Xperia Z1 Compact Review – Truly big, yet very little

OVERVIEW

Welcome to Twenty First Tech’s review of the Z1 Compact. Nearly identical to the Z1, the Compact is Sony’s answer to those who want a flagship smartphone experience in a more compact shell, though the Compact does have the upper hand over the Z1 in certain aspects, such as viewing angles and battery life.

PROS:

  • (Pretty much) Just as powerful as any other flagship out there
  • Lightweight and Compact
  • Excellent camera
  • Good battery life

CONS:

  • Camera shutter key a little hard to press
  • 4.3” screen made smaller by on screen buttons
  • Slab-like design may be uninspiring to some

INTRODUCTION

There’s no denying that flagship smartphones are getting larger and larger. This year’s smartphones of MWC saw yet another bump in screen size. The HTC One M8 grew by 0.3″ to 5 inches. The S5 grew to 5.1 inches. And the Z2 to 5.2 inches. It seems power is now associated with size. Large phones seem to be powerful while smaller phones are seen as weak.gsmarena_002

In comes the Xperia Z1 Compact. Sony has heard the cries of those who want a premium smartphone experience without having something that’s too big for them to handle. Instead of going down the usual “mini” path of its competitors, where the phone shares no resemblance with its older brother other than in looks and in name, Sony has decided to produce a truly mini version of its late 2013 flagship, the Z1.

It’s called the Z1 Compact because that’s exactly what it is: a compact version of the Z1. Sony wanted to make it clear that this wasn’t just some mini version of the Z1. But just to be sure, let’s take a look at the spec sheet of the device.

SPECIFICATIONS

Display 4.3”, 720p IPS LCD display (342ppi)
Camera 20.7 MP, ½.3” sensor size, 2 MP front
Video Recording 1080p @ 30fps
Processor 2.2 GHz Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800
GPU Adreno 330
RAM 2 GB
Storage 16GB, micro-SD expandable
Battery 2300 mAh, Stamina Mode
Other IP58 certification, dustproof and water resistant for up to 1 metre and 30 minutes

HARDWARE, BUILD AND HANDLING

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The Xperia Z1 Compact bears some resemblance to its larger brother in terms of its omnibalance design. The only noticeable difference other than size is the slightly rounded edges of the Z1 Compact. In some sense, the design of the Z1 Compact seems to be inspired by the iPhone 4, and this is especially seen in the white review unit that we have.

Now for a tour of the device. The front is home to the 4.3″ retina busting display. No hardware keys here, you’ll have to stick to onscreen virtual keys. While we love the virtual keys, it does make the 4.3″ screen appear smaller than it already is, and that may be a cause for concern for some.

Above the screen you’ll see the Sony logo, proximity sensors, and front facing camera. The right of the device is home to the iconic power button, volume rocker and dedicated shutter key. The top of the device houses an ordinary headphone jack, while the bottom has nothing other than the speakers.

The left houses the micro USB port, SIM card slot and micro SD slot. All these are covered beneath flaps to ensure that the phone is waterproof. On the back we have the 20.7 MP camera with flash, NFC logo, and Sony logo.

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As with all Sony devices, the build quality is superb. Sony’s design philosophy of metal and glass works perfect to give a premium feel to the device, without the need to be ironclad like the HTC One M8 (or the Xperia P).

As expected of a 4.3″ device, one handed operation is good and the device feels absolutely splendid in the hand. The usual complaint for Sony devices still applies though: the bezels could’ve been a little smaller.

DISPLAY

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The display of the Xperia Z1 Compact was a pleasant surprise. After its long track record of producing sub-par screens, Sony finally got its act together and used an IPS panel for the Z1 Compact. Needless to say, viewing angles are now superb, which gives it an edge over its bigger brother, the Xperia Z1.

Although the Xperia Z1 Compact doesn’t come with a 1080p screen, to say that the screen is a disappointment in terms of screen resolution would be stretching it a little. At a pixel density of 342ppi, the display is retina-busting, beating the 327ppi “retina display” of iPhones.

Long story short: it’s a great display, albeit a little to small for some, especially with the on screen buttons taking up quite a bit of the screen estate.

PERFORMANCE

The average consumer may assume that the Z1 Compact doesn’t have the performance expected of a flagship device, due to its unassuming size (wordplay intended). It’s pretty easy for one to forget that this relatively small phone has a snapdragon 800 processor under the hood, along with 2GB of RAM.

In fact, benchmarks have shown that the Xperia Z1 Compact outperforms many larger flagship phones, including the Z1.

AnTuTu

In AnTuTu, the most complete benchmark, the Z1 Compact performed really well. It placed ahead of the larger Xperia Z1, and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3. However, the new Snapdragon 801 in the 2014 flagships were too powerful for it.

Browsermark

The story repeated itself in BrowserMark, with the Z1 Compact performing strongly.

Vellamo

 

Surprisingly, in Vellamo HTML 5, the Z1 Compact performed poorly, coming in second-last to the Xperia Z2.

 

In terms of everyday usage, though, you don’t have to worry about lag or slow start-up times, as the Z1 Compact will pretty much breeze through any application or game that you throw at it.

It’s up there with the elites, only losing to the recently announced flagships of early 2014 (Z2, G2, S5), albeit by a small margin.

SOFTWARE AND USER INTERFACE

The Xperia Z1 Compact comes with 4.3 Jellybean out of the box, but the good thing is that you’ll be prompted immediately to download the 4.4 KitKat update, which brings a host of new improvements and the same UI that the newly launched Z2 has.

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We’re not going to go into the details of the Xperia UI. Sony’s UI hasn’t changed much for a long time, other than a few cosmetic tweaks. So if you want to read about it in painstaking detail, you can check out our Xperia Z2 review.

BATTERY LIFE

For some this is the most important factor for choosing a smartphone. Rest assured that the Z1 Compact provides outstanding battery life. With LTE on, constant WhatsApping, emails pushing, web browsing, and the occasional article writing on Microsoft Word, the phone manages to last a day (I got 42% on some pretty intensive usage), while more prudent usage will leave you with slightly less than 70% battery by sunset.

It’s a good battery, and certainly one that I wished my personal phone has. In fact it’s even better than the Z1’s. Plus with Sony’s stamina mode on, you’ll be able to squeeze out even more juice from this battery.

CAMERA

compact camera

The camera is identical to the one found in the Xperia Z1, which goes to say that it is absolutely amazing. This is not solely due to the whopping 20.7 MP resolution. It’s also due to the large sensor size. At 1/2.3″, the sensor lets more light in than typical smartphone cameras, giving clearer shots, especially in low light. Sony’s post image processing also helps to produce some high quality shots, although at times more saturated than we’d like.

The camera interface is one that you’d expect from an Android device, with a couple of Sony-added features, such as sweep panorama, AR effect, and Info eye.

Pressing and holding the camera shutter key will also launch the camera, which is convenient, and something that Windows Phone users will be familiar with. One gripe that I do have with the shutter key though, is that it’s really tiny and difficult to press, so much so that when trying to take a shot with the stiff physical key, you’ll find your hand vibrating a little when trying to depress if fully, which might lead to shaky shots. But hey, there’s OIS (optical image stabilisation) on board and that works pretty well to prevent that from happening.

Overall, it’s a great camera, and definitely one of the best. While it can’t match up to the Nokia Lumia 1020, it can hold its own against its bigger brothers, the Z1 and Z2.

An added advantage of the Z1 Compact’s camera is that, due to the fact that it is waterproof, you’ll be able to take some pretty awesome underwater shots (more on the IP58 certification below).

IP58 CERIFICATION

compact waterproof

The Z1 Compact, just like its bigger brother, is IP58 certified, meaning that it’s dust proof and water resistant for up to 1 metre for 30 minutes.

Other than the lack of need to worry about dropping your phone into the pool, or a bowl of soup, the IP58 certification has other more practical uses, like the aforementioned underwater photo and video taking.

For those who are thrilled at the prospect of using your phone underwater in the swimming pool (or in the shower), you should know that the touch screen is rendered entirely useless underwater, and the phone loses mobile signal completely. That’s when Sony’s physical shutter key comes in handy – taking pictures and videos are the only thing that you can do underwater.

CONCLUSION

z1 compact feature

When we first reviewed the Xperia Z1 in October 2013, one of our only gripes about the phone was its huge size – a 5 incher isn’t exactly the most comfortable of phones to hold in your hand. Sony has come up with a solution to that problem by producing the Z1 Compact: everything that the Z1 is proud of in a small, compact body, having only gained 1 mm in thickness.

And the Z1 Compact is in many ways superior to its larger brother as well – the vastly improved screen, slightly better battery life, and a smaller form factor that those tired from the mammoth flagships of today would appreciate. (Plus, it’s cheaper)

To many consumers out there, the Z1 Compact might well be the perfect phone for them. It’s fast, mean, but not huge. The only flaw that we’ve found with the Z1 Compact is (ironically), it’s rather tiny screen. 4.3 inches isn’t very large to begin with, and the on screen buttons do take up a lot of screen real estate most of the time. Perhaps Sony could’ve settled for a 4.5 inch display instead.

But then again, 4.3 inches is a sweet spot for many, and to fault Sony for the small screen would be rather counter-intuitive, since that’s the whole point of the Z1 Compact.

Final verdict? The Z1 Compact lives well to its name and provides and experience that Sony was hoping to achieve: big on specs but small on size.

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