Home / Opinions / Head to Head: Why the Sony Xperia Z3 Plus has us divided

Head to Head: Why the Sony Xperia Z3+ has us divided

by

Xperia Z3 head to head

Was Sony right to launch the Xperia Z3+? The TrustedReviews team is divided. Here's the argument for and against the decision to make such a modest upgrade to the Z3...

This week, Sony officially announced the Sony Xperia Z3+, the successor to the Xperia Z3 launched just eight months ago. If you've already read our first look, you'll know that it's not a huge update on last year's flagship.

While the majority of the TR team was left underwhelmed by the LG G4, HTC One M9 and Samsung Galaxy S6 rival, not everyone is convinced it's such a bad move from Sony.

Arguing the case for the Z3+ is our Computing Editor Ed Chester. In the other corner is our News Editor Luke Johnson, who has some strong words about Sony's current smartphone approach.

Let us know in the comments section below who you agree with or tweet us at @TrustedReviews with the hashtag #HeadtoHead

Sony got it right with the Xperia Z3+

Ed Chester, Computing Editor, @Ed_Chester

Most people still have phones on contract and upgrade every two years when their free upgrade comes around. That means they have little regard for the release cycle of the latest handsets.

Sony’s six-monthly upgrade tactic plays right into that mindset, offering customers its latest features twice as often as its rivals, meaning that customers have the choice of a phone that's brand new compared to one that may be eight or nine months old.

While this does rely on Sony providing features that actually make that difference worthwhile – what’s the point of having the latest Sony if it’s still behind the 9-month-old Samsung? – the overall strategy still makes sense.

What’s more, while some have been arguing that it’s a more expensive way to produce phones and that this is hurting Sony’s mobile division, that's unlikely to be the case. The steady, small upgrade approach means the impact on R&D, tooling and assembly costs should be relatively small – the production runs are still plenty large enough to absorb these initial costs. If anything it's Sony not spending enough on marketing that’s hurting sales.

SEE ALSO: Sony Xperia Z3+ vs Z3: What's new?

Xperia Z3 Plus press images 9

Most importantly, though, when it comes to the Z3+ itself it actually has quite a few significant upgrades. A move to the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor puts it ahead of some rivals and will ensure this handset stays performance-competitive for a long while, plus it also enables Sony to reduce the battery size without compromising on battery life.

We’d still prefer to have a larger battery and even greater battery life, but a smaller battery does also make for a slimmer and lighter handset.

Also, there’s one fairly significant change that’s rather snuck under the radar: the removal of the flap covering the charging port. That’s a huge boost in overall usability and convenience compared to having to remove a waterproof cover every time you want to charge up.

All told, there's enough there that Z1 or Z2 users have plenty of reasons to upgrade. Whether the Z3+ does enough to convince non-Sony users to convert is another matter. We'd really have liked to see wireless charging and a fingerprint reader, and we aren't holding out much hope for Sony suddenly taking the camera image quality crown.

Crucially, though, these potential issues are not a symptom of Sony's six-monthly cycle but rather an overall choice to target certain features over others. In other words, it's differentiating, and in a market where there's less and less real choice, that's something I, for one, applaud.

Sony got it wrong with the Xperia Z3+

Luke Johnson, News Editor, @johnsonjourno

Sony has been getting its approach to the smartphone market wrong for years. Yesterday’s introduction of the Sony Xperia Z3+ has merely taken the company to new depths of desperation and cluelessness.

Flagship phone updates are supposed to not only progress the company’s individual efforts, but drive the industry on as a whole. Disappointingly, the Z3+ hasn’t even brought Sony into parity with the likes of the iPhone 6 and Samsung Galaxy S6.

The company’s penchant for iterative updates not only shows a lack of understanding of consumer wants and needs; it is actively harming the company’s reputation as a serious smartphone vendor. On top of this, it’s pissing off existing consumers.

Why would you buy a phone knowing that it will be irreparably outdated within six months? Being tied to a two-year contract – as most of us are – missing out on a single update is only just an accepted hardship. Sony fans see four flagship phones cycle through in a 24-month period. This isn’t acceptable.

SEE ALSO: iPhone 6 vs Samsung Galaxy S6 in-depth comparison

Xperia Z3 Plus press images 5

If you snapped up the Z2 or Z3 last year, by the time your contract is up for renewal, your handset won’t just seem dated; it will be irrelevant and obsolete.

If Apple made such minimalist and regular updates between iPhones, there would be industry-wide uproar. Competitors would mock, customers would scoff and disdain would spread through the tech kingdom. Although at least Apple might ensure the software is still kept up to date on those older models – can you imagine carriers rolling out Android updates for so many product iterations?

Troublingly, such short product turnarounds don’t even guarantee a steady flow of core new features. Sony is forced to hold things back, undermining the positives of short handset cycles.

There’s no reason why the Z3+ should omit a QHD display, fingerprint scanner or wireless charging. Sony will inevitably hold these off for future models, costing current consumers. An improved selfie camera and the addition of a much-maligned processor doesn’t make for a compelling upgrade option.

Further confusing matters, the Z3+ launched in Japan under the guise of the Z4. Although more flagship by title, that device is identical on a specs front.

This lack of global Z4 branding shows cowardice in conviction. It’s almost as if Sony itself is embarrassed by the lack of progression its latest “flagship” offering, aware of the farcical nature of its six-month cycles.

With ailing sales figures and diminishing brand authority, if Sony Mobile continues on this route into 2016, we could soon be missing a big name from the smartphone race.

toboev

May 27, 2015, 3:08 pm

I'm rooting for Luke on this one, even if his last paragraph conjures up an image of Sony bestride a radish.

shnatiw

May 27, 2015, 4:08 pm

Some interesting points here. I like the idea of two Editors going head to head over a product. Makes the article more involving and has certainly divided my opinion. Ed, I get what you are saying about a six monthly cycle offering adopters a more up to date handset. Of course the downside is Luke's point that your phone becomes comprehensively outdated a lot more quickly. I totally agree with both of you that Sony need to overhaul their branding and marketing strategy. It does seem to be non existent! Ed, I agree to a certain extent that sticking to a HD screen helps battery life. Fair play. However, HTC took this approach and it clearly hasn't paid off. As for not holding out much hope for Sony's sensor taking the image quality crown...Well, they should be aiming for that crown. They have the pedigree and capability to be competing with Samsung and LG in this respect, and in fact their sensors are in both those models. Are they not? Overall, I think that Luke's argument and stance highlights the main problems that Sony needs to acknowledge and combat. With Nokia gone, Blackberry going, HTC ailing, and Microsoft under appreciated, to lose another of the old guard would be a real shame.

shnatiw

May 27, 2015, 4:26 pm

One question Luke. In what areas do you think the Z3+ is not at least on a par with the iPhone 6. Discounting software (which is a consumer choice between iOS and Android), Apple Pay (still some way from being a mainstream necessity), and a fingerprint reader (nice to have, but shouldn't be a deal breaker)?

Also, while Apple have refrained from making minimalist regular updates between iPhones. They have proven themselves to be masters of making incremental yearly upgrades. Often withholding features that others have freely given. Although, they have improved of late, and perhaps understand that this will eventually lead to diminishing returns.

aseuss

May 28, 2015, 3:12 am

As ZDNet reviewer Kevin Tofel said, "Strangely, Apple seems to be able to take a prior year's phone model, make a few tweaks and that's OK. When Sony does the same, it's a let down. Go figure."
He's hit it on the money. Sony isn't even pretending this is a whole new gadget, as reflected in the '+' moniker rather than calling it a Z4. And frankly, Sony would be justified in calling this a Z4: (1) Processor has been upgraded from a quad-core 801 SD to an Octa-core 810. (2) Profile has been slimmed from 7.3 mm to 6.9 mm. This leads to (3) Battery life. Slimmer profile does mean slightly smaller battery, but the battery life is still 2 days, which is what Sony claimed for the Z3. And according to GSMArena, the Z3 gets 85 hrs on endurance testing, compared to Galaxy S6 at 73 hrs and iPhone 6 at 55 hrs. (4) Front-facing camera goes from 2-MP to 5-MP, a 125% increase. (5) Sony answered complaints about the fiddly USB ports, eliminating the flap WITHOUT affecting waterproofing. (6) Sony's camera software now recognizes 52 settings to optimize photo capture, and features Steady Shot tech to virtually eliminate blurring during those shaky selfies.
Come to think of it, these are significant upgrades. Just call it a Z4, Sony!

aseuss

May 28, 2015, 3:15 am

And while Apple only has NFC for payments, Sony (and a bunch of others) has NFC for both data AND payments. As for the incremental upgrades, I like what Kevin Tofel at ZDNet said yesterday: "Strangely, Apple seems to be able to take a prior year's phone model, make a few tweaks and that's OK. When Sony does the same, it's a let down. Go figure."

aseuss

May 28, 2015, 3:33 am

"If Apple made such minimalist and regular updates between iPhones, there would be industry-wide uproar." See quote from ZDNet's review below. Also, Apple often holds back on providing features that others (including Sony) have had, to coax people to upgrade (and spend more) on "new" models. As industry analyst (and former mobile phone engineer) Tommi Ahonen noted earlier this year, Xperia phones have generally been about 18 months ahead of iPhone on most technologies. Funny that while people complain about Z3/Z3+ not having quad display, they don't make the same complaint about the iPhone's 1334x750 display (compared to the Z3's 1920x1080). Other things that Z3 is ahead in: battery life (according to GSM Arena, Z3 has longer life than S6 or iPhone 6); camera megapixels, waterproofing, expandable memory, RAM, NFC (iPhone only has cash, not data), and hi-resolution audio. So I don't know what Luke means when he says the Z3+ hasn't brought Sony "into parity with the likes of iPhone 6 and S6"--it'll be like the Z3, which already was ahead of iPhone 6 in many areas except fingerprint scanning. And waterproofing is no small thing: some have complained about tinny sound after getting their iPhone's waterlogged--why hasn't Apple addressed this? Again, the Z3 is "as close to an ideal phone as one can get today," according to USA Today's Chris Thomas. So Sony was smart to leave well enough alone.

aseuss

May 28, 2015, 3:39 am

I think Sony struck a nice balance between upgrades and keeping well enough alone. After all, USA Today's Chris Thomas said just months ago that the Z3 "is as close to an ideal phone as one can get today," and "may be the best phone money can buy". Obviously, some of that is subjective, but the point is that the Z3 was already an excellent handset and Sony was smart not to mess with it too much. Leave the major changes to the upcoming Z5, which (if reports are accurate) will get fingerprint scanning in the power button and all-aluminum design.
One other thing. If the Z5 does launch in the Fall as expected, it'll make sense that Sony's calling this a Z3+, because the Z5 will represent a huge jump in both looks and technologies.

Ed

May 28, 2015, 8:27 am

Surely it would be wasabi.

LeeTronix

May 28, 2015, 8:48 am

Both interesting takes on the phone and its right to produce a newer phone more regularly.

While I do not want to get into specs and phone materials and design I do find that Sony are not that different to say Apple. Apple bring out a phone every year and as some have already mentioned it is an older or previous model with a "few tweaks", and it seems by the second year a new phone has emerged. And yet again Apple for example use an older spec in a new shell. Some phone makers take it step further and use tech that is a few years old in comparison to other makers when they launch new phones. It is clearly a divided view of strategy and the reality of the hardware does not necessarily make the phone any better.

So that said..

Does Sony have the right to do the same as Apple but in a different way. Absolutely.

Sony Xperia Z, Samsung has well lots! Blackberry have a few and Windows is confusing with their Lumia's period, apologies if I missed others but you get the idea.

The main issue is simple its about consumer choice and if Sony wants to sell their products in this manner and it works for they way they produce mobile tech then fair enough.

I might be wrong only Sony would know, but I just somehow think on a strategic level they know globally and on local demographic levels the types of consumer and who purchases what etc.

With that I guess they are making in roads to know exactly more or else what they expect to make in profit earnings considering all the other phone makers and when they launch their yearly phones. So in some ways maybe this makes sense for Sony to get their products out there in this manner and if so fair play to them.

Zeus

May 28, 2015, 10:31 am

I enjoyed both Arguments @Ed I originally thought the comment

"Sony’s six-monthly upgrade tactic plays right into that mindset,
offering customers its latest features twice as often as its rivals,
meaning that customers have the choice of a phone that's brand new
compared to one that may be eight or nine months old."

was really good,

But then I thought most tech savy consumers know now to try and get an upgrade on their contracts when their brand of choice releases a new phone or close to it. Looking at the different companies they're pretty good at releasing upgrades the same time every year. Apple's yearly release is great providing me with close to the year of no buyers remorse (Yearly contract with vodafone), On a two year would be good too as when the upgrade comes round most people are in line to get the next generation too. (after skipping one of course)

Zeus

May 28, 2015, 10:35 am

Nice Argument. as long as they keep on making updates on those phone say 3 iterations behind but only a 1 year and half behind. Say what you like about apple but they don't leave consumers too much in the cold regarding updates. IOS 9 is still tipped to support the iphone 4s (rumour)

Ed

May 28, 2015, 11:50 am

A key point is that Sony doesn't have the brand cache anymore and according to some research brand is still by far the biggest factor when it comes to buying a new phone. As such, Sony's tactic is a way of admitting defeat on that front and instead tempting buyers that are less tied down and just want an upgrade there and then. Would love to see some stats on just when people do upgrade.

LeeTronix

May 28, 2015, 2:27 pm

I agree Apple do a good job with their updates in that regard. It is a shame all manufactures don't focus on the end user - the customer that surely has to be the priority not the other way around.

LeeTronix

May 28, 2015, 2:34 pm

It would be interesting to know those stats are on upgrading across all brands all networks etc. Then we could create a comprehensive matrix in detail of what is exactly going on.

Rallas

May 28, 2015, 2:46 pm

I don't see how upgrading hardware frequently is a negative, it ensures the Sony flagships always offer the best and latest processors and hardware. Consumers will upgrade whenever they feel the time is right, regardless of whether a new model with upgraded internals is available. I still use an off contract Nexus 5 which has been with me nearly two years, I am usually upgrading every 12 months in the past, but in the case of the N5, no upgrade seems worth it to me, yet, I still love my N5.

the_matchless

May 29, 2015, 9:23 am

It's interesting to see how in the process of justifying their point of views the two have actually signified the different mindsets that the companies under question are targeting largely.

I prefer minimalism over hyped up tech and so am not really in for the "Bragging rights". I believe if a device should have a certain new tech put into it then it needs to first justify its greater need over its inherent disadvantages e.g the QHD display is totally useless gimmick that I'd prefer not having in a screen below 5.5" size (although AMOLEDs need that to look as fluid as the IPS displays) & the fingerprint scanner would mean more with the android M while our second reviewer Luke Johnson takes it differently for his right reasons.

My brother on the other hand is more like a Samsung Note guy and so when he asked me for an advice over what he should buy I straight away recommended him the Galaxy Note. He now owns the Note Edge despite my warnings (I was in favour of the Note 4) that its not a very comfortable phone as far as the physical handling, Battery timing, processing power and the value for money go. Now even when he does acknowledge all the aforementioned issues with the device, he still is not willing to change, reason? "Bragging Rights" for the edged display (Useless Gimmick for me).

I own a Z3 & I am very happy with it & while I wish that Sony had done better upgrade with the rear camera (OIS), I still am looking forward to buying the Z3+ despite my disappointment, why? While value for money may make me think for the S6 I still prefer battery timing, Video playback quality on display, the design, the minimalism, the closest match to my wish list.

Has Sony got it wrong with 6 month cycle? I think that this may not be the real issue here since incremental improvements mean "improvements" i.e. a promise that the features have not been omitted but improved in the process of making more sense. Take HTC for example the closest match here, why the M9 is appearing to be so less talked about and less cared for too? the answer may be in the "6 months incremental improvements".

To end it I'd say Sony IMO haven't really got it wrong, they have many times become my natural choice and of many others for the reasons stated above, however, whats really wrong with them is that while they are trying to recover from their depression they aren't putting in so much into their marketing.

What we all including Luke Johnson agree at is that we don't want Sony to loose cause they really do have that in them and they are a significant player no matter how small a market share they may have.

MidtownDawg

June 11, 2015, 11:13 pm

I am just learning about the Z3+ as I have been really wanting to get a Samsung S6 Active, but I don't get AT&T reception in my area. So, I have been asking myself if I can deal with the S6 and looking around. I see this Z3+ and I think better battery, good processing (I don't care which is slightly faster), good camera (better than the S6), equal 32GB memory and GB Ram and then it has some things that are important to me - water/dustproof and removable microSD card slot. I think I would get the S6 Active over this, but since I can't get it, I think I will get the Sony Z3+. Any thoughts?

StarSix Cooper

June 26, 2015, 9:01 am

@ed_Chester well said, best and most accurate post I have read on the topic since the hype started. I can only hope that word about marketing gets to Sony and they do something about it. Sales reps won't sell the z4v with no commission and store managers won't condone its sales if there is little gross profit for the company. Average joes will continue to be "sold" on Samsung for the sake of bigger pay checks, not because the phone is "better." I'm rooting for Sony

Ben Moore

July 12, 2015, 9:24 pm

apple have made 10 in 7 years not that far off each other

Peter H

July 23, 2015, 9:08 pm

The criticisms towards Sony's product cycle unfortunately aren't valid of you actually dig in to the situation and make an effort to understand the context.

Sony is a Japanese manufacturer, and in Japan the standard product cycle for smartphones is 6 months. Hence Sony must release a new product every six months in Japan - they may as well release the model elsewhere too.

The argument of the rapid updates updating owners is always not valid, at least not to me. I owned a Z, then a Z2, now consisting a Z3+. I like Sony's ways of doing things because with every incremented update they focus on a couple of small things the customers have asked for, and every model becomes that little bit more refined and that one step closer to perfection.

Because the updates are so incremental, there's no need for Sony owners to upgrade every 6 months...but if you want to, the option is there.

The other plus is resale value. Having such small updates each time means the previous gen models hold their value very well. Here in Aus you can buy a Z3+ for $750 or so, but if you want A a z3 you still can't find then for under $620. Even brand new Z2s still all fit around $450-$500 because for those wanting a bargain the Z2 is only a small downgrade from a Z3. So for Z users who do want to upgrade every 6 months, they can take comfit in knowing they can sell their old phone and still get good money for it.

Compare this to LG. The G3 Can now be bought for $450 easily here, while the G4 is at least around $200 -$250 more than that. On the second hand market G3's are worth little.

Foamy you get stability. The first Z has a horribly laggy ui, terribly contrast and viewing angles, mediocre battery life, etc. Since then all of those weaknesses have becomes strengths based on the concept of constantly refining the same design every 6 months for two years. The software is now excellent and has run silky smooth since the Z2.

On the other hand other manufacturers (with the G3, S6, etc) have run in to all kinds of reliability and performance problems as a Result of trying to reinvent the wheel.

comments powered by Disqus