Sony Xperia Z3+ review - not the Z4 we were hoping for
Processor: Octa-core 2.0GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 810, Screen Size: 5.2in, Screen resolution: 1,920x1,080, Rear camera: 20.7 megapixels, Storage (free): 32GB (22.5GB), Wireless data: 3G, 4G, Size: 146x72x6.9mm, Weight: 144g, Operating system: Android 5.0.2
It's been almost a year since Sony launched the Xperia Z3 and Z3 Compact, which isn’t bad considering we’ve had three Xperia Z handsets (five if you count the Compacts) in under two years. As brilliant as the pair were, however, they clearly weren't good enough to break Sony's bad habits. The Xperia Z3+, or Xperia Z4 as it will be known in Japan, is yet another incremental upgrade to the company’s water- and dust-proof Xperia Z series.
Very little has changed in terms of design, with the glass rear and angular aluminium frame remaining largely untouched. It's still an incredibly classy looking handset, though, and is Sony's slimmest yet, measuring just 6.9mm - that's the same as the iPhone 6. At 144g, however, the Z3+ is beaten by the iPhone’s lighter 129g.
The only real exterior differences are the reinforced nylon corners, which have been exchanged from a matt finish on the Z3 to a shinier, glossier version of the same material here. Sony has also brought over the capless micro USB port from the Xperia M4 Aqua, which negates the need for a tacky plastic flap to keep the phone waterproof. The SIM card and microSD card slots still get their own flap, but at least you won’t be opening it up regularly. The latter lets you expand the phone's 32GB of storage up to a massive 128GB.
The sting in the tail comes from Sony's choice of screen, as the Z3+ uses the same 5.2in, 1,920x1,080 resolution display as the Z3. While the 5.2in handset still looks perfectly sharp in Full HD, it’s a shame Sony didn't match the Galaxy S6 and LG G4’s higher resolution 2,560x1,440 screens.
That said, Sony's displays have always been excellent in terms of picture quality, and the Z3+ is no exception. With an sRGB colour gamut coverage of 98.5%, the Z3+ has one of the most accurate LED displays around, delivering rich, vibrant colours that really jump off the screen thanks to an incredible peak brightness of 634.58cd/m2. We thought the Moto X Play was pretty bright at 613.23cd/m2, but the Z3+ pips it to the post, making it a highly versatile display that's clearly visible in all lighting conditions.
This does have a downside, however, as you rarely get truly deep blacks at maximum brightness. A peak black level of 0.52cd/m2 is quite high for a flagship handset, and while it’s not a major problem when reading text, it makes dark images appear slightly bleached out at times. Still, a high 1,077:1 contrast ratio meant there was plenty of detail on show, and if anything, the high brightness actually helped reveal more shadow detail than the Moto X Play, even if it did have a slightly blue-ish overtone.
The main reason this handset earns its 'plus' suffix is the octa-core, 2.0GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, which doubles the number of cores found on the Snapdragon 801 used in the Z3. It’s also a 64-bit chip, which makes it ripe for Sony's tweaked version of Android 5.0.2. Paired with 3GB of RAM, the Z3+ has everything it needs to compete with today's flagships, even if it is rather late to the party.
While scores of 1,178 and 3,987 in Geekbench 3's single and multicore tests aren't quite up there with the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, it pulls in front of the HTC One M9 and LG G4, giving it plenty of power for everyday tasks. Android zipped along as I dipped in and out of various apps, and Sony's beautiful undulating ribbon background is as slick and hypnotic to watch as ever.
The Z3+'s graphics capabilities are also excellent, producing 1,308 frames (roughly 21fps) in the onscreen Manhattan test in GFX Bench GL, and 1,194 frames (around 19fps) in the offscreen test. Again, it's not quite as quick as the Galaxy S6, which scored 1,429 (or 23fps), but you're unlikely notice the few frames difference in day-to-day use. Games like Blizzard's Hearthstone ran beautifully, and simpler games such as Threes and Alphabear were an absolute breeze for the Adreno 430 GPU.
However, the Z3+'s greatest strength is its fast web browsing capabilities, as it produced the fastest Peacekeeper score I've ever seen on an Android smartphone, finishing the test with a fantastic result of 1,312. This outstrips even the Galaxy S6, and surfing the web was as smooth as could possibly be. Scrolling down image-heavy web news sites showed no signs of stutter at all and its Full HD resolution provided plenty of space to move around when panning and zooming in and out.