Sony Xperia Z3+ first impressions: new wine in an old bottle

“The latest flagship from Sony comes with refreshed specs, but sticks to the same design”

We’re used to seeing new flagship smartphones from Sony every six months, but the Japanese major has been slow this time around. If it had stuck to its usual schedule, we’d have seen a new flagship being unveiled at MWC, but that wasn’t to be. Also, after the Xperia Z3 (review) last year, the next logical model in the range should have been tagged the Z4. While it did launch a new device labelled exactly that in its home country, Sony’s choosing to call its latest the Z3+, and that may be a wise decision considering that the device doesn’t feel like a massive upgrade over its predecessor at first glance… especially in terms of design. The Xperia Z3+ was launched in India today, and we’ll be taking a closer look.

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The new device sticks to expectations by being waterproof and dustproof, just like its predecessor. We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again – Sony is pretty much the only mainstream smartphone brand that takes this feature seriously, and has successfully been able to make it a big differentiation factor. We can hardly over-emphasise the importance of this, and those of you who live in areas that witness heavy rainfall would agree wholeheartedly. It also brings much peace of mind if you’re headed to the beach or a pool party, or are just more prone to spilling liquids than the usual. In fact, Sony’s even suggesting that you could also use this feature to actually clean your phone properly using water – it’s a personal gadget that stays with you all the time and needs a cleaning too, after all.

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We loved the Z3’s design, and the Z3+ doesn’t look much different. Sure, it’s slimmer and lighter, but the overall design language remains the same. The Z3+ sports the same flat body, featuring Gorilla Glass on both the front as well as the rear. The sides are rounded, making it confortable to hold… and the same shock-resistant corner bumpers we saw on the predecessor have made their way to the new device as well. The port placement has changed slightly, and while the predecessor had a covered micro-USB port on the left, the new model utilises a capless port placed at the bottom. You’ll also find an eyehole to attach a lanyard – another feature that we haven’t seen in other recent devices.

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The 3.5mm headset socket is on top, while a plastic flap that hides a nano-SIM slot and a microSD card slot is on the left. On the right, you’ll find the trademark circular power key (fashioned out of metal), along with the volume rocker and a dedicated key for the camera. The latter is a useful addition that helps not just in holding the device in a more natural manner while shooting, but also helps you shoot quickly by waking the device directly into camera mode. Further, it’s also handy while shooting underwater, since touchscreens are usually rendered useless when wet. On its part though, Sony’s claiming that the Xperia Z3+ comes with updated display drivers that let you use the touchscreen even when its wet… and since we saw a demo of it in action, we’re inclined to believe it.

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The fascia holds the 5.2-inch full HD screen, along with the usual elements such as the earpiece, notification LED, sensors and front shooter. There are no hardware navigation keys since they’ve been implemented as software overlays. At the rear, you’ll see the camera lens and LED flash, sitting flush with the body. Sony and Xperia branding is present as well.

Inside ticks the 64-bit, octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 SoC, with two quad-core clusters clocked at 2.0GHz and 1.5GHz respectively. This is a step up from the quad-core 2.5GHz Snapdragon 801 chip present inside the predecessor. While the RAM has been kept the same at 3GB, the internal storage has been doubled to 32GB… and thanks to the microSD card slot, you can add up to 128GB more.

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The resolution of the rear shooter hasn’t seen a change as well, and you get a 20.7-megapixel camera featuring an Exmor sensor. However, the front camera has been bumped up to 5MP from the 2-meg shooter present on the Xperia Z3. As usual, there are a bunch of shooting modes, including the useful Superior Auto mode that optimises settings based on shooting conditions. A quick test shot indicated fast autofocus speeds and good image quality, though it’s be a tad early for us to comment properly on the shooting performance.

As far as the battery is concerned, you get a 2,930mAh pack (the predecessor sipped juice from a marginally more powerful 3,100mAh battery)… but Sony’s sticking to the same two-day usage promise. The usual battery saving modes are around, including Sony’s Stamina Mode, but the brand has added support for fast charging this time around. Further, the company is also bundling a free fast-charging dock with the device, that promises to deliver 5.5 hours of usage with just 10 minutes of charging time.

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As far as the software is concerned, you get Android Lollipop layered with Sony’s custom skin, which retains most key aspects of stock Android without changing the UI in a drastic way. So you still get most aspects of Google’s Material design, but as usual, there’s a sidebar that pops out from the left of the app drawer, plus a bunch of apps, including Sony’s own suite.

Overall, we came back with positive impressions about the Xperia Z3+, but its price tag of Rs 55,990 is a bit of a shocker. Sure, it’s a high-end flagship going up against the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S6 (first impressions) and the LG G4 (first impressions), but even these are now available for less than Rs 50,000. The free charging dock may or may not attract potential buyers, while those looking for a capable waterproof smartphone may just settle for the older Xperia Z3 instead. The latter is now available for about Rs 37,000 online and is still a worthy option. That said, we’ll wait till we get the chance to try out the Xperia Z3+ properly before deciding whether it deserves your cash or not. 

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