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Sony Xperia Z3+ review with Camera, Gaming, Battery and performance review


Sony Xperia Z3+ review
Almost nine months after launching the Xperia Z3 in India, Sony is back with a new high-end smartphone. Christened as the Xperia Z3+, the company has priced its new flagship phone at a steep Rs 55,990. The smartphone essentially retains the same design, look and feel as that of the Xperia Z3 and brings in some under-the-hood changes. 

Unlike the rest of the pack, Sony's refresh cycle for its flagship phones is six to seven months, which is also one of the reasons why successive updates are incremental and not very radical. We spent a few days with the new Xperia Z3+ to find out if it's a worthy successor the Xperia Z3... 

Build and design
At first glance, the Xperia Z3 and Z3+ are hard to tell apart as the two sport identical design and almost the same chasis, employing the use of similar materials. The phone comes in black, white, copper and aqua green colours and we got a white unit for review. 

However, the Z3+ is slightly thinner (6.9mm vs 7.3mm) and lighter (144grams vs 152grams). The front and back panels are made of glass, while the frame is made from aluminium. The corners as well as edges are rounded and there are no dock connectors at the left edge. Interestingly, the four corners feature a translucent, nylon material to prevent dents if the phone experiences a fall.

 

The micro-USB port is no longer hidden under a flap (and is now at the bottom edge) though the Z3+ is also a water- and dust-resistant phone, and the microSD+nano-sim card slot has been moved to the left edge under a water-resistant flap. The 3.5mm headset jack is placed at the top while the typical watch crown-shaped, metallic power button is at the right edge along with the volume rocker key and a hardware button for the camera. The keys offer decent tactile feedback and the camera key offers two-stage press similar to camera shutter keys to allow users to focus with soft press and shoot by pressing the key further. 

The glass back feels soft and nice to hold but doesn't really offer a good grip. It also slips easily if placed on a soft surface. The 20.7MP camera lens and LED flash are at the top left edge at the back, flush with the panel. The panel is made from tempered glass so we're assuming it won't break easily.

 

With the Xperia Z3+, Sony continues with the tried and tested OmniBalance design seen in its previous flagships. Perhaps this is in line with its strategy of introducing only an incremental update. 

Display 

The Sony Xperia Z3+ is dominated by a 5.2-inch full-HD (1920x1080p) IPS display with Sony's TRILUMINOS technology and X-Reality for mobile. It also comes with adaptive brightness to increase the intensity of backlight depending on ambient light. The panel is also protected by tempered glass so it's sturdy compared to others and has an anti-fingerprint coating. It's not clear if Sony has used Gorilla Glass protection. Sony also ships the phone with a screen protector. 

We found the display to be bright and vivid, offering wide viewing angles and excellent touch response. Sunlight legibility was also good and the display is not very prone to smudges. 

However, we have to say it's not as crisp and sharp as the 2K panels we've seen on the LG G4 and HTC One M9+. We're slightly disappointed that Sony did not use a QHD display with the Xperia Z3+.

 

Software
In terms of software experience, the Xperia Z3+ comes with Android 5.0 (Lollipop) out of the box with Sony's own UI and apps for music, videos and gallery. Sony's UI skin is not very heavy and doesn't hog on system resources. The experience of navigating across the UI was very smooth. 

The phone also has some content marketplace apps and a What's New apps, which show curated content (such as apps, music, games) that users can buy. We feel that Sony has stuffed the phone with a lot of bloatware including third party apps like Line, Kobo, AVG antivirus. Thankfully, most of these apps can be removed. 

The UI elements, including the notifications tray, app launcher and settings menu have been skinned but also borrow elements from the new Android 5.0 UI. System apps feature Material Design with a blue theme being omnipresent. The transition effects visible during launching and minimising apps are also pleasant to look at. The app-switcher is also borrowed from Android 5.0 Lollipop but features the launcher for small apps which can float on top of other running apps. The phone ships with some small apps,including a browser, timer, calculator and screen grabber. One can download additional small apps from the Play Store, or even turn a widget into a small app. 

At the cost of repeating ourselves, we have to say that Sony's UI skin looks less intrusive and is well-balanced. 

Camera
Sony Xperia Z3+ comes with the same 20.7MP rear camera that we've seen on the Xperia Z3. However, the phone has a 25mm wide-angle 5.1MP front camera for better selfies, compared to the 2.2MP front camera of Xperia Z3. The front facing snapper now comes with superior auto mode for selfies. 

The maximum ISO sensitivity is 12,800 for enhanced low-light images in the low light mode for photos. The phone also has a wide-angle, 25mm camera lens to capture more area.

 

The camera app offers a large number of settings in addition to Sony's Superior Auto mode that chooses the best settings as per the ambient light. 

We recommend the Superior auto mode for taking pictures unless you want to control granular settings. In that case, you can use the Manual mode. 

You also get different scene options and the ability to switch the resolution of the pictures. Scene modes also include night mode, anti-motion blur, high sensitivity and backlight correction HDR, among others. 

The other modes that the app offers include Timeshift video, Sound Photo, Multi-camera, Sweep Panorama, AR Effect, Creative effect, and Face in picture Effect. The time shift video helps you create time-lapse videos. The Multi-camera mode lets you hook other Xperia devices (phones or tablets) or a Sony Wi-Fi/NFC camera and record the same scene with multiple cameras. 

Xperia Z3+ takes great pictures in daylight and good quality noisy pictures in low-light conditions. The Superior Auto mode is more consistent when it comes to focusing but low-light pictures still look over processed because of the overzealous noise reduction. By default, photos are taken in 8MP resolution in this mode. 

Pictures show accurate colours, great amount of detail, balanced contrast and white balance skewed slightly towards warmer tones .

 

The phone supports 4K video recording. The 4K (or movie hall-quality) recording gives you extremely high-resolution videos. No doubt, this makes the phone future proof (at least for some time!), but there are very few monitors or TVs that can support the playback of this video, at this time. We also found that the phone got a little warm while capturing videos in this mode and shuts the camera app after almost 5 minutes of video capture. The quality was incredible with good levels of sharpness and accurate colours. 

The phone's 5MP front camera takes good quality selfies and is good for video chats. The selfie mode offers a skin softening feature but no granular control on the level of softness. 

Performance
Among the major improvements of Xperia Z3+ over its predecessor is the 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 octa-core processor (four 1.5GHz cores + four 2GHz cores). It retains the 3GB RAM but unlike Xperia Z3, which was offered in 16 and 32GB storage options, the new Sony smartphone comes in only 32GB capacity. It also offers a microSD card slot that supports cards of up to 128GB capacity. 

According a number of reviews and reports, Qualcomm Snapdragon 810-based phones have been plagued by some issues including over-heating. Prior to a software update, we also encountered problems related to this issue. Taking a few pictures and running some apps that update in the background (Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp) would lead to the phone heating up and giving a warning that it needed to cool down. The phone also tends to get sluggish when it reaches high temperatures. Over long term use we had also experienced similar issues while using the camera on Xperia Z3 but the Z3+ at times heats up just after brief use.

 

However, a software update that we received last week improved things a bit. Though we still notice that playing graphics intensive games heats up the phone. Running benchmark tests one after the other also affects the phone's scores.

 

Other than that we did not notice any stutter or lag while launching and switching between apps, editing photos, browsing the web, clicking pictures, watching high definition videos or playing graphics-heavy games. 

We did not experience any lag whatsoever and were able to play graphics-intensive games like Riptide GP2 and Asphalt 8 without any frame drops or delays. The phone is a smooth performer when it comes to gaming till it gets hot. 

In terms of synthetic benchmarks, it scored 32,677 in Quadrant Standard, 49,095 in AnTuTu, 3894 in Geekbench 3(Multi-core), 22,085 in 3DBench's Ice Storm Unlimited and 60.2 in NenaMark 2. The phone scores well in these tests provided it's cool and you don't run them one after another. We don't endorse benchmark tests and do not ​recommend a phone based solely on benchmarks as real world performance is different at times. 

We were able to play videos of popular file formats without any hiccups. Additional file formats can be played through third party video player apps. 

The sound output through the phone's front-facing stereo speaker grills was also loud and clear. Thanks to the positioning of the speaker outlets, sound doesn't get muffled when the phone lies on its back. 

Call quality was very good and the phone works well even in weak signal areas. We also observed that the phone catches signal even weak Wi-Fi signals. It also supports 802.11ac Wi-Fi, which means it will work new routers capable of offering higher transfer speeds. We also used the phone with Airtel's 4G network in Delhi and did not experience any hiccups. The phone also offers FM radio tuner. 

The phone comes with GPS and A-GPS for navigation and maps and was easily able to lock a signal. It also comes with NFC connectivity to initiate file transfers to other NFC-enabled phones and receive data from NFC tags. It worked as promised. 

The Xperia Z3+ comes with a 2930mAh battery with a claimed standby time of up to 590 hours and talk time of up to 17 hours on 3G. With moderate to high usage, including about one to two hours of making calls, playing games, checking Twitter and Facebook feeds, clicking some pictures, listening to music and browsing the web, the Xperia Z3+ will easily last you more than a full working day, even if you put the screen brightness at the highest level and keep 3G turned on. 

 

You can boost the battery backup by using Sony's Stamina mode that shuts down battery-draining apps and data transfer when the screen is turned off and starts them again when it is turned on. 

Verdict
At Rs 55,990, the Sony Xperia Z3+ is at best an incremental update to the Xperia Z3 and one of the most expensive flagship smartphones available in the market. 

While the phone's optics and ruggedised construction are its differentiating propositions, the fact that it doesn't sport a new design and retains the same full-HD panel go against it, especially when other flagships are offering better features at lower price points. Perhaps, this is just a stop-gap device prior to the arrival of Sony's next flagship device. The 'plus' suffix does seem to indicate that. 


While the Xperia Z3+ is a great, high-end phone and Sony's best yet, rivals offer better hardware and software features at this time. The heating issues due to the use of the Snapdragon 810 is a big dampener. 

If you're in the market for a new phone and can spend more than half a lakh, we'd recommend looking at the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Apple iPhone 6. Both of these phones come with great cameras and offer top-notch performance along with some unique features.
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