Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review, smaller can mean better
Published Jan 25 2014, 12:00 GMT
By Hunter Skipworth
Ask yourself this, how big does your smartphone really 'need' to be? If screen size is your thing, then stop reading now.
However, if you are more fussed about usability and ergonomics, then read on. The Xperia Z1 Compact falls into the ever shrinking world of, well, shrinking smartphones.
It behaves like the angry baby brother to the bigger Xperia Z1, but retains 90% of all its features and functionality. All for a lower price point. So is it worth investing?Hardware and Design
Pick the Z1 Compact up and the first thing you notice is just how solid it feels. This is the closest we have seen a handset come to grabbing the premium feel of the iPhone.
This solid build does mean you sacrifice the likes of a removable back and battery. In place of that flexibility you do get the rather significant gain of the Z1 Compact's waterproof shell. It might not seem like a hugely useful feature, but believe us, you will be grateful it's there the next time you drop your mobile in the sink.
Sony Xperia Z1 Compact comes in four colours
has released the Z1 Compact in four different colours; white, black, pink and a sort of dayglo yellow. While we were sent the black model for review, we did spot the other colours during our time at CES. Pink is definitely an interesting choice, but the yellow is a nice thing to see on an Android phone, as most are rather boring affairs when it comes to colour.
The phone itself is 127 x 64.9 x 9.5 mm in size. This puts it a touch thicker than most of the larger screened flagship phones, but much smaller in overall size. In the hand, it never feels chunky and we found it particularly easy to use, with one-handed operation reaching every part of the 4.3-inch screen.
As for the hardware, the only major difference between the Z1 Compact and its bigger brother is that the display is 720p, not 1080p. That results in a higher pixel density than that of the iPhone, but still leaves the screen lacking some of the sharpness found on higher resolution screens.
Crucially though, Sony has finally adopted IPS technology for its displays with the Xperia Z1 Compact. One of our most significant criticisms of the Xperia Z1 was that its screen suffered from poor viewing angles. IPS fixes all that.>Xperia Z1 review
The result is a well balanced, saturated and crisp display that means Sony's motion smoothing tech, called X-Reality for mobile, can properly show off. It's a shame the display is only 4.3-inches in size, as it would be great for watching movies.
Just a note on that size as well. The bezel on the handset around the screen feels rather large. It would've been nice to see less of the front of the phone taken up with glass covered plastic and more of it used for display.
Xperia Z1 Compact uses Sony's mobile Bravia engine
Finally, you have the Z1 Compact's internal hardware to enjoy. This is a proper top end Android smartphone, with the powerful Snapdragon 800 processor keeping Android 4.3 Jelly Bean ticking along nicely.
Battery life is covered by a 2300 mAh unit, which is a drop over the 3000 mAh powerhouse in the bigger Z1. However, due to the smaller screen, the battery has a slightly reduce power drain over its larger counterpart, so we found its lifespan ending up being roughly the same day long affair.
In terms of connections, the Z1 Compact comes with the usual MicroSD port, as well as 16GB of inbuilt storage. You also have NFC and Qi wireless charging to enjoy.
It's certainly a potent little package, and while we think the screen could do with a touch higher resolution, it's hard to fault the Z1 Compact, simply because it feels so solid.Camera
Inside the Xperia Z1 Compact is the same 20.7-megapixel Exmor R setup that you find in the bigger Z1.
Sony made a big song and dance over this camera unit during the Z1's unveiling and for the most part, we were very excited about what it would be capable of. In the end, however, our review process revealed that it just wasn't quite up to scratch.
The Z1 Compact experiences the same issues as the Z1. In decent light, the camera takes faithful, highly detailed and balanced pictures. Unfortunately, problems arise when conditions change.
Unpredictable exposure conditions or low light photography can cause colour casting, flat pictures or strange white balance issues. It's a shame really, as when the Z1's camera gets it right, it's up there with the best.
What we can't fault, however, is the camera app itself. We really like how quickly it boots up and how many added features you get. SocialLive, for example, will let you stream a direct feed from the smartphone's camera to Facebook.
It also has the ability to take lossless zoom photos, not unlike the Lumia 1020, by taking full advantage of the 20-megapixels it has to play with.
The camera used with the Z1 Compact is impressive
Video isn't quite as strong as stills here. We were spoiled with the Lumia 1020's balanced and slick video capture, but the Xperia Z1 falls short of the Android competition when it comes to capturing moving images. For the most part this is due to the speed at which the camera either adjusts focus or adapts to changing light conditions. It just isn't fast enough.
In the end, what's most impressive about the Z1's camera is that Sony managed to cram it into such a small smartphone.User interface and apps
User interface on the Xperia Z1 is pretty much the standard Sony affair, in that its stripped back just the right amount, but still has a few nice 'special' features included.
Android 4.3 is included out of the box, but Sony has promised KitKat to arrive by March. In all honesty, such is the way that Sony has tweaked Android, we didn't hugely notice the lack of KitKat.
As much as Sony makes Android its own, you can't fault them for consistency. The whole operating system looks slick, from the camera app, to its icons and menus. Crucially, it also feels rapid, with no unnecessary widgets and apps slowing the setup down.
Two handy functions deserve special mention here. Firstly, pinch to zoom on the home screen will bring up the edit menu, so you can re-arrange icons quickly. Second, a swipe left on the app tray will allow you to search your smartphone for apps, as well as sort the order they are displayed in.
Just a note on typing and messaging with the Z1 Compact. While the keyboard is perfectly acceptable, it never felt quite as rapid as the stock Android setup you find on the likes of the Nexus 5. The same has to be said for the contacts app, which again matches up nicely with the Z1 Compact's look and feel, but handles just a touch slower than stock Android.
Other applications like the music player and photo browser are very well put together. The Walkman app, in particular, is much nicer than what most competitors do with Android music playback.
The back of the Z1 Compact
It has to be the gallery app that is our favourite though. Perhaps it's in part due to the colour reproduction of the handset's IPS display, but just seeing all your photos lined up in front of you, the second you boot the app, is rather fantastic.
Sony's 'Throw' function is baked into any of the media-centric apps on the phone. It allows you to instantly send pictures, music or video to other devices via a number of different connections. You can choose to send audio via Bluetooth, for example, or pictures over DLNA. Keeping it all in one place just makes sense.
The end result of all this unified design and clutter free experience is that the Xperia Z1 Compact ends up handling as solid as it feels in the hand. The whole smartphone is slick and polished from the off, but manages to separate itself out from other Android handsets without compromising usability.Music and Movies
Sony's music and movie heritage means that a large part of the Z1 Compact's entertainment and media is covered using Sony Entertainment Network.
Alternatively though, you do of course have access to Android's wide range of apps, including Spotify and the Google Play Store. You really aren't going to struggle for content here.
Movie playback, thanks largely to Sony's mobile Bravia engine, which uses TV display tech on smartphones, is very good. The problem is really that the screen feels a touch cramped compared to bigger Android flagships.
We would rather have a tablet around for movie watching than stick with the Z1 Compact's screen. Lets just hope Sony implements the same IPS tech in its larger smartphones in future, as then you will have a portable movie player really worth talking about.The Competition
The biggest competitor to the Z1 Compact is HTC's One Mini
. A phone we thoroughly enjoyed last year, it's definitely right up there in terms of what is on offer.
However, the Z1 Compact does have a few features that really place it ahead of the competition. Firstly, you have all that processing power in the form of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800 processor. Second, there is the camera, which is definitely impressive and arguably a touch better than the Ultrapixel unit featured in the HTC.
In the end, the Z1 Compact's main competitor ends up being the iPhone 5S
, which is an entirely different kettle of fish altogether. The choice there ultimately comes down to whether you prefer Android or iOS, and if you can manage the added cost of Apple's current flagship.Verdict
The Z1 Compact in many ways actually ends up being the Sony smartphone we would go for, despite the size and screen gains of its bigger Z1 brother.
It just feels 'right' in the hand, being solid, splash proof and lovely to use. The user interface is among the best in the business right now and Sony's no compromise approach to processor and camera is definitely a refreshing one.
As such, the Z1 Compact comes highly recommended as a slightly more affordable alternative to the current cream of the Android crop. It also acts as a bit of a reminder that Sony is continuing to get things right in the mobile space. Expect whatever is unveiled at MWC to be very impressive indeed.