Hardware Overview and Performance

Compared to the Xperia Z2 that came before it, the internal hardware of the Xperia Z3 is fairly familiar. While both devices do utilize Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 801 SoC, Sony has bumped up the silicon from the MSM8974AB to the MSM8974AC, giving the CPU a slight 0.2 GHz speed bump. This gives the handset the same top-end Snapdragon 801 chip as the Samsung Galaxy S5, LG G3, OnePlus One, and the new Motorola Moto X.

The MSM8974AC features a 2.5 GHz quad-core Krait 400 CPU, which uses ARM’s 32-bit ARMv7 instruction set. It’s paired with the ever-trusty Adreno 330 GPU clocked at 578 MHz, as well as a dual-channel LPDDR3 memory controller that’s good for 14.9 GB/s of bandwidth. This controller is directly connected to 3 GB of RAM in the Xperia Z3, the same amount as the Z2.

Also in this 28nm chip you’ll find Qualcomm’s Hexagon QDSP6V5A DSP clocked at 600 MHz, which is utilized for some low-power tasks, as well as a 4K video encoder and decoder, and a selection of radios. Specifically, we’re looking at dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, IZAT Gen8B A-GPS+GLONASS, as well as GSM, HSPA+ and Category 4 LTE radios. NFC is provided by a separate chip.

There are several models of the Xperia Z3 available on the market, so it’s crucial to choose the right model to ensure your network’s LTE bands are supported. My advice would be to nab the D6603 because it has the widest LTE support, packing in 10 bands (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 13, 17, 20) that gives support across the majority of the frequencies in use (FDD 700, 800, 850, 900, 1700, 1800, 1900, 2100, & 2600 MHz). The D6603 also has penta-band HSPA+ support.

I’d expect the D6603, or the very similar D6633 and D6643, to be sold in most locations worldwide. In countries that utilize TDD-LTE on 2300 MHz (band 40) such as Australia, you’ll get the D6653 with more limited FDD support. There are also a few other models for China and other regions, so be careful when picking one so you can maximize local compatibility and roaming (if you decide to travel).

Below I’ve outlined the main differences in hardware between the Xperia Z3 and its three predecessors, ranging all the way back to the Xperia Z. The differences between the earliest and most recent models is quite significant, although there hasn’t been many changes going from the Z2 to Z3.

Specs Sony Xperia Z3 Sony Xperia Z2 Sony Xperia Z1 Sony Xperia Z
SoC Snapdragon 801 MSM8974AC Snapdragon 801 MSM8974AB Snapdragon 800 MSM8974 Snapdragon S4 Pro APQ8064
CPU 4x Krait 400 @ 2.45 GHz 4x Krait 400 @ 2.26 GHz 4x Krait 400 @ 2.26 GHz 4x Krait @ 1.5 GHz
GPU Adreno 330 @ 578 MHz Adreno 330 @ 450 MHz Adreno 320 @ 400 MHz
Memory 3 GB dual-channel LPDDR3 @ 933 MHz 3 GB dual-channel LPDDR3 @ 800 MHz 2 GB dual-channel LPDDR2 @ 533 MHz
Storage 16/32 GB internal + microSD 16 GB internal + microSD
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac 802.11 a/b/g/n
LTE Category 4 Category 3
Other NFC, MHL, GPS+GLONASS, HSPA+, 2G, Bluetooth 4.0
Display 5.2” 1080p IPS LCD 5.0” 1080p MVA LCD
Battery 11.8 Wh (3,100 mAh) 12.2 Wh (3,200 mAh) 11.4 Wh (3,000 mAh) 8.85 Wh (2,330 mAh)
Camera 20.7 MP 1/2.3” sensor with f/2.0 lens 13 MP 1/3.06” sensor with f/2.4 lens

Like most flagship smartphones these days, the Xperia Z3 provides a smooth experience across the operating system and its apps. The Galaxy Note 4 with its Snapdragon 805 SoC feels slightly faster to use, but the difference is so marginal that it’s practically insignificant unless you’re using the two devices side-by-side.

Anyway, let’s check out the benchmarks for this handset, where I’m expecting the Xperia Z3 to perform at the same level as the Xperia Z2…

…and it does. Aside from some minor performance improvements that can be attributed to software tweaks and an 8.4% higher CPU clock speed, the Snapdragon 801 in the Xperia Z3 performs just like the Snapdragon 801 in the Xperia Z2.

Regarding NAND performance, Sony has significantly improved sequential read/write speeds with the Xperia Z3. Unfortunately, random performance hasn’t improved at all, placing it still in the middle of our speed charts.

As for NAND capacity, most Xperia Z3 models come with 16 GB of storage, although there are some 32 GB models on the market. With the included microSD card slot I have no problem with just 16 GB of storage, of which 11.6 GB is available out of the box. Purchase a cheap microSD card from Amazon and you’re set for all your photos, videos and music.

Like most (but not all) high end handsets I had no trouble with connecting to Wi-Fi, streaming content from my media server, accessing the web via Australia’s fast LTE, or using Bluetooth or GPS at various times. A couple of generations ago I had issues connecting to cellular networks at times on flagship Xperias, but these issues have definitely been resolved.

Audio quality is something that I don’t often talk about in reviews, unless there’s a specific reason to do so. With the Xperia Z3, there is such a reason, and that’s because the handset supports the playback of high quality 24bit/96kHz audio in formats such as FLAC, ALAC, WAV, etc. If you’re an audio enthusiast who can tell the difference between high-quality lossless files and MP3s, the Xperia Z3 caters for you.

Not only that, but in the Xperia Z3 box you’ll find a set of headphones that can be used in conjunction with the smartphone for active noise cancellation. The earbuds are quite good quality, but it’s the noise cancellation that makes it even better. Note that only a certain selection of Sony headphones are compatible with the Z3’s noise cancellation, though if you own a pair or use those in the box, you won’t have to buy new headphones with a (often) bulky processor just to achieve ambient noise reduction.