Sony Xperia Z3 Compact Review

Overview

It was deja vu as I pried open the retail box of the Xperia Z3 Compact. Just five months ago, I had reviewed the Xperia Z1 Compact, and now here is its successor, ready to take the helm. Fortunately though, the Compact series of Xperias don’t seem to be subject to Sony’s 6 month release cycle (yet), which is why there was no Z2 Compact. The Z3 Compact promises a premium experience in a compact form, so without further ado, let’s dive into the review.

Pros

  • Extremely compact form for a 4.6 inch screen
  • Waterproof
  • No compromises in performance, just as powerful as the Xperia Z3
  • Excellent camera
  • Excellent battery life

Cons

  • 720p display may be underwhelming for some
  • Design is uninspiring

Sony has successfully monopolised the (arguably small) market of compact flagship smartphones with the Xperia Z1 Compact. The Z3 Compact is ready to continue defending this monopoly with its improved camera, larger screen, and promise of an outstanding battery life. It’s essentially the brand new Xperia Z3 in a smaller one-handed friendly package, unlike the many underpowered “mini”s that are currently in the market. So without further ado, let’s take a look at the spec sheet.

Xperia Z3 Compact Specifications

  Sony Xperia Z3 Compact
Display 4.6”, 720p IPS LCD display
Camera 20.7 MP, 1/2.3 inch sensor, ISO 12800, 25mm
Video Recording 2160p/4K
Processor 2.5 GHz Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
GPU Adreno 330
RAM 3 GB
Storage 16 GB, micro-SD expandable
Battery 2600 mAh, STAMINA mode
Other Front-facing “S-Force Front Surround” speakers, IP55/68 (waterproof and dustproof), NFC, LTE

Design, Handling and Build Quality

From left: iPhone 4s, Xperia Z3C, Lumia 830
From left: iPhone 4s, Xperia Z3C, Lumia 925

Sony has decided to stick with its trademark Omnibalance design with the Xperia Z3 Compact, which may be a disappointment to some who find its understated slab-like design a bore. Nevertheless, build quality is top-notch as you’ve come to expect, with wonderful glass panels flanking the front and back of the device.

The sides of the device is coated with a layer of translucent plastic, which gives the Xperia Z3 Compact a unique look to itself. Arguably, some people might not buy this design as it may make the phone “look cheap”. I, for one, found that it looked terrible in the “sea green” that my review unit came in, but slowly came to terms with its design.

Speaking of which, I’d like to take this time to comment on that sea green colour. On first sight, it looks terrible. It’s almost as though Sony wanted to go with something bright and bold like Lime Green, but later decided to tone down the “wow” factor a bit, and settled for a slightly milder shade of green. From the front, the green border almost looks distracting when you’re using the phone, and it makes just about any wallpaper that’s not green look horrible due to the contrast. The fact that the only thing it matches is my tissue box isn’t really a compliment either. Needless to say, I don’t really buy this colour and I don’t think many other people will.

IMG_0646
From left: iPhone 4s, Xperia Z3C, Lumia 925

But then again, this is subject to personal preference, so who am I to say that the phone is hideous. After spending nearly a week with the device, I’ve come to terms with the colour, especially since it matches the Android L Material keyboard colour scheme perfectly. I still would’ve preferred black or white though. There is a fourth colour option, a kind of orange-red colour, arguably the boldest of the four colours.

Sony has managed to build the Z3 Compact with pretty much the same dimensions as the Z1 Compact (at 127.3 x 64.9 x 8.6 mm) yet it is a millimeter thinner and almost 10g lighter (at 129g). All this while housing a larger screen and battery. Impressive indeed. All those who does Sony’s huge bezels will be silenced when they look at the Z3 Compact. These bezels are tiny, which makes the front of the device a joy to look at.

The Z1 Compact
The Z1 Compact

One of the qualms that I had with the Z1 Compact was that its 4.3 inch screen might (ironically) be too small. Sony obviously heard my plea, as the Z3 Compact comes with a healthy 4.6 inches, all in the same compact shell as the original Compact. This means that handling is actually as good as, if not better, than its predecessor. It’s amazing how easy it is to operate single handedly, which is a breath of fresh air from the typical flagship that’s over 5 inches. The light weight of the device certainly adds to the usability. And as our editor Shikhar puts it, it’s great to finally have a flagship that doesn’t create a huge bulge in your pocket.

Absolutely no problems
Absolutely no problems

To end it all off, the Z3 Compact is IP68 certified, meaning it’s dustproof and water resistant over 1 metre for 30 minutes. (Note: water resistant. Not water proof) That means it’s fine if you take it for a swim or shower, if you like. Or if your phone ever gets dirty or covered in sand, you can just wash it all off under running water.

Hardware Tour

IMG_0637

Touring the device, you’ll find that Sony has stuck to their conventional button layout, with the power, volume and camera shutter buttons on the right. The top houses the standard headphone jack and microphone, while the left has a couple of flaps to protect the sim card slot, micro SD card slot, and USB port from water. Between them you’ll find the magnetic charging port for those who find opening the flaps too much of a hassle.

A point to be made here is that the buttons are much more clicky than the Z1 Compact. Previously the buttons have some sort of a soft press to them, but now they give a firm “click”. Some might find the new buttons cheap and plasticy thanks to the clicky feel, but I guess that’s for you to decide.

The bottom is bare other than what I believe to be another microphone and a place to hook key chains (I have no idea what that’s called). You’ll notice that the speakers aren’t there anymore. Instead they’ve been moved to the front of the device a la Boomsound. These have been introduced since the Z2, and it’s great to see that they’re present on the Z3 Compact as well. They’re no Boomsound, but the upside is that they don’t take up as much space, so the phone isn’t taller than it has to be (the same can’t be said of HTC’s phones). They’re loud and they’re pointing at your face, which, in my humble opinion, is what all speakers should be.

Display

IMG_0636

You probably skipped the entire review to come to this section, after reading that this phone has a 720p display. On paper, 720p really doesn’t sound like flagship material. If you’re one of those who’ve already been spoilt by 1080p, or worse, 1440p screens like the one on the LG G3, with PPI counts busting the 400, 500 mark, you would probably notice the difference and wouldn’t be too happy with the Z3 Compact’s screen. Not me though. The 4.6″ IPS LCD screen has a pixel density of 319ppi, which by my standards is good.

Gone are the days when we wouldn’t buy Sony phones because of their disappointing TFT displays. Sony has moved on to IPS LCD tech, and ever since the Z1 Compact, I have no complaints with their display. Colour temperature is a little off though, and I found them a little cooler than normal. That shouldn’t really be a problem, and if it really bugs you, you can adjust white balance to your liking in settings.

Overall, it’s a nice display. Viewing angles are good; brightness levels are high enough to view it outdoors in bright sunlight; and it’s sharp enough so that you can’t see the pixels if you don’t stare at it up close.

Performance

Honestly, I couldn’t care less about this section. Technology has advanced to a state where all smartphones pretty much provide a lag free experience, and are able to perform graphically intensive tasks like gaming with little slouch.

So for the spec nerds, the Z3 Compact runs on the latest Qualcomm MSM8974AC Snapdragon 801 Quad-core 2.5 GHz Krait 400 processor and Adreno 330 GPU. We’ve added a couple of benchmarks below for your perusal.

AnTuTu

BrowserMark 2.1

Vellamo

All in all, the Z3 Compact is an extremely tidy device that easily sails through all the benchmarks, and seems will continue to do so even for years to come.

Camera

IMG_0635

Sony hasn’t really upgraded its cameras in a while, but that isn’t exactly a bad thing. The 20.7 MP camera is an excellent shooter. Other than a brand new crazy high ISO setting of 12800, the camera is identical to the one found on the Z2. Photos are default 8 MP in “superior auto” mode, so if you want to shoot in 20.7 MP you have to go manual.

Daylight:

Night:

Generally, shots produced in superior auto mode are good, with plenty of detail and good contrast. However, this is due to Sony’s post-capture processing. Apparently, unlocking the bootloader will ruin image quality. It’s kinda weird to see that Sony’s camera relies so heavily on the processing that happens after the shot is taken. So if you’re considering rooting your Xperia Z3 Compact you might want to think again.

Video:

The phone also supports 4K video capture. The device can get very hot when recording a 4K video, so as a precaution Sony gets the app to quit when the temperature gets too hot. Videos do save automatically when the app quits, but this is still rather annoying for some people and a Sony spokesperson has said that they’re working on improving this.

Battery Life

Sony promises a two day battery life with the Xperia Z3 Compact. I must say that battery life is certainly impressive possibly due in part to the 720p display, since the device doesn’t have to push that many pixels onto the screen. The 2600 mAh battery is enough to keep most power users going throughout the day and moderate users can certainly expect up to 2 days of battery life with this phone.

Throughout my time of using the phone, I never found the need to charge it before the end of the day, and typically had almost 50% of battery left in the evening. And this is with LTE on, with constant whatsapping, email checking, YouTube viewing and web browsing. On more heavy usage, I was able to drain the battery to under 20% before the day ended, though this was after a remarkable 6 hours of on screen time.

The Xperia Z3 Compact’s battery lives up to it’s expectations, and while I did hope for it to go a little longer, this is probably one of the best battery life you can get on a smartphone.

If you require more juice out of your battery, you can activate stamina mode, which basically turns off mobile data and WiFi, as well as other background apps, when the screen is off. You can even customise it to allow certain apps to run. If that isn’t enough, there is an Ultra Stamina Mode.

Software

Home screen
Home screen

The Xperia Z3 Compact comes with the latest Xperia UI and Android 4.4.4 KitKat. Sony has updated its UI, which now has larger icons and a new app drawer icon, but other than that the UI remains pretty much the same.

Sony provides its own host of media services, including Walkman and PlayStation Remote Play which allows you to stream and play games on your phone so long as it is connected to the same WiFi network as your PS4.

Sony has always provided a clean and consistent user experience, but perhaps it’s time to do away with skeuomorphic elements (such as the lighting and shadow effects in the Album icon and notification centre) for more modern, flat designs.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a compact flagship smartphone, your options are limited to Sony’s Compact series or Apple’s iPhones (excluding the one that bends, of course). You can’t really go wrong with the Xperia Z3 Compact. It may have a slightly smaller display than the new iPhone 6, but it’s much more pocketable.

The smaller iPhone 6, with a 4.7" display
The iPhone 6, with a 4.7″ display

But what about its brother, the Z1 Compact? Basically, if you don’t mind the slightly smaller screen and slightly poorer battery life, the Z1 Compact is as good a performer as the Z3 Compact. We’ll be doing a more in depth comparison soon so do look out for that.

Ultimately though, Sony probably has to rethink its OmniBalance design. It’s getting mundane. Slab-like phones aren’t everybody’s thing. The Xperia Z3 Compact looks uninspiring, to say the least, and much fatter than it actually is due to the absence of curves. Hopefully the next line of Xperias will see a refresh in OmniBalance philosophy.

In the end, it’s the best compact flagship phone. It lives up to your expectations and provides exceptional battery life, the only letdown being the boring design.

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