Verizon Sony Xperia Z3v review | Android Central
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Most of us here in the U.S. have had to look at our European neighbors in envy when it comes to high-end Sony devices. For whatever reason, the Japanese company just hasn't seemed to break in to the U.S. market. That ends today, with the availability of the Xperia Z3 on Verizon.

Actually, it's the Z3v were talking about here today. We've already reviewed the proper Z3 and Z3 Compact, and it turns out that little difference in the name denotes quite a big difference in look and feel. We're only a half-year beyond the Xperia Z2, and the Z3v strangely sort of finds itself stuck between the last generation and this newer update.

So is the phone in No Man's Land? Or is it worth your time and money? Late's take a look in this, our Verizon Sony Xperia Z3v review.

Xperia Z3v

About this review

We're writing this review after using the Xperia Z3v exclusively, as supplied by Sony and Verizon, for a little more than a week. It's running Android 4.4.4 KitKat, and software build 23.0.E.0.376.

I've used the phone extensively in my usual stomping ground of Pensacola, Fla., as well as in suburban Chicago. And a few points in between.

What I don't have is a great sense for Sony phones in general. As mentioned, this phone marks the return of Sony to the mainstream U.S., and so I feel like I'm coming into this a little blind. But maybe that's a good thing — I've got no real expectations here, and no leftover regrets just months after the release of the Xperia Z2.

Xperia Z3v video walkthrough

Xperia Z3v hardware

Wait, is this an Xperia Z2?

Xperia Z3v software

It's Sony's show, with media and gaming the start

As we mentioned, the Z3v is running Android 4.4.4 KitKat — yes, Sony's already promised an update to Android 5.0 Lollipop — that's been heavily customized by Sony. No surprise there, it's just pretty striking if you're coming from more stock devices. From the launcher to the recent apps (aka multitasking) to the notification shade, camera, gallery and settings, there's not a whole lot that's been untouched by Sony here.

The launcher is a solid mix of Sony and Verizon. You've got the former's suite of custom apps, from the clock to the productivity software. And you've got all of the usual Verizon bloatware, from apps that help you manage your account and retrieve voicemail, to the Amazon suite that it's including in all its phones .And you've got the pullout that's at the far-left in the app drawer, giving you shortcuts to more applications options. From it you can search your apps, uninstall apps, choose how they're ordered in the app drawer (custom, alphabetically, by most used or by "installed"), and you'll find shortcuts to the Google Play Store or Sony's own "Sony Select" store.

Xperia Z3vXperia Z3vXperia Z3vXperia Z3v

The lock screen's pretty basic. You get a clock with the day and date, and a shortcut to drag to open the camera app. (You can later customize that in the camera app itself to either merely open the camera, open and fire off a still pic, or open and start recording video. Or you can just shut it off altogether, making the lock screen even more basic.

If you want to et to Google Now, you'll need to pull up from the home button — but you'll also find a shortcut to Sony's "What's New" section for music, movies, apps and games.

Hit the recent apps button and you'll find the apps that you've been working in, as well as a "Small Apps" section. Expand it and you'll have shortcuts to Sony's take on a multi-window system, where apps open in a smaller form, sort of like widgets. You can add and remove these "Small Apps" as you like. It's a neat little implementation.

Xperia Z3vXperia Z3v

It's worth spending some time in the settings, even if you're a longtime Android user. In addition to the display options previously mentioned, there's you're also able to turn on a double-tap-to-wake feature. (I haven't noticed any real difference in battery life with it turned on, but, yes, it will use a little.)

We haven't mentioned too much about the PlayStation functionality of the Z3v because it's not actually available yet while we're writing this review. But it will be there, we have seen it demoed briefly at Sony and Verizon's announcement event, and if you're a big PS4 user, being able to hop from the console to your phone (or vice-versa) is a compelling reason to get this phone.

Xperia Z3v cameras

Oversampling ahoy

Sony's long provided above-average cameras, and this is my first time really getting some experience with one. The Z3v is rocking a 21-megapixel shooter on the back, using Sony's 27mm wide-angle "Sony G lens." The catch is that is by default your shots are downsampled to 3840 by 2160 — 8 megapixels. That's more than enough for sharing on the Internet, and you can always change the resolution to something higher if you want. I found the default to be just fine for what I do.

There's a whole lot going on with this camera, actually. The default finds you in "Superior Auto" mode. (Those of you who have used Sony's more traditional camera will remember this mode.) It looks at what you'er shooting and then applies the settings it thinks are best. I'm typically a default shooter. That is, I want it to be quick, and I want the end result to be pretty good. And I don't want to have to think too much about it. So I generally stay away from anything that says "Manual."

Xperia Z3v

Superior Auto is good enough for most shots, while Manual gives you granular control of pretty much everything.

But you're going to need to get into the Manual mode here on the Z3v. That said, Superior Auto was pretty good for most shots, though the couple of bleary days I spent in suburban Chicago seemed to blow out the gray sky a little bit. There are a number of other "modes" you can explore — this is how you get quick access to panorama modes or 4K video, for example. But other things like HDR and a dedicated backlight mode will be found under "Scenes" when you're in manual mode. It took me a few days to find them there, actually. Some of that I think is because the UI of Sony's "Modes" section almost looks like a mall, and in its own right it is, mixing currently available features that have their own names ("Time Shift Video" is what you're looking for if you just want a simple slow-motion recording) and are right next to other options you can download — and those a really just other camera apps.

The Album app (aka the gallery) also has a ton of options to explore. It'll sort your shots by folders, favorites or faces, in addition to the usual "here are all my picture" mode. Or it'll do it by location, which looks and feels a lot like how Instagram does it. You can build slideshows with it as well.

In other words, Sony's packed a whole lot into this camera, but often under new names and in ways you might not expect. It's a really good, really functional camera — it just takes some getting used to is all. And don't forget that you've got that physical shutter button that can be used to launch the camera app as well as take a picture.

Now on to the really important stuff: The sample shots.

A few other odds and ends

  • Sony's keyboard is pretty usable. I'm still used to third-party keyboards, particularly for the prediction, but Sony's is nicely laid out and has a good feel to it.
  • No problems making calls on this phone. Verizon worked as well as it always does.
  • But, again, that top speaker reverberates throughout the whole top half of the phone, even when you're not using it as a speakerphone.
  • Bluetooth and GPS worked as expected.
  • Sony has its own updates section for its apps. (An app to update the apps, actually.)
  • Softcard (the payment app formerly known as ISIS) is on board. I've still never used it.
  • Sony's got its own "Lifelog" health tracker, which you sign into using a Sony ID that I really don't want to have to sign up for.
  • Sony's accessibility options are pretty pitiful, given all the other features on the phone. Just the basics here.
  • Because someone always asks, yes, toss in an AT&T SIM and the phone recognizes the AT&T network. You'll have to mess with the APN setting, though.
  • No, you don't get simultaneous voice and data, at least not without VOLTE. Which the phone doesn't yet have.
  • The phone's status menu tells whether the Xperia Z3v is rooted.

Xperia Z3v: The Bottom Line

Not quite a Z3, but still pretty good

I'm still not entirely sure what I expected in the Xperia Z3v. I suppose I thought I'd be getting a Z3, with the Z3 design. Instead, I got something that looks and feels more like a Z2, with slightly better internals and newer software. And that's not really a bad thing, it's just not an Xperia Z3. And that's a little disappointing. I dare say it's almost boring to hold.

This isn't the Z3 you might have expected, and the design isn't all that inspiring, but it is a feature-filled and powerful Android smartphone.

So what do we have? A powerful Android smartphone filled with all kinds of features. Most you'll also find on other smartphones, but Sony's done well to leave its mark on things. If you're into the PlayStation 4 and want to take some of that gaming experience mobile, then the Z3v will be the phone to get. Well, if you're on Verizon, that is. (And, again, the PS features weren't complete at the time of this writing.)

The Z3v has a much more industrial feel than I expected, and it's just not as much nice to hold as recent releases from Samsung, HTC and Motorola.

You've also got a phone with a very good camera. It's a little more complex and not as easy to use as other phones, but the end result is usually worth it, and Sony does its best to simplify things with its "Superior Auto" mode.

Really, the best way to sum up the Xperia Z3v may be this: It's good to see Sony back on U.S. carriers. But it's a shame Verizon didn't go with the best phone Sony has to offer, even if it really only missed in superficial ways.

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