If you'd like your next business phone without a pricey two-year contract attached, Sony's Xperia Z3 is a very good pick. The new flagship phone is sleek and fast, with a bright, 5.2-inch (13.2 centimeters) display and epic battery life. Its biggest weakness is probably its limited availability: It's only available off contract through T-Mobile. But if you're willing to pay a bit more for your smartphone up front than you would through Verizon or AT&T, you can save money with a more affordable monthly data plan, and get yourself one of the most well-rounded business phones on the market.
The Xperia Z3's design is simple but sophisticated, with some notable enhancements over its predecessor, the Xperia Z2. Sony ditched that phone's boxy sides for a matte-finish metal frame with rounded-off edges. The overall effect is reminiscent of Apple's new iPhone 6; both devices sport rounded edges and wide bezels above and below the display, though Apple's 4.7-inch (11 cm) phone is smaller. Meanwhile, the Xperia Z3's classy glass back looks like it was pulled directly from the iPhone 4.
Whether Sony is intentionally aping Apple isn't the point; I only draw the comparisons to help illustrate what makes the Z3 one of sleekest, most premium feeling Android handsets available. In terms of hardware design, it easily beats competing phones like Samsung's Galaxy S5, and is on par with HTC's all-metal One M8.
All that glass and metal makes this a fairly hefty phone, though, weighing in at 6.02 ounces (171 grams). That's heavier than the all-metal One M8 (5.64 ounces, or 160 g) and the all-plastic Galaxy S5 (5.1 ounces, or 145 g), though both those phones have slightly smaller screens.
A small but notable design detail is the placement of the phone's hardware buttons. The power button on the phone's right side is actually located closer to the middle of the device than the top, making it very easy to reach. And, as on previous Xperia smartphones, the button is round, so it's easy to distinguish by touch alone. The volume rocker is right beneath it, with a dedicated camera button below that, which is a nice perk if you like snapping photos.
Other hardware highlights include 32GB of onboard storage, with the option to expand the internal storage with a micro SD card slot. And though the phone lacks wireless charging capabilities, it does have Sony's proprietary docking contacts on its left side, if you want to shell out a little extra for a desktop dock.
Plastic flaps cover the phone's ports, making it waterproof. Sony says the Z3 is rated to survive being submerged in up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) of water for 30 minutes. I wouldn't recommend showering with your smartphone, but in case of an accident, the waterproof design makes the Z3 a more dependable work phone. The plastic flaps are a potential downside, but I found it pretty easy to pop them open with my fingernail.
The Xperia Z3 sports a relatively large, 5.2-inch display that strikes a pretty good balance between portability and productivity. It's certainly big enough for screen-intensive productivity tasks like editing a spreadsheet, providing a bit more room than competing phones like Galaxy S5 (5.1 inches, or 13 cm) or the HTC One M8 (5 inches, or 12.7 cm). But it's not as big as the screens on phablets like the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 (5.7 inches, or 14.5 cm) or Apple's iPhone 6 Plus (5.5 inches, or 13.7 cm).
The Xperia Z3's 1,920 x 1,080-pixel panel is pretty sharp, putting it on par with the Galaxy S5. And while Sony hasn't upped the resolution from the Xperia Z2, the Z3's display is brighter, making it easier to see the screen outdoors in direct sunlight.
On paper, the Xperia Z3 isn't quite as powerful as new Android phones like the Galaxy Note 4 or Motorola Droid Turbo, but it's still an incredibly speedy smartphone that will more than satisfy most business users. The phone's quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor provides smooth performance, and the phone packs a whopping 3GB of RAM, so multitasking is snappy. I opened and closed standard apps quickly, and jumped between apps without a hint of slowdown.
Most Android smartphone makers pack all sorts of interface changes into their devices, and Sony is no exception. But compared to the convoluted TouchWiz interface found on Samsung smartphones, Sony's interface is relatively simple and inoffensive, with a few extra features you won't find in stock Android.
I appreciated being able to swipe to the left inside the notification tray to access the Quick Settings menu, where you can toggle on and off functions like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Meanwhile, tapping the Recent Apps button, located next to the home button, opens a sidebar where you can launch "small apps" for easy multitasking (more on this in a minute).
Sony did add a bunch of relatively useless stuff to the home screen, such as the What's New widget, which suggests apps and multimedia to download. But it's pretty easy to clear that junk away when you're setting up your device. I still prefer the clean look and feel of stock Android, available on phones from Motorola and Google.
The one addition I really appreciate, though, is a multitasking feature called "small apps." It lets you launch applications in persistent, floating windows over top of your main app, to help you do two things at once; most smartphones only let you view one app on screen at a time. I especially liked being able to use the calculator or view my calendar while composing an email. And the feature works even better when you stack two small apps vertically to create a split-screen view.
By default, the Xperia Z3's small app drawer includes email, a calendar, a Web browser and a few others. It's easy to download new small apps, such as a notepad or international currency calculator, by tapping the Plus key inside the small app drawer. There's also a function to turn any widget into a small app.
You can drag and drop small apps to move them around the screen, or minimize them by dragging them to the edge, which turns them into small icons; tap an icon to open it again. As handy as the feature is, Samsung's Multi Window feature is better, since it rotates the apps when you view your phone in landscape mode. And while the Xperia Z3's 5.2-inch display is pretty big, running two apps at once feels a bit cramped compared to Multi Window mode on the 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 4.
Business users who depend on their smartphones to get through the end of the workday will really appreciate the Xperia Z3's excellent battery life. Even with moderately heavy use, including Web browsing, frequent social media check-ins and email use, I found myself going to bed with about 40 percent battery life remaining. Sony claims the phone can last a full two days with moderate use, and you might get there if you really baby it. But while most users will still have to charge the Xperia Z3 nightly, having such a generous cushion in the evening hours is a big relief.
Pricing and availability
The Xperia Z3 is a T-Mobile exclusive, so it's not available to purchase for a subsidized price through Verizon or AT&T. T-Mobile gives you two payment options: Pay $630 up front, or commit to paying $26.25 per month for 24 straight months. If that seems like a lot for a smartphone, consider that T-Mobile's monthly data plans are generally more affordable than similar plans through bigger carriers. That means that by paying a bit more up front, you can save money in the long run. On the other hand, competing phones are actually a bit cheaper through T-Mobile. The Galaxy S5 costs $609 up front, while the HTC One M8 costs $585.
The bottom line is that depending on how you look at it, the Xperia Z3 is either an extremely pricey smartphone, or a pretty decent bargain once you factor in the cost of a monthly data plan through T-Mobile. Budget-minded business users hoping to take advantage of the carrier's more affordable plans might want to opt for a cheaper handset, though.
Sony's Xperia Z3 is one of the most well-rounded business phones available, with good performance, great battery life, a waterproof design and a big, sharp display. And if you want premium good looks, this phone has them in spades. In the context of unsubsidized prices, it's also more affordable than it seems at a glance. Overall, it's the best smartphone Sony has built to date and a great alternative to more well-known Android devices.