Though the Sony Xperia Z3 is only a subtle upgrade over its predecessors, it brings with it a killer feature—the ability to remote-play PlayStation 4 games.
But first, the handset itself. A 5.2-inch number (measuring 146 x 72 x 7.3mm, and weighing 152g), it's running a Sony-skinned version of Android 4.4.4. Waterproofed to an IP65-68 rating (the highest current consumer level), it's powered by a 2.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor (backed by 3GB of RAM) that, during my brief time with the handset, seemed as suitably-speedy as it has in the litany of other top-tier smartphones it's featured in.
That 5.2-inch display, running at a full HD 1080p resolution, plays nicely with the battery life of the handset too. Despite being of a smaller capacity than that of the battery pack found in the Z2 (3100mAh compared to the Z2's 3200mAh), it should actually last longer — two full days on average, in fact. That's because the screen uses a new "on-display memory technology" that allows it to intelligently lower its refresh rate based on your usage. While Sony wouldn't go into the specifics, it's conceptually similar to how an E-Ink display would work, dropping its refresh rate unless your input or application requires it to kick into a higher gear. Sony claims the display is also its brightest ever, using "Contrast Enhancement Technology" to boost darker elements of the screen on a pixel-by-pixel basis based on ambient lighting conditions.
Aesthetically, the Xperia Z3 remains very similar to that of the Z2. Set to be available in four colours (white, black, copper and a "mysterious" silver-green), it keeps the angular Omnibalance design of its predecessor, minimalistic and monolithic in a 2001: A Space Odyssey kinda-sorta way. With an aluminium frame and glossy rear, Sony has decided to pop a nylon cap onto the corners of the phone in an attempt to keep these easily dented and chipped areas blemish free. The durable material (used in the automotive industry) will no doubt be fit for purpose, though it's arguable that they've now undermined the otherwise-seamless design from the outset here.
But it'll be PS4 gaming support that will likely prove the Xperia Z3's headline selling point. From November, Sony's existing second screen PlayStation App will be able to verify those using it on an Xperia Z3 handset (or, for that matter, the new Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact or Xperia Z3 Compact smartphone) and unlock Remote Play game streaming from a PlayStation 4 on the same Wi-Fi network as the phone. It should work almost identically to how the same feature on the PlayStation Vita handheld console already does — though seeing as it'll require a DualShock 4 controller to play games with, it'll actually control better on the Xperia Z3 too. A Game Control Mount will use the age-old power of a suction cup to lock a DualShock 4 and an Xperia Z3 device together.
Low light performance is the focus of the Xperia Z3's photography capabilities this time around, with the 20.7MP ½.3 sensor now featuring a ISO 12800 sensitivity range. By Sony's own admission an ISO setting of that level will be as noisy as ever, but unlike other smartphone cameras, it'll mean you'll be able to take reasonably legible photos under seriously gloomy lighting conditions. On top of impressive performance in less challenging lighting conditions, Sony's new flagship should be a real contender when standing against a dedicated compact camera. 4K video capture is also supported.
New camera apps build on top of Sony's already-comprehensive offering of "just-for-laughs" tweaks, including the Face In "selfie-plus" mode that uses both the 2MP front facing and superior rear facing cameras in tandem to track faces and overlay them onto snaps for instant reaction shots. There's also an augmented reality Ice Bucket challenge, so make sure to question the charitable intentions of anyone wielding an Xperia Z3. Video applications are a little more useful — Live On YouTube lets you livestream video directly to the big G's leading video hosting site, and there's also the Multi Camera option to use two Xperia Z3 handsets (or Sony's detachable QX100 lenses) to shoot video from two different angles to export in a single split-screen clip.
As ever, Sony is keeping tight-lipped about pricing at present, but the handset (as well as the rest of the Xperia Z3 line-up) should be in stores by November at the very latest. There's also been a tease that the handset may eventually come bundled with the PS4, so if you're on the market for a new phone and a new gaming machine, it may be worth holding out to see what Sony's got up its sleeve come Christmas.