Sony Xperia Z3 Compact hands-on review

Sony's "no compromise" Compact gets a reboot after 9 months - and we've wrapped our hands all the way around it

Until the Z1 Compact came along, small-handed gadget lovers had two choices: buy an iPhone or settle for a cut-spec "Mini". 

Sony's 4.3in Xperia changed all that and now the Z3 Compact has arrived to continue this worthy work.

It crams a gorgeous 4.6in 720p screen into the same tidy handprint as the Z1 Compact. It runs on an all-powerful Snapdragon 801 processor and keeps the incredible 20.7MP camera. Best of all the Compact gets all the Xperia Z3's slickest new features - improved low-light camera skills, PS4 Remote Play and hi-res audio. And Sony's sticking its neck out with the same claim of a two-day battery life for the Z3 Compact as the Z3. 

Small really can be mighty.

READ MORE: Sony Xperia Z2 review

Just Mini Enough

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact hands-on - Just Mini Enough  2Sony Xperia Z3 Compact hands-on - Just Mini Enough  3

Let's get matters of size out of the way.

This is a 4.6in smartphone calling itself compact. That means the screen is bigger than that of the iPhone 5s and almost matches the 4.7in display on the original HTC One. But it's all about dimensions. Put simply, you can hold this comfortably in one hand, even if said hand is tinier than average. 

Build-wise, the Z3 Compact puts most Android smartphones to shame. Sure, the HTC One Mini 2 has a curved aluminium body but its insides don't exactly match its outsides. And most other scaled-down handsets stick to plastic, big bezels and telltale signs of corner cutting. 

Not so here. 

While Sony's decided to drop the metal frame from the Z3 Compact, it still looks and feels beautifully well made. The all-glass rear is present, as are the love-it-or-loathe-it aluminium power button and shallow volume rocker. The dedicated camera button returns and apart from a few minor tweaks - the LED flash has been moved slightly further away from the rear camera, for instance - this is the same shrunken down OmniBalance design we fell for in January.

Like the Z1 Compact it's waterproof, with the same newly improved dust resistance as the larger Z3 - that's IP65 and IP68 certified. But like the Z1 and Z2, neither Xperia sacrifices any style to practicalities. 

Plus, while we've moaned in the past about the ergonomics of Sony's smartphone builds, this time round both the Z3 and Z3 Compact are easier to hold. Both get nylon caps on their corners (to help prevent smashes) and there are so many buttons, pogo pins and port flaps that there isn't much room for untouched edges to run your fingers along anyway. 

The bezels are still a little on the roomy side, but overall it's a big improvement over Z1 Compact, with Sony somehow managing to fit a 4.6in screen into a handset that's roughly the same size as its 4.3in predecessor. It's also much slimmer - 8.7mm rather than 9.5mm - which all adds up to it looking and feeling much classier. It's still not as light as an 112g iPhone 5s but 127g is light enough for us. 

And last but not least, to signify this as a fun, mass-market smartphone Sony is adding bold orange and green colour options to the existing black and white versions.

READ MORE: Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini review

Sticking at 720p, bold battery claims

Sony's said no to 2K on the 5.2in Xperia Z3 and no to 1080p here on the Z3 Compact. 

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact hands on review

Why? Two reasons. Sony reckons the human eye finds it hard to discern the extra pixels. And it wants to save us all from having to recharge at work and in bed by virtue of a claimed two-day battery life. 

The slight problem here is that by sticking with a 720p resolution while making its screen bigger, Sony has effectively reduced its sharpness. So while the old Z1 Compact's 1280x720 resolution on a 4.3in display equates to 341ppi, when stretched across 4.6 inches that falls to 320ppi. Will that difference be noticeable? We'll have to wait until we get a review model back to Stuff Towers to answer that.

What we can say already is that when we loaded up the same image on both the Z3 and Z3 Compact, we did spot some loss of detail on the smaller unit next to the full HD screen of the bigger model. 

Still, while full HD would have been lovely - and would have made it one of the sharpest phones on the planet - it's still bright, with natural but appealing colours. It's also slightly bigger than the 4.5in 720p screens on the One Mini 2 and Galaxy S5 Mini and if you like things punchy, you can turn on Sony's X-Reality for mobile tech to boost contrast and saturation. 

Sony's battery strategy for the Z3 Compact extends beyond giving it fewer pixels. As well as the extra efficiency that the fast and powerful Snapdragon 801 processor brings (the Z1 Compact ran on the 800), Sony has also worked to make the display more efficient. There's no name for the tech but Sony claims that the display retains a memory of the picture onscreen, so that it doesn't need to reload it over and over again. 

When we tested the Z1 Compact we got a full day's use out of it. But Sony says that in its own tests both the Z3 and Z3 Compact make it through two days of normal usage versus 1.4 days for the Xperia Z2. The Z3 Compact has a bigger 2600mAh battery than that in the mini Z1 and in our brief play, the battery percentage on the Z3 Compact barely dropped. All of which bodes well, but we'll be putting Sony's claims to the test in our full review. 

READ MORE: What the iPhone 6 needs to do in order to reclaim top spot

More after the break...

Camera Tweaks and Hi-res Audio

In many ways the Z3 Compact is identical to the Z3. For starters both get the aforementioned Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, which is clocked at 2.5GHz and which should make moving around homescreens, the web and menus as smooth as full-fat butter.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact hands on review

Another thing they share is the camera. Now we didn't get much of a play with it during our hands-on time, so we'll save judgement for the full reviews. But the headlines are that it takes the superb 20.7MP sensor from the Xperia Z2, complete with excellent Superior Auto mode, and gives it a new 25mm wide-angle G lens, higher 12,800 ISO sensitivity and tweaked SteadyShot software. It also gets a few more social camera apps, the best being live YouTube broadcasting. 

In our brief experience, framing and AF are as fast as ever, while its ability to see in the dark looks especially promising. Frankly, we can't wait to pit it against whatever Cupertino is cooking up - with all the rumours at the moment pointing to a 4.7in iPhone 6

Music is another area where it matches its bigger sibling. Xperias have long ranked alongside iDevices as our favourites for music playback, but the Z3 and Z3 Compact promise to take things up a level. Both get hi-res audio capabilities, if you can get hold of the right files, but even if you can't then they'll use Sony's own DSEE HX uprating tech to turn lowly MP3s into near hi-res audio tracks.

Finally, there are no real differences between the handsets in terms of their Android skin. Both get the usual What's New widgets recommending content to consume and both also get the new Lifelog app - intended to work with new wearables such as the SmartWatch 3. However, this wasn't quite ready for our hands-on time with it. We'll hopefully have more on it very soon from the IFA 2014 showfloor. 

READ MORE: Long term test - Sony PS4

Play PS4 games on your Z3 Compact

Then there's the PlayStation connection. Like the Z3 and Z3 Tablet Compact, the Z3 Compact will get PS4 Remote Play in November. This PS Vita-style tech will enable gamers to play PS4 titles on their Xperia smartphone or tablet with a DualShock 4 controller. It's not supposed to be played on the bus, mind, as Sony is recommending it's used at home on the same Wi-Fi connection as your PS4. We haven't tried Remote Play on an Xperia out yet but if it works as well as on the Vita, we're sold. 

Initial Verdict

At first fondle, the Xperia Z3 Compact isn't precisely the zero compromises smartphone Sony says it is - the 720p screen and missing metal frame suggest otherwise. But it sure is close. 

In fact, on first impressions the Z3 Compact is shaping up to be a bit of a gadget hero. It's fast, it's pretty and it's very, very capable. If you want the best of Android in a smaller package there are now two viable options - the HTC One Mini 2 and this. And with what should be a better camera, longer-lasting battery and cleverer tricks, the Z3 Compact should see off HTC's finest small phone easily.

Then again with a 4.7in iPhone 6 rumoured for a mid-September announcement, it looks like the Z3 Compact will face some seriously stiff competition before it's even released. Check back soon for our full in-depth review. 

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Sony Xperia Z3 Compact hands-on

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact hands on review
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