Sony Xperia Z1 Compact Review

by: Joshua VergaraMarch 6, 2014
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Get the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact on Amazon

It seems the companies have figured it out – smaller form factors aren’t a fringe product but are in very real demand. But “mini” versions of flagships tend to lose some of what make their bigger siblings appealing in the first place, unfortunately. Sony, though, appears ever aspirational in its quest for greater consumer loyalty and market share, and wanted to buck that trend with a “compact” offering that literally just shrinks down their best device.

Related: The best Sony Xperia Z1 Compact cases.

Pros 

  • Best in class performance
  • Fantastic 20.7 Megapixel camera
  • strong battery life
  • Water resistant, dust proof, and very durable device
  • Best compact phone on the market with no compromise

Cons 

  • Bezels are a tad thick
  • Could fit a larger display in same form factor
sony xperia z1 compact-15

In an attempt at creating a best in class device that offers little to no compromise over its larger, and equally powerful older sibling, the Sony Xperia Z1, Sony brings us the Xperia Z1 Compact. Is the Z1 Compact the accessibly sized phone that we’ve all been waiting for? You can find out in our review.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact Z1 mini hands on AA -2

Sony took the shrink ray to the Xperia Z1 and brought everything down to size. The glass finish with an aluminum frame takes the premium look and feel that only Sony really puts out consistently, and brings it to a smaller, easier to handle form factor. It’s clever of them to identify an opportunity in the market in a way that seemingly no other manufacturer has, except for Apple. While smaller form factors remain popular in certain parts of the world, big 4.7-inch+ devices have become the norm, alienating huge swaths of people not used to negotiating seemingly gargantuan devices. Sony Xperia Z Ultra vs Sony Xperia Z1 vs Sony Xperia Z1 Compact CES 2014 different angles-2

And, without a doubt, while bigger devices the the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, LG G2, and even the Nexus 5 are certainly appreciated, the fact remains that not everyone wants a big device. Not everyone has large hands, and not everyone has access to both their hands at a time – something often demanded by anything with a display larger than 5 inches,

sony xperia z1 compact first batch aa-28-5

Button layout takes on the now classic Sony motif, as the big silver power button, the volume rocker, and the dedicated camera shutter button are on the right side. One problem we must mention here is that the camera button is a little hard to press, as it is really small and slim – it might be just a little difficult to easily snap a picture with it.

sony xperia z1 compact-3

The left side of the phone has the microUSB charging port, the microSD card slot, and the SIM tray covered with pieces of plastic, telltale signs of the phone’s resistance to water and dust.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact Z1 mini hands on AA -6

Of course, the main story here is the smaller size and how easy it makes this phone to maneuver. The 4.3-inch display is surrounded by the rather thick bezels that Sony is known to employ, but, overall, the device is still in a pretty reasonable size, not too big and not too small.

The smaller size works wonders in some cases – one particularly great experience I had was with typing – the already pretty great stock Sony keyboard allows for easy swipe typing, and its small size makes one-handed use a breeze.

Bottom line, this is a refreshingly easy phone to work with.

Sony Xperia Z Ultra vs Sony Xperia Z1 vs Sony Xperia Z1 compact z1 mini AA -3

From left to right: Siblings Sony Xperia Z Ultra, Sony Xperia Z1, Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

The 4.3-inch TFT LCD display on the Xperia Z1 Compact packs 720p resolution, which is a specification that flagship Android devices were rocking back in 2012. Does that mean the Compact is inadequate? Not really.

sony xperia z1 compact-4

At a density of 342 ppi, the Z1 Compact can’t match the 440+ ppi screens of 1080p devices like the Galaxy S5 or HTC One, but it’s still above the threshold of 320 ppi at which pixels no longer resolve for a person with normal vision. In other words, 720p is more than enough on a display this size.

sony xperia z1 compact-14

Color rendering on the Z1 Compact is excellent, thanks in part to Sony’s homegrown display technologies, Triluminos and X-Reality. The former means that the display uses quantum dots to render colors, which put simply, makes it possible for the display to show colors that exceed the typical vividness of LCD. It’s not quite AMOLED level of color intensity, but it’s a notch above what you get on most LCDs. X-Reality means that the phone processes images and videos on the fly to make them look at their best. It’s not a stretch to say that the Z1 Compact looks a bit like a very tiny Sony TV thanks to these technologies.

A display may have the nicest colors, but it’s all for nothing if bad viewing angles spoil everything. Luckily, the Z1 Compact is clearly better in this area than earlier devices in the Xperia Z series.

In a few cases, we noticed that apps don’t adapt well to the smaller size of the display, but overall this relatively small screen performs very well.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact Performance

Unlike some competitors, Sony did not compromise in the power department with the Z1 Compact. There are no compromises affecting the user experience, which is a refreshing change. Quite literally, Sony took the high powered processing package of the Z1 and put it into the Compact. That means a Snapdragon 800 with a quad-core CPU clocked at 2.2GHz, backed by the Adreno 330 GPU and 2GB of RAM. Technically, there are some more powerful configurations on the market, but in terms of actual experience, this little ball of lighting is among the best.

It helps that Sony uses a minimalistic user interface without many processing-intensive flourishes. But even in power-hungry applications, the Xperia Z1 Compact chugs along without nary a hiccup. In Riptide GP2, for instance, we smoothly cut through the waves even at the highest settings.

sony xperia z1 compact-2

If you’re familiar – and happy – with the hardware features of the Sony Xperia Z1, you’ll feel right at home on its diminutive sibling. That starts with the 16GB of onboard storage and the presence of the microSD card slot that lets you bolster storage with an additional 64GB. All the sensors and connectivity features make the jump as well.

Shrinking down the Xperia Z1 did result in some tradeoffs though. The speaker on the bottom of the device might seem capable due to its size, but the sound it outputs is nowhere near what we’d like in terms of volume and richness. Call quality from the phone speaker, however, is entirely satisfactory. The same can be said about the cell connectivity on T-Mobile’s LTE, both for voice and data.

sony xperia z1 compact-1

The battery clocks in at 2,300 mAh,  a nominal drop from the capacity of the Z1, but one that Sony could not avoid. Even so, we were pleasantly surprised by the stamina of this little guy, as it consistently got us through a day of pretty heavy usage. And that’s without activating all of Sony’s power saving features.

Somehow odd, there’s an USB OTG cable bundled with the device, making us wonder why Sony chose to offer it on the Z1 Compact, and not on its larger devices.

sony xperia z1 compact-6

Small as it may be, the Xperia Z1 Compact packs an impressive camera, the same shooter that got everyone talking when the Xperia Z1launched last fall. You get the same 20.7MP Sony Exmor RS sensor, but know that, if you want to shoot in the 16:9 format, you will have to make do with 8MP resolution. Images taken in Sony’s well known Superior Auto mode (which is supposed to adapt to the scene and pick the best settings for you) shoots in 8MP. The image samples below have been taken in this mode.Besides the high-resolution sensor, there’s G Lens camera optics, which are supposed to be Sony’s best quality lenses, equivalent with the famed Carl Zeiss lenses.

Processing the signal is BIONZ, an image processor that Sony borrowed from its DSLR products.It’s possible that Sony improved the firmware on the Z1 Compact, compared to the Z1, as we low-light areas to be a little more detailed and less smudgy than on the Z1. Noise levels, however, are still higher than we would like.As we mentioned in the design section, the small and sharp camera shutter button is hard to press, but other than that, the size of the phone helps with the ergonomics of taking pictures. The speedy app and the ability to press the shutter button to start up the camera from anywhere in the phone make capturing passing moments a breeze.

sony xperia z1 compact-16

Finally, in software, there’s not that much to say about Sony’s Timescape UI on the Xperia Z1 Compact, but that’s not that bad as it sounds. Instead of gimmicks and design flourishes, Sony offers simplicity and refinement, without moving to far away from the stock Android experience.

Sony’s take on Android keeps the homescreens simple, while the app drawer only features the addition of a quick pullover on the left for some extra options. The notification dropdown comes with a very simple power widget, and that’s about it.

sony xperia z1 compact-5

Offerings like Walkman and Album remind us about Sony’s prestigious media offerings, even if they double the functionality of Google’s apps. We can’t forget about the small apps, small utilities that help with multitasking that can be accessed from the recent apps area.

Sony introduced many new software features on the KitKat-running Xperia Z2, and we expect at least some of them to transition to the Z1 Compact. When that happens, we will revisit this review.

As we’ve said so many times here in this review in so many different ways, the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact is the smallest, most powerful device on the block ;a device with little to no compromise.While some would decry the bezel slightly thicker than it has to be, it’s likely that those voices will be silenced when comes time for the device to accidentally be dropped. Sony leads the pack in terms of durability and design construction. Often this comes at a price, wherein bezels are slightly thicker than industry leading peers like Samsung or LG. But those very same devices made by competing manufacturers are that much less likely to hold up to the accidental wear and tear that real humans subject their devices to. Regardless, here’s the specs of this little ball of fire below.

Display4.3-inch Triluminos IPS display with 720p resolution, 341 ppi
Processor2.2 Ghz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor
RAM2 GB
Storage16 GB, expandable via microSD
Battery2,300 mAh
Cameras20.7 MP rear camera with Sony G Lens and Bionz mobile
2 MP front camera
ConnectivityWLAN (2.4/5Ghz) a/b/g/n/ac, NFC, A-GPS+GLONASS, microUSB 2.0 (MHL), BlueTooth 4.0 LE
OSAndroid 4.3 Jelly Bean, planned upgrade to Android 4.4 Kitkat
Dimensions127 x 64.9 x 9.5 mm, 137g

Smaller phones these days tend to be what we like to call everyman and everywoman devices, in the sense that they are affordable. That’s not the case, which lives up to its flagship aspirations when it comes to its price – $570 unlocked on Amazon. But for what you are getting, it’s well worth it. A blazing fast, water resistant, durable device with incredible image taking abilities that will likely last you for years to come.

Indeed, the Xperia Z1 Compact is a no compromise device, in its quality, features, but also its price tag. If you are looking for a smaller device than the current crop of high-end Android devices, the Z1 Compact sure is the best phone you can get, albeit at a price tag that you don’t see elsewhere in this segment.

sony xperia z1 compact-9

Sony undoubtedly created a little ball of lightning here and it’s one hell of a device. It might not stand alone in the smaller device space, but once you get your hands on it, it sure might feel like it does.

Let us know what you think of Sony’s Xperia line of devices, and of the Z1 Compact! We always love hearing from you.

  • apianist16

    It’s the best small phone out there, and I would buy it in a heartbeat. I just don’t understand Sony’s infatuation with oversized bezels.

    • K

      This phone has some waterproofing/dustproof technology inside too. Also some phones/companes use thicker batteries while some phones/companies use larger(surface area) batteries. In that case they need to make the bezel larger in order to stick to the determined screen sizes.

      • apianist16

        Yeah, I know that. I just wonder why Sony doesn’t make the design changes necessary and get with the times. :)

  • Gabriel Galli

    OMG I want this phone so bad! ;/ I am stuck with my 2010 (!) Xperia X10 mini pro… ;x (short in money, + here in Brazil everything is so cheap… and there’s not even a word from Sony saying that it’ll be available here).
    It’s simply perfect.

    • Daniel Mendes

      Concordo aqui no Brasil tudo é caro e chega com um atraso enorme, sem falar na falta de consideração que a maioria das fabricas, incluindo a Sony, sempre demoram a se pronunciar sobre os lançamento no Brasil. Em media eles aumentam 50% do preço no Brasil, ou 100% como fez a Apple com o 5s. Ainda por cima alguns aparelhos ainda chegam com atraso que varia de alguns dias a medonhos seis meses, um absurdo quando levamos em conta que o brasil é o quarto maior mercado do mundo de smartphones, atrás apenas da China, EUA e Japão.

      For those who didn’t understand my Portuguese comment: Almost every gadget here in Brazil comes to the market with an absurd price tag, in general at least 50% more expensive than in the USA (Apple Brazil sells 5s here for 1205 USD). Moreover some devices still arrive with a delay ranging from several days to hideous six months, an absurd when you consider that Brazil is the fourth largest market for smartphones in the world, behind China, USA and Japan.

      • Gabriel Galli

        Sad truth.

    • Jesus

      There’s a price to pay when you’re the world’s most sexiest people.

  • arcwindz

    Definitely the best mini phone out there, thick bezels? The only reason i hate thick bezels is the increase form factor. On a device this small, that’s barely a problem

  • AndroidBoss

    This thing is awesome. It’s like a 4-inch Nexus 5.

    • bert

      costing twice as much

  • Rajkumar

    A killer design…. A truly compact flagship device (Y)

  • raj

    As i had mentioned earlier, this is the DAWN of a New era, wherein the ‘Mini’ is also worthy of its name
    Go down, HTC One Mini, Galaxy S4 Mini and other ‘Mini’s which is not at all worthy of carrying the flagship name….

    Three cheers to SONY for implementing such a great idea !!

  • Android Developer

    looks like a really nice device.
    Buy why do all devices have such huge empty space below and above the screen ?
    why does the logo need to have its own row ?

    • pritish

      Maybe for one to hold it in landscape mode

      • Android Developer

        people can hold a phone without touching the front side.
        I for one hold the phone on its sides when I watch a video, and even if I play a horizontal game, I would want to have more freedom on the front side, instead of empty space that blocks touches…
        that’s not the only device that does this.

  • asd

    Is it true that this device has really low maximum volume via headphones ?

  • http://www.Physicsism.com/ Elias Fazel

    when will u drop it?
    i really like to see Z1compact drop test and Z2
    cause Z1 didn’t get mentionable scratch on body but it died!

  • xd feng

    Other than phone circuits, FPC works in hard disk drive, gathering the electronmagnetic, lowering the transmission consumption through space.

    Thus, the efficiency of electrical energy conversion is rapidly raised.

    never neglect the technical parameter of circuit, manufacturer focus more on it and the performance is looking up.

  • http://inntec.ru/ Maks

    Smartphone incredibly powerful and good quality, but the price is appropriate. Thanks to the author for review.

  • Ali

    The link you provided to Amazon, is not the same phone you reviewed. Amazon shows an 5″ version of this phone, labeled as Sony Xperia Honami Z1 16GB Black 20mp Camera 5″ 4G LTE . I would like to know the exact model you reviewed for T-Mobile LTE connection on 4.3″ Sony Xperia Z1 .

  • Damon Adrian

    stereo crosstalk only -43.7dB. The only real downside.

  • 기x기

    can anyone tell me if this phone is compatible with verizon wireless 4G network?

  • Akshay Patil

    This is a great review and I was waiting for a phone of this kind since long but where is the drop test for Sony Xperia Z1 Compact Dude?
    You should drop it already and put up the video for the same!

  • Will

    I am considering to buy a Z1 compact however I need to be sure it has bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy. Your review mentions: BlueTooth 4.0 LE. How ever I can not find it on the official websites? Are you 100% sure? I need to know because my fitness app requires LE.

  • Phil

    Sony Xperia
    Z1 Compact – one of the most annoying phones I’ve ever had. First of all the
    camera performs very poorly – 20,7 mpx doesn’t mean that it takes good
    pictures. They’re just big and that’s it. And it doesn’t really give you much.
    In the daylight they’re comparable to photos from other phones but when there’s
    a little less light, everything is always blurred. And I mean always. Only
    putting it on a tripod would help but still not enough for it to take sharp
    pictures when there’s little light. Then there is the flash which is useless –
    again I mean it. You cannot use it as pictures are becoming blue. So forget
    about pictures after dark. This issue has been reported to Sony ever since the
    phone appeared on the market and thousands of people bought it and started
    complaining. No reaction from the manufacturer, no adequate software update to
    address this issue. Check other comments on this phone and you’ll see that
    every Z1 Compact fails here. Video recording is ok though. The quality is
    decent but it often cannot focus properly and struggles for several seconds.
    Also, the view is very narrow (doesn’t apply to photos – it’s much better
    there) which has just ruined my yesterday’s video when I tried to record
    something from the top with a stretched arm – this has led me to finally writing
    this review after a year of using the phone to warn the potential buyers about
    what lemon Sony has introduced to the market.

    Another
    thing it the additional camera button (which not always works properly by the
    way) which if you hold opens automatically a camera app. Nice thing to have but
    it sets the camera only to 8 mpx mode/720p video. No way to switch so that you
    can take a full res picture or a video. I’ve search for that with no success.
    If you want to use 20,7 mpx and full HD, you need to unlock the screen and choose
    the camera app or after holding the button and starting the 8 mpx/720p mode you
    need to go to camera settings and switch to 20,7/full HD. Putting it simply –
    there’s no way of quickly taking a full resolution photo/video. Great!

    Generally
    the phone doesn’t freeze at all. After having it for a full year, it has never
    frozen during all kind of actions. Never – and that’s a nice thing. Some apps
    happened to die several times but I think it’s no the phone’s fault but some issue
    with the apps themselves. The phone runs on 4.4 Android KitKat software which
    is the latest available so far.

    And here I
    have to get back to the camera app which sometimes (5% of the time you run it)
    says that the camera is unavailable. Of course it usually happens when you want
    to take a picture quickly. No, you have to restart the phone and hope for the
    camera app to work this time.

    This
    software has made the quick settings menu to split to two parts (tabs). If you
    open it (drag from the top) it only shows you notifications which I always read
    when they appear. I don’t store them so I’m not interested in seeing that 150
    times a day. To get to the quick settings you need to click once more in the
    second tab. So you need to drag and click to get where you want. This has come
    with the 4.4 KitKat. Great improvement again! And now imagine that you do that
    every single time for almost a whole year (update was released later). This is
    just about the most annoying thing about this phone. If you want to open
    Internet connection, GPS, adjust brightness or anything other to work from that
    menu, you do not necessarily want to get through all kinds of different menus.

    Speaking
    about speed, the reaction times are not bad. They’re not really impressive
    either. Switching through home screen’s pages is slower than in iPhone 1. Yes
    it is. It’s not a huge disadvantage but surprises me that a phone that is 6-7 (iPhone
    from 2007 or 2008) years younger does some simple things not as good as the “grandpa”
    iPhone (it’s battery still holds enough to use it as an music player :)).

    Then there
    is the auto dimming screen that often doesn’t switch off. It just stays lit up
    all the time if you don’t turn it off manually using the side button. It will
    stay on until the battery dies, I checked. It’s like that since I bought the
    phone. Doesn’t always behave this way but it happened several times a week and
    the only solution to that is to reset it or completely turn off the phone. I
    thought it may be caused by some app running in the background and forcing the
    display to stay on but after turning all of them off, the problem didn’t
    disappear… So annoying. I’m now just waiting to swap it for a 2x as expensive
    iPhone which I do not need but the useless camera and the annoying way of the
    way the Sony works is too much for me and leaves me no choice. I had a Samsung
    Galaxy S before and it wasn’t perfect either. It was ok but was freezing a lot
    and that was its biggest problem. Some problems with reading the SD card also
    appeared (unfortunately Samsungs like to do that).

    On the
    other hand the battery life is superb. Wi-Fi and data transmission work very
    fast. The screen quality is also good even though the factory brightness
    adjustment may not be enough for some of us and you’ll need to download an app
    that expands its range of adjustment.

    The main
    speaker is rather quiet comparing to any Samsung which may not be a big deal
    bit it surprised me. The quality of sound (and music) is noticeably worse
    though (comparing to the SGS3 and a very old Galaxy S1).

    The
    notification LED is barely seen so it’s basically useless unless you look at it
    directly. You may miss some messages because of that and it really, really
    bothers me in everyday life as I have to constantly look and check the phone
    being worried that I miss something important. Also, when you get a text
    message, the display doesn’t light up and all you get it that LED flashing from
    time to time. You also may not get any visual preview on the center of screen
    of what the message contains. Only after pushing the side button you may see an
    icon in the upper left corner and a part of a message at the time. Then the
    text disappears and all you’re left with is that tiny icon. Very frustrating,
    especially if your screen background is rather bright and it’s hard to see the
    little text message icon. These are the everyday problems living with the
    Xperia Z1 Compact.

    If you use
    the alarm clock, you need to know that when it rings there’s only one way to
    turn it off – you have to slide your finger on the screen from a certain point
    to the side of the screen. It’s impossible to do that without looking at the
    phone because there’s no tolerance and you need to touch the screen in an
    exactly indicated spot. It usually takes several times to manage that
    especially if you’ve just opened your eyes. Better have something else for an
    alarm clock…

    One last
    thing that is almost funny and ridiculous. When I grab the phone with one hand
    and hold it, I put my little finger underneath it to prevent it from slipping
    and falling on the ground. Now the bottom end has very sharp edges around the
    speaker and the microphone. You can feel them every single time. I just cannot
    comment on that…

    This phone
    is just not well-thought and it makes using it very, very annoying. I really do
    not recommend this phone to anyone. I bought it because the camera was supposed
    to be so good. I’m never going to buy anything from Sony again, ever. It was
    released in 2014 and they still cannot get simple things to work. I spent some
    time to write all of that hoping that some of the ones that read it, avoid
    making a really bad decision.