Testmodo Challenge #1: Three Readers Put the Sony Xperia Z3's Battery Life to the Test

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Last month we shone our illuminated ‘G’ sign (yes, we have one) into the night sky and asked for three fine Giz readers to don reviewer coats and put Sony’s new Xperia Z3 smartphone through its paces. But while our Testmoders get to keep the handsets, they first have to give us the lowdown on it first. The first challenge? Exhausting the Xperia Z3’s battery life – or trying to…

Year after year, manufacturers throw the kitchen sink at upping the specs or features of smartphones, but leave most people shouting for improved battery life. The removable battery, too, has become something of an also-ran, forcing me to familiarise myself with the one-day charge cycle and the side market that is portable rechargeable power packs. So I was obviously rather keen to put Sony’s Z3 claims of two days’ battery life to the test.

With the huge 3100mAh battery charged fully, I attempted the ritual of the Monday morning commuter rush: a 35-minute train journey into Liverpool Street from the London suburbs, with a little bit of gaming, music listening and social-media checking, but mainly streaming an episode of Homeland on Netflix, desperate to finish Season 3 over varying 3G and 4G signal. I expected this to be a battery drainer, but the Z3 was still at 90 per cent by the time I got to the office. A full work day of uninterrupted Google Music streaming over 4G reduced the battery to around 55 per cent.

It was then back to watching the other half of Homeland on the train home, the battery down to 45 per cent when I arrived back and jumped on to Wi-Fi. A handful of social media checks, bouts of Candy Crush and Flipboard reading finished day one at 41 per cent. Somewhat incredibly, the next morning I woke up to see it hadn’t fallen below 40.

The next day I streamed Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode’s Wittertainment podcast while awaiting delivery of the DK-48 magnetic charger from Sony, wanting to see if the remaining battery would last until the afternoon. It did, finally fizzing out at 2.30pm – it had been up and running for an impressive 32 and a half hours.

Now, one downside to such a big battery is that charging it from flat to fully powered takes between three and four hours, whether you use the supplied micro USB cable or the DK-48 magnetic charger. But once back charged again, I wanted to see how many films I could go through on average settings with Netflix and my unlimited 4G data plan.

With auto-brightness turned on and brightness set at half, I opted for a film that would usually numb the bum of anyone at the cinemas – not just one but both of The Hobbit films, a near six-hour run time. The first finished with the battery at 68 per cent, the second bringing it down to 42 per cent, equating to roughly 11 per cent for each hour of film time.

If the third instalment was on Netflix now, you could watch all of the trilogy on one charge. Enabling Stamina mode after this, I was able to make the remaining 45 per cent last for a whole 12 hours longer, too, managing a total of 21 hours.

Wanting to see how the phone would perform with various heavy processing tasks without Stamina mode, I then played an hour of the graphically intensive Dead Trigger 2 and the addictive Nightbird Trigger X, which used up just six per cent of the battery. A quick half-hour Skype video call to Hong Kong over 4G, from my daughter to my niece, barely put another meagre two per cent dent in it.

All the above, along with the usual amount of social media updates, music playing, emails and photo taking, meant that the battery finally caved in for a second time at the 27-hour mark. Indeed, over the full seven days of use, I’ve only had to recharge it four times. Now, while I challenge anyone to make the phone last the full two days on a single charge – without judicious use of the Stamina mode, at least – this is still a refreshing change in an age of daily charging. For the first time if I leave my micro USB cable or portable battery pack at home, I won’t be panicking.

Ray Liu is a London-based web developer and part time photographer. Follow him on Twitter here.

I’m likely to be the black sheep of this review group being based in the little Welsh seaside town of Aberystwyth, which may be wonderful for sunsets and ice cream, but isn’t particularly high on the list for 4G roll out, nor am I particularly blessed with signal. Everyone loves a challenge though, right? It will certainly be good to see how the Z3 handles an outlier of its target urban market.

The Z3, and its smaller Compact sibling, have pushed how big their batteries are, and how long they last, rather hard in their publicity. But while the Z3’s battery puts the iPhone to shame – 1800mAh in 2014, Apple? – Sony’s has actually shaved 100mAh off its predecessor the Z2’s capacity, bringing it down to 3100mAh. So while it’s bigger than the closest competitors, when the Z3’s processor, screen and internal components are very similar to the Z2, just how well can that battery stand up?

The answer? Bloody fantastically – I’m almost certainly wasting the device’s potential on the occasion when I plug it in instinctively when it hits 25 per cent. My Nexus 4 would barely last 14 hours on a full charge, but with the Z3 that last 25 per cent represents a good eight to ten hours of juice left, minimum.

I’ve spent the past week using the Z3 all day for social media and messaging, snapping a few images here and there, one to two hours of streaming music and, of course, showing off a feature or three to a fellow techie. All the while it’s put up with spotty HSPDA+ and crossing in and out of Wi-Fi.

Yet with that schedule, it still managed from 8.30am Monday to 12.30am Wednesday morning straight with pretty constant use throughout. For the first time since I signed up to an Android phone four years ago, two days of full use is now completely doable.

It’s the little things that really bring home how great that extra battery life is. Waking up in the morning to see just two per cent of drain over night, despite clear evidence of nocturnal notifications and updates, is nothing short of a blessing. On Sunday, I was using it as a live-view remote for my camera using the DslrDashboard app and, despite requiring USB OTG, it still had 50 per cent battery in the evening.

A weekday afternoon of playing GTA III at full brightness and 50 per cent volume had the battery dropping at just 19 per cent an hour. Considering Sony’s PlayStation Vita handheld pushes a smaller, lower resolution screen, and it too only manages four to six hours of life, that’s a good innings.

A special call out, too, for the “Ultra Stamina mode”, which should be a standard feature on all Android phones – hell, any smartphone. This promises up to 21 days’ life on a full charge, which should compete with even that Nokia 3310 you have knocking around your old gadget drawer. Sure, it reduces functionality to dumb old apps, but it’s perfect for camping or foreign travel.

While I have noticed a couple of flaws – calls in low-signal areas can drain it faster, while Yahoo's Aviate seems to affect battery more than any other launcher – you can see that I’m edging into pedantry. It’s become pretty clear after a week that this device sells itself on battery life alone.

Alex is a full-time student and part-time gadgeteer from Aberystwyth. Find him online here or follow him on Twitter here.

I do a lot of travelling with my job – as a modern sales guy, that means lots of calls and lots of emails. So as part of what seems to be an ever-heavier kit bag, I have always found the need to carry a fully charged backup battery pack to charge phones – even on a day trip. Not so with the Z3.

I looked at four varying scenarios – weekend fun use, overnight work stays, day trips as a hotspot, and even a transatlantic flight – and each time the phone passed with flying colours. In each test I had Bluetooth, NFC, Wi-Fi and 4G data switch on, and paired with the Sony SWR10 smart band.

For weekend playtime, I watched two films in homage to the test in hand – the classic Second World War film The Longest Day and Tarantino’s latest, Django Unchained, both streaming via Chromecast to a TV over my home’s Wi-Fi connection. I combined this with the usual surfing, tweeting, texting, calling and listening to music – from 8am until midnight is my “normal” routine – and by midnight the battery was still showing 23 per cent. Seriously.

After that kind of showing, I was really intrigued to see how long the battery would last when used for business, such as making calls in the car over Bluetooth, email, messaging and internet researching. But this is where I was truly blown away: the phone lasted a full 39 hours without being charged and without turning on a single stamina or power-saving mode.

By this point I was starting to get a bit confident in the Z3’s abilities so I ventured further on a day trip from Manchester to London, starting off with a full charge at an even earlier 7am. Whilst there I set up the phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot to tether to my tablet for around seven hours of the day, with another typical business workload of calls, emails and internet up to midnight once more. A quick check found that it had 24 per cent at the day’s end.

My final test was the furthest afield: a transatlantic flight. Now, you could have thought that “Flight Mode” will make this a bit easier, so to make it more interesting I downloaded 2.5GB of music and 400MB of games from Google Play while waiting in the departure lounge for the journey. I then proceeded to listen to music for the entire 11-hour flight, with a good three-hour blast of gaming to boot. The battery at the end? Some 19 per cent.

The Z3’s battery life is just unbelievable for a smartphone, some would say unassailable. I have never came across anything close. If, like me, you need to rely on your phone for business, and yearn to travel lighter and stop carrying spare batteries, I would not hesitate to recommend this beast.

Simon is a lifelong tech addict born in Scotland, living in Macclesfield, with a love of beer, fish and chips, and all things technical and shiny. Follow him on Twitter here.

Check back for the next Testmodo challenge on October 23rd, and follow our Testmodo winners' tweets using the hashtag #testmodoz3