Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

5 stars
RMTBC
Can small phones be built without compromises? Sony thinks so, squeezing top specs into a regular sized hero [updated with video]

 

Big screens are great and all, but not everyone can wrap their hands around a phablet.

If that's you, fear not - you're simply a normal sized person with normal sized hands who needs a normal sized phone. Assuming you want one that doesn't compromise on components to squeeze into a slinky, compact chassis, you need to pay attention to the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact.

This small superphone promises great things from its 4.3in screen, Snapdragon-powered performance, 20.7MP camera and battery-enhancing Stamina mode. "As every Mini phone has promised before it", you may well grumble, but there's a difference here? This one actually delivers.

At £450, it's not cheap, but we don't mind one bit. Because this is a premium and powerful small phone the likes of which has previously proven practically impossible to find in the world of Android.

So what does a compact Android with almost zero compromises look like?

It's not tiny – but it's tiny enough

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact  - It's not tiny – but it's tiny enough 2Sony Xperia Z1 Compact  - It's not tiny – but it's tiny enough 3Sony Xperia Z1 Compact  - It's not tiny – but it's tiny enough 4

The Z1 Compact feels like a different beast entirely to the Galaxy S4sNexus 5s and HTC Ones that small-handed Android fans have been juggling with for the past 12 months.

A scaled down model of Sony's 5in Xperia Z1, it's a little fatter at 9.5mm but otherwise it's a faithful imitation. Solidly built with a glass rear panel and subtle Sony styling, it's far from attention-seeking or shouty and not a million miles away from a Nexus.

CHECK OUT OUR FULL SONY XPERIA Z1 COMPACT GALLERY

The power button is halfway up the right-hand side, saving seconds spent hunting, and the Compact has the same waterproof rating – IP55 and IP58 - as the Z1, meaning it's good to go for a rain run or plonking in up to 1m of water for up to half an hour.

And unlike the Z1 the Compact feels right in the hand – any hand. True, both the iPhone 5s and the toy-like “Mini” phones such as the Galaxy S4 Mini are slightly easier to hold thanks to curvier designs. But the Z1 Compact is more than manageable one-handed and at 137g it's lighter than nearly all of the smartphones it's competing with on specs.

You don't need a 1080p screen at this size

 

We said the Z1 Compact is a phone of almost zero compromises to the bigger Z1’s design, but there is one big point of difference - it’s got a 4.3in 720p screen rather than the 1080p whopper Sony chose for its Xperia Z and Z1 models in 2013.

Text doesn't look quite as pin-sharp on the Z1 Compact as on Full HD phones, and if you load it up with hi-res photos to manipulate or 1080p movie rips there is a slight but noticeable lack of detail. Video quality is also just pipped by the iPhone 5s, which has slightly better contrast and a more accurate colour palette.

But this is still a brilliantly crisp screen with pixels to spare – it's 342ppi which is higher than the iPhone 5s (sticking at 326ppi) and much higher than rivals such as the qHD Galaxy S4 Mini.

The Z1 Compact gives the HTC One Mini a run for its money in the screen department, too – both offer excellent HD screens that make apps, webpages and smartphone snaps look great. In the case of the Sony, with x-Reality switched on in the settings photos look more vivid on your phone than they will elsewhere, so bear that in mind when tweaking.

The Z1 Compact also has one thing the big Sony phones don't have, and that's an IPS screen – viewing angles, which we've griped about in the past – are vastly improved so that the picture doesn't suffer too much when laid on a desk or caught from the side.

Bring On Snapdragon-Powered Small Phones

 

Z1 Compact owners might miss the extra pixels if they're fussy but this smaller Sony more than delivers on performance. No other company has dared stick the most powerful chip on the planet, Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800, in a petite phone. We’re really hoping Sony has started a trend here.

The Z1 Compact skips around the web, zips over Google Maps' satellite view and chomps through the likes of Real Racing 3 (incidentally, mobile gaming's a dream for small-handed Android fans on a handset this size). With a massive AnTuTu score of 34909 - higher than the mighty impressive Galaxy Note 3.

But there's no slowdown around Sony's grown-up Android skin either. Downloads are swift and it can play 1080p videos smoothly if you really do want to go Full HD for your files. The only bit of lag we noticed during testing was scrolling through apps on Google Play.

Not only does the Z1 Compact have exactly the same processor and RAM as the 5in Z1, it also rocks 4G and NFC capabilities - connectivity usually reserved for bigger Androids. And it gets better: the Z1 Compact only comes in a 16GB flavour but that's expandable via microSD by up to 64GB. With that combination of grunt and media storage this is an Android that can stand taller than its diminutive stature might suggest.

More after the break...

Sony's Z1 Optics Get An Encore

 

So the Z1 Compact has a Snapdragon 800 processor, 4G, NFC – the list goes on. But just as important is that the dinkier Z1 has exactly the same 20.7MP rear camera as its 5in big brother.

It's great that Sony has stuck its best smartphone cam on the Z1 Compact – it has an easy to use interface, killer Superior Auto mode and bags of settings and effects to dive into if you have the time.

Stills are nicely balanced and detailed, and the Z1 Compact does a fine job of handling tricky light, too, exposing correctly most of the time. Both when zooming at distance and taking macro shots, the Z1 Compact is impressive in use.

That said, it's not our favourite snapper at this size – the iPhone 5s reliably shoots superb snaps and the S4 Mini's 8MP rear camera can take punchier, crisper images. But compared to the rest of the Mini competition, including Sony's own smaller, cheaper phones, the Z1 Compact's camera still shines.

Stamina Maximus

 

Mini phones that have come painfully close to the small-superphone finish line, such as the HTC One Mini, often fall down on that final hurdle: battery life. And with a smaller 2300mAh battery in the Z1 Compact than the 3000mAh unit in the Z1, it looked as though the Sony would go the same way.

But it's a doozy. The Z1 Compact massively outperformed the One Mini in our 720p video rundown test with a time of 8hrs50mins, compared to the HTC, which managed just over six hours. And it's a fighter day-to-day, too, thanks to a Stamina mode that shuts down data for most apps when the screen is off – we suggest you keep this setting permanently ticked.

So unlike the 4in iPhone the Z1 Compact makes it to bedtime without the need for a top-up charge in the middle of the day. This is perhaps the most gawp-inducing thing about the Z1 Compact: not only do you get power and pixels in the smaller form factor - it lasts all day, too.

Verdict

 

With clean lines, an impressive screen and a size that belies its pure grunt, the Z1 Compact is the first smaller-sized Android powerhouse that really does tick of all of our boxes. The One Mini before it had a lovely screen but was let down by poor battery life. The S4 Mini's camera is reliable but the screen is low-res, the build toy-like.

The Z1 Compact doesn't have one stand out feature, it has stand out features to spare: waterproofing, that killer battery life, slick performance. This isn't a mini phone or a compact phone, it's a regular sized smartphone that hasn't trashed borrowed branding by disappointing in use the way smaller phones tend to.

Is this the end of supersized smarties? No. We love big screens, we love watching HD movies on them and using creative apps on them. But a smaller smartphone screen is much more manageable for a lot of people.

Specs or smallness? The Z1 Compact does everyone a favour and gives you both in one phone. That leaves just one last burning question: Why has it taken this long?

READ MORE: The 10 Best Smartphones in the World right now

says

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

This is what we call Android for the masses – the Z1 Compact is a perfect fit no matter your hand span

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review
5 stars
RMTBC
Unflappable performance
A battery life that's anything but mini
4.3in size lets you get things done quickly
Rain and pool-proof
Great screen
Compact, yes – but not as ergonomic as an iPhone
Camera isn't the best on a phone this size
power
screen
build
apps
OMG!
WTF?
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