A t first glance, it’s difficult to see how the Z3 justifies its price, especially in terms of the bald specifications.
On the display front, it comes with an 8in IPS display with a resolution of 1,200 x 1,920. Inside, it’s powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 SoC, with 3GB of RAM and an Adreno 330 GPU. None of this is groundbreaking stuff, and for $499 (RRP)we’d also expect a little more than 16GB storage (although there’s a microSD slot for expansion).
However, a closer look reveals a handful of things that elevate this tablet above the humdrum. It has the same water and dust resistance as the firm’s smartphones – its IP68 rating means it’s impervious to the ingress of dust and capable of being submerged in up to 1.5 metres of water.
The cameras are also a cut above the tablet norm – at least when it comes to the numbers. You get an 8.1-megapixel camera on the rear and a 2.2-megapixel shooter up front, although there’s no LED flash to help out in low light.
In terms of connectivity, there’s a full roster of top-end technology, too, with 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1 and NFC for quick pairing with wireless peripherals.
The design furnishes more points in the Z3’s favour. For starters, it’s the lightest, slimmest tablet of its size, outdoing both the iPad mini 3 and the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 in this regard. It’s 124mm wide, 213mm tall and only a fraction thicker than the iPad Air 2, at just 6.4mm. It’s the merest slip of a thing, weighing little more than an ebook reader, at 266g.
Despite this, there’s barely any flex or give to be found – which is no mean feat for such a dainty tablet. It’s an engineering achievement of which Sony should be proud.
Screen and performance
It’s just as well there’s plenty else to like about Sony’s compact tablet. The Full HD display, stretched across 8in, delivers a pixel density of 283ppi, which is as sharp as you need.
It’s searingly bright, reaching 477cd/m2 with the brightness turned up, and contrast is a respectable 1,078:1. We recorded an average Delta E of 6.37, which would normally indicate colours that are way off. However, although hues look a little more intense than we’d expect from a colour-accurate display. sRGB coverage is excellent (98%), and colours across the rest of the spectrum don’t look particularly unnatural to the eye.
The Z3 has a quad-core, 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor and 3GB of RAM, and this delivers a solid set of benchmark figures. In the single- and multi-core Geekbench tests, its scores of 977 and 2,654 compare well with the Galaxy Tab S 8.4’s 936 and 2,768, and its GFXBench T-Rex HD (onscreen) frame rate is twice as good, at 28fps. It feels extremely responsive, too, whether you’re browsing hefty web pages or panning and zooming around in Google Maps. But the really impressive side to the Z3’s performance is battery life. In our 720p looping video-playback test, where we set the screen to a brightness of 120cd/m2, the 4,500mAh battery lasted for an astonishing 17hrs 45mins, smashing the PC&TA record for tablet battery life – previously held by the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9in (2014) – by 50 minutes, and outrunning the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 by a full 5hrs 23mins.
Alas, the Z3’s 8-megapixel rear camera struggles to produce consistently good results. The main problem here is lens flare, which means that most of our shots in less-than-favourable conditions came out lacking in contrast and looking washed out. We weren’t too keen on Sony’s processing of pictures, either, with heavy-handed compression artefacts smearing the finer details.
Although it has its weaknesses, the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact is a fabulous piece of hardware. The battery life is incredible, the display is super-bright and performance is excellent. Couple these attributes with a slim, lightweight, water-resistant chassis and you have a high-calibre compact tablet – one that holds an edge over all its rivals.