Two weeks with the Sony Xperia XZ3: Gorgeous design with a misplaced fingerprint scanner

Sony seems to have nearly reached perfection with the Xperia XZ3 design, except for the placement of the rear fingerprint scanner. The device is gorgeous and works well, but the price is also a bit high when compared to other flagships.

Four years ago the Sony Xperia Z3 was my daily driver and a few of the reasons I loved that device continue in the Sony Xperia XZ3 I have been testing for the past couple of weeks.

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ZDNet's Sandra Vogel posted a full review of the XZ3 a few weeks ago and awarded it an 8/10 score. That seems about right given its accomplishments and challenges.

Sony has stuck with its familiar design language for years, but started changing things up a bit with the XZ2 and its Ambient Flow design. With the XZ3, Sony offers up a very elegant flagship with one annoying design flaw -- the rear fingerprint scanner.

Major design flaw

In the past, Sony phones outside the US had the fingerprint scanner in the power button, which was a brilliant design decision. The fingerprint scanner on the Xperia XZ3 is found centered on the back, a location that is often preferred and used by many others (Huawei and Google, for example) successfully.

However, for some reason, Sony placed the scanner way down near the center vertically and it is nearly impossible to accurately hit every time unless you pick up the phone from the bottom half of the sides. Like the strange haptic button design of the HTC U12 Plus, the fingerprint scanner placement is so annoying that it takes away from an otherwise lovely device.

Daily usage experiences

As Sandra also pointed out, the design of the Xperia XZ3 is gorgeous with the lovely Forest Green one in my hands for testing. It's extremely slippery with the curved glass back design so be very careful that it doesn't slip off everything you set it on. I also noticed a few micro scratches on the back glass, even though I only carried it in a pocket by itself. I also love the way the screen extends all the way out and down the curved sides of the device, it seems the display just melts into your hand.

Speaking of the display, Sony uses an OLED screen with Sony Bravia TV technology to offer up one of the best smartphone displays I have ever seen. The X-Reality for mobile technology up-converts TV shows and movies close to HDR and I have thoroughly enjoyed content on this device. I just wish I had a kickstand case to keep it propped up.

The device also incorporates Sony's Dynamic Vibration System so that movie or music video content can be chosen to also enable vibration of the phone for a more immersive experience. It is interesting for some content and does improve the overall experience for movie genres such as action movies.

One of the reasons I loved the Xperia Z3 was the audio performance, particularly the noise-cancelling support through the 3.5mm headset jack. Unfortunately, this phone no longer has a headphone jack. However, it does have front-facing stereo speakers that sound awesome. Sony calls the experience S-Force Front Surround and it is great for sharing YouTube and other video content with friends.

The past few Sony phones I have tested have disappointed me with the camera performance and I was so discouraged by their performance that I gave up considering Sony phones for my own devices. Thankfully, that has changed with the Sony Xperia XZ3 and I have been very impressed with the results of the camera hardware and the helpful software. Check out my embedded image gallery for some samples.

The Xperia XZ3 is one of the only phones I know of that still has a dedicated physical camera shutter button, positioned down on the lower right side which turns out to be exactly where you want a camera shutter button in landscape orientation. Speaking of landscape orientation, you can enable a setting to launch the camera when you rotate the phone into landscape (aka camera mode) and then twist it up in that position. It works well after you figure out the necessary twist velocity.

The Xperia XZ3 also has a Predictive Capture option to detect when you are taking photos of people so it detects movements and smiles. When you then go view your photos in the included Album software the words Select The Best will appear on the image. Tap the image to view the buffered shots captured around the time you pressed the shutter button. The software is designed to pick the best one, but you also have the option to switch to another image.

The camera shoots 4K video as well as 960fps super slow motion in full HD. Another unique feature is the 3D Creator software that I have just started to discover.

Concluding thoughts

The Sony Xperia XZ3 pleasantly surprised me with a gorgeous design, outstanding audio, solid camera performance, wireless charging, IP68 dust and water resistance, and fairly stock Android experience.

I am also very pleased that Sony, like Samsung, continues to include its own image/album software for better photo usage than just stock Google Photos. Sony also includes its own email program that is excellent for my work email. That program also shows your next appointment right in the email interface so it is great for productivity. The more I used phones like the Xperia XZ3 and Note 9, the more I think Google Pixel devices really are not the best for work.

Cellular reception was better than the iPhone X, but not as good as some other Android phones I have tested. Calls sounded great and wireless performance has been solid.

Price and availability in the US

The Sony Xperia XZ3 is now available for purchase in the US from Amazon, Best Buy, and Focus for $899.99. Available colors include Forest Green, Black, and White Silver. While this is $100 or more less than the Galaxy Note 9 and Apple iPhone XS Max, it is still a bit higher than I would like to see with 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal, a single rear camera, and the Sony brand.

It may be a device I consider for myself at the $750 to $800 price though, especially given it already has Android 9 Pie and is likely to stay updated by Sony. Then again, not sure I can get over the terrible fingerprint placement.