Roughly six months ago Sony launched a new breed of smartphone into the market. A smartphone that many desired but never really existed; but Sony took a bold step that has ultimately paid off for them.
The Xperia Z1 Compact was and still is as powerful as the Sony Xperia Z1 on which it was based, but had a smaller display to make the overall handset more user friendly, but did not want to sacrifice memory and processing power; which was too often the case with other ‘mini’ or ‘compact’ models. With the launch of the Z3 comes the launch of the Z3 Compact to keep the 2 in line with each other and much closer matched in terms of specification. So with less than a year between the two how does the latest model stack up? Like its predecessor the hardware is good, but slightly more cutting edge. Compact but powerful is certainly what the Compact offers and unlike the Mini equivalents from Samsung and LG, the Z3C is not mini on specs. Whilst as you would expect this Android phone to be compared to other Android handsets, we can not rule out the new iPhone 6, with its 4.7” display. The Compact is certainly going to shake up this space and should be a consideration for anyone looking at the iPhone 6 but not set on iOS. If not for the benefits the Z3C brings in features, then for the price. Even at RRP the Z3C is £165 cheaper. Sleek and svelte may not be words used to describe the original Z1 Compact, but the Z3 Compact is certainly more fitting of such. Not only is it slimmer by approx 1mm the softer and smoother curved edges offer a much more comfortable in hand experience that the bulkier and squarer Z1C. Like its big brother the compact has a solid frame but it feels of plastic in construction, although underneath I believe it is metal. Each of the 4 corners having a separate piece of material inserted and colour coded to the device. It detracts from the design ever so slightly but does have a very practical purpose. It is designed to absorb impacts considerably more effectively when dropped on the corners. With the Z3C gaining an extra 0.3” with no increase in resolution, remaining at 720 x 1280 the Pixels Per Inch has taken a little knock on effect dropping from 342 to 319. Is the difference noticeable? Maybe to the most particular users and if you really look for it. Sit it next to a full HD or quad HD display and then yes you can tell the difference. Maybe Sony should have included a full HD display in the Z3C but it is a question of balance. Images still look bright and crisp and I think many can argue the screen quality is good enough for a mobile device in my opinion. Like any phone manufacturer, the technology inside is tweaked to produce the best on screen results. There is within the Z3C there are two key technologies that have been used to assist in producing what you see. The first is TRILUMINOS which uses LEDs to emit purer reds and greens creating a brighter and more uniform light. The second part is X-Reality for Mobile which optimises images to improve colour reproduction, sharpness and contrast, as well as remove noise. The result is personal opinion the Z3C certainly pops that little bit more than the Z1C. I think all told the IPS panel does a pretty good job, with good viewing angles and generally quite acceptable battery performance. Windows Phone and BlackBerry may be two types of operating system that exist amongst others, but at the moment it is primarily a two horse race between iOS and Android. The Z3C is most certainly wearing the Android colours and is also aiming to win supporters of iOS thanks to what this compact powerhouse offers. When there was once discrepancy between the OS, both are becoming more similar and apps are most certainly available on both platforms. Be it your social networks, business or personal fitness apps, you will find them on the Google Play Store, that comes loaded on the Z3C. As an Android device, you get access to all of the popular Google services including Gmail, Calendar, Maps, Music and more. If you are new to Android, then one of the key appealing factors is the way in which you can make the phone yours, personalising and tweaking to make yours different to every other. From changing the stock wallpapers and themes of the device to sound and notifications for specific contacts. If you are making the switch from an iPhone, Sony have set out to make this transition as simple as possible. Xperia Transfer is the app that you need to use for the most simple of switching between the two platforms. Of the 16GB internal storage available on the device, only 12GB is available to you as the user because the OS takes up a proportion of this. Store whatever you like on the internal memory, but if you are running out of space using the microSD memory card slot that supports 128GB cards is a great solution for more memory intensive files such as music and pictures. Sony do include a few of their own customisations over the standard Android experience. This is to give you as the user a little extra value but also differentiate their products from others out there. Additions primarily include Sony’s multimedia suite of applications from Sonys Lifelog app Movie Creator, but there are a few others I feel are worthwhile additions. You will get the very latest version of Android 4.4 KitKat and Sony are reasonably good with their updates. Yes there will be delays, but they have made marked improvements from where they used to be with the number of updates and speed of updates they bring. Also built into the Xperia Z3’s software is Glove Mode, which as the name implies, enhances the screen sensitivity so that you can use the phone in colder climates. Smart Backlight Control keeps the screen on when you look at the phone, no need to actually touch the handset. Smart Call Handling allows you to answer a call by bringing the phone to the ear, rejecting a call by shaking it and silencing a call by turning the phone over. Tap To Wake Up turns the screen on after a double tap on the display. Other small extras included on the Z3C include ‘small apps’. Press and hold on the running apps key and at the bottom you are presented with list of apps such as a calculator, stopwatch, sound recorder and screen capture tool. These small apps sit in windows on top of Android, can be moved about on screen and retain their position even as the phone is being used in the background. Only upon closing them will they disappear. The Z series for some time has had PlayStation Mobile certification, but the Z3 family will from November 2014 have Remote PLAY. What is Remote PLAY? Well, PS4 users hold onto your hats. You can play your PS4 games on your Z3C. Let me paint the picture. You are happily playing your PS4 when your other half switches the TV onto something that would drive you to go and wash the dishes. However, the dishes can wait. Leave your PS4 switched on, connect you Z3C to WiFi, enable Remote PLAY and begin playing the PS4 game back on your Compact. However, it gets better. Purchase the GCM10 game controller mount and dock your Compact on top of your PS4 controller. Now you can play the game with the PS4 controller! The quality of the game is downscaled to boost performance, but we can live with that! If you wonder whether the Compact can handle it, then fear not, a quad-core 2.5GHZ processor and 2GB RAM will keep this and other daily tasks performing quite nicely. It is a bit of a shame it did not get the 3GB of the Z3, but that may be the price to pay of going for a smaller form factor. If you had not yet got the gist, the Z3C has all you need. Bluetooth, WiFi and GPS including GLONASS. The Z3C does too have MHL connectivity, MHL 3.0 in fact. MHL 3.0 is the very latest technology and allows you to output 4K video to a 4K display. Now it need not be 4K, but it is possible. USB host functionality means that you can too connect things like memory sticks to the Z3C, an adapter is required. The magnetic charger does away with the need to open the cover over the microUSB. Use a microUSB magnetic adapter or opt for the Sony DK48 charging dock to keep it powered and sat at an ideal viewing angle. Of course there is too the cellular connections of 2G right through to 4G, all of which perform well. The Z3C does take a nano SIM though. The Z1 Compact produced a reasonable punch when it came to sound, but what I have found as time has gone on, it that the speaker located on the bottom is not always practical and sometimes becomes muffled. To keep the Z3C in line with the Z3, the Compact now boast stereo speakers. Improved audio is helped further by the inclusion of DSEE HX (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) and Hi-Res Audio. In our un-scientific test the Z3C was registering in the high 80’s on the decibel meter approximately 10db higher than the Z1 Compact. The sound clarity was pretty good, better than the Z1C, although compare it to the Z3 and it sounds a little like it is struggling a little bit. The Z3 sounded a little more rounded and balanced. That may have something to do with the speaker and the space in the body of the phone. The Z3C has a few marginal differences over the Z1C camera. The first is that the Z3 now records in 4K. Capable of in excess of 5 minutes. 4K footage is downscaled when played back on the Compacts screen, but can be viewed in true 4K via the MHL connection. The second main difference is the ISO. It is capable of an ISO of 128000 which means you can capture better low light photos and there was a marked improvement.. Taking the best in Sony camera technology and squeezing into a mobile is always going to be a challenge, but they have managed to do a good job and the performance is consistent across the Xperia Z family. The results are generally very good. Always best in bright, natural light scenarios, you still get pretty decent shots in lower light environments thanks to the on board technology. In some shots whites did blow out and the quality is lost quite quickly when you zoom in. Using flash can leave shots appearing grainy on occasions, but on the most part photos and video results are very good. I take the majority of my images in superior auto mode. Most of us will use this option rather than delving into all the manual options; but they exist if you want them, to get that perfect shot. In the interest of trying to be fair as most of us point and shoot; thus using manual mode may result in better final results. There are plenty of shooting options, including timeshift mode that captures 61 images in just 2 seconds. The dedicated camera key is also a massive plus. You can keep a firm grip on the phone whilst capturing the image. You can too use the volume keys as zoom controls as you have 8x digital zoom. Smaller form factor does mean a smaller battery, but the Z3C has gotten smaller and lighter but gained a bigger battery. The additional 300mAh will go some way to powering the larger screen but should last you through a working day just fine. Not all that often do I need to charge my Z1 Compact through the day or early evening and I am a moderate user of the phone. Rarely would I need to switch on STAMINA mode, but if I do I do see an improvement. Get it right and you can get 2 days out of the Compact. Unless you are a light user or are willing to make some sacrifices for the 2 day life, be under no illusion that a daily charge will be necessary. The Compact is powerful and you find yourself doing so much on it, so the battery feels the impact. The battery can not be removed, it is built in, but then again most are, now including that of the iPhone with which the Compact is a very close competitor. Ever changing, at the time of recording the Compact is £165 cheaper than the iPhone 6 and does in my opinion offer quite a bit more functionality, if not as refined in some places. £165 goes a long way as splashing out £540 for the iPhone will make even the most cash rich wince. If you want the bigger screen and a bit more RAM, the Z3 is circa £140 dearer. You need to always chose the device that is right for you. I love my Z1 Compact. It works, lasts the day, feels comfortable and I rely on it, I am lost without it. Having spent time with the Z3 Compact it is obvious that it is a marginal upgrade over the Z1C and whilst the added differences do not require me to upgrade small improvements do make a difference. I would have no qualms in upgrading, I know I would feel at home straight away, in fact I do not want to hand this review unit back. The Compact feels much more in line with the Z3 and comes to market at a time when the iPhone 6 is set to dominate the highstreet and online advertising. It also feels that more refined and polished with a bit more processing power, more camera options and that brighter display. If you are looking for a Compact and powerful workhorse, then you would be doing yourself an injustice to opt for anything else, unless you have a particular need or preference for another device. The Z3C will keep you future proofed, but you may find a bargain in the Z1 Compact if you do not need the very latest in specs. Whether the Compact range will now be updated every 6 months like the flagship Z, only time will tell; whatever Sony have retained my custom.