Good things really do come in small packages: Kittens. Mini skirts. The KFC mini fillet burger.
Why, then, is it so hard to find a decent Android phone that doesn’t require the palms of a giant to hold comfortably?
Handsets have been getting progressively bigger for years, and no-one seems to be bucking the trend. No-one, that is, apart from Sony.
With similar specs to the big hitters, only squeezed into a much smaller frame, the Xperia Compact range has long been everything you could want in a phone, just on a much smaller scale. And this latest iteration might be the best yet.
The XZ1 Compact takes almost every aspect of the larger XZ1, shrinks it down to a pocket-friendly 4.6in, and slashes the price while it’s at it.
It’s not perfect, but if you’re forever chasing a small Android phone, your search might soon be over.
DESIGN AND BUILD: TEENY TINY TELE
No, you’re not looking at an XZ1 from far away - the Compact really is that small. Whereas the bigger phone is milled out of a single block of aluminium, though, the Compact goes for something a little different.
It’s made from glass fibre-woven plastic, which sounds more like something you’d find on an F1 race car than a smartphone. Essentially it’s supposed to be more resistant to bending and twisting, meaning it won’t go crunch if you sit down with one in your pocket.
Add in diamond cut edges with a metallic finish, and IP65/IP68 dust and water resistance, and you’ve got an uncompromised design that doesn’t really take any shortcuts to shrink down the size. There’s still a fingerprint reader built into the power button on the side, and even the physical camera shutter button makes the cut.
It feels great in the hand, with a firm frame and grippy matte finish on the back that doesn’t show up fingerprints.
Unfortunately, that design isn’t exactly much different from the rest of the Xperia line-up, which has been desperately in need of a refresh for a year or two now. There are still chunky bezels above and below the screen, and the angular shape isn’t anywhere near as slick as the smooth, rounded phones you’ll find from other manufacturers.
Unless you’ve been paying very (very) close attention to Sony’s recent output, you’ll struggle to see how it looks any different to last year’s model - which doesn’t bode well when the rest of the smartphone world is mixing things up with new shapes, materials and bezel-free screens.
Still, it’s small enough for even tiny hands to use. And that’s kind of the point, right?
SCREEN AND SOUND: LAST IN THE RESOLUTION RACE
Every compact Xperia up to now has made do with a 720p screen, and Sony hasn’t seen fit to make any changes for 2017.
It’s hardly a tragedy, as stretched over a mere 4.6 inches you really can’t see the individual pixels, but it’s not exactly desirable, either - the larger competition have pretty much all made the jump to 1080p, if not 2K.
Your photos and videos only have so much visible detail, though, and the pixel grid effect that makes text and icons look blocky was already pretty minimal. Sony hasn’t added HDR support here - you’ll need to splash out on the full-size XZ1 if you want your Netflix streams to look their best.
Colours are on point, if a little on the cool side in Sony’s “Professional” display mode, and brightness is high enough to step outside and still see what’s on-screen without squinting. Contrast is really good, too, even if it can’t match the dark blacks of an OLED display.
Videos will look decent enough, then, but they’ll sound better: the Compact’s stereo speakers really pack a punch. Sony reckons they’re 50% louder than last year’s Xperia X Compact, and it’s easy to believe. Music, podcasts and streaming videos are all a joy to listen to - without having to plug in headphones first.
If you do have a pair of cans, though, the Compact will play nicely with Hi-Res audio. It naturally supports Sony’s high quality LDAC wireless protocol if you’ve got a set of compatible Bluetooth headphones too.
As far as audio goes, you’d have to step up to a quad-DAC packing LG V30 to get something better - and that’ll set you back a whole lot more money.
In case you hadn’t noticed a pattern yet, here’s another thing the XZ1 Compact shares with the full-size XZ1.
You get the same 19MP rear camera, with the same predictive capture abilities and same ridiculously slow 960fps slo-mo video capture. This pretty much puts it in a class of its own when it comes to small yet capable phones - or it would if it wasn’t so prone to over-processing your pics.
Images to generally look crisper than they do on the similarly-priced OnePlus 5, packing plenty of detail into food, foliage and facial features. So all the Fs, basically.
Colours are seriously vivid, not always lining up with reality, and experimenting with manual mode doesn’t make much difference either. Over-sharpening can lead to losing some finer detail, too. Low-light shots lean towards the noisy side, as well.