#SonyXperiaZ3

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Sony has an Android problem. For
years now the consumer electronics
giant has been making some truly
head-turning hardware loaded with
Google’s mobile OS. When it comes
to actually using the hardware,
though, things almost always go
south. It seems Sony just can’t help
itself from making the same
mistakes over and over.

The Xperia Z3 is its latest almost-
great phone. On paper, the it looks
like a gem. You’ve got a 5.2-inch
1080p display (424 ppi), a 20.7-
megapixel camera capable of
shooting 4K video, Qualcomm’s
super-quick 2.5GHz quad-core
Snapdragon 801 processor, not two
but three gigabytes of RAM, a
3100mAh battery, dual front-facing
speakers, and sure, what the hell,
let’s make it waterproof to a depth
of 5 feet for up to half an hour, too.

There aren’t many phones out there
with a rap sheet as bad as that.
With the screen off, it looks like a
polished black slab—both front and
back. Around the sides is a solid,
gently rounded aluminum chassis.
Up top is a headphone jack (yes,
it’s waterproof). On the right-hand
side, you’ll find the door covering
the micro SD card slot, the silver
power button, the volume rocker,
and lastly, the physical shutter
button for the camera. (All phones
should have a physical shutter
button.)
When it comes to speed, you won’t
have any complaints. Sony went
through a long phase where it used
great processors, but bad software
slowed everything down. That
seems to be one thing they’ve
solved because this thing absolutely
screams. I don’t see any hesitation
while flipping between home
screens, app and folders fly open,
and everything seems to move as
fast as your finger.
As for sights and sounds, the screen
is very bright and I almost never
had any difficulty reading it
outdoors. The colors are rich, too.
The Z3 doesn’t have those super
inky blacks that we love on
AMOLED displays, though, and at
times it looks a bit gray and flat.
I was excited about the dual front-
facing speakers (a la the HTC One
M8), but while they’re fairly loud
and nice for gaming, they’re not
very clear. Music sounds distorted
and unbalanced, and things can be
grating at full volume. In contrast,
both the HTC One M8 and the new
Moto X (which only has one true
front-facing speaker) are louder
and better sounding.
The camera is finicky too.
Sometimes, when there’s enough
light, it produces rich, vivid, and
sharp photos that absolutely make
you salivate. Two seconds later, you
can take almost the exact same
shot, and it’ll be washed out with
bland colors. The camera app isn’t
particularly user-friendly, either.
Settings seem to be placed at
random within the menu, and you
can’t access most of them until you
change out of auto mode.
Speaking of camera modes, there
are over a dozen, although they
take the form of “camera apps.”
That’s where you’ll find useful
things like 4K video stashed among
other generally useless apps like AR
Fun, which overlays dinosaurs and
elves onto whatever you’re pointing
your camera at.
Battery life is generally solid, too.
Sony claims that it has two day
battery life. I definitely never saw
it get anywhere close to that (the
most I ever got was 30 hours), but
I’m a heavy user. I will say that
most of the time made it well past
bedtime without needing a charge,
except for when it didn’t. And
here’s where things started getting
weird.
It seems that there’s got to be a
runaway bit of code somewhere in
the device, but I have no idea what
triggers it. There are days where it
seems this phone will never run out
of batteries, and then there are
days when I notice the phone is
running hot and I find myself
looking for a charger before 6pm.
As far as I can tell, I’m using the
phone roughly the same amount, so
something must be wrong in there.
Ultimately, even though the
software doesn’t cause many
slowdowns, it’s still what keeps this
from being a great phone. When
you compare the UI (i.e. the skin)
Sony puts on top of Android to the
minimal UI that Motorola is using,
or to stock Android, it looks like a
convoluted mess.

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For proof, just look at my
notification panel. All of those are
from pre-installed software that
came with this phone. Do you see
what’s not there? My actual
notifications, like for email and text
messages. I had to scroll down to
find them. Even when there are
fewer things on there, it’s still
tough to find what you’re looking
for because it gets so cluttered.
The apps Sony decides (for some
reason) to redo on their own—like
the very good stock Android
Calendar—universally get worse as
well. This is true for the dialer,
where the UI has no sense of flow,
and the app drawer, where they
add a layers of complication to
something as simple as adding an
app to your desktop. It seems Sony
has too much ego caught up in the
game and just can’t get out of its
own way.
There are stability issues, too. I got
an error message after I hadn’t
been using my phone, pulled it out,
and took five photos. I also get a lot
of apps randomly crashing.
Sometimes, everything you open
instantly crashes, and you have to
restart the phone. It’s these layers
of annoyance and complication that
make it very hard to recommend
the Z3 to John and Jane Q Public.
So once again we’re left with an all
too familiar story. The Z3 is
ostensibly a phone with a lot going
for it. It’s a phone I actually really
want to love. But once again, the
flaws are simply too sizable and
numerous to recommend it in good
conscience. Here’s to hoping that
story will finally change next time.

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