Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review: when smaller is better

|March 26, 2014 |Android Phones, Android, Reviews, Sony


“Don’t go by its size, the Z1 Compact offers a power-packed performance in a pocketable form-factor”


Three years ago when Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Note – a device with large 5.3-inch display, many raised their collective brows on its form-factor and unwieldiness. However, the device sold like hot cakes and consumers loved the idea of a phone which could double up as a tablet, giving birth to the term phablet. Other vendors (with the notable exception of Apple) also spotted this opportunity and started cashing in on the trend. This has resulted in a market where many smartphones feature screen sizes of 5-inches and more. Though many people love the utility of large displays, there are others who still love the comfort offered by smaller devices. Sadly for such users, there aren’t many choices left in the market now, especially those that offer top-of-the-line specs. This means that they either have to sacrifice comfort by opting for huge devices boasting powerful hardware, or compromise on desired specs by purchasing compact devices. Sony has chosen to cater to such consumers with the launch of its latest device, the Xperia Z1 Compact. Unlike the Mini editions of flagships from other manufacturers, the Z1 Compact shares a lot with its bigger sibling, the Xperia Z1. We may have upped your expectations from the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact, but let’s see whether it manages to fulfill them.

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Short on time? Read our Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review in pictures

Handy proportions and Sony’s signature design


Sony started its flagship smartphone range with the launch of the Xperia Z last year. The company used what it calls its OmniBalance design ethos for the smartphone, flaunting a unibody construction using a combination of plastic and glass. Additionally, the smartphone has a shiny aluminium button on the right. The same design aesthetics are followed by the Xperia Z1 Compact. The front is dominated by the 4.3-inch display, but you won't find any hardware keys since the device has virtual navigation buttons. Towards the top of the display, there’s a Sony logo and the front-facing camera, along with proximity and ambient light sensors. What we really appreciated was the presence of an elongated notification LED at the top making sure you never miss out on any notifications easily, instead of a tiny LED light found in most devices.

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The sides of the device are made using aluminium. The left side of the phone is home to all ports, including the micro-USB charging port, a microSD slot and a micro-SIM slot. At this point, it’s important to note that just like all the top-end Xperia devices, the Z1 Compact boasts of dust- and water-resistance capabilities as it’s IP58 rated. For this purpose, all ports are protected by covers. However, the port covers seem like they can be separated from the device with extended usage. Also, the SIM needs to be placed inside a plastic tray available in the micro-SIM slot, which is confusing to figure out at first. That apart, the tray is flimsy and utmost care should be taken to avoid breaking it. All the keys are available on the right of the device, including the aluminium power button, the volume rocker and a dedicated camera key. The headphone socket (completely open, despite the device being waterproof) is at the top, and the bottom of the smartphone has a speaker grille spanning almost the entire width of the device. This placement becomes problematic when using the handset for gaming, as the user’s hand rests upon it...  muffling the sound in the process.

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The back of device is entirely glass, making it prone to fingerprints and smudges. It houses the main camera and an LED flash along with Sony and Xperia branding. Here’s a fun fact – if you look at the black variant of the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact from a distance and the display is off, you won’t be able to tell the difference between the front and the back. The reason is that the all-glass look at the front and the rear are equally reflective. It may also be because of the monoblock design of the Xperia Z1 Compact. All in all, the handset stays true to its name and compact enough to fit easily in one hand. You won't even feel the slightest discomfort while typing with a single hand. At a thickness of 9.5mm, the handset may seem thicker than most of the sleek devices available nowadays, though it doesn’t affect the handling in any way. Though our unit was in black, the device comes in a variety of colours ranging from white, to lime and pink.

 

Mini display with excellent output


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The Xperia Z1 Compact sports a 4.3-inch IPS display with a resolution of 720p. This is one of the major differences when comparing it to its bigger sibling, which bears a full HD 5-inch display. However, its display size is why the device gets its ‘Compact’ moniker and thus offers good handling. Thanks to the HD resolution, the images and text come out really well on the smartphone. The screen is crisp, and brightness is also adequate, though it’s a tad reflective. Under sunlight, there was no problem in viewing the screen.The navigation buttons are present on the screen itself – allowing users to access the home, back and recent apps functions. This implementation reduces the screen real estate available. Also, the navigation keys are quite different than the standard layout found in most Android devices that provide an option key as well, though it's closer to the stock Android UI. So it might take some getting used to this and checking the options for each app individually.

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The bezel is quite wide above and below the display, which makes the device look bigger but doesn’t translate into the same kind of screen real estate. In fact, the phone sports a length of 127mm, and other devices pack in larger displays with such measurements. The Moto G is marginally longer at 129.9mm, but packs in a larger 4.5-inch display, whereas the LG G2 Mini measures 129.6mm and boasts a much larger 4.7-inch screen. We have no complaints with the overall dimensions, though a larger screen with the same overall device size would definitely have been a plus.One nifty feature is a glove mode, which is similar to the one found in Nokia’s Lumia range allowing users to use the touchscreen while wearing gloves.

 

The snapper has a ton of features, but fails to deliver the goods


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If the number of megapixels toted by mobile phone camera are compared, then the Xperia Z1 Compact’s 20.7-megapixel sensor (along with the Lumia 1520) will come right behind the 41MP PureView camera of the Nokia Lumia 1020. Rightly so, the camera is one of the highlights of the device. It has all the ingredients to result in great images – including Sony’s G Lens and Exmor RS optics backed by the BIONZ processing engine. One thing we really liked about the camera was its zero shutter lag allowing you to take pictures almost instantaneously. It also becomes easier to click directly via dedicated key, which launches the camera even when the device is on standby.

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The camera app on the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact comes with all the bells and whistles offering intuitive features. First up, there are a number of preset options to help shoot in different conditions quickly. The Superior Auto mode automatically selects the best settings to capture based on the current environment, although it captures at 8-megapixel resolution. To shoot in full-size, users can select the Manual option which gives the option to customise other settings as well. Infoeye helps you to get more info about a certain location or an object by snapping a picture, and can also scan a QR code/Bar code. Timeshift Burst is also an interesting concept, as it takes 60 burst shots and gives you the option to pick the best. Some other available options include Social Live that allows you to live broadcast a video directly to Facebook where your friends can also comment on it, while AR Effect adds a touch of fun to any picture along with Picture Effect which offers live effects for images.

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Sadly, all this specs and loaded features fail to impress when it comes to the camera output. The photos lacked details and look grainy. Even in indoor conditions, the images turn out to be just average.Take a dekko at the camera samples of the shooter (click on the images to view them in their original size).

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The rear camera is also able to record videos at 1080p@30fps. At the front, the phone has a 2-megapixel camera which is good enough for video-calling needs or self-portraits.

 

Sony’s software additions make Jelly Bean more tasteful


The smartphone ships with Android 4.3 Jelly Bean and the company has already started rolling out the KitKat update. It isn’t a stock interface, but thankfully Sony hasn’t gone the same way as Samsung by cramming it with bloatware and feature spam. Instead there are several useful touches here, mostly aimed at making the usage experience better.

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The home screen has five screens filled with various apps and widgets. There's a sidebar that slides out from the left, letting you sort apps alphabetically or by most-used ones, along with the option of viewing downloaded apps only. The notification bar is quite different than the usual implementation and provides quick toggles and notifications in one place. By default, the toggles are available for frequently-needed settings like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, mobile data, brightness, GPS, NFC among others. However they can easily be configured, including their order and at max there can be 10 of such shortcuts available.

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In terms of preloaded apps, the Xperia Z1 Compact gets all the offerings from Sony’s stable to replace the default apps. There’s WALKMAN to play music, Album for viewing pictures, Movies for watching videos, Sony Music to stream or download music and Sony Select for downloading apps (along with the Play Store). Similar to Flipboard, it has Sony's Socialife app that aggregates news from around the web. Even basic apps like Alarm & Clock, Calendar, etc. have custom interfaces. Alongside most of the apps from Google, there are a ton of third-party apps as well including Bigflix, Chrome, LINE, LinkedIn and more. A document viewer and a file manager are also present.

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Another useful addition from Sony is the Small Apps feature, that opens mini versions of the frequently-used apps such as browser, notes, calculator, screenshot, etc as floating windows. These apps can be opened by pressing the recent apps button. The feature is immensely handy when you’re in middle of something like chatting with your friend and can quickly bring up the calculator. These floating windows can be dragged around to any part of the screen, along with the option to use a multiple of them simultaneously. Users can also download more Small Apps through the Play Store or convert widgets of the apps installed in the device into Small Apps. Yet another helpful feature is Smart Connect which allows the user to initiate some actions like playing music or configuring alarms whenever an external accessory like an earphone or charger is connected to the phone.

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The phone also has a my Xperia feature, which is similar to the Android Device Manager helping you to locate the smartphone or in case of the theft, wipe all of its data remotely.

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Blazingly fast performance backed by a long-lasting battery


Till now, we have simply reiterated that the Xperia Z1 Compact packs a powerful hardware, but not discussed how it performs. Let’s see what the internals of the mobile phone offer. At its heart, ticks a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor clocked at 2.26GHz. Yes, it’s the same chipset that powers its bigger brother as well as the current crop of flagships viz. the LG G2, Nexus 5, Gionee Elife E7 and Nokia's Lumia 1520. For offering compelling graphics performance, the device has an Adreno 330 graphics processor. During our usage with the device, the processor zipped through all tasks thrown at it and there wasn't a single instance of slowdown. The experience of playing graphics-intensive games such as Riptide GP 2 and SHADOWGUN: Deadzone was flawless and enjoyable. The phone heats up within half an hour of gaming, though it’s rarely noticeable thanks to the glass back. It also doesn’t deteriorate the gaming performance in any way.

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The Snapdragon 800 SoC is further propelled by 2GB of RAM, ensuring smooth performance. The generous amount of RAM helps in running multiple apps at the same time without any lags. The memory department is taken care of by 16GB internal storage. A major chunk of the storage is occupied by the OS itself, leaving 10.78GB for user data. However, on the positive side, the handset offers an expansion slot for adding a microSD card of up to 64GB. This is a big plus for the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact, as most of the devices nowadays either have too little onboard storage that inevitably requires an additional microSD card, or offer a fixed storage of 16/32GB without any option to add more.

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The smartphone gets full marks on connectivity as it provides all the standard options including 2G/3G network support, Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi, GPS as well as NFC. Additionally, it can wirelessly stream content to compatible devices like TV’s through DLNA or wireless display mirroring. Along with the smaller screen, another difference between the Xperia Z1 and its shrunken sibling is the lower battery capacity of 2,300mAh in the latter's case, though it’d be unfair to expect the same beefy battery in a device of this size. But that hardly impacts the battery life it's able to deliver. In fact, it can easily last a day and a half between charges. While playing a 720p video on loop, it ran close to 12 hours, which is pretty good for any smartphone.

The battery life of the device is further helped by Sony’s useful optimisations such as STAMINA and Low-battery mode along with location-based Wi-Fi. The STAMINA mode comes into play whenever the battery level goes below a certain level and allows the user to save battery by only using battery-draining features like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth when the device is awake. The Low-battery mode permanently switches off such features when the battery drops below a specific level. Location-based Wi-Fi is a simple yet extremely useful feature which binds the Wi-Fi network to locations and connects to them automatically, therby conserving battery since the device doesn't need to constantly look for Wi-Fi networks.

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Verdict


There’s no doubt that big-screen devices which offer a more immersive experience of viewing multimedia, playing games, browsing the web or reading documents are enjoying massive uptake currently. However, this comes at the cost of comfortable handling as well as pocketability. Another thing that works in favour of phablets is that companies are powering them up with the best-in-class specs, while the small devices don’t get that kind of attention. Even the mini versions of other flagships offer watered-down specs (we’re looking at you Samsung and HTC), making them seem like poor cousins to their more accomplished siblings. However Sony has chosen to tread a different path with the Xperia Z1 Compact. The device shares its innards and even the design with the Xperia Z1, but comes in a handier size. Though the camera quality disappointed a bit, the smartphone is an all-rounder in all other respects.Sony Xperia Z1 Compact 004

What Sony got wrong with the Xperia Z1 Compact is its steep pricing. The device is priced at Rs 34,999, though it’s available for as low as Rs 33,000 in many places. But at this price point, it costs almost the same as its progenitor, the Xperia Z1 that retails for around Rs 33,000. It’ll also be facing competition from larger devices having similar processing power such as the LG G2 and Lenovo Vibe Z. Had the smartphone been priced lower around Rs 30,000, it would have been more compelling as it wouldn't really have had a direct competitor, with only the 5-inch Nexus 5 being the closest in terms of core specs. In the end, it boils down to what kind of device you want to buy – if you’re looking for a device that fits into your palm easily without compromising on specs, then the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact is a great, and pretty much your only, choice.

Editor’s rating: 8/10

Pros
  • Ideal for one-handed use

  • Powerful hardware

  • Good battery life

  • Dust- and water-resistant

Cons
  • Average camera

  • Steep pricing

Specs at a glance
Dimensions127 x 64.9 x 9.5 mm
Weight137 g
Display4.3-inch
Display resolution1,280 x 720 pixels (342 ppi)
Processor2.2GHz quad-core
RAM2GB
Internal memory16GB
External memorysupports up to 64GB microSD cards
Primary camera20.7-megapixels
Secondary camera2-megapixels
Network support2G/3G (micro-SIM slot)
ConnectivityBluetooth, WiFi, GPS and NFC
Battery2,300mAh
Operating systemAndroid 4.3 Jelly Bean



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