Xperia phones have earned something of a dubious reputation.
Despite pumping out handset after handset every six months for what feels like an eternity, Sony just couldn't manage to capture the magic of that original, iconic Z.
Oh sure, world-first features like 4K and HDR would raise an eyebrow, but each new phone didn't do enough to wow would-be customers.
Well it's taken a few years, but Sony might have finally cracked it with the Xperia XZ3.
Here's a phone that has the looks to back up its specs, and seemingly ticks all the boxes for a 2018 flagship: 18:9 aspect ratio, skinny bezels, wireless charging, and most importantly of all, a jaw-dropping OLED display. Add it all together, and you've got something rather special.
SONY XPERIA XZ3 DESIGN: COLOURFUL CURVES
It might not be a total transformation, but the XZ3 is still one good-looking slab of glass and metal.
You can spot the design lineage that goes all the way back to 2013's Xperia Z, and there's a lot of April's Xperia XZ2 in here, but by adopting the features rival phones have been rocking for a while now, the XZ3 finally feels fresh and modern. That's largely due to the front-filling screen, which neatly curves around the sides.
It's a lot more subtle than Samsung's Galaxy S9, but does more than enough to make it stand out from its predecessor, and lets it sit comfortably in your grip.
There might not be near-invisible top and bottom bezels like the Vivo NEX or Oppo Find X, but Sony hasn't forced an iPhone-aping notch on you either. What bezels do remain make room for front-facing stereo speakers, which is a perfectly reasonable trade-off.
The whole thing is IP68 water-resistant, too. Sony kicked off the splashproof trend, so it's only right the latest and greatest Xperia should be built to withstand the elements.
Sony has used Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and back of the phone. It's glossy, reflective, and a bit of a fingerprint magnet - plus is more susceptible to scratches than you'd expect from a flagship phone. You'll need to be careful what else goes in your pocket alongside one of these.
There are a few things the XZ3 doesn't quite get right: there's no headphone jack, so you're resigned to Bluetooth or living the dongle life when you want to listen to music, and the fingerprint sensor is in the wrong place.
You might think otherwise if you've got dainty digits, but this reviewer was constantly trying to unlock the phone using the camera lens - the fingerprint scanner is just too far down the phone.
Of course, this is 2018, so facial recognition comes as standard anyway - meaning you don't actually need to scan your fingers at all.
Face detection is snappy, but you have to swipe once you're recognised to get to the home screen. It's an extra step you won't find on other phones.
SONY XPERIA XZ3 DISPLAY & SOUND: OLED-ING THE WAY
All is forgiven once that 6in screen springs into life - it's the first time Sony has used OLED in a phone, and it's a doozy.
With near infinite contrast and the deepest, darkest black levels you'll find on a phone, OLED panels make photos and videos really pop, and the XZ3 is no exception. Images have real depth and clarity is excellent, with hues that are slightly more punchy than the main OLED competition, namely Samsung's Galaxy S9 and the iPhone X.
Sony's TV division has supplied Triluminos and X-Reality image processing tech to balance colour, detail and noise reduction, and the results speak for themselves: even YouTube videos look pin-sharp, although some might find it a bit much. Luckily it can be toggled off it you prefer.
The real treat, though, is HDR. Find a compatible video, or log in to Netflix, and the dynamic range is truly exceptional. Is it the best out there? Not when both Samsung and Apple can achieve higher peak brightness to really hammer home those highlights, but as far as phones go, it's still very impressive.
It does still have a few weaknesses. Brightness can't be cranked up to the eyeball-searing levels needed to read the screen perfectly in bright outdoor light, and white balance leans slightly too far towards cold blue hues out of the box. A few tweaks in the display settings can claw back some balance, though.
There's also a small amount of colour shift at the edges of the screen. This is potentially because of the curved panel, but seeing how Samsung managed to avoid doing the same with the Galaxy S9, hopefully this is something Sony can perfect in the future.
The XZ3 has the sound to back up its visuals, thanks to a pair of front-firing stereo speakers. They're impressively loud and clear. Sony reckons they're bigger than the ones found in the XZ2, which was already something of a mini-boombox, and they doesn't disappoint. Crank up the tunes and they won't distort.
The phone's vibration motor doubles up as a subwoofer of sorts, too. It buzzes along to the music and adds some extra immersion in games. It's gimmicky, and you'll either love it or hate it, but have full control over the strength of the vibration and can switch it off completely if you like.
SONY XPERIA XZ3 PERFORMANCE: AIN'T NO STOPPING ME
The XZ3 isn't short on power, thanks to a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 CPU doing all the heavy lifting. It's one of the fastest mobile CPUs around right now, and has no trouble running Android 9 smoothly.
Sony has settled for 4GB of RAM, which isn't as much as the competition, but still perfectly suited to the kinds of apps and games a flagship phone will be tasked with doing. Running two apps at once in split view doesn't slow things down one iota, either.
Games already look stunning on the OLED screen, but have the frame rates to back it up too. PUGB Mobile runs flawlessly on the highest graphics settings (including HDR) so there's nothing in the Play Store that should give you much trouble.
64GB of on-board storage is plenty for most people, while serious media hoarders can slap in a microSD card should they need more room.
SONY XPERIA XZ3 BATTERY LIFE: DAYTRIPPER
On paper, the XZ3's battery should be a weak point. The 3300mAh cell has to power a 6in screen and a lightning-quick CPU, after all.
In practice, though, it copes well in pretty much every situation. The OLED screen tech means the display isn't as much of a drain as an LCD panel, and because it dials the resolution down to a sensible 2K, it comfortably outlasts the XZ2 Premium.
Stick to the basics and you'll comfortably get an entire day of charge. Push a little harder and you might want to top up before bedtime, but for general use this is easily an all-day phone.
Topping up might take you a while, as there's no fast-charging adaptor included in the box. The XZ3 uses USB-C Power Delivery, instead of Qualcomm's QuickCharge, and compatible fast-chargers are a bit harder to come by.
On the other hand, wireless charging is such a convenient addition that slow top-ups by cable don't have to be a deal-breaker.
SONY XPERIA XZ3 OS & SOFTWARE: PIE WITH EXTRA TOPPINGS
As one of the first phones to ship with Android 9 Pie out of the box, the Xperia XZ3 provides a first look at what phone makers other than Google can do with the OS.
Happily (if you're a Google fan, at least) Sony has used a delicate touch, sticking closely to the stock interface. Only a few custom icons and apps really set it apart from vanilla Android.
Quite a few of those apps are dupes for Google's own versions, so you might never actually use 'em if you're tied into the Google ecosystem, but at least you can hide the unwanted shortcuts out of sight in a folder.
The one standout new addition is Side Sense, touch-sensitive side panels a la HTC Edge Sense and Google's Active Edge. Only here they open a shortcut menu with a double-tap, and act as a physical back button when you slide a digit down the edge of the phone. It can snap a photo when you're in the Camera app, too, although with a physical shutter button this seems a bit like overkill.
Sensitivity is a bit of an issue, either activating accidentally when you didn't mean to or refusing to work at all when you actually do want it.
The way it learns your regularly used apps is clever, but a bit more customisation (like being able to use it to launch a voice assistant) would have been nice. Hopefully a software update or two can improve things.
SONY XPERIA XZ3 CAMERA: STRAIGHT SHOOTER
Flip the XZ3 over and you won't find any dual camera cleverness going on like you get in the XZ2 Premium. Instead, Sony has stuck with its tried-and-tested 19MP single snapper, complete with f/2.0 lens and laser-assisted autofocus.
Scene recognition and tweaked image processing should give it an edge over previous Xperia phones, but what about the competition? Well, for the most part, the XZ3 takes fantastic photos. Colours are rich, there's ample contrast, and no shortage of detail. Zooming in reveals a fair amount of noise, but all our test snaps were usable.
Overall, images are handled more subtly than older Sony phones, so even though the iPhone and Pixel still have the edge, with Samsung and Huawei close behind Sony is once again right up there as well.
Things continue to impress once the sun goes down, with sharp photos and well-saturated colours. Noise naturally ramps up, but not to shocking levels. You'll still want a steady hand, though, as shutter speeds drop and blur becomes an issue when shooting on the move.
The 13MP selfie cam does a decent job, too, although don't be alarmed if you seem a bit alien in your first snap: the XZ3 turns its beauty mode features, including eye widening, on by default. It's a surreal look that's far too strong out of the box - either dial it down or switch it off completely because it's a bit weird in all honesty.
Bokeh blur is handled pretty well, despite only having one camera to get the job done. Picking out edges isn't always done accurately, but you'll largely be happy with the results.
It's really video where the XZ3 truly stands out from its rivals, with 960fps super slow motion recording as well as HDR. Files are saved in hybrid log gamma (HLG) format and can be directly uploaded to YouTube in 10-bit HEVC - so basically anything with an "HDR" label on it should be able to play your footage back as it was meant to be seen.
Slow motion footage looks the business, but there's still no auto trigger like you'll find on Samsung's phones.
Digital stabilisation helps keep your clips stable, if not quite as smooth as an OIS setup or Google's algorithmic Pixel, but footage is clear, crisp and free from noise as long as you feed the sensor plenty of light.
Sony has revamped its camera app for Android 9, and the new simple layout is a major improvement on the complex outgoing one. Everything is sensibly laid out, with more advanced toggles moved to Settings instead of cluttering the shooting modes page.
The manual exposure slider is a fantastic addition, letting you dial back when outdoors without swapping into the bespoke manual mode. Even with HDR forced on, the XZ3 can sometimes overexpose its shots, so having the option to reign things in is a welcome bonus.
SONY XPERIA XZ3 VERDICT
We wouldn't call it perfect, but there's no question the XZ3 is Sony's finest smartphone to date.
It comfortably competes with Samsung's Galaxy S9 and the Huawei P20 Pro, and after what feels like years, is the better buy over an LG or HTC. Google's Pixel 2 XL has the edge for photography, but the XZ3 takes better video and has the bonus of HDR playback.
If the fingerprint sensor was a little higher, and Sony had found room for a headphone jack, the XZ3 would be wanting for almost nothing. As it is, this is a monstrously powerful phone that looks gorgeous, takes great photos and has a screen that finally competes with the best of them.
You won't be disappointed once you get one in your pocket.