Hands on: Sony Xperia Z3+

Sony is so sure the Xperia Z3+ will overheat, it warns you about it

The Xperia Z3+ is a real beauty, and we love the pinsharp screen and waterproof body, but it gets too hot for comfort.

The word premium is thrown around a lot these days, to the point where it has come to mean any device that has a metal body. However, it should mean more than that. Premium, really, is all about the way something makes you feel. The Sony Xperia Z3+ is an excellent example of what we should be calling premium, because aside from the metal chassis, it has a design, shape, and ergonomics which are clearly the result of care and expertise. It feels damn good in your hand, and the copper color looks chic and stylish.

Using the camera for just a few minutes made the Xperia Z3+ very hot, and beyond what I would call acceptable.

Sony took its time to reveal the Xperia Z4 this year, then made it only for the Japanese market. Shortly afterwards, it revealed the Xperia Z3+, which is a Z4 that’s sold in the UK and Europe, making it an Xperia Z4 in all but its name. It also sticks rigidly to Sony’s established Xperia Z-series visual style, with a few tweaks to make it more modern. They’re subtle, but welcome.

For example, the large speaker cutouts on the front panel have been shaved right down, and are almost invisible against the edge of the device. The sides remain beautifully rounded, and the phone is a perfect fit for your hand. The 5.2-inch screen is large, but the bezels are small, so it’s easy to use with one hand. The separate metal pieces that curve around each corner of the phone give its shape some personality, and could have looked ungainly in the hands of another, less restrained manufacturer’s hands.

The rear panel is made from glass, and houses the camera lens and accompanying LED flash. Surprisingly, it wasn’t much of a fingerprint magnet during our short time handling the phone. Sony has slimmed the body down to a mere 6.9mm and 144 grams. The Xperia Z3+ may be subtle, but it’s a real beauty when you see it for real, and not only does it challenge the iPhone 6’s crown for being a proper premium device, it equals it.

Camera is good, but leads to the Z3+’s big downside

Sony is usually good at making cameras, so how does the 20.7-megapixel lens perform? It has a manual mode, which is great news, and briefly testing it out produced some good looking results that could easily be improved further with practice and effort. It’s fast to react, and there’s a direct access button on the side that opens the camera app almost instantly. The front, 5-megapixel selfie cam has some fun and surprisingly effective beautification modes.

Sony Xperia-Z3+

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

However, it’s here where things take a turn for the disappointing. Plenty has been said about the Snapdragon 810 processor that powers the Z3+, which reports have linked to overheating. Using the camera for just a few minutes made the Xperia Z3+ very hot. Beyond what I would call acceptable for even a very hard-working device. It was particularly noticeable when using the live effects that overlay a selfie. After pointing it out to Sony, I was provided an official statement, which reads as follows:

“Xperia Z3+ and Xperia Z3+ Dual are high performance 64-bit octa-core devices with advanced camera technology which can, under some use cases, generate some additional heat which may cause an application stop (e.g. camera application). This additional heat may also be felt by the user through the rear glass panel. This is normal operation of the device and no cause for concern. To further increase comfort while using the device, a software update is planned during summer period to limit additional heat generation under normal use. We also advise any users who have concerns about unexpected heat generation of their device to get in touch with their local contact center who, if necessary, can arrange for their device to be checked by our service network to ensure it is performing as expected.”

Heat spoils the Z3+

This excess heat is a problem. No matter how gorgeous the phone, even the slightest chance it’ll have to be sent away for examination should put people off. If I had purchased the Xperia Z3+ I used, then it would have been on its way for testing right now. It even has a warning message appear about the device getting hot, and that apps may shut down because of it. It soured the good start I had with the Xperia Z3+, which is a great shame. It is worth pointing out that the device was a test phone that wasn’t suitable for benchmarking, but essentially, it was an example of the final product.

The Z3+ is clearly the result of care, attention, and expertise in every area but one.

Android 5.0 Lollipop is installed, with Sony’s own skin over the top, which isn’t all that intrusive. There are a good few Sony apps installed, most of which require you to be a part of the Sony family already — such as being a PlayStation owner — but they’re easy to ignore if you don’t want to use them. It’s also fast, proving the Snapdragon 810 is a capable performer in the Xperia Z3+, just like it is in the LG G Flex 2.

The OS is displayed on a pinsharp 1080p Sony screen, complete with its usual array of visual technology including X-Reality, Live Color LED, and others. It looks fantastic, and there was little difference between it and the LG G4 when it came to viewing most images, although the beautiful white balance on the G4 did shine through on some occasions. Otherwise, don’t think you’re missing out by not having a 1440p display.

Battery testing wasn’t possible during our short time with the phone, but at nearly 3000mAh, and provided the processor’s heat generation doesn’t play havoc with it, the cell should last a day. There’s Sony’s Battery Stamina mode to help out if it does fall short of that time too.

Conclusion

If Sony’s software fixes can solve the overheating without throttling the power, then the Xperia Z3+ will be an excellent purchase. Until that becomes clear, it’s impossible to recommend. It’s exceptionally frustrating, due to the Xperia Z3+’s waterproof body — a top-end smartphone rarity this year — excellent ergonomics, a smart-looking UI over Android, and its overall stunning looks. Sadly, it’s just too hot to comfortably hold.

Highs

  • Stunning design
  • Pinsharp, colorful screen
  • Android UI is attractive
  • Waterproof
  • Good camera

Lows

  • Major overheating problems
  • Seriously, it’s too hot
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