Small not mini, we review the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

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Sony’s smartphone division has been fighting tooth and nail to become a dominant force in the smartphone business. It all started with the introduction of the Xperia Z at CES 2013 where the waterproof Xperia Z was unveiled. Since then Sony has updated the flagship with the Xperia Z1 (and now the Xperia Z2 even at MWC2014) and given us a monster phablet in the form of the Xperia Z Ultra, both of which stayed true to the original Xperia Z’s design.

However all of the above phones cater to the segment of consumers that crave large displays and as such isn’t overly concerned by the size of the phone on the whole.

To address the rest of the market Sony’s competitors have chosen to make mini versions of their flagship phones. However all of them take aim at the middle of the smartphone market with trimmed down specs and prices. But what about those who want a high-end Android phone that can be used with one hand?

Meet the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact, and as the name suggests, it’s almost identical to the flagship Xperia Z1 in everything but size. Does that make it a winner?

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Design

If you’ve seen any of Sony’s Xperia Z branded phones in the last year then the Z1 Compact will be instantly recognisable to you. Glass panels, or as we have come to know them: fingerprint magnets, cover both the front and back of the phone with the same silver, circular power button off to the right hand side along with a volume rocker and a physical camera button.

The water and dust proof rating of past Z series handsets finds its way into the Z1 Compact as well in the form of the IP58 ingress protection rating, which accounts for the small, plastic doors that cover the SIM, microSD and microUSB openings on the left of the phone.

All that is left is the headphone jack on top, speaker phone on the bottom and Sony’s proprietary docking connector on the left for those who choose to buy the magnetic charging dock.

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Hardware

The Sony Xperia Z1 Compact brings back the familiar hardware composition of the Z1 proper that we reviewed in October last year.

The reliably fast 2.26GHZ quad core Snapdragon 800 processor from Qualcomm is back, in yet another Sony smartphone, and carries with it 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage which can be expanded by up to 64GB via microSD card.

All of the wireless bells and whistles including Bluetooth 4.0, super-fast 802.11ac WiFi and LTE radios make the cut with the same fantastic 20.7 megapixel camera that we loved on the Xperia Z1 making a comeback.

One of the only changes to the formula of the Xperia Z1 is the drop from full HD to 720p in the display department. However because of the shrink in screen size as well, from 5-inches to 4.3-inches, the pixel density only drops from 441 to 342 pixels per inch (ppi). Powering the whole show is a 2300mAh battery which is not removable because of the waterproofing.

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Software

The Xperia Z1 Compact runs the same version of Android as the recently upgraded Xperia Z1 and Z Ultra, that being the 4.3 variety of Android Jelly Bean.

It’s still one of our favourite implementations of Android because of the lack of fiddling that has been done to the operating system. While we would love to see a Google Play edition of an Xperia handset with the pure unadulterated Android experience the current customisations don’t do the Z1 Compact any harm.

An app from Sony that we probably should have taken more notice of in the past is the Smart Connect app and thankfully the Z1 Compact brought it back to our attention. It allows you to make rules for your Xperia smartphone that help automate it for regular tasks. Our favourite one switches the phone to silent and opens the alarm clock app when the phone is plugged into a charger after 10pm, something we used every single day.

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Display

As we discussed in the hardware section, the Xperia Z1 Compact doesn’t quite have the same display chops in terms of size, resolution and pixel density as the bigger Xperia Z1. They both however use technology borrowed from Sony’s display division in the form of the Triluminous backlighting and the X-Reality engine that drives the graphics.

Where the Z1 Compact dominates its big brother is in the one area that had disappointed us most with the full sized Z1. Where colours would wash out on the Z1 if you started to move too far off centre, the Z1 Compact is perfect all the way through. It’s built using In Plane Switching (IPS) technology which solves the problems we’ve had with both the original Xperia Z as well as the Z1.

As for the reduced pixel density, who cares? The 342ppi is almost exactly the same as the gargantuan display in the Xperia Z Ultra and even higher than the famed Retina display of the iPhone. What all this means is that the picture quality of the Xperia Z1 compact is as good as any of our other favourite smartphone displays and it’s good to see Sony back at the top in this area.

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Camera

Who said that small phones have to have small cameras? Not Sony, that’s for sure. The 20.7 megapixel camera is lifted straight out of the full sized Xperia Z1 and it’s every bit as great as the last time we got to play with it.

Using the same fancy oversampling techniques that take the full size image and use the extra data to build a better picture, the 8 megapixel photos that the Xperia Z1 Compact pushes out are fantastic.

The same two-stage shutter button, (which activates the autofocus and the light meter) along with the bevy of camera options and manual settings return for power users looking for a more granular control over the photos that they take with the Z1.

The Xperia Z1 Compact was just as good in bright lit conditions as the Xperia Z1 but also suffered the same issue as the rest of the 20.7MP sensor equipped Sony smartphones with some exposure difficulty close up and in low light. It’s not to say that the camera is at all bad, it’s just not as good as the like of the iPhone 5s in those particular situations.

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Battery life

The 2300mAh battery is great inside the Xperia Z1 Compact. With the smaller display size coupled with Sony’s built in battery saver software, the Xperia Z1 Compact can be set up for controlled power usage from a mild mannered toning down of services all the way up too full blown rerstrictions that will keep the phone running long into the night.

We got an average amount of battery life from a few days of mixed use of the Xperia Z1 Compact with most days coming in at around 10 hours or so.

Like many smartphones today it suffers from the plethora of available apps and services which tend to eat into smartphone battery life over the course of a day, however once you simmer down on those you can easily stretch out the durability of the Xperia Z1 Compact’s power plant to last you all through the day.

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Conclusion

As the name suggests, this is no ‘Mini’ version of the flagship Xperia Z1, rather, the Z1 Compact distils all of the high end features of the full sized smartphone experience into a more small-hand-friendly design that no other manufacturer has managed to do. Not only that, but it manages to rectify that nasty display problem we found in our Z1 test unit with the addition of the gorgeous IPS display.

For those who are looking for the latest specs and a fantastic camera in an easily pocket-able and palm-able frame, there can be no doubt that Sony’s Xperia Z1 Compact wins our vote.

Scores

Design: 4.5/5
Performance: 5/5
Battery life: 4.5/5
Value for Money: 3/5
Display: 4/5
Interface: 4/5
Overall: 4.5/5

Detail

Price: R9 000
Display: 1.3-inch, 720X1280 resolution Triluminous IPS LCD (342ppi)
Operating System: Android 4.3 (Planned 4.4 upgrade in the works)
Processor: 2.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 (MSM8974)
Memory: 2GB of RAM
Storage: 16GB (Expandable with microSD card up to 64GB)
Camera: 20.7-megapixel rear, 1.2-megapixel front
Networking: LTE, 3G, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, 802.11ac wireless
Other: IP58 certified – dust proof and water-resistant over 1 meter and 30 minutes

David Greenway

David Greenway

David is a technology enthusiast with an insatiable thirst for information. He tends to get excited over new hardware and will often be the one in the room going "Its got 17 cores, 64GB of RAM and a 5" 4K flexible OLED display, oh it makes phone calls too?" Currently uses: Too many phones. Wants: World peace... and more phones.

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