Sony Xperia C3 review: more than just a selfie phone

Sony’s been making some great hardware recently. Its devices’ build quality is always exemplary and never seems to disappoint, at least not in the mobile phone department. There’s a good reason why the Xperia range is a household name nowadays, and we have the latest phone from the Xperia stable on our testing table — the Sony Xperia C3, or the, ahem, PROselfie phone.

Yep. Even Sony is pandering to the Instagram generation all too ready to sport those ridiculous duckbills without thought of how peculiar they look. Sure, we’re living in the age of the selfie, but should a consumer in today’s world really buy a phone based on its front camera specifications?

As the self-proclaimed PROselfie machine, the Sony Xperia C3 is all about its snappers, but is that really the be all end all of this handset? Has Sony under-marketed this phone? And if not, is this really “the best smartphone for selfies” as its maker claims?

I’ll get to this a bit later, but for now let’s look at this device as what it actually is — a borderline phablet.

How good looking is this thing?

And yes, it is a rather large device. Let’s start with the aesthetics.

Sony Xperia C3 1

I said this about the Sony Xperia M2, but the Xperia C3 is one of the most attractive phones I have ever held. All Xperias are solid phones (that’s a fact) and just like the M2, the C3 is a device you want to hold and use obsessively. The sleek Corning Gorilla Glass 3 screen doesn’t harm it either, nor is the screen easy to harm — it’s close to scratch proof. On a day to day basis, you can feel confident about using the phone without a protective pouch.

Read more: Sony Xperia M2 review: mid-range phone with high-end reliability

Around the phone’s edges, we find the 3.5mm audio jack up top, while the right hand side of the device houses all the buttons. The tell-tale circular power knob is mounted centrally, while the microSIM and microSD slot is stationed in a little tray above. Below, the subtly curved volume rocker sits above the spring-loaded camera button. All this is bordered by a sleek metallic strip that coats the phone’s 7.6mm thin frame.

Annoyingly, the camera button wasn’t all that useful in calling up the app itself which meant I missed quite a few ephemeral snapshot opportunities. Nevertheless, the camera at the back is accompanied by a superbly bright LED flash, while the loudspeaker sits at the bottom of the back plate.

Sony Xperia C3 2

Our “Snow White” example was also easy to keep clean, even though the body was susceptible to marks. A quick wipe with a damp cloth remedied that immediately. And my, it’s beautiful in white.

It might be pretty, but it’s tough.

Patchy performance

As far as the performance of the handset goes, it’s a bit less solid than its body.

Under the skin, a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 (clocked at a lethargic 1.2GHz) is the general manager but it’s not the strongest processor, and it really lets the handset down during intensive tasks. Sure, multitasking is where it really excels and the low clockspeed benefits the battery life, but a large screen deserves a little more horsepower.

It’s perfect for multitasking though, and it eats up apps like WhatsApp, Gmail, Instagram and YouTube for breakfast. But it’s not a phone you’ll enjoy high intensity gaming on so expect those PlayStation titles to remain on your console.

Sony Xperia C3 3

The screen is something that definitely doesn’t disappoint though. Although it’s only 720p, it’s crisp and colourful with a brilliant contrast ratio. The whites are white and the blacks are deep and rich, which makes observing those millions of selfies Sony anticipates from its users a pleasure. As a result, video playback is great (through VLC’s hardware acceleration party piece, that is) and modern websites look wonderful.

It’s a real pity that the phone only features 1GB RAM — it runs out of memory too often for my liking, especially when browsing visually intensive websites. 8GB storage is enough for the usual number of apps, so no qualms there.

You do get the usual selection of connectivity options though with Bluetooth, LTE, WiFi and NFC all present and correct. What’s more, the battery’s a tiny 2500mAh unit, but seems to last for ages thanks to Sony’s intelligent and effective Stamina Mode. The Xperia C3 will easily last an entire day on one charge, and might even go for two if you’re really gentle.

Sony Xperia C3 8

Oh, and the loudspeaker suffers from the same problems of the Xperia M2. It’s extremely tinny, and surprisingly doesn’t seem built for music playback at all. Playback through the device’s audio jack is stellar though, as one comes to expect from Sony.

However, I do wonder just how epic this phone could’ve been with some beefier hardware and a larger battery.

It’s all about those lenses

So, what can the selfie generation get out of this device? Well, in bright outdoor light, plenty.

Read more: The selfie: a portrait of ourselves and our time

The 5MP front camera is great for its purposes, but with a super wide angle lens and LED flash, you can use it for more than just selfies. Landscapes and fish-eye like vistas are all fair game. For narcissism though, it’s the perfect formula. Unlike HTC, Sony doesn’t feel the need to fit two 13MP cameras on one handset, and this undoubtedly helps to keep the price of the Xperia C3 down.

The rear camera’s slightly disappointing really, with an 8MP sensor and seriously bright LED flash. Unfortunately, night time images are not devoid of noise, and when the flash kicks in colours are overexposed and washed out. Snap anything in bright light though and the camera shines. I found that the panoramic vista mode didn’t quite work as well on this phone than the Xperia M2, but like most Xperia phones, it’s not a deal breaker.

Sony Xperia C3 sample snaps
left right

Sony Xperia C3 Lead

Sony Xperia C3 1

Sony Xperia C3 2

Sony Xperia C3 3

Sony Xperia C3 4

Sony Xperia C3 Sample 4

The rear camera isn't the greatest snapper ever fixed to a phone, but it will do.

Sony Xperia C3 Sample 5

Photographs in artificial light leaves a lot to be desired.

Sony Xperia C3 Sample 5 Vista

This is where the rear snapper really shines. In panorama mode with full sunlight assisting, the colours are rich and the exposure is kept under control by the software.

Sony Xperia C3 Selfie Cam Sample

The selfie camera is better than most, but it's not the definitive reason to purchase this phone.

Sony Xperia C3 Sample 6

Images taken under low light with the flash on are disappointing.

Sony Xperia C3 Sample 1

Another image taken in overcast conditions. Where are my colours?

Sony Xperia C3 Sample 2

If you plan to use this phone exclusively for Instagram, at least those filters will come in handy.

Sony Xperia C3 Sample 3

Like I said before, don't purchase this phone exclusively for the cameras' abilities.

Sony Xperia C3 8

Click each photograph above for a full resolution image.

It’s somehow easier to manually adjust this camera though. Of course, you selfie folk would smack it in auto, and frankly, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. The phone’s auto focusing system is slow, but it works very well if you’re patient and steady. And if need be, burst mode can take your best image from a slew of snaps.

All in all, they’re both good, but if you’re buying this phone primarily for the cameras, you’re genuinely missing the point.

Bundled wares

As usual, Sony’s bundled software is more useful than most, especially the host of camera modes.

The Lounge app is less useful, I never quite understood the need for the Social app and the Walkman app is substandard compared to other Android media playback offerings.

As far as the MyXperia skin overlay goes, I have a love and hate relationship with it. The keyboard is brilliant — the best on the market by far — but the system tray needs additional tweaking options for power users. The homescreen is also best left to Google — I quickly ditched Sony’s and went for the venerable Google Now Launcher — something that I always seem to do on every Android handset.

Blackberry Passport Sony Xperia C3 Comparison

The Sony Xperia C3 as viewed alongside Blackberry’s Passport

Thanks to the screen, widgets look brilliant and can house a library of information without ever looking cluttered. This is definitely a phone for the multitasking fiend.

On another note, Sony hasn’t said when the Xperia C3 will get the Android Lollipop update, but I imagine the OS will look sublime on this phone.

Other stuff

Some of the usual issues are present with Sony phones. Charging the Xperia C3 takes a good few hours, so ensure you charge this thing while you’re sleeping (not when you’re about to hit an extended powerless journey). Of course, battery life is sublime so 10% can last for anything up to three hours.

Although it’s beautiful, it’s not entirely a phone for the front jeans pocket, especially a tight fitting jeans. It definitely won’t bend like some phone manufacturers’ products, but its not particularly comfortable either. That said, I wouldn’t want to physically change anything about this phone.

It’s also quite easy to mull around the device with one hand. Some would say it’s too big, but Sony has put a lot of thought into its UI placements and button locations. It really does work a treat, but obviously two-handed would be the best way to use this phone.

Sony Xperia C3 4

Price and value

Released to the world in August 2014, the Sony Xperia C3 is a relatively young device and because of that, there’s a bit of a price premium.

At US$399 in the States and R4500 in South Africa, it’s definitely not cheap but for what you get, it’s wholly worth it when looking at its next-of-kin. Considering that it’s being sold for the same price as its smaller brother Xperia M2, it’s an absolute steal.

Verdict: We all have our gripes with certain devices, but apart from the lack of RAM and lazily clocked CPU, it’s hard to find fault with this device. Is it the best selfie phone ever made? Probably not, but that won’t stop people from buying it. And they’ll be happy to find it’s more than just a selfie machine.

A great screen, solid build quality and sexy aesthetics makes this phone much more picture-worthy than your plastered duckface could ever be. Still, it could do with some sprightlier internals.

Score: 8/10

Andy Walker
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