Smartphones have gotten ridiculously big, and unfortunately, most
Android manufacturers today have decided that their top-end phones
should have five-inch screens at the minimum. It isn't because they can sneak in
more space for a larger battery and better heat dissipation; it's just a
sort of herd mentality and the desire to outdo each other that keeps
things going along a certain trajectory.
At least Sony seems to
think we've reached a point of diminishing returns, and has done what it
can to balance things out with a more reasonably sized phone that
doesn't compromise on its internals. The Z1 Compact isn't a flagship on
its own, but it's far more equal to the device it's been spun off from
than many of the underpowered "mini" phones that have tried to trade on
In fact it's almost ridiculous that we automatically
think of this as a "miniature" phone, or one that's somehow reduced in
importance by having a small screen. This is what has been, and for many
should still be, perfectly normal. We're happy to see physical size
decoupled from power, such that buyers who aspire to class-leading
smartphones can now actually get one that can be used comfortably with
one hand and held up to an ear without risking a wrist injury.
Look and feel
Z1 Compact is somewhat similar to the iPhone 5 in terms of size and
proportion, though that's where the similarity ends. The Z1 Compact
feels chunky in the hand, rather than elegant. The combination of
bevelled metallic sides and waterproof flaps made even our bright pink
review unit feel outdoorsy and rugged.
Sony hasn't followed the
crowd by crippling its second-best phone's specifications, but it has
evidently felt the need to offer it in bright colours, possibly to
pander to women (who, research apparently suggests, prefer smaller
phones anyway). In addition to the usual blank and white, the Compact is
available in pink and yellow.
Photos might not show this very
well, but the plastic and metal parts of the pink variant are actually
two quite different shades. While the metal band around the edges is a
pale, muted rose tint, the plastic front and rear are bright, almost
fluorescent, bubblegum pink. The effect is striking, and very memorable.
Needless to say, if you aren't very certain you can live with this
colour, you should stick to the safer white or black.
Compact's front panel is all black glass, with only a silver Sony logo
and a barely visible front camera right on top to break it up. The
speaker grille is a tiny notch right at the top (into which the charging
and status LED is cleverly integrated), and the navigation buttons are
all on-screen rather than capacitive, so there's nothing at all to see
when the device is in standby.
The metallic band around the edges
houses all the Z1 Compact's buttons and slots. On the right, you'll see
Sony's new brand identifier, a round silver standby button. Below it are
a slim volume rocker and a tiny camera shortcut and shutter release
button. Since this isn't an oversized phone, we would have liked to have
the standby button in its traditional place on the top panel, but that
wasn't to be.
The left edge is quite packed, with three
rubber-rimmed flaps for the Micro-USB charging/data port, microSD card
slot, and SIM card slot. Sony's magnetic Z-series accessory connector is
right in the middle, but it looks oddly gouged out, especially since
the flaps on either side of it are perfectly flush with the rim. If it
weren't for the phone's overall chunky design, the dock connector would
The USB port and microSD card slot are perfectly
ordinary beneath their flaps, but the Micro-SIM slot is a bit fidgety.
You have to fit your SIM card into a removable tray which can only be
extracted from the slot with a fingernail. Under the same flap,
there's also a pull-out tab with regulatory information printed on it,
which keeps the rear panel free of extra text and logos.
find an unprotected 3.5mm headset jack on the top edge, and a large
speaker grille across the entire bottom. In another nod to potential
female buyers, there's a hole in the bottom right corner for a lanyard
or phone charm.
The rear panel is quite flat, with only the
camera lens and flash breaking up the vast expanse of (in our case pink)
plastic. Apart from a Sony logo in the middle and a smaller Xperia logo
on the bottom, there's a tiny printed icon to let you know that this
phone features the NFC wireless standard.
The only complaint we
have about the Z1 Compact's build quality is that the front and back are
a little too flexible, and we could feel the plastic bend with very
little pressure applied. For an otherwise rugged phone, this made us
feel just a little uneasy.
Features and specifications
already stated, the Z1 Compact is not a stripped-down phone. It's got
the kind of components we expect to see in a top-end device, including a
quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 SoC running at 2.2GHz with integrated
Adreno 330 graphics, 2GB of RAM, Android 4.3, a 2300mAh battery, and a
20.7-megapixel rear camera. The screen isn't full-HD 1080p, though at
4.3 inches diagonally, 720p is acceptable. There's 16GB of built-in
storage, and a microSD card slot for up to 64GB more.
list of specifications manages to cover all bases, including high-speed
Wi-Fi ac, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, GPS with GLONASS, LTE, FM radio, active
noise cancellation, and a USB port supporting HDMI video out via an MHL
adapter. The icing on the cake is an IP58 rating for waterproofing; in
this case the phone is rated for 30 minutes of exposure up to 1.5m deep.
enables the Z1 Compact to pair with a range of accessories, including
Sony's Smart Watch 2, QX100 external camera, and various headsets or
speakers. You can also establish connections to other NFC-enabled
Android phones. Sony has equipped some of its TVs and laptops with NFC
too, so you can back up photos or show them off on a bigger screen.
The front panel
is made with tempered glass, but this isn't the Gorilla Glass we're
familiar with. Sony
has also been sharing some of its technology (and trademarked
buzzwords) between departments of late, so the screen is a "Triluminous
display" with "X-Reality", which claims to reproduce a much wider colour
range than ordinary displays can, and improve image clarity. The camera inherits Sony's "Exmor RS sensor", "G Lens",
and "Bionz" image processing tech.
The Android skin
on Sony's current Xperia devices is rather extensive, and nearly
everything from the lock screen to the apps, has been customised. You
can create up to seven home screens and populate them with a variety of
Sony has created quite a few of its own, including one
that seems to advertise music from Sony's label (and warns users that it
downloads "large amounts of data" the first time it's tapped). One lets
you launch the TrackID app and begin listening for music. Another
widget lets you launch the camera or one of the build in "camera apps"
(which we'll describe below). Beyond that, there are the usual weather,
music control, social, contacts and control widgets.
has also not shied away from docking its own Sony Liv and Sony Music
apps to the home screen. Other apps in the menu include Bigflix, Line,
LinkedIn, Box, Pixlr Express, X4 video player, and McAfee Security. Sony
also bundles Mobisystems Office Suite, but this is a trial that doesn't
let you create new documents.
Smart Connect is an interesting app
that lets you send content to compatible Sony devices such as TVs and
speakers, and also trigger events that can happen on schedule or when
accessories are connected. For example, you can create a routine that
sets an alarm and turns all other sounds off if you plug in a charger
between 10pm and 7am. The conditions are pretty granular, and Sony has
made it easy to set up triggers and effects.
In addition to the
usual slew of Google apps, there's a simple unit converter app, a
sketching app, a drag-and-share app for Bluetooth file transfers, a file
manager, and the aforementioned TrackID app. Interestingly, the default
Web browser is Chrome, and the stock Android browser is nowhere to be
Sony's skin is a bit dense, and might intimidate new users.
We like the sidebar in the main menu that lets users rearrange apps,
although the search bar could have been a little more obvious to find.
The notifications panel has a convenient (and customisable) panel of
shortcut toggles for important settings, but even this looks a little
Sony makes a lot of claims about the
performance of the Z1 Compact's camera, including excellent low-light
performance, high sensitivity, low noise, vibrant realism, and pretty
much every marketing superlative you can come up with. We found many of
these claims to be accurate, but even so, there are limits to what a
smartphone camera can achieve.
First of all, Sony has worked on a
pretty clever camera app. The interface isn't cluttered, and all the
important functions are a single tap away. The app can detect when
you're moving and when light is too low, and adjust itself accordingly.
There are also modes for macro shots and documents, which are pretty
handy. There's a large icon, like a camera's mode dial, which lets you
jump into any of the camera apps. These include a manual mode, timeshift
burst, sweep panorama, effect filters, and AR effect. By default,
you're in Superior Auto mode, which is simple and direct. Manual mode
gives you control over settings such as white balance, and access to
scenes including landscape, night, HDR, sports, snow and party.
effect saves a burst of photos including a few buffered before you
actually hit the shutter. Picture effect offers nine options including
fisheye, sepia, kaleidoscope, selective colour, and Harris shutter. AR
effect tries to add things like dinosaurs or party hats to images, all
of which look rather silly but can be fun.
There are also two
other camera apps: Info-eye and Social Live. The former lets you take
photos of objects and receive information based on an image recognition
search. This could include tourist monuments, products, or just
interesting sights. Social Live lets you broadcast live video on
Facebook, turning your phone into something like a remote webcam.
(Click to see full size)
these are all interesting, we got right down to testing image quality
without all the special effects. We found that the 20.7-megapixel photos
were rather good, with rich colours and effective contrast. The camera
was also exceptionally good at capturing images while in motion. Things
went a little downhill when we zoomed in all the way. Finer details in
shady areas of an image were noticeably unclear, and a bit of noise
crept in. Performance in various lighting conditions was consistent,
though we found the flash to be a little too aggressive sometimes;
drowning out nearby subjects.
This is still a lot better than many
smartphone cameras can manage, but should illustrate that no matter how
many buzzwords a company throws out, expectations need to be realistic.
where the Z1 Compact gets to really show us what it's made of. We were
very pleased with the benchmark results, which are right up there with
the major flagships from most companies. SunSpider took only 916.6ms to
complete, and Mozilla Kraken took 7580.2ms, which is significantly
quicker than other mid-range "mini" phones. Quadrant returned a score of
21,100 points, and AnTuTu raced ahead with 35,649 points.
also happy and relieved to see graphics performance right up there with
the best scores we have on record. GFXBench managed an impressive 34.9fps, and
3DMark maxed out, even in the more intensive Ice Storm Extreme scenario
designed for 1080p phones. We ran the Ice Storm Unlimited test instead,
which is usually reserved for more demanding tablets, and scored 17,976
Audio and video played back flawlessly, including our
heaviest 40mbps H.264 clip. Sound was loud across various games, movies and music files, but not very clear at high volume. Call quality was perfectly
ordinary, with nothing special to mention. The battery lasted for an impressive 11 hours, 52 minutes in our video loop test.
All of this makes for a very strong showing, and we're mighty impressed. The Xperia Z1 Compact is no lightweight. If there was any doubt left in your mind about this phone's capabilities, we hope they're well and truly laid to rest now.
very easy to recommend the Z1 Compact. You might not like the styling or
the overabundance of ports and flaps, but that's the tradeoff for waterproofing, which is definitely a
neat feature. As for alternatives in this price range, you could buy an LG G2, which is
larger, or an iPhone 5c which is roughly the same size but not as powerful.
Xperia Z1 Compact is exactly the kind of product we've wanted to see for
a long time. The smartphone industry is too eager to follow trends, and
a recent features arms race has led to a staggering tilt in favour of
phones with 5-inch-plus screens. We're not happy recommending less
powerful phones to those who don't want to deal with bulky, heavy
devices, and now we finally have a worthy product in that space. Sony is
really on to something here, and we hope the rest of the industry takes
note and follows suit.
Sony Xperia Z1 Compact in pictures