• Sony Xperia Z1 Compact Review

    Sony has set a high standard with their Xperia Z range of phones. First the Z, then the Z1 and now the Z1 Compact. As the name implies, the Compact is smaller in size, but that is really where it ends.

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    Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

    In comparison to the Z1, the Compact has a smaller battery and a smaller lower resolution display. The battery has dropped from 3000 to 2300mAh and the screen is 4.3″ with a 1080 x 720 resolution in comparison to the 5″ 1920 x 1080 display of the Z1. Of course the physical size and weight has been affected too but more on that later. Sony set out not to compromise specification like their competition and the Z1 Compact really is a small version of its big brother. It is hard to know really where the Z1 Compact sits and what to compare it to. Do I compare it to the high end premium phones or the similar sized handsets that lack the power and features of the Compact? The answer I believe is both, because Sony has set out to fill a small but very apparent gap in the market. I have a bit of a personal desire for the Compact to be as good as it seems as I use the S4, but find it a bit fiddly for one handed use, but have never switched to something smaller as they haven’t had the high end features. If you want the short review of the Compact, cast your mind back to a review you may have seen or read of the Z1 and just think all this in a smaller package. The specifications scream high end and powerful. 2.2GHz quad-core processor, 2GB Ram 16GB internal memory MicroSD memory card slot, Bluetooth WiFi GPS MicroUSB with USB host and MHL video out functionality 3G 4G Miracast 20.7 megapixel camera with led flash A 720p display with 342PPI…. You get the picture O did I mention it was waterproof too? Solid is the word I would use to sum up the build quality of the Compact. Following the Xperia design theme, the Z1 Compact has an aluminium frame which holds all the internals with front and rear scratch resistant glass panels. Sony has retained the look of the Z1 but with slightly more rounded corners meaning not quite such a rough in hand experience and fewer painful jabs when the phone is in the pocket. The buttons and ports are on the whole logically placed, all be it they have covers over the majority of them to conform to the IP55/58 rating this devices holds. The microUSB charging port is on the top left edge which is still frustrating in my opinion; as when mounted in a vehicle charging cables can pull on the port, but the solution is for Sony to make a magnetic charging cable more readily available and I would be happy. The Compact does have the magnetic charging port on the side, so the DK32 dock can be used for a simple charging solution, no need to open the fiddly port covers. The 3.5mm headphone jack does not have a cover, it does not need one, the port has been specially coated. If you are a regular headphone user then this is a real blessing. The IP rating means the Compact can be submerged in fresh water for 30 minutes up to a depth of 1.5 metres. For many this is never going to be necessary but there are many benefits to having a device that is P rated. Most of us know or have heard of someone who has dropped their phone in sinks or other water ridden places! The Compact is available in 4 colours, Black, White, Pink and Lime, so there is something to suit most people’s tastes, perhaps negating the need to use a case to personalise your phone. Whilst Sony has reduced the size as much as they can, the footprint of the compact isn’t all that compact in comparison to the S4 Mini and even the S4 or HTC One when you look at it on paper. In the hand however those small differences translate too much bigger ones. The Compact isn’t very skinny or light and 9.5mm thick and 137g but something about it makes it feel ok! The bezel around the screen and especially at the bottom could be smaller in my honest opinion, but I am being a little over critical maybe? A point to note here too is that the Compact does have a notification light that sits behind the earpiece on the front of the phone. Thankfully it does not act like a lighthouse when charging on your bedside table at night! At 720p with 342PPI it isn’t quite as stunning as its big brother which is 1080p with 441PPI, but the Compact puts on a good show. Images still look bright and crisp and I think many can argue the screen quality is good enough for a mobile device. If you are an audio visual buff then maybe it won’t be good enough, but a smaller screen means less weight and less power draw. You can’t have it all. The overall experience is really good, that includes those viewing angles. My only slight criticism is that the screen can be a bit more reflective than one would like in certain lights. If you have seen or handled a Sony device before, you know you will not be getting stock Android, but the customisation does not go quite as far as the memory hungry TouchWiz from Samsung. You get all your favourite Google apps, or of course you can download your preferred ones easily through the Play Store. In addition you get a suite of Sony services which you can choose to use to use if you like. Some will stand out more to different users. From their Music Unlimited service to FM radio or Track ID Sony cover a lot of bases, there are even sketch and TV remote apps. All can be easily managed and organised in the app tray. Worth a quick mention is the PlayStation Mobile approved element of this device. Keen gamers, can connect up a PlayStation controller wirelessly and sit back and play some classic games for a bit of fun. Out of the box the Z1 Compact runs Android 4.3 so it is not the very latest rendition of Android, but an update will come in time. Performance has been snappy in my time with the device and I struggle to find too much to fault with it. Its worth noting that approximately 11GB of the 16GB memory was available out of the box and there is of course expansion through the microSD memory card slot or cloud storage if you prefer. As noted in the run through of the specs, this device is loaded with connectivity options be it wired or wireless, there is little you can not do here. Tether to a laptop, share your display on a big screen or transform your device into a mobile office with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse the Compact has something to offer to the trendy teen or the high flying executive. The waterproof headphone jack is a positive as is its location right on the top of the device. The speaker on the bottom edge is not bad in terms of positioning, size or volume. However if I were to be picky, it is quite easy to muffle the speaker when using the device in landscape mode. It would be nice to have a secondary speaker to give a more immersive sound, but few do. The device did register 81 decibels in our tests. 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. The results are generally very good in bright conditions. However low light images were a little disappointing. Whilst the flash did a reasonable job to fill the scene images were a bit grainy. I took the majority of my test images in superior auto mode 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. The good news is that the results are better than the same camera on the original Z1 when it launched. It will certainly knock the Samsung and even HTC devices for six, but Nokia’s PureView 41 megapixel snapper still retains the crown for the ultimate photography experience on a phone. With the Compact, there is no bulge on the back like the 1020 Lumia so the back is flush and the lens is even slightly recessed to ensure no unwanted harm comes to the lens. 1080p video recording from the front and rear camera is available out of the box. It would be fair to say the camera on the Compact is good enough that you can dispose of your old compact camera. 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. Social Live and Info Eye are interesting additions to the camera suite, for more information on these, check out our blog. The battery is smaller than the bigger competing devices, but similar in size to its mini counterparts. The lower resolution screen conserves some power and Sony’s STAMINA mode really ensures every last mAh is used as efficiently as possible. I found that a daily charge was necessary, but even after quite heavy use it stood its ground. More demanding users may find a later afternoon or early evening charge necessary, but this is only if you are not taking advantage of STAMINA mode. The battery to some peoples disappointment can not be removed, it is built in, but then again most are. I have often preferred removable batteries, I am not sure why, because it is extremely rare to ever need to remove it and most of us have changed phones before the battery has really given up on us. Pricing the Z1 Comapct was always going to be a contentious issue. It has to be more expensive because of what it offers, but it is competing with the Mini series of devices which are cheaper than the premium counterparts. Sony have I believe priced it competitively but honestly for what it provides you and truth be told, if you really want a power house of a phone in a small form factor, you are likely to be willing to pay for it. At the time of recording the price sits at £399 when bought from Clove, with the slightly more established Samsung S4 and HTC One Mini coming in at approx £320. The bigger 5″ devices such S4 and HTC One are around £430 and the Z1 a little higher at £480. Once the Z1 Compact ages, the price will likely settle nearer £360 which is certainly fair. I was never a real fan of the Z1, but admired what Sony had done. I felt compelled to like the Z1 Compact because it offered what Samsung and HTC’s comparable devices failed to. On too many occasions I have spoken to people who have bought the Mini devices thinking they did what the more publicised S3, S4 and HTC One did, only to find out when it was too late that they were slightly miss-informed. With the Z1 Compact the story is very different, even if it commands a slightly higher price. Some will find fault, but show me a device perfect for all. I think I may just have to credit card out and make this my personal device for the next 12 months.

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