Sony Xperia Z3v: The waterproof smartphone that does it all

Quick: When was the last time you saw a Sony-made Android smartphone stocked by U.S. carriers? Having trouble recalling it? You’re not alone.

Sony’s Android smartphones are quite popular in Asia and Europe, but they’ve never received any real love in the U.S. Despite the Xperia Z series phones receiving high praise, most carriers didn’t sell them because Sony smartphones lacked cachet with the American public.
That changes today with the arrival of the Xperia Z3v, a variant of the Z3, as a Verizon exclusive. The rechristened Xperia Z3v has a tweaked design and a few nice (and not so nice) extra features that the international model doesn’t have. But is it enough to rumble with this year’s flagships like the iPhone 6 and Galaxy Note 4?
The Xperia Z3v goes on sale today for $199.99 with a two-year contract with Verizon. It comes in white and black. If you want the real unaltered Xperia Z3 with the metal frame and two-day battery life, you can get it on T-Mobile for $630 without a contract or $26.25 per month paid over 24 months.

Big screen, big power, big battery

Flagship smartphones are all pretty mighty these days. The Sony Z3v is as fast as you can expect from a high-end smartphone without scrutinizing microsecond load times and absurdly high pixel densities.

The Z3v has a large 5.2-inch full HD (1,920 x 1,080) display with wide viewing angles. It has tons of computing power thanks to its 2.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor and 3GB of RAM. And the phone comes standard with 32GB of internal storage, which can be expanded up to 128GB via the microSD card slot (something you’ll definitely want to do if you plan to shoot lots of 4K video with it). Swiping around is responsive and I didn’t see the phone chug once.

Do you demand outstanding battery life? The Z3v is equipped with a 3,200 milliamp-hour (mAh) battery that lasts an entire day (more if you turn on the Stamina battery saving mode). It’s an outstanding figure, but not nearly as impressive as the two or three days people are reportedly getting with the international Z3. Need wireless Qi charging and NFC? It has those features, too.

To simplify a spec sheet filled with hype-filled terms such as “Triluminos display” and “S-Force Front Surround Speakers”, the Z3v is a handsome-looking Android smartphone that’s packed with all of the high-end features you want and then some.

I’m torn over the design, which resembles the Xperia Z2, as opposed to the rounded-metal Z3 the rest of the world gets, but that’s just personal preference for a non-plastic device.

20-megapixel pics, 4K video, high-res audio

I’ve said it a million times: more megapixels doesn’t mean better pictures. Look at the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Each has the same number of megapixels (8) as an iPhone 5, but the images they produce are far ahead. Not a day goes by without a pro photographer praising those iSight cameras.

The Z3v, like the Z2 and Z1 that came before it, has a 20.7-megapixel rear camera. For a smartphone camera, that’s more megapixels than anyone needs. It’s a good camera and the snaps come out crisp enough. Autofocus could be a little faster, but that’s also the camera geek in me talking.

The front camera is a more common 2.2-megapixel shooter — not nearly as impressive as the 5-megapixel selfie camera on the Nokia Lumia 730 or the 13-megapixel front camera on the upcoming HTC Desire Eye — but still good enough for Instagram.

Joining like the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and new Moto X, the Z3v can record 4K resolution video. It’s a nice feature, but unless you have a 4K monitor or 4K TV or the new iMac With Retina 5K Display, you won’t be able to appreciate the 4K resolution, so it’s probably better to stick to recording in 1080p.

Audiophiles will also like the Z3v’s ability to play high-res audio. The downside is you’ll need high-res headphones to hear the difference. Your $10 earbuds won’t work. What if you don’t have high-res audio to listen to? Sony says the built-in DSEE HX tech upscales regular low-res MP3s and AAC files to sound better. Anyone who uses music streaming services like Spotify or Google Music will gloss right over the high-res audio, though.

Too many camera modes

While the high-res camera on the back captures great photos, I’m baffled by the sheer number of camera modes on the Z3v. Seriously, it’s dizzying.
By my count there are 16 built-in camera modes, with the option to add more third-party ones there are 16 built-in camera modes, with the option to add more third-party ones. There are a bunch of gimmicky shooting modes including “Sound Photo” (lets you record small sound snippets to accompany your stills), “AR Fun” (play with augmented reality objects overlaid on your photos and videos), and “Face in” (place your face into small bubbles on top of photos and videos).

In my testing, the funky augmented reality features rarely worked and playing with them ate up battery life quicker. Not to mention, the Z3v even warns you that using certain modes will make the device warmer than usual. Thanks, but no thanks.

That’s not to say there aren’t any new and interesting camera modes at all. The “Timeshift video” mode is great for creating 120 fps slow-motion videos and the “Live on YouTube” function lets you broadcast 15 minutes of video live on YouTube once you’ve activated your account for the feature.

Sometimes less is more, and I feel like the Z3v got carried away with all the camera mode features. Nobody has time to dig through a dozen shooting modes before snapping a pic.

Water and dustproof wonder

It used to be the case that if you wanted a waterproof and dustproof phone, you could only pick from a handful of rugged (usually bulky and ugly) devices. In recent years, phone makers have been able to make weather-resistant devices without compromising on industrial design.

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