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Sony’s Xperia Z3 is a wonderful Android phone, but it gives us deja vu

It’s only been six months since the Xperia Z2’s launch got us all hot and bothered, and now the company has replaced it with the Xperia Z3. Sony is rigidly sticking to its six-month update schedule, which consequently means the Z3 doesn’t look or feel like a new phone at all. Luckily the company struck gold with the design and the performance of the Z2, otherwise this would be a considerable disappointment. Instead, it’s a device for those who wanted a Z2 but for whatever reason hadn’t purchased one yet. Now, when those shoppers do pick one up, theey’ll gain an up to date spec sheet — plus a few new features.

Sony continues to refine its OmniBalance design philosophy, but the Z3 looks extremely similar to the Z2. The front and rear are covered in tempered glass, while the chassis is made from lightweight aluminum. Pick the phone up, and it doesn’t feel anywhere near as heavy as one would expect from a 4.4-ounce phone. At 7.3mm thick, we’ve seen thinner phones too, but the rounded edges make it very comfortable to hold.

Related: DT Review of the Sony Xperia Z2 (4 stars)

The screen measures 5.2 inches, squeezing it inbetween the Galaxy S5 and the LG G3 flagship phones in terms of size, while the resolution is 1,920 × 1,080 pixels. Sony’s Triluminos Display is typically bright and colorful, and there’s an updated 2.5GHz Snapdragon 801 processor coupled with 3GB of RAM running the Android 4.4 KitKat operating system. The Xperia Z3 will connect to 4G LTE networks.

New photography features

So far, it’s everything you’d want from a high-end smartphone but where are the differences between it and the Z2? They’re all pretty subtle. The processor is slightly faster, and there’s more RAM, plus the 20.7-megapixel camera has been given a wider 25mm lens, an ISO sensitivity of 2800, and an improved SteadyShot stabilization mode. There are various new photo apps, including the ability to use both the front and rear camera at the same time, plus a cool way to link three Xperia phones together to create your own multi-angle film. Elsewhere, and like the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact, the Xperia Z3 can be used to remotely play PS4 games and hi-res audio files, plus it will run noise-canceling headphones.

Sony-Xperia-Z3-Phone-camera

Most brand-new smartphones today feel like an evolution of the previous generation, even when they’re given a handful of completely new features. Compare the Xperia Z3 to the Xperia Z2 and the extremely low-key alterations are even more subtle than that, and potentially unnoticeable by those not thoroughly invested in the mobile world. The Xperia Z2 was, and still is, a great Android smartphone. It didn’t need replacing in the same way one released 12 months ago would, and therefore close examination of the Xperia Z3 makes it feel a little underwhelming. We’re just used to having more to say about a new flagship phone.

Smaller Xperia Z3 Compact comes along for the ride

Joining the Xperia Z3 is the Xperia Z3 Compact. It has the same Snapdragon 801 processor, the same 20-megapixel camera, and the same basic design. The screen is slightly smaller at 4.6 inches, and the resolution falls to 720p. The metal chassis also gets swapped for a plastic frame, making the phone lighter, but far less appealing in the hand. It’s not that it feels cheap, but it’s definitely not a premium “mini” phone. However, it still offers more than enough power and visual appeal for most buyers on a budget, and the excellent camera makes it particularly enticing.

Related: DT review of the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact (4.5 stars, Editor’s Choice)

Both Sony Xperia Z3 phones will go on sale before the end of the year, and for once, the flagship Xperia phone will be sold by T-Mobile in America, rather than only at full price through Sony’s own website. Because some potential buyers would have been put off buying the Xperia Z2 this way, Sony’s new network deal means the Xperia Z3’s slight lack of “new-ness” shouldn’t be a major concern for U.S. buyers.