Sony’s smartphone sales have been struggling, although if you look at its newest phones you’ll be hard pressed to understand why. I’ve spent the last week using a Sony Xperia Z3v review unit — the phone is available from Verizon in the U.S. — and see much to like for both the casual consumer as well as power users of Android. Whether you pay $199 with contract, $24.99 a month with Verizon Edge or $599.99 outright for the phone, the Z3v is a good deal as it compares favorably with comparably or even higher-priced phones.
Solid design, fast LTE and waterproof features
Of course, if you’re going to be happy carrying around a phone, you’ll want to like the design. Sony uses a no-nonsense style that I prefer, but some may find the phone too boxy. It is, after all, a rectangular slab like previous Xperia phones. The hard edges are replaced with subtle rubber curving, however, wrapped around an metal frame — a bit like a rubber bumper on the phone. And in typical Sony fashion, the Xperia Z3v is waterproof and dust-resistant thanks to gasket covers for nearly every port.
The phone works on Verizon’s XLTE network, and where I live in the sticks of rural Pennsylvania, I saw download speeds topping 47 Mbps with fairly low latency. Call quality was also clear both in regular use and as a speakerphone.
Sony may be better known for its television screens and cameras than for its smartphones — mainly because few carriers here in the U.S. subsidize and sell Sony phones. The company continues to take advantage of its tech heritage in these sectors with Trilluminos display and 20.7 megapixel camera sensor. What does that mean in reality?
A really good display but just a “good” camera
The 5.2-inch 1080p IPS display is crisp from any angle and is quite bright: Sony says up to 500 cd — that’s candelas — per square meter, also known as 500 nits. I haven’t seen many brighter phones. Many flagship phones these days have higher 2560 x 1440 resolution displays, but the Xperia’s screen really doesn’t leave me wanting more pixels.
Sony’s camera leaves a little more to be desired, though. It’s very good in optimal conditions, but I found it to be just average in low-light situations. Sony has tweaked the camera app to offer its own superior auto imaging capabilities and various scene modes, similar to those found in its standalone cameras. Focusing and shooting still is quick, but I found the camera slow to adjust for brightness changes when capturing video.
Software: Android lightly skinned, lots of pre-installed apps and music nirvana
For software, you get Android 4.4.4, which is the most currently available version of Android not named Lollipop. Sony did say last month that the Z3v — and all other Xperia Z models — will get a Lollipop software update, so you’re covered for the future.
I’ve always liked Sony’s take on Android because it’s not as heavy-handed as the skins you find on phones from Samsung and HTC. Yes, Sony has its own apps, content stores and quick settings function here, but most of the Android experience looks what you’d see on a generic Android device. And the number of pre-installed apps from Verizon looks like what you’d see on any other Verizon smartphone except the iPhone: There are easily a dozen apps here that don’t need to be.
That aside, there’s plenty of room for these and other apps with 32 GB of internal storage, plus a microSD card slot capable of adding more capacity. Inside is a 2.5 GHz Snapdragon 801 chip paired with 3GB of memory and that’s a good combination for fast performance. Again, there are phones with faster processors these days but I doubt most people would see much difference between those and this Xperia Z3v.
Sony put a pair of front-facing speakers on the Xperia Z3v that are certainly better than a mono unit, but the best sound will come from headphones. There is also support for DSEE HX (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine), which claims to enhance highly compressed music and does improve sound quality.
More important to me, though, is high-definition audio playback — something few phones have, but the Xperia Z3v offers it. With it you can listen to audio files that have higher sampling rates and more audio information. Not everyone can hear the sound difference between standard MP3s and high-def audio, but if you’re one of them, this is a standout feature. I was able to play back some DVD-Audio quality 192 kHz / 24 bit high-res files with no problems — most phones top out with 44.1 kHz / 16-bit audio, or CD quality.
Big, bold battery life
It may not be the best feature, though: I’d have to give that one to the stellar battery life I saw on the Xperia Z3v. Sony says it can run for two days on a charge with its 3200 mAh power pack and they’re not lying. Even if you’re a super heavy phone user, you’ll get through the day without needing an outlet. Sony also has a Stamina mode that can eke out more battery life by limiting performance and freezing connectivity or background apps when the display is off.
Again, I don’t think Sony’s smartphones tell us the real reason that the company’s mobile sales are down. With the Z3v, you’ve got a waterproof design with great screen, fast connectivity, Qi wireless charging, an above-average camera, high-resolution audio support and long battery life. The handset also works with a remote PlayStation 4, allowing gameplay on the phone but I wasn’t able to test that function.
Could the Z3v be better? Sure: Adding a faster processor or improving the camera quality would be two ways to go, but this is still an appealing phone for Verizon customers. Now that Sony has some carrier backing, perhaps it will see a sales turnaround.