Last September, I wrote that Sony Mobile was seeking to stop releasing a new handset every six months in favour of an annual release schedule, but with the mention that it still needed something as a go-between to bridge the gap from the current Z3.
EDIT 20 APRIL: Since publishing, Sony went ahead and announced the new phone in Japan as the Z4. A rather odd move for a model that is by far the smallest incremental update in all of the Z-series range. However, as stated from the outset, this is not coming to the UK and Europe as the Z4, but rather the Z3+.
The ‘Z3 Neo*’ [aka E6553] should look like this. You’ll be excused for thinking it looks just like the Z3, as that’s obviously intentional.
* Note: This is the name that was leaked on Twitter earlier today and could of course be wrong. Until now all sorts of other names were rumoured on Xda-developers and Esato, such as Z3i and Z3s, or even Z3+ (an unlikely one, given the screen size is exactly the same as the current Z3). [EDIT 26 May 2015: So, it WAS the Z3+!]
It’s somewhat more of an upgrade than when Sony Ericsson released a higher clocked arc S to breathe new life into the Xperia arc, but the changes are still pretty slight with no massive visual differences.
The Z1 was a huge leap over the Z1. The Z2 was a fairly big step up as it introduced stereo speakers and an improved screen (some would argue a massively improved screen), while the Z3 was substantially different in look to the Z2.
The Z3 Neo will hardly look different at all.
If it aint broke…
The Z3 Neo might be a little bit thinner, but it is still going to look just like the existing Z3 for most people – and that’s no bad thing. It makes it easier to market, just changing an image and some text as required. People who just bought a Z3 shouldn’t feel upset either.
Under the hood, what will change is a Snapdragon 810 SoC, which means it gets Cat 6 LTE support – for up to 300Mbps download speeds. This is something some networks will have probably been demanding to help promote their faster 4G networks.
This will bring improved performance, but it’s not as if the current Snapdragon 801 is slow, and with the Z3 already having 3GB of RAM, existing Z3 owners tempted to upgrade are unlikely to really notice much difference in everyday usage.
Hopefully the thermal issues will be resolved though, as Xperia owners probably know only too well how hot their devices can get on a warm day, with the camera shutting down after only a few photos in worst case scenarios (let alone trying to record 4K video). With rumours of SD810 having overheating problems, this is something I’ll be watching very closely.
Mind you, a dunk in some cold water is always a perfect way to get things back up and running quickly – a feature not afforded to many other high-end devices that get hot under the collar extremely easily but wouldn’t like such a soaking!
Stop with the magnets!
The new phone is also ditching the magnetic charging connector in favour of a ‘naked’ USB port that doesn’t breach the water resistant protection any more than when Sony introduced the open headphone jack. This will make charging far easier with any ordinary charger, although it probably means the end of the nice, but overpriced, docks.
It’s possible the phone might support wireless charging instead, which could be a feature that encourages some Z3 owners to upgrade regardless. Given Ikea has just started to sell furniture and lamps with integrated wireless chargers, and Samsung has recently added support on the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge, wireless charging is finally becoming mainstream.
Perhaps the biggest reason for people to upgrade will be the camera. That’s IF the camera gets the latest Sony IMX230 image sensor that could really make a difference to image quality. However, nobody who has leaked info thus far has mentioned what the camera actually is inside the phone – besides it being the usual 20.7-megapixels. Oh, and a 5-megapixel selfie cam up front.
Hopefully Sony Mobile isn’t far off announcing this new device, so all of the above rumours and questions will be answered once and for all.
So when exactly is the all-new phone coming?
All that is known for sure is that the all-new Xperia flagship is not the phone shown above, despite all the stories you’ve read of late.
The phone most people are eagerly awaiting will be announced in Q3 (IFA, September 2015) for a Q4 release – with other models (think Compact or a new Compact Tablet) possibly coming over the coming months to allow for a device unveil at CES (January 2016) or MWC (February 2016).
The new flagship smartphone will sport a larger display. You can be certain this will be a QHD display, but utilised for a genuine reason and not just to play the numbers game. In other words for a 5.5, 6-inch or maybe even bigger display.
This might be akin to the ill-fated Z Ultra that flopped so miserably and saw the Ultra line killed off almost straight away, but now tried again at a time where people are now more comfortable with large-screened devices.
The next generation of devices should be radically different. That could mean things like fingerprint detection, curved displays, new build materials, reduced bezels and loads of other things to get people excited again, rather than seeing rather minimal upgrades every six months that has made even hardcore fans begin to get bored.
It will also need a killer chipset, to allow it to last a whole year. Will Snapdragon 820 be ready, or will Sony be looking elsewhere to satisfy its demand and those of its customers?
Whatever the eventual outcome, hopefully the annual release schedule from then on will finally see a big turnaround in the fortunes of a phone maker that deserves a lot more success than it has achieved in recent years.
Please let me know your thoughts, especially if you disagree!