For its first OLED handset, Sony employed the expertise of its Bravia TV team. Sony's always pushed its multimedia mastery, highlighting features like hi-res audio support and its X-Reality engine that automatically improves video quality. The XZ3 uses that engine to upscale video and manipulate contrast to faux HDR levels. There's no doubt the XZ3's OLED display is a good one.
Colors are vibrant, blacks are deep and it's easy to use in bright sunlight. The glass curves over the edge of the device slightly, similar to the Galaxy S9. And the corners of the display itself are rounded, which is aesthetically pleasing, but occasionally problematic. When you're playing something like PUBG Mobile, for instance, one of these missing corners cuts a little off the minimap.
It's a nice display -- and hooray, no notch -- but it's not like I'm in constant awe of it. Plenty of other phones have comparable OLED screens, like the Huawei P20 Pro, for example. Put side by side, the minor differences between them are nigh imperceptible. In other words, Sony hasn't pushed the envelope here, and the P20 Pro's OLED isn't exactly an exemplary yardstick, either.
On account of its bigger screen, the XZ3 is a bit taller and wider than the XZ2. And even for me and my relatively big paws, it's just a little too awkward to use one-handed. Sony's attempted to address that with a blend of hardware and software that's basically a clone of HTC's Edge Sense. Double-tap either side of the XZ3 with your thumb and a little menu pops up with shortcuts to commonly used apps and quick-settings, like the Bluetooth toggle.
The icons are all within easy reach of that same thumb, and the menu will offer different options based on context -- if you agree to let the "Xperia intelligence engine" keep tabs on your usage, that is. Your location, the time of day and day of the week will all influence what shows up in this sidebar. Spotify might be front and center if that's your go-to entertainment app for the commute home. On weekends, though, Spotify might be usurped by Uber if you happen to be at your local bar.
I haven't found this "side-sense" feature particularly useful, probably because I'm already programmed to reach for the app drawer every time I want to get at something not on the home screen. And it's not like it takes some feat of dexterity to open. When you actually jump into an app, side sense ceases to be useful.
Another feature I haven't really gotten along with is the navigate-back gesture, which you invoke by sliding your thumb up or down the side of the XZ3. It has a mind of its own, registering false positives and ignoring me when I'm making a concerted effort to use it.
While these features don't do much for me, I'm liking Sony's new camera trick. The XZ3 will automatically jump into the viewfinder if it thinks you want to take a picture. I've only managed to get this to work when pulling the phone from my pocket and immediately holding it in landscape orientation. Which, to be fair, is the exact motion you'd perform if you did want to take a picture. It's neat and makes shooting a one-step process.
In addition to this feature, Sony's redesigned its camera app for the sake of simplicity. Instead of having numerous shooting modes to choose from with only minor differences between them, you now get full auto or full manual. The viewfinder itself is still relatively busy compared to some other camera apps, though. There's an icon to get into the deeper settings like megapixel output, as well as a shortcut for switching to panorama or adding AR effects. Then there's a quick-settings strip for changing flash behavior, exposure, aspect ratio and shutter delay. It wasn't so much a decluttering exercise, then, as it was an opportunity to strip out unnecessary modes.
On the hardware front, the XZ3 replaces the XZ2's 5-megapixel selfie camera with a 13MP sensor fitting of a flagship. Naturally, this makes for much more detailed images, and when paired with the portrait selfie mode, it can spit out some quality snaps with natural-looking background blur. This is somewhat unexpected, too, since the bokeh mode designed for the single rear camera does a really poor job of simulating a shallow depth of field.
Sony's 3D scanning app has never produced very flattering results when you digitize your own face. On the XZ3, you can now animate these scans with smiles, frowns, winks and such. The pseudo-realistic smirks of your disembodied, angular head are basically the stuff of nightmares, though, and the polar opposite of cute, cuddly Animoji.
Otherwise, there's not much new here. The XZ3 comes in some flashy chrome mirror-coated finishes and will ship with Android 9 Pie, but the XZ2 and XZ2 Premium will get that update in November.