good detail levels and with the 750 in play they can pull out quite significant an amount despite their relative lack of power.  The Momentums too con really extract a great deal and their inclinations to splash out the treble suits the relative lack of oomph.  Trying the EX500’s again and the treble takes a note back.  There is still some pretty good detail retrieval but it’s not super obvious nor in your face.  Over all the Z3+’s audio output across the board is competent and reasonably capable.  Its fine and you could probably use it every day and I’d bet most would be perfectly pleased with its abilities.

Soundstage/Instrument Separation:  Both are fine.  They are really more a function of the earphone anyway and the Z3+ doesn’t really pull things in any particular direction.  Not the most open and airy perhaps, there is very slight inclination toward a more enclosed space but that’s it. 

Format Support:  Woo, its android, there is an app out there which will play any and everything you can think up.  The main Sony app, “Music” played FLAC stuff just fine which is the key one aside from the obvious MP3.

Volume:  Pretty reasonable.  They could push things to just lounder than I’d ever want but I was regularly sitting it the upper reaches of the volume dial.  They also were at their best sounding when you pushed the volume dial up towards the top.  It may not be enough for all though.

Speaker:  I have not decided what to make of the speaker, or if there is one or two speakers.  You see there are two vents, one at the top and the bottom, or left and right if you’re in landscape.  So if you’re watching video you get stereo right?  But when you max the volume the glass back of the thing vibrates like mad.  So much so it has me thinking there is one speaker in the back and they are just being fed to the two ports.  I’ve read its stereo so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.  However if it really is then I’m disappointed with the output levels.  They are gracefully tuned to not be a tinny mess but for two front facing speakers I’d have expected greater output levels.  Usable for sure but they just didn’t wow me.

Battery Life:  It hasn’t the largest battery in the world but I found it to be quite usable.  Even being left with Wi-Fi off it would last a day fine.  Well so long as I wasn’t playing abut with the audio.  That as you would expect destroyed the battery life.  Honestly the phone is so stupidly thin I’d have much rather it fattened up and got a significantly bigger battery in there.

Build Quality:  Oooooooooh so pretty.  I feel almost Smegol like, with it in my hands.  Sony know how to make nice things, this is a nice thing.  It’s nice to look at, it’s nice to touch.  Sadly it’s not so nice when its super slippery glass back causes it to go sliding about like it’s trying to commit suicide off the edge of my desk.  So while it’s immaculately flawless itself sadly the first thing you’ll do if you buy one is put a case on it.  Sad really, it’s such a nice object to hold, it really is lovely.

UI:  Woo hoo!!!  The stock UI on it is great.  No I’m serious, it’s really good.  It may not be stock but it’s almost perfect, in fact I’d say it’s better than Googles own launcher.  The launcher is pretty Nova / Apex like in its home screen and app drawer configurations.  Then the setting menu, it’s all in one great list like it’s supposed to be.  Everything is so easy to find and scroll through.  Not just that it scrolls through so insanely buttery smooth.  What have Sony done to it?  It glides like silk, I’m most pleased with its performance.  The UI is so smooth to use and so clean, no random OEM crap that gets in the way (cough Touchwiz, cough.)  Major kudos to Sony for taking the best bits of stock and not changing things just for the sake of changing them.

In The Hand:  Oooooh so precious, it really is a lovely object.  Mind you I wouldn’t say no to a soft touch plastic backing.  It really isn’t the most grippy of phones and while it doesn’t quite want to fly out of your hand the way the G5 did you still need to be careful.  Oh and god, putting it in your pocket and sitting down?  Yeah that thing will glide right out with as much ease as it will glide across any surface that isn’t perfectly flat.  Beautiful for sure and wonderful to the touch it may be but its maybe not the most practical finish on a phone ever.  So despite it being so lovely I’d bet you’ll shove it in a case quick smart.

Camera:  I’m no camera buff, I point the thing vaguely in the direction of what I want to capture and then press the take pic button repeatedly.  The camera on here is a bit weird.  Now first off, everyone thinks that the Sony Exmor RS sensor is awesome, it’s why it’s found its practically every top end phone.  However I’ve seen it said that for some reason that it’s lacking something software wise when it’s in a Sony phone.  Anyway what I found weird is that the camera has an “auto” mode but in that the max photo resolution is 8 mega pixels.  Given the sensor is a 20.7 mega pixels that seems bizarre to me.  If you slap it into manual then it’ll let you take photos at the full resolution.  I have no clue with this is the case, it seems bizarre to me.  However from the look of the photos they look great to me but what do I know.

Reception:  Curious.  You see I tried the Vodafone sim in my unlocked Nexus 5 but it would not pick up any 4G signal.  2G and 3G both worked but even forcing the phone to LTE only, that simply meant the phone got no signal.  When I then manually did a network scan, all 4 networks then showed up and I could connect to Vodafone.  Then the network strength would vary, significantly.  And moment its at -77dB, then -74dB then -67dB.  All the while the Z3+ sitting beside it at the exact same time sat at either -69dB or -70dB.  On the whole that would suggest the Z3+ pulls in a better signal than the N5 does.

Accessories:  You get a micro USB cable and a charging plug.

The Good:  Oh my, the Z3+ is a pretty thing, it looks so nice and it feels so nice in your hand.  Then you use it and it feel like greased lightning.  So snappy and responsive with such a clean and unscrewed up UI on it.  It is soooooooooooo nice, it really, really is so very nice to use.  Aside from Sony and their weird naming and weird release a new phone every 6 month they were doing, I find myself wondering why this phone didn’t sell better.  The biggest praise I think any reviewer can give to a device is that they don’t want to return in and will really miss it when it’s gone.  I don’t want to return it and I’m sure I’m going to miss it when it’s gone.

The Bad:  Well there is something’s that aren’t great, mostly they are little silly things.  Like does the phone really need to be quite so thin Sony?  I’d have much rather it had a bigger battery.  Also must it be glass on the back?  Sure it feels nice and looks nice but it’s so slippery.  Speaking about the back, what’s with the tiny heat spot of death?  When you hammer the CPU for a min or two there is a little point on the back that heats up, a lot.  It’s not going to burn you or anything but any electronics getting that hot has surely got to be detrimental to the devices longevity.  As for bad, I think that’s it.  They aren’t anything major, frankly it’s a bloody nice phone.

Value:  Hmm.  Well I can find it going for £324 and that seems pretty good to me but in the same breath there is the Z3 (no plus) for just £250.  If you look at the specs they are very similar, the core difference being the Z3 use a Snapdragon 801 versus the Z3+’s Snapdragon 810.  Sure the 810 is rather faster in benchmarks but it’s so toasty hot that it seen begins to down clock itself.  On the other hand if you compare it the top end phones it looks like a positive bargain in comparison.  Swings and roundabouts as they say, compared to current flagship it looks like a steal.

Conclusion:  Sony, why the confusing line up?  The Z3+ rather than it be the Z4, and why a new flag every 6 months?  Why the now having killed the Z line to go with an X line that at first glance seem to be a slide decline in specs over the Z5 premium?  Not that you don’t make lovely things, you really, really do but why the confusing naming system.  Anyway, name aside the Z3+ is such a nice device.  It may be now a year old but if you bought one brand new today you’d never look at it and think that you were having to make do.  The Z3+ isn’t a device you’re going to feel like you’re getting second best, that you almost got the good one but had to settle for the old cheap one.  It looks lush and it feels superb in your hand.  That screen, soooooooooooo pretty.

Acoustically, for a phone its rather good but I find myself wanting to hold Sony to a higher standard.  You see we know from their line of DAP’s that Sony can make great sounding products, it’s got the tech, the knowhow, the experience that give it a leg up in audio that no other phone maker should be able to come close to.  That is if Sony really cared they could have slapped in something considerably better than the competition.  While they have done some nice software things, like I’m really enjoying the auto play when I plug in earphones.  It’s nice, gimmicky for sure but I still like it.  I just wish Sony had let their DAP people in to the development of their phones and they could have really kicked some serious behind.  While it is nice in the detail retrieval and balance I wanted more, you can do better Sony I know you can.

So should you / would I buy one?  Ooooh, now I’m not sure.  The Z3+ is a bloody nice phone let’s get that right out there and in a heartbeat I’d pick this over the G5 I played with the other week.  Sure the spec on the G5 is better but the Z3+ is nicer in every imaginable way.  The build for one, the looks, oooooh it’s pretty.  While it’s not perfect, like the sim flap is a bit janky and the things too bloody thin.  Not to mention gets too bloody hot but so what?  It has a quality to it that I just like having it in my hand.  Acoustically it’s credible and quite listenable even for hard core audiophiles so long as they stick to easy to drive things like the RE-400.  If only Sony had called this the Z4 and hadn’t superseded it 6 months later it could have been a bigger deal than it was, closer to what it deserved to have been.  As it stands with its price having plunged since launch you can get yourself a bucket load of phone for a very reasonable price.  Its name may make you think you’ve got a two year ancient thing but play with one.  It’s a bit of a Liz Hurley, on paper its getting old enough to start getting overlooked but then you actually see it.  Aging or not, it’s still damned fine.

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