With the waterproof Xperia Z3v, Sony is out to make a splash -- ahem -- with Verizon shoppers. But this smartphone ($200 on contract) has a lot more going for it than the ability to get wet. Its 20-megapixel camera is one of the sharpest and most capable on the market, and soon, you'll be able to stream games from your PS4 right to the Z3v's bright display. Plus, unlike the T-Mobile version of this handset, this one offers wireless charging. Is the Xperia Z3v good enough to keep up with flagships like the iPhone 6 and Samsung Galaxy S5?
The slick Z3v shines in one of two colors (black or white), showing off slim tempered-glass panels in front and back. Stereo speakers hide beneath two small slits at the top and bottom, each complemented by a silver Verizon or Sony logo. The sides and edges are made out of plastic accentuated by metallic inserts that double as covers for the micro USB, nano SIM and microSD ports.
The flappy covers help waterproof the Z3v, with the phone earning an IP68 rating, which means you can dunk it in up to 4.9 feet of water for 30 minutes. The shiny tempered-glass back also has built-in wireless Qi charging, giving you the option to eliminate wires from your life.
Controls for the phone are located on the right edge, and consist of the circular lock button, volume rocker and dedicated shutter button.
At first, I had a little trouble finding the micro-USB port; it's the only one without a label, right above the SIM card slot. While I had no problem prying open the cover with my nail, other people around the office found the flappy covers a bit more vexing. But this is the price you pay for waterproof design.
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The shutter button is a welcome feature that begs you to use the 20.7-MP camera, and even allows you to take pictures underwater, unlike other phones that rely solely on touch-based controls. I tried it, and it works swimmingly. You can even skip the lock screen by holding down the shutter button, booting straight to the camera in about a second -- which is great for those unexpected photo opportunities when every second counts.
Measuring 5.85 x 2.89 x 0.35 inches and weighing 6.02 ounces, the Z3v is just slightly taller than the 5.6 x 2.9 x 0.31-inch and 5.1-ounce Samsung Galaxy S5 (5.1-inch display) but significantly heavier. It's smaller and lighter than the 6.22 x 3.06 x 0.28-inch, 6.07-ounce iPhone 6 Plus, although that phone has a larger 5.5-inch display.
The Z3v features a 5.2-inch Triluminous 1920 x 1080-pixel display that's wonderfully bright. Although the panel suffers from a slightly bluish tint, it captured Baymax's various outfits with flying colors in Disney's trailer for Big Hero 6. When I compared the Z3v side by side to the iPhone 6 Plus and the Samsung Galaxy S5, colors on the Z3v looked richer and more saturated, although it lacked the deep blacks of the S5's AMOLED screen.
At 395 nits, the Z3v tops the Samsung Galaxy S5 (373 nits) in brightness, but falls short of the luminous iPhone 6 Plus (537 nits).
The Z3v can display 125.1 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which falls roughly in between the iPhone 6 Plus' 95.3 percent and the GS5's 158.4 percent.
The one area where the Z3v's display flops is in its mediocre color accuracy, recording a Delta-E of 7.5 (closer to zero is better). That's surpassed by the iPhone 6 Plus' Delta-E of 1.9 and the Galaxy S5's score of 0.9.
The stereo speakers are on the front of the Z3v, which I think should be standard placement for all smartphones. Overall audio quality on the Z3v is a tier above that on both the iPhone 6 Plus and the S5.
When I listened to Stardust's "The Music Sounds Better With You," the Z3v delivered crisp highs, although I noticed a slight crunchiness in the bass. Compared to the iPhone 6 Plus, midtones sounded richer, and had better highs. The Z3v also has better bass than both the iPhone 6 Plus and the S5.
Measured from 13 inches away, the Z3v produces 84 decibels of volume, which is louder than the iPhone 6 Plus (78 dB), S5 (76) and the smartphone average of 80 dB.
OS and Interface
Click to EnlargeThe interface on the Z3v isn't very flashy, but it gets the job done without the bloat of some other Android skins. The Xperia Z3v comes with Android 4.4.4, which Sony promises to update to Android 5.0 sometime in early 2015. Sony deviates slightly from stock Android, with only a few cosmetic changes to the phone's theme and notifications. The background is inspired by the UI from the PlayStation 3, with wispy white lines that swirl when you swipe between pages on the home screen.
The are a few built-in widgets, such as Verizon's Infozone, which displays battery life and available storage. The What's New widget provides a portal to the app of the same name, and displays new software and media from Sony. It's easy to ignore (and delete).
Sony has redesigned the notifications tray with a minimalist text-based design while also providing access to the Quick Settings menu, where you can adjust settings for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Brightness, sound, Stamina Mode and more.
Click to EnlargeSony replaces the standard Google keyboard with its own Xperia International version on the Z3v.
Aside from normal typing, you can write using a Swype-like input method, but this can be a little frustrating because the word prediction is just mediocre.
Click to EnlargeThe Xperia Z3v comes with a ton of preloaded apps. While most of them are from Amazon, Google, Sony and Verizon, there are quite a few third-party apps such as Kobo, IMDb and OfficeSuite 7. Verizon also bundles the Kindle App and the Amazon Appstore, while Google provides YouTube, Drive, Hangouts and the rest of its app package seen on every Android phone.
Sony's apps are much more intriguing, and immediately identifiable by their rounded icons. Sony Lifelog tracks not only health and fitness data like Samsung's S Health App, but also stats such as how many photos you take, the duration of your daily commute, and even how much time you spend watching movies, playing games and listening to music. Later, you can go back and watch a timeline that displays what you did over the course of the day.
Sony also includes the Walkman, Album and Movies apps, although Walkman is really only useful for people already invested in the Sony media ecosystem.
PS4 Remote Play
One of the headline features of the Z3v is PS4 Remote Play, which lets you combine a Z3 device with a Sony Dual Shock 4 controller, so you can play PlayStation 4 games on the Z3v over a Wi-Fi connection. An optional $59 accessory acts as a mount and suction cup for the controller. However, the app won't be available until mid-November.
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The Z3v does come preloaded with the PlayStation App, but it's only good for navigating the PS4's home screen from your phone. We will update this review once Remote Play capability goes live.
The Z3v features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chip like the previous Xperia Z2, but this time, it gets a slight boost from 2.3 to 2.5 GHz. And with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of flash memory, the Z3v has no trouble keeping up with other flagships such as the Galaxy S5. Storage can be expanded by up to 128GB via microSD card.
On the Z3v, I had no trouble playing casual games like the puzzle/strategy game Terra Battle, or graphically intense shooters such as N.O.V.A 3. Full-1080p -- and even 4K -- videos looked smooth, and although the results of the benchmarks were a little behind those of the S5, the Z3v is no slouch in everyday use.
We used Geekbench 3 to test overall system performance. The Z3v scored 2,725, just slightly behind the S5's (2.5-GHz Snapdragon 801) mark of 2,927, and the iPhone 6 Plus' (A8 processor) score of 2,903. However, this is better than the smartphone average of 1,998.
On the graphics-based 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited test, the Z3v scored 17,081, which falls in between the iPhone 6 Plus' 16,965 and the S5's 18,204, and better than the smartphone average of 12,583. The Z3v launched N.O.V.A. 3 in 17 seconds, barely behind the smartphone average of 16.3 seconds and faster the S5's 19 seconds.
Using VidTrim to convert a 204MB 1080p file to 480p, the Z3v's time of 5:37 is only slightly behind the S5's mark of 5:07 and better than the category average of 7:45.
4G LTE Performance
Click to EnlargeThe Xperia Z3v offered speedy connections at our office in New York City's Flatiron District. Connecting to several different servers on Verizon, I saw average download speeds of 23.85 Mbps, average upload speeds of 24.44 Mbps and peak download speeds of 45 Mbps and higher. That's the beauty of XLTE.
The point-and-shoot camera market has been dying off over the last couple of years, and cameras like the one on the Z3v are the cause of that downfall. The front 2.2-megapixel camera does a pretty good job of capturing details such as hair and textures in selfies, but the real star of the show is Sony's 20.7-MP rear camera, which features an Exmor RS sensor and a 27mm lens.
Photos taken with the rear camera had a level of detail and sharpness that defy their smartphone origins. My picture of some colorful flowers at a nearby stand captured the brilliant neons with aplomb, displaying good white balance and pleasing depth of field, as flowers in the background faded out of focus.
Zooming in fully with the 8x digital lens produces expectedly grainy photos, but pulling back halfway to 4x resulted in a great zoom shot that was largely unaffected by issues often caused by digital enhancement. Another photo of the plaza in Union Square showed great range even with HDR turned off, capturing details in the light buildings and sky while still retaining information in the dark clothes of pedestrians passing by.
In low-light photos, the Z3v also performed well, but the iPhone 6 Plus produced higher-quality photos than the Sony. When I took some shots of my co-workers in a darkened office with and without the flash in Auto mode, the Z3v's photos looked slightly grainier than those produced by the iPhone 6 Plus. I also noticed that, when in Auto mode, the Z3v had a tendency to make low-light photos a little too bright. However, this can be adjusted by using the manual controls.
The Z3v is one of the few flagship phones that feature a dedicated shutter button. The button even has two-step action, so you can depress the shutter halfway to prefocus, just as you can on more expensive cameras. The volume rocker also doubles as a control for the digital zoom.
Settings are expansive and include five presets -- there's one for White Balance, Exposure Compensation, ISO Adjustments and Face Tracking. There are also more scene modes than you can shake a stick at, such as Soft Skin, Landscape, Night Portrait, Gourmet and more, although you will have to reduce stills to 8 MP in order to use them.
Shooting modes include Manual, Multi-camera, 4K Video and Live Streaming direct to YouTube.
You can draw on the screen and add things like 3D dinosaurs to photos with the AR Elements mode, although you can only share these images with other Xperia devices. Info-eye mode scans your picture for landmarks, bar codes, books and even wines, spitting out relevant information when it recognizes something -- which can be hit-or-miss. I liked using Info-eye to take pictures of business cards, which can be automatically digitized and added to your contacts.
The Z3v can capture movies up to 4K at 30 frames per second, or at 1920 x 1080p at 60 fps. As with still shots, you have options for exposure compensation and face tracking, while videos have an extra option for Sony Steady Shot stabilization.
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My video of skateboarders in 4K looked supersharp, although the camera momentarily lost focus when I panned to keep the skater in the frame. While shooting 4K is a treat, you have to keep in mind that files can quickly balloon in size, with a one-minute clip coming in at a whopping 400MB. Sony even has a warning that the sensor can become quite hot, which will cause the camera to automatically shut down. However, I didn't run into that problem.
With its 3200-mAh battery, I expected some serious longevity from the Z3v. However, on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over 4G at 150 nits), the Z3v lasted just 7 hours and 57 minutes. That's half an hour less than Verizon Galaxy S5 (8:25) and the category average (8:30), and 2 hours less than the AT&T iPhone 6 Plus (10:00).
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In everyday use, the Z3v's battery feels more robust than the mediocre battery test results seem to indicate. After a day that included a few hours of gaming and watching movies on top of normal use (like moderate Web surfing and checking Lifelog a couple times an hour), the Z3v's battery was down to 63 percent. At 50 percent charge, the phone estimated 13 hours of remaining life with Stamina Mode turned off.
Stamina Mode increases battery life by disabling Wi-Fi and mobile data when the screen is off, although you can select specific apps to stay active during standby. Ultra Stamina Mode goes one step further by disabling everything except basic functions for phone calls and messaging.