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Smartphones Reviews
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Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review: A flagship smartphone in a manageable size

£399 inc VAT

Manufacturer: Sony

Our Rating: We rate this 4.5 out of 5

A top-spec smartphone in a handset which isn't huge? Here's our full Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact hands-on

Sony calls the new Z1 Compact 'the world's best premium compact smartphone'. We've taken a look at the new handset so read our review to see what we think.

Smartphones have come on leaps and bounds over the last couple of years with faster processors with more cores, screen resolutions matching that of TV's and cameras which make compacts redundant. All of this has come inside of increasingly bigger devices.

For a while now, 5in has been the typical and standard size for a high-end flagship smartphone. Even Apple increased the size of the iPhone to 4in with the iPhone 5. iPhone aside, what are consumers supposed to do if they want a top-spec smartphone without it being too big to use with one hand and fit in a normal pocket?

Until now, the answer has been you can't. Our advice has been to opt for a decent mid-range phone which tends to have a smaller screen size. Sony has realised that not everyone wants a huge phone but does want the best features in terms of hardware – in comes the Xperia Z1 Compact.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact video review

17 best smartphones: The best phone you can buy in 2014

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact: Design and build

The Xperia Z1 Compact fills a gap in the smartphone market which has been gaping for a long time. In a nutshell it's the Xperia Z1 in a smaller size but let's take a closer look at this handset.

As you can see in the photo below, the Z1 Compact is a more manageable version of the flagship Z1 from last year. Instead of a 5in screen (and the fact the device got bigger compared to the original Xperia Z) it sports a 4.3in display.

It's still dust- and waterproof (without the flap on the headphone jack), so you can take it out in the rain or use it in the bath without worrying. It also still has an aluminium chassis with glass on both the front and rear. There are metal contacts on the side if you wish to buy a docking station accessory, too.

As well as black and white colour options, the Xperia Z1 Compact comes in lime and pink.
Sony has done a great job with making sure this smaller device still feels every bit a top-end and premium smartphone. The phone is acceptably light at 137g but is a little thicker than you might expect at 9.5mm – that's no major problem though.

The design is almost faultless but if we're going to be picky then the volume button rocker is a little too small for our liking.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact vs Xperia Z1

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact: Hardware and performance

Bigger doesn't mean better anymore because the Z1 Compact has the impressively powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor which most flagship smartphones have. That's 2.2GHz quad-core and there's 2GB of RAM.

Performance is outstanding, both from a user perspective and the benchmark results. Everything happens in a nippy fashion, no lag when opening apps, launching the camera with the dedicated button etc.

The Xperia Z1 Compact hit 4107 points in Geekbench 2, 2890 in GeekBench 3, 899ms in SunSpider and 34fps in GFX Bench 2.7. That means it beats our previous leader, the LG G2 (and the full-size Z1), in all tests - impressive stuff from this device. In the latest GFX 3.0 test the Compact managed 17fps.

As we've mentioned, the Z1 Compact has a 4.3in screen. While the Xperia Z1 has a Full HD resolution, Sony has opted for 720p for the Xperia Z1 Compact. It's lower resolution, but the screen is smaller so a pixel density of 342ppi is still good; higher than the iPhone 5s, if a little lower than some other flagship devices. It still has the Triluminos Display, X-Reality (Sony Mobile Bravia Engine) display technologies – the latter enhances photos and videos.

Although the resolution is a little lower than flagship devices, the screen still looks great and it's not a big downgrade considering the more affordable price.

A well rounded hardware line-up is completed with 16GB of internal storage, a microSD card (up to 64GB), NFC, Bluetooth 4.0 and support for 4G LTE networks. There's no infrared port like some handsets but you get the water-proof design.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact: Cameras

The Xperia Z1 introduced the highest resolution camera to any Android smartphone and there's no downgrade when it comes to the Z1 Compact. It still has that brilliant 20.7Mp camera complete with Sony's Exmor RS sensor. We're also pleased to report the two-stage dedicated camera button remains and can be used to launch the camera app and then take photos.

Although the camera can take 20.7Mp photos, the default setting is 8Mp. You'll have to switch from Superior Auto mode to Manual to access all those pixels. Sony's additional shooting modes include Info-eye, Timeshift burst and AR effect.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact photo testClick to enlarge

Photos and video look very nice indeed, but as we said in our Z1 review, the jump from the Xperia Z isn't as big as you might expect. There's plenty of detail and the phone is good as focusing quickly and getting exposure correct. However, it doesn't outpace the Nokia Lumia 1020 which is still the best smartphone for photographers - you've just got to be happy with Windows Phone 8.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact: Software

Despite launching in 2014, the Xperia Z1 Compact doesn't come with the latest version of Android. Instead of 4.4 KitKat, it's got 4.3 Jelly Bean but it's the same interface as the Z1. This isn't the end of the world and Sony has plans for upgrades.

Sony adds its own style to the user interface while keeping the traditional layout and look of Android. We like the additional widgets and classy wallpapers included out-of-the-box but the notification bar is a bit limited with only access to a handful of settings – am included widget gives more control luckily.

On the down side, Sony does install a lot of apps alongside the usual Android selection. Not only does it add its own content stores and viewers, it adds standalone apps including TrackID, McAfee Security, OfficeSuite, Xperia Lounge, Xperia Privilege, Box, Pixlr Express and more.

We can't say whether you'll personally find these useful but we can say that they take up some of the phone's storage. Luckily Sony gives the option to uninstall anything which isn't to your taste.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact: Battery Life

With a smaller phone, it's unsurprising that the Z1 Compact has a smaller battery than the full-size Z1. Its 2300mAh compared to 3000mAh, but don't let the numbers cause any premature judgements.

Like its bigger brother, the Z1 Compact lasted us comfortably two days of general usage. Sony's Power Management software is excellent and includes both Stamina and low battery modes. These help you to get the longest battery life possible by doing helpful things like shutting down background data when the screen is off.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact Expert Verdict »
Sony Xperia Z1 Compact Scores 8.9 out of 10 based on 272 reviews
Android 4.3 Jelly Bean OS
4.3in Triluminos Display (720x1280)
2.2GHz Quad-Core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 CPU
Adreno 330 GPU
2GB RAM
16GB internal storage
microSD slot (up to 64GB)
20.7Mp rear camera AF with LED Flash
2Mp front camera
Video recording at 1080p
Wi-Fi up tp 11.ac
Bluetooth 4.0
NFC
HSDPA, 42 Mbps
HSUPA, 5.8 Mbps
4G LTE
Micro-SIM
2300mAh battery
Dust and waterproof (IP58)
65x127x9.5mm
137g
  • Build Quality: We give this item 9 of 10 for build quality
  • Features: We give this item 9 of 10 for features
  • Value for Money: We give this item 8 of 10 for value for money
  • Performance: We give this item 10 of 10 for performance
  • Overall: We give this item 9 of 10 overall

We love what Sony has done with the Xperia Z1 Compact. Finally consumers have the choice to buy a high-end smartphone without being forced to use a large screen. The fact it's cheaper than most flagship devices makes it one of the best smartphones around.

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