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Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

MobileReviews
9/10
by Sandra Vogel, 10 Feb 2014Reviews
Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review
Best Buy

Late last year I reviewed the Sony Xperia Z1, and I liked it. The Xperia Z1 wasn’t quite as stunning as the original Xperia Z which inspired it, but it was smaller and in many ways more manageable than the huge Xperia Z Ultra which shared its general design ethos.

In the current smartphone arena, the obvious thing to do when you’ve come up with a successful product line (the Z range), produced a second handset (Z1) and a giant version (Z1 Ultra), is to come up with a mini-me, and that’s what the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact is.

For many people the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact will be just the right size. It fits very neatly in the hand – even my quite small hand – and it is well-sized for smaller pockets too. When you want to travel light, or if you simply hate carrying a bag unless you really have to, this really matters.

A small handset means a small screen. Here there’s a 4.3in screen with 1,280 x 720 pixels. The screen is a bit small for a really satisfying gaming or video watching experience, and I found it a little cramped for website reading too. That’s probably a bit of a matter of taste, though, and of course the trade-off between screen size and portability is one every individual will decide on for themselves.

One of the things I didn’t like about the Xperia Z1 was the screen’s viewing angles. Things have improved here quite considerably, with Sony’s Triluminos and X-Reality technologies helping with colour rendering and richness. This really helps the screen look vibrant and compelling, and if you aren’t too happy with how colours appear, you can fiddle with the white balance.

The Sony Xperia Z1 Compact shares water resistant characteristics with predecessor handsets. It meets the IP58 standard for water and the IP55 standard for dust resistance. What this means in the real world is that it should be okay in 1.5m of water for up to half an hour. Of course, to achieve this all the ports need to be closed, and the unprotected headset slot on the top edge of the chassis is internally sealed, with every other connector having a cover.

All the covers are on the left edge of the chassis, and there are three of them. One is marked out as the microSD slot for storage expansion – this phone’s storage headlines at 16GB but right out of the box there was 11GB free. The other two covered slots aren’t marked, but one protects your microSIM and the other protects the charging port. The backplate isn’t removable, and the back of the handset is made from tempered glass, creating a reflective look that Sony has made its own in recent handset iterations. It gets very grease-smudged very quickly, though.

The overall look is distinctive, with that characteristic circular on/off button sitting on the right edge, just above a relatively small volume rocker. On the left side is the familiar but odd looking dock connector which Sony would do well to disguise better. When you make as much effort as Sony has on design, the dock connector just looks weird.

Sony is keen to emphasise the camera. It does have some pretty neat features, actually. You don’t often find a side button these days, but there’s one here, calling the camera up quickly whenever you need it. HDR is pretty much a requirement for a handset camera, as it helps flatten out light and shade in poorly lit conditions. There are oodles of scene presets – 36 of them that you can flick through if you select manual mode. They include pet, gourmet, document, and soft snap – you can knock yourself out toying with them or let Superior Auto mode make choices on your behalf.

That’s not the half of it, though. There’s an augmented reality mode which adds various kinds of animated effects into scenes including dinosaurs and fish, and other apps that you can use to apply features to the camera. Be aware, though, that the headline 20.7 megapixels aren’t accessible if you are using Superior Auto mode – you only get that in manual mode.

Fans of audio might be disappointed by the sound quality from the single speaker that runs along the bottom of the chassis. It is loud enough, but lacking in bass. Output through headphones is better, and you’ve got both ClearAudio+ which automatically takes care of audio settings, and an equaliser if you’d rather adjust the settings manually. Still, listening to audio isn’t the stellar experience I’d expect from Sony.

The 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 is top of the range, and with 2GB of RAM helping it out the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact is a nippy little thing. The rest of the specifications are high-end too. This is a 4G phone, and while there’s no dedicated HDMI port you can pipe content out via the microUSB slot which supports MHL. The Wi-Fi features include support for DLNA, and there’s Near Field Communications on board too.

Sony’s very nice power management utility is handy to have. It tells you at a glance how much battery time you have left, and lets you use a range of different power saving options to eke out a bit more longevity if necessary. Using these services wisely should mean you can get more than a day’s life from the 2,300mAh battery. I really like the ability to choose settings for individual apps – if email is vital to you, then you can leave it on but switch other services off, for example.

Android is stuck at 4.3 though, which might annoy those who want the very latest incarnation of the OS, and Sony insistently bulks Android out with its own apps. For some people this is precisely the reason for selecting an Xperia, while it will irritate others, and quite possibly confuse some folks. If you want Sony’s PlayStation Mobile, Walkman, and all its other entertainment-centric features, well, you’ll be in heaven.

Verdict

Sony has done well with the Xperia Z1 Compact. The smaller format handsets that come along after their bigger cousins can sometimes be cut down in terms of features as well as size, but that’s not the case here. This is a top-end phone in a hand-friendly size – and its price is somewhat less than other premium handsets, too. It is nice to see a smaller phone packing a top-end processor.

There’s always room for improvement, and I’d like Sony to ditch the easily smudged backplate and find a way to deliver better quality sound output. It’s strange for a company so focused on entertainment to fail on the audio front. Finally, Sony might do better in the general marketplace if the company put its crossover apps in a separate area of the phone so that they’re there if you want them, but easily avoidable if you don’t.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

Network

4G LTE

Processor

2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800

Ram

2GB

Memory

16GB

Memory expansion

microSD

Display

4.3in, 1,280 x 720 pixels

Main camera

20.7 megapixel

Front camera

2 megapixel

NFC

Yes

Wi-Fi

Yes

GPS

Yes

FM radio

Yes

Battery

2,300mAh

Size

64.9 x 9.5 x 127 (WxDxH)

Weight

137g

OS

Android 4.3

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