Balls to compromise.
That was Sony’s mantra when it came to shrinking the original Z1 into the Z1 Compact, and it’s looking for a repeat performance with its successor.
The Z3 Compact aims to offer the same power and performance as the gorgeous full-fat Z3, but in a smaller and more manageable chassis. It could well be the new people’s champion of the smartphone world.
READ MORE: Sony Xperia Z3 review
SOLID, COMFORTABLE BUT NOT QUITE PREMIUM
The Z3 Compact is essentially a shrunken Xperia Z3, and that is definitely a compliment.
It looks smart and feels very comfortable in the hands, thanks to its diminutive size and rounded edges. The glass front and back panels feel reassuringly solid, weighty and premium, too.
We do have one gripe with it however - it’s disappointingly creaky when flexed. We’ve got no reason to doubt the overall build quality and there’s no reason why you’d want to flex your phone, but once you know the creaks are there it becomes a bit of a niggle. Oh, sorry.
Unlike its larger Z3 brother's metal edges, the Z3 Compact settles for plastic, which obviously feels less expensive. It's a shame, because metal surroundings would result in a nicer look and feel, as well as offering increased strength.
Having said that, the edges don’t feel cheap, and their translucent colouring does a good job of standing out.
Consider that the Compact is £100 cheaper than the flagship Z3, and it seems churlish to complain about the use of slightly less premium materials.
Screen: 4.6in 1280x720 Triluminous display with X-Reality engine Processor: 2.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 RAM: 2GB OS: Android 4.4 KitKat Camera: 20.7MP rear, 1080p/4K videoStorage: 16GB (+ microSD) Battery: 2600mAh Connectivity: Wi-Fi, 3G/4G, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0Dimensions: x8.7mmWeight: 129g
The rest of the Z3 Compact will be familiar to Sony fans. Its microUSB, microSIM and nanoSIM ports are all covered by flaps, which allow it to happily swim around in up to 1.5 metres of water for 30 minutes – that’s the highest waterproof rating in a Sony phone to date.
The power, volume and camera buttons all grace the right-hand side. The power button could perhaps be a little higher up, as that’s where your thumb naturally rests when holding the phone, but that’s no big deal.
Front-facing speakers sandwich the top and bottom of the screen, and they're worth the extra bezel for the most part. While not as loud or as clear as the HTC One (M8)'s impressive BoomSound speakers, the Z3 Compact still blasts out music louder than its size suggests. Its rear does tend to vibrate a bit in the hands if the volume is cranked up all the way however.
READ MORE: HTC One (M8) review
A SCREEN THAT'S A PLEASURE TO USE
Before we jump into pixel counts, white balance and colour saturation, let's talk about size.
The Z3 Compact has bumped up its screen size from its predecessor's 4.3 inches to 4.6 inches.
While that might alarm the small-handed gadgeteers who appreciated the Z1 Compact so much, we can happily report that there’s nothing to worry about.
Sony has managed to cram a larger screen into a body that's practically the same size as the original Z1 Compact, which means that you’ve got more screen to enjoy without the need for +1 dexterity.
In a world littered with smartphones that require a juggling act to reach the top notification bar (we’re looking at you, iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4), the Z3 Compact gets a 15/10 for ease of use.
Yes, you might get screen envy when comparing it to the likes of the 5.5in LG G3 when viewing movies side-by-side, but use the Compact on its own and you'll feel so darn comfortable using it that nothing else will matter.
READ MORE: LG G3 review
So, back to resolution: it's 720p, and yes, you will notice a drop in sharpness compared to the full HD and 2K smartphone screens that abound right now - but only when you actively scrutinise them all together.
The G3 in particular definitely shows up more detail, while the Compact's screen can appear almost fuzzy in direct comparison.
But in general use, you won't be complaining - you probably won’t even notice. 319 pixels per inch still delivers sharp text, and images and videos still look great as long as the screen isn't strapped to your face.
Sony's image enhancement engine does a great job serving up punchy, bright colours, although as with many of Sony’s phones (and TVs for that matter) the overall balance is a bit cooler than you might be used to. You’ll probably get used to it, but if you don’t there are dedicated settings for adjusting white balance. I’ll admit to not getting quite the tone I was after, but then I am something of a perfectionist.
Blacks are great, though - deeper and truer than the ones found on the G3. Samsung’s AMOLED displays still remain the ultimate displays for those after the blackest of blacks, but the Z3 Compact does make the nominations envelope.
READ MORE: Samsung Galaxy Note 4 hands-on review
Sony hasn't messed around when it comes to power. The Z3 Compact may be small, but it sure isn’t weak.
While its Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor isn't as powerful as the more recent 805 offering found in the Galaxy Note 4, it still matches the power found in current flagships such as the LG G3, Sony Xperia Z3 and Motorola Moto X.
Unlike on those fancy-pants superphones, Qualcomm's silicon only has to worry about pushing a 720p resolution here, and that helps to ensure the performance is extra silky smooth. From heavy multitasking to running the latest graphically shiny games such as FIFA 15, you won't be left wanting for power.
As with most current smartphones, the rear tends to get rather warm during intense use, but with winter coming perhaps you’ll be glad of that?
READ MORE: Motorola Moto X hands-on review
A FORMIDABLE CAMERA, DROWNING IN COMPLICATED MENUS
Like its full-sized Z3 sibling, the Compact has a 20.7MP camera, and it takes genuinely impressive photos.
Assuming you’re prepared to take the time to get things just right.
The Xperia camera app is bursting with different shooting modes, and settings are buried in complicated menus - the complete opposite of the effortless point and shoot camera apps of phones such as the HTC One (M8) and iPhone 6.
It took us a good few minutes of frustrating trial and error to figure out how to turn on HDR, for example. Manual mode has to be selected, but even then, you can’t turn it on when shooting at 20.7MP. You have to bump the resolution down to 8MP to turn HDR on. It’s overly complicated, and that’s just for something that should be very simple.
We’d recommend sticking to superior auto mode for most of the time as it does a very decent job of assessing the scene. Shots in good lighting show up plenty of detail and accurate colours, and the 8MP shots taken in this mode are you’ll ever need if you’re a simple social media shutterbug. The 25mm wide-angle lens means that you can cram more into each shot, too, which is another nice bonus.
If you fancy cropping into shots or flexing your photographic muscles, then there’s that 20.7MP manual mode, which allows tweaks of everything from the white balance to ISO, as well as selecting the type of scene.
If you take your photography that seriously you’ve probably got a serious camera, but the Z3 could come in handy if you just happen to stumble across the perfect shot but don’t have it with you.
Both the Z3 and Z3 Compact boast a 12800 ISO setting – more than any of its rivals to date. While shots at these higher ISO levels are brighter, we find that the G3’s 13MP shots pick up more detail in dimmer conditions, with more accurate colours and less noise, possibly due to its optical image stabilisation and two-tone LED flash.
Sony’s less serious AR modes also return, letting you overlay dinosaurs, little fairy… things, and other digital characters over the real world. While it’s fun for a few minutes, you’ll probably ignore this feature once you’ve shown it off to your mates once or twice.
ANDROID’S LEFT WELL ENOUGH ALONE
Thankfully Sony’s stuck to its guns by not messing around with Android too much, unlike its Samsung, HTC and LG rivals.
Any visual modifications to Android 4.4.4 KitKat are kept simple, and there’s not a massive amount of bloatware on board.
Naturally, Sony’s own services such as Music Unlimited are being pushed on its Xperia devices, but the most impressive non-stock software present is the Lifeblog app.
It tracks everything from your calories burned, steps taken and workouts, to photos captured and videos captured. You can scroll through a summary of your activities on a day-by-day basis, condensing your life into one single app - it’s far more useful and not nearly as depressing as that may sound.
PS4 owners can look forward to Sony’s Remote Play app which is already available on PlayStation Vita and is set to launch later this year on Sony’s top phones and tablets. Combined with a controller, the Z3 Compact will act as a gateway to the PS4, allowing you to stream games in realtime - as long as the network connections at both ends are fast enough.
We’re dead excited to get testing with Remote Play on mobile and will update this review when the app launches.
READ MORE: Sony PlayStation 4 review
A battery that keeps going. And going
Battery life remains the Achilles heel of even the greatest of smartphones, but the Xperia Z3 blew us away with its stamina and we're happy to report that the Z3 Compact shares its Duracell Bunny DNA.
Our standard video rundown test involves looping a 720p video, with Wi-Fi connected, the screen set to 50% brightness and app/email syncing on.
This test was carried out twice, and the Compact lasted just over ten hours both times.
While not quite as high at the 13+ hours achieved by the Z3, it's still an impressive figure, beating the LG G3 by more than half an hour.
In standard use, you can get away with at least one and a half days on a single charge, which is very impressive indeed.
Our reviews process, coupled with a two hour commute (each way) makes for higher than average use, and the Compact still happily lasts an entire day.
The Z3 Compact is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best sub-5in Android phone available today.
The power of a full-size flagship, an excellent camera and an impressive battery life are all crammed into a device that's a pleasure to use no matter the size of your digits.
If your hands can manage a bigger device there are smartphones around that offer bigger and more beautiful screens and cameras that are more point-and-shoot friendly, but for smaller-handed gadgeteers Sony's no-compromise Pocket Hercules will tick every box.