Big phone, small phone. Big tablet, small tablet. Sony's Xperia line-up is now all about choice. And if its only rival was its big brother - the Z2 Tablet - this impressive small tab would win hands down.
Slim, light, waterproof, well-specced and without the odd bezel-heavy build of its predecessor, it just makes more sense.
But is that enough to choose the 8in Z3 Tablet Compact when the iPad Mini, the reigning small tablet, is suddenly such amazing value? Sadly, not quite - but that doesn't mean there's not a lot to like here.
Be gone bezels
The era of Stuff being at odds with Sony's OmniBalance design is over.
We've always appreciated the care, attention and craftsmanship that's gone into building Xperia smartphones and tablets. But there's also been a part of us that thinks mobile devices, designed to be held in the hand, need to be practical and human-friendly as well as beautiful.
The Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact is just that - much easier to pick up, hold one-handed and generally get on with than actually say out loud. It's like the 7.9in iPad Mini in that you'll use it in portrait mode most of the time. Though you can get one hand around, it makes more sense to rest it in your palms, thumbs easily darting around the 8in touchscreen.
The all-metal frame is gone, replaced with curved sides, a matte back and tempered glass on the front. It's as ludicrously skinny as the Xperia Z2 Tablet at 6.4mm but in this smaller, supremely portable size, it works. On the larger tablet it meant that the tab flexed worryingly in the middle and wasn't very satisfying to hold. Here it helps the handbag/big pocket-friendly dimensions.
Because it doesn't look like a scaled-down Z2 Tablet. The huge bezels all around that slate have gone, transforming it somewhat and if anything this looks like Sony's take on a Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4. At 270g - nearly 30g less than the still-plasticky Samsung - it's a great move for Xperia tablets.
True, the Tab S fits a bigger 8.4in screen in a curvier, similar sized body but anyone who would consider one should also take a look at the other.
With the same IP65 and IP68 water and dust resistance ratings as its smartphone siblings, the Z3 Tablet Compact also makes a great cooking or even bath time companion. The Galaxy S5 might be waterproof but the Tab S sure isn't.
If you're planning to dunk it (in up to 1.5m of water for half an hour) just make sure all those flaps covering ports like the microUSB are closed. Or floods of your tears will soon be joining all that water.
2K isn't everything
Unlike Samsung with its super sharp 2560x1600 Tab S 8.4 and Apple with its Retina display-rocking 2048x1536 iPad Mini, Sony is sticking at Full HD. In fact, none of Sony’s Xperia range is bowing to pixel pressure with 2K resolutions. And this is still a superb screen.
The Z2 Tablet was a monster movie tablet, in part thanks to Sony's TV tech such as Triluminous for mobile and - to a lesser extent - X-Reality for mobile which pumps up contrast and saturation. The Z3 Tablet Compact is just as capable at displaying pure whites, deep blacks and punchy but realistic colours. Samsung keeps its edge for deep blacks thanks to its use of SuperAMOLED tech but this screen is just as brilliant as we've seen on past Xperias and if you’re watching a 1080p movie, it’s the Sony we’d pick.
It's bright, holding up well in direct sunlight, and viewing angles are decent too. Still, we recommend having a play with the colour temperature sliders, as with the Xperia Z3, the Tablet Compact’s whites can look a bit pink off-axis.
And the resolution of the Samsung does have its advantages. Reading Stuff.tv on the Z3 Tablet Compact and zooming out on a full screen of text in an epic review shows that, while we agree 2K can be overkill, sometimes extra pixels can help. For hi-res images, the Samsung looks noticeably crisper too.
It might not be futureproof but for now, the Z3 Tablet Compact shouldn't be ashamed of its pixel count. Especially when it means a better battery life than its closest rival.
Plugging in a tablet that you forgot to power off just seems so much more unfair. So it’s great that for one thing, the Z3 Tablet Compact’s standby is excellent. You can forget about it for two days and find the battery has only dropped by 10%. Its own calculations reckon 35% will last seven days on standby.
And in use it makes good on its promise to outlast 2K tabs. In our HD video rundown test (Wi-Fi on, half brightness) it lasted a stellar 13 hours 20 minutes, that’s over three hours longer than the (admittedly brighter) Tab S 8.4 and also the iPad Mini 2 or 3. Sony itself claims up to 15 hours of video playback so you might be able to eke out a little longer too.
A few more hours might not sound as impressive as the Z3’s two day battery life but in real life, this means getting an extra one or two commutes out of the Tablet Compact on one charge and that’s before resorting to its excellent Stamina battery-saving modes.
Operating System: Android 4.4 KitKat
Processor: 2.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
Screen: 8in IPS LCD with 1920 x 1200 resolution (283ppi)
Cameras: 8.1MP rear with 1080p video, 2.3MP front
Storage: 16GB (microSD-expandable by up to 128GB)
Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, 3G/4G (with nanoSIM), NFC
Dimensions: 213 x 124 x 6.4mm
Fast and powerful with capable cameras
Stamina isn't the only area where the Z3 Tablet Compact excels. In fact, it’s hard to fault all-round.
Everything is fast and fluid, from multi-tasking to downloads to gaming, and its quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor performs nicely in the benchmarks, too. It scores 43098 on AnTuTU (above the Galaxy S5) and 2668 on Geekbench 3. Very respectable.
Both the 8.1MP rear camera and 2.3MP front cam shoot clear, bright video and stills, as you’d expect, though the snappers aren’t as fast or as sharp as the Xperia Z3’s At this small and light size the Tablet Compact isn’t too silly if your smartphone battery has gone kaput. There’s also lots of modes to play with including Vine built into the camera app and blogger-friendly live to YouTube streaming.
The well disguised stereo speakers on the front of the tablet sound crisp and loud too - nothing to trouble the HTC One M8 for on-the-fly tunes but certainly an improvement on most phones and tablets including the iPad Mini.
A Mild Case of iPad App Envy
Still, the Z3 Tablet Compact isn’t really competing on components. The iPad’s superior selection of optimised apps together with the gorgeous, still unrivalled, design and build is what has set it apart for years.
Here, the Play Store has made progress with big names cleaning up once-embarrassing Android tablet apps but the issue hasn't gone away and there’s not a huge amount Sony itself can do. There are still lots of developers who are content to produce a single Android version of an app that's then simply scaled to fit the screen with often ugly results, and plenty more that prioritise iOS development, leaving Android users with a frustratingly long wait for optimisation and new features.
Samsung offers tons of freebies and subscriptions with its Tab S tablets, which is one way of distracting users from shiny new iPad apps. The fact remains that if you aren’t bound to Android in your choice of tablet, the US$300 iPad Mini 2 is better value than both the Samsung and the Sony thanks, in part, to better apps and games.
The one feature that the iPad Mini will never offer is PS4 game streaming. It’s an interesting move but not quite flawless enough.
The only tablet that can play PS4 games
This is the same in-home game streaming tech found on the PS Vita, and the Z3 Tablet Compact makes a tidy set-up with Sony's mount accessory and a DualShock 4 controller (a DualShock 3 will also work).
On a local network the Z3 Tablet Compact connects without issue and connecting your controller is a doddle. It looks really nice, too, even on the Standard Video Quality setting.
You're obviously not getting the PS4's 1080p native resolution, but because of the relatively small and capable screen it looks sharp and pretty detailed.
There is lag, though. There’s just half a second of delay, and for certain types of games it will be unnoticeable or at least insignificant enough to ignore.
But competitive multiplayer and games that require precision could be rather frustrating if played through the tablet. There’s a fair bit of stutter to fast movement at times, too - especially when there’s a particularly large amount of onscreen action.
Of course, one of the most exciting possibilities of Remote Play is the ability to play PS4 games when away from home, but you need a seriously solid data connection for that. Think of it more as an at-home
In some ways it’s mighty impressive that PS4 Remote Play works and is usable at all on the Tablet Compact, but I’d see this as something I would use very rarely - those times that I absolutely had to play something and for whatever reason absolutely couldn’t use the telly.
I was mighty excited about Remote Play on the Z3 Tablet Compact but having now used it a fair bit I don't think it's reason alone to buy this tablet over a rival.
Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact Verdict
Convincing people they need an Android tablet - let alone a premium one - is no easy task.
But the Z3 Tablet Compact is a lovely thing. It's a slim, light and reliable couch or commute companion. The screen looks brilliant despite being "only" Full HD. The waterproofing may sway people away from choosing an iPad Mini.
That US$460 price is seriously steep, especially in light of the cheaper iPad Mini 2. But it puts the Sony on a level with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 and despite the fact that these two are so similar (both portable, both expandable, both running KitKat) the waterproofing and extra battery life just swing it for us.
It’s a close call but if Samsung's software puts you off a Tab S or your gamer eyes light up at the mention of PS4 Remote Play on a tidy Sony tab, this 8in Xperia might be the right tablet for you.