Sony's Xperia XZ3 is basically the XZ2 with a pretty OLED screen

Sony's flagships are getting so iterative now it's hard to tell them apart.

Sony has consistently failed to make money from smartphones for as long as we can remember, but it's not giving up. The immediate strategy is to focus on the heavyweight division, competing against other companies striving to make the very best phone around. But Sony's gotten into the habit of releasing new devices every few months, and it's getting tougher and tougher to tell them apart. Take the new Xperia XZ3 Sony announced today at IFA. The XZ2 and XZ2 Premium have both landed within the last six months, so it's no surprise the XZ3 doesn't have much we haven't seen already. Which begs the question: How many flagships is too many flagships?

If there's one thing Sony thinks will sell you on the XZ3 above all else, it's the new 6-inch, Quad HD+ HDR OLED display. This 2,880 x 1,440 (18:9) screen was crafted with the help of Sony's Bravia TV team, and the company basically says its brightness, contrast and color reproduction are unmatched. Pair that with Sony's bag of trademarked display tech that upscales video resolution and contrast to make everything look as good as possible, and you've got a media machine on your hands. And the display is, no doubt, gorgeous. I obviously haven't compared it side by side with every other OLED smartphone, but let's say Sony's right and it is the best in the business. The more important thing is whether that actually matters to you, and how much you're willing to pay for it.

For the most part, the XZ2 and XZ3 look almost identical, but from the front you can see where this new 6-inch screen curves over the sides -- similar to Samsung's Galaxy S9. Trimming these side bezels makes an already attractive design even prettier, and the Gorilla Glass 5 that covers the front and back of the device is now joined by a thin strip of aircraft-grade aluminum (as opposed to not aircraft-grade aluminum on the XZ2). In addition to standard white and black models, the purpley red and mint green colors are especially dazzling thanks to the new chrome mirror-coated finish.

A 6-inch display means there's a lot of ground for your thumb to cover, so Sony's added a new feature called "side sense" to make the XZ3 easier to use one-handed. It's a not-so-shameless copy of one of HTC's Edge Sense features: Double-tap the side of the XZ3 with your thumb and a small app and shortcut menu will pop up. It's not quite as simple as it sounds, though. Sony says there's an AI element to it, so the menu will changed based on your location, the time of day and day of the week. At the gym, for example, it might put Spotify within easy reach because that's the first thing you do before hitting the treadmill. Similarly, it'll figure out you always check road traffic in Google Maps every morning.

There's another new AI feature called "smart launch" too, which automatically opens the camera app if the phone thinks you're about to want to take a picture. This feeds primarily off sensor data: If you whip the XZ3 out and immediately hold it in landscape orientation, chances are you're setting up to snap a photo. I can't help but see the potential for frustrating false positives, but you can turn all these AI features off if you want to.

The only other main difference between the XZ2 and XZ3 is the 5-megapixel front-facing camera has been swapped out for a more flagship-grade 13-megapixel sensor. You can now add a few animations to your 3D face scans, too, like Sony's version of Animoji. The Sony camera app has been given a slight makeover so the viewfinder looks less cluttered, but you can still find all the same settings and features in various menus. As you'd expect, the XZ3 runs Android 9.0 Pie out of the box and... I've more of less run out of things to talk about.

Aside from the pretty OLED screen, 13MP selfie cam and thumb-activated app menu, this is the same phone as the XZ2. That means the same 19MP primary camera with 4K HDR video recording and 1080p super slo-mo; the same (fantastic) Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chip paired with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage; the same awkwardly placed fingerprint reader, waterproof rating and wireless charging compatibility.

Forgive the apathy.

Don't get me wrong. The XZ3 looks beautiful and the new OLED display is lovely, but this year alone we've already seen the XZ2 and XZ2 Premium, and with so little separating the three devices, Sony's smartphones are getting increasingly iterative. Sony even seems to be getting confused, because the XZ2 Premium is still technically its best flagship on account of the 4K display and dual camera.

The XZ3 might tick all the right boxes for you, but how long until Sony brings out an XZ3 Premium with 48-megapixel camera and you feel like you've wasted your money? And it's a lot of money. The new Xperia XZ3 goes on sale in October for $900/£699, putting it firmly between the $700 XZ2 and $1000 XZ2 Premium. Sony phones have always been expensive, but when you can get a great device like the OnePlus 6 for $529, it's no wonder Sony is still struggling to compete.

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Camera: Liviu Oprescu
Editor: Liviu Oprescu
Host: Jamie Rigg