Sony Xperia XZ3 Unveiled with OLED Screen and Android Pie

Senior Editor
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Editors' Note: Updated at 8:45 a.m. ET with additional hand-on impressions.

BERLIN — Sony just can't stop releasing flagship phones.

The electronics giant started shipping the Xperia XZ2 in May, quickly following that release up with the dual rear camera-sporting Xperia XZ2 Premium over the summer. Now those phones are making way for a new model — the Xperia XZ3.

Credit: SonyCredit: SonySony has good reason to get this new phone out there. The XZ3 ditches Sony's devotion to LCD-based phones by adopting an OLED display. It will also ship with Android 9 Pie, giving it the most up-to-date version of Google's mobile OS.

You won't have to wait long for the Xperia XZ3. Sony says pre-orders for the $899 phone start Sept. 24. (Pre-order it from Amazon, and you'll get an Xperia Ear Duo headset.) The phone goes on sale in the U.S. on Oct. 17 at Amazon and Best Buy.

We're still getting used to the idea of yet another Sony phone, as the Xperia XZ3 just made its debut here at the IFA trade show in Berlin. But here's what we know so far about the new device after some hands-on time with the device.

Finally, an OLED Screen: The biggest news about the Xperia XZ3 is its display, as Sony is finally opting for an OLED panel. Sony says the new screen, which offers Quad HD+ resolution, draws on Sony's Bravia TV technology.

Sony says that should translate to more accurate colors and textures, and its color reproduction technology promises to deliver a wide array of colors in natural shades and hues. Sony also says a mobile image processing engine will reduce noise and improve contrast. Sony had the LCD-based Xperia XZ2 and XZ2 Premium near the XZ3 display area at its IFA booth, and there's no question that blacks are much deeper and truer on the new phone's OLED screen.

Of course, the gold standard isn't how Sony's new phone compares to LCD-based predecessors. It all matters how the XZ3 stacks up against the OLED panels on the Galaxy Note 9 and iPhone X. That's going to take more extensive testing.

A New Design: The XZ3 has a slightly bigger display than the 5.7-inch XZ2, though both phones boast an 18:9 aspect ratio. Sony says the XZ3's viewing area is 11 percent larger than what is predecessor offered, though the new phone is only 5 percent bigger than the XZ2. That means Sony went with a design that made the most of its extra space. That said, Sony has kept some bezels on the top and chin, so don't expect an edge-to-edge screen like Samsung's Infinity Displays.

The XZ3 uses a 7000-series aluminum alloy, which Sony says will keep the phone lightweight while helping it resist stress and cracking. The new phone uses Gorilla Glass 5 and, like other Sony flagships, offers IP68 water- and dust-resistance to survey unexpected dunks. One thing that became clear after handling the XZ3 in the demo area at IFA: the glass back of the new phone attracts fingerprints like nobody's business. You're going to need to keep a cloth handy to give the back of the XZ3 a wipe if you're the least bit troubled by smudges.

Sony is offering the XZ3 in four colors, though it's unclear if all four are coming to the U.S. We certainly hope the Bordeaux Red and Forest Green colors make the grade, as they're the most striking; Black and White Silver are your other options.

Changes to the Selfie Cam: Sony's sticking with a single 19-MP rear shooter, though Sony says it streamlined the interface of the camera app to help users more easily switch between photo and video modes. The streamlined interface also provides better access to Google Lens.

MORE: Best Smartphone Cameras

The biggest camera change comes up front. Sony went with a 13-MP selfie cam with an f/1.9 aperture. That's an upgrade from the XZ2's 5-MP front camera, and even though the selfie cam XZ2 Premium matches the XZ3's megapixel rating, the new phone's aperture is larger, which could mean sharper self-portraits in the dark.

Sony built some AI smarts into its camera with a new Smart Launch feature. Raise the sleeping XZ3 horizontally, and the camera will spring to life, ready to take a picture with a tap. The feature was a little fussy in the demo area at IFA, but after a few tries we got it working. Smart Launch figures to save only a few seconds from swiping your camera awake, but those seconds can make the difference when you're trying to capture the perfect shot.

Other Smarts: Speaking of AI-powered features, the Xperia XZ3 adds a new Side Sense capability that tries to predict what apps you'll use based on time of day and usage patterns. Double-tap the side of your phone, and suggested apps appear in a panel. Those apps will change as the AI powering the feature learns your usage patterns. You can dismiss those suggested apps with a slide.

The Side Sense feature also works when when you've launched the camera. Double tap the side of the phone to snap a picture.

The Latest Android: Android 9 Pie arrived earlier this month, and is rolling out to Google's devices, like the original Pixel and Pixel 2. With its Oct. 17 ship date, that would make Sony's new phone among the first non-Google devices to get the new Android.

(If you're the rumor-mongering type, this is more evidence that the next version of the Pixel will come out in early October as is widely expected. Google typically likes its phones to get the Android update first, but given the XZ3's ship date, Sony shouldn't be too far behind.)

Otherwise, It's Got Similar Specs: The XZ3 runs on the same Snapdragon 845 processor that powers Sony's other recent flagships. It ships with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage — the same specs offered by the XZ2. The XZ3 does bump up the battery to 3,300 mAh, compared to the 3,180 mAh power pack inside the XZ2. Still, that's not as big as the 3,540 mAh battery inside the more expensive Xperia XZ2 Premium.

Stay tuned for more hands-on impressions and details about Sony's upcoming phone.

Image Credits: Tom's Guide