Review by Sunetra Chakravati,9/29/2014 4:45:32 PM
Look and feel
Ease of use
Perfect size to be comfortable | Excellent battery life | Great camera | Waterproof
Plastic construction | Screen not Full HD |
As phone screens get larger, pushing through the five- and even six-inch barrier, manufacturers have spotted an opportunity to sell the same hardware in a more compact package. Amid competition from Samsung, LG and HTC, Sony stormed ahead at the start of 2014 with the Xperia Z1 Compact. Now it’s back with the Z3 Compact, a mid-size phone intended to pack the flagship Z3 into a more pocket-friendly size.
The Z3 Compact is deceptively small. Despite it’s 4.6-inch screen measuring just 0.1in less than the iPhone 6, it looks and feels much smaller - almost as if it belong in an entire different category of handset. It’s footprint is only marginally narrower than the iPhone 6 and although thicker (a still-trim 8.6mm), less wasted space below and especially above the screen works to shrink the Sony into a much tighter package. It’s a full 12mm shorter than the Apple and weighs exactly the same at 129g.
Sony’s familiar Omnibalance design is back with the Z3 Compact, bringing with it a set of four squared-off edges, glass on the front and back, an oversize power button on the right edge, and waterproofing. The latter means the phone’s microSD and micro USB slots are covered by a removable flap, while the headphone jack up top is waterproof without any such protection. Dual front-facing speakers and a dedicated camera button complete the look - and give enough clues about the premium handset lurking beneath the mid-range size.
We were disappointed to see Sony ditch the full-size Z3’s metal chassis and sides in favour of plastic on the Compact, but despite lacking the cool, premium feel, it looks better than most plastic-clad efforts by Samsung and LG.
The only real downside is the slipperiness of the Compact’s glass back. Although comfortable to hold - it feels much more secure in one hand than the iPhone 6 - it can slip off uneven surfaces like the arms of your sofa. Our Z3 Compact hit the deck on several occasions, having slid and slipped its way off a sofa, a leather wallet, and a pile of slightly uneven magazines.
A 4.6-inch panel with a 720 x 1280 resolution and 319 pixels per inch falls a little short of the iPhone 6 and some may question why Sony shied away from a higher resolution. But more pixels (beyond regular HD, at least) doesn’t always mean a better picture, and the trade off between pixel density and battery life is one Sony has considered carefully.
There are still enough pixels here to make everything sharp and clear, but the colours appear slightly cooler than on most other phones; whites have a subtle blue tinge to them, but this is really only apparent when compared side-by-side with a warmer display, like on the iPhone 6.
Movies and games will look better on the larger and higher resolution Z3, but the Compact does a stellar job of bringing high-end visuals to a phone with a more manageable size.
A no-compromise experience is order of the day with the Z3 Compact, as it has almost exactly the same performance stats as the larger Xperia Z3. This means both phones share the same 2.5GHz quad-core process - it’s the Snapdragon 801 by Qualcomm, for those asking - and Android 4.4.2 KitKat with Sony’s own user interface over the top.
It’s as attractive as it is snappy, providing a top-end experience and not one of a cheaper, lesser phone; again, the emphasis here is on the Compact exactly matching its bigger brother and not acting as a cheaper, less-specced alternative. The only difference is RAM, where the Z3 Compact gets 2GB and the Z3 gets 3GB.
Storage is the same across both devices, with 16GB joined by a microSD card which accepts up to 128GB more.
The UI can be unintuitive at times, like when you want to view a photo and it asks whether you want to use Sony's picture-viewing app or the standard Android one. This choice crops up when watching videos, too.
Performance from the Z3 Compact has been flawless during our two weeks of using it. Not once did the handset feel sluggish, we can’t recall a single app crashing, closing unexpectedly, or slowing down, and battery life is nothing short of remarkable.
We’re not sure how Sony has pulled this off, but the battery life of the Z3 Compact (and regular Z3, for that matter) has blown us away. Where almost all new phones require a nightly charge, both Z3s power through two fulls days of regular to heavy use without keeling over. For context, we found the Compact dropped 10% for every hour of Netflix use over Wi-Fi.
‘Stamina’ mode can be switched on to help stretch battery life even further by disabling Wi-Fi and mobile data when the screen is off and preventing apps from running in the background. A final ‘Ultra Stamina mode’ limits the phone to do little more than make calls and send texts; set like this, the Compact will last for more than two weeks in standby.
A 20.7-megapixel sensor, 4K video recording and more shooting options than you can shake a stick at - including a way to put virtual dinosaurs in every frame - means the camera is very hard to fault.
That megapixel count puts it on par with the larger Z3 - in fact, both cameras are identical - and way ahead of the iPhone 6 and much of the Android competition. It hasn’t got the trousers to match the 41-megapixel Lumia 1020, but that handset is something of an anomaly.
Beyond the headline figure, the Z3 Compact boasts a full manual mode for control over exposure, white balance and more, plus timeshift video recording, panoramic photos, augmented reality effects and more. The results are fantastic, with less of the ugly post-processing we saw with the Z2 earlier this year.
Another improvement is with 4K video recording, which caused the Z2 to overheat and force the camera app to close; on opening the camera, the Z3 Compact warns that if the temperature rises, the app will be closed and the video automatically saved. I recorded for nine minutes and six seconds before the recording stopped (having chewed up 3.5GB in the process), and the back of the phone was quite hot. We reckon that’s more than acceptable, given the Z2 often overheated inside two minutes.
A pocket rocket if ever there was one, the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact blends top-end performance, a brilliant camera and shiny new software with solid build quality, an attractive, comfortable design, and waterproofing.
Improving on the Z1 Compact, the new model gives Sony fans the option of a genuine flagship phone in the body of a mid-tier handset. Not everyone wants a massive phone and Sony knows this better than anyone else in the Android business.
It isn’t without drawbacks - the Z3 Compact misses out on the metal chassis of its larger-screened sibling, there’s less RAM and the screen isn’t Full HD - but, let it off on these small faults, and this small Sony is one of the best phones of the year, perfectly tapping consumers’ demands for a five star phone without the pocket-stretching five inch screen.