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Sony Xperia Z3 Compact Review

We take a closer look at Sony's latest small form factor, but high-end, offering, in this in-depth review of the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact!

Published onNovember 5, 2014

Sony continues to hit it out of the park with their compact line, giving consumers a fantastic small form factor option, without a trade off in quality or specifications. The Sony Xperia Z3 Compact is a small powerhouse with high accessibility and high power, with few compromises. 

For a while now, various OEMs have released “mini” versions of their flagship devices, which not only featured a smaller form factor, but also took on a more mid-range nature. A year ago, we got a nice surprise in the form of the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact, a smartphone that didn’t compromise on performance just to match its smaller footprint. While a similar edition wasn’t released when the Xperia Z2 was launched, we got our first look at the next iteration in the Compact line a few months ago at IFA 2014. So what does this latest addition have to offer? We find out, in this comprehensive review of the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact!

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The Compact moniker tells you everything you need to know with this version of the latest Sony flagship, with a design language identical to its namesake, but in a much smaller body that packs a 4.6-inch display. You get the new small speaker grills up front in a dual setup, with the signature button layout also returning, including the iconic large power button, as well as the dedicated camera shutter button.

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While the glass on glass construction remains with the Xperia Z3 Compact, the metallic frame found with its larger sibling has been replaced in favor of a hard plastic material. The covers that protect the various slots and ports also look a little different, remaining flush with the overall width of the side.

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With this smaller form factor, the handling experience is absolutely fantastic, as just about everything is within reach when using the device with one hand. It’s funny when you consider that this size would have been considered normal just a year ago, but now takes on the tag of mini or compact. Even then, handling is one of the highlights of this device, and we are certainly not complaining. That said, it would have been nice to have the same high quality construction of the Xperia Z3, even if the styling is close enough that its aesthetic is just as pleasing.

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The Xperia Z3 Compact comes with a 4.6-inch display with a 720p resolution, resulting in a pixel density of 319 ppi. While these numbers don’t exactly scream flagship, it’s hard to find much to dislike about this display. This resolution and pixel density works perfectly for a smaller display, with all text looking nice and sharp. You get the same contrast and color production that you’d expect from the Triluminos display with the X-REALITY Engine enhancements, along with the great viewing angles from this IPS screen.

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All said and done, it isn’t the quality of the display that comes into question, but its size. When it comes to viewing media, playing games, or reading text, the smaller display size may take some getting used to, if you’ve been spoiled by the large screens that we have available nowadays. Even with the tradeoff of easier handling, which is something that a lot of consumers do want, if you’re really looking for a higher experience in terms of the display, the Xperia Z3 Compact is probably not on your radar anyway.

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What we love about Sony’s take on the “mini” trend is that even if you do prefer a smaller screen, you won’t find yourself required to compromise on performance in any way. Boasting a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, clocked at 2.5 GHz, and backed by the Adreno 330 GPU and 2 GB of RAM, you can expect the same great performance that this processing package provides to almost every other flagship currently available.

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The minimalistic, and therefore snappy, Xperia UI, as well as the lower resolution and smaller display, do contribute to the overall smooth performance, but the real takeaway here is that the Snapdragon 801 continues to provide flagship performance. Even while playing some processor-intensive games, there were rarely any instances of lag, and being able to smoothly switch between applications, using the Recent Apps screen, allowed for some easy multi-tasking.

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Sony’s hardware offerings remain largely the same, including NFC, Bluetooth, and the dual front-facing speaker setup, with everything completely protected from the elements, courtesy of its IP certification for resistance against dust and water. While the sound experience of the Xperia Z3 was great, keeping with the name, you get a fraction of that with the Xperia Z3 Compact. That said, the quality remains similar with a nice stereo sound, but only comparatively quieter.

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Calls all came in loud and clear, though I will admit that I used the front facing speakers for calls more often than not. Not available is an IR blaster that keeps this from being used as an universal remote, but that’s not something I used before anyway, and so, isn’t a feature I’ll miss.

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When it comes to the battery, the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact packs a 2,600 mAh unit, which is more than enough for a smaller phone like this. The lower resolution display is a contributing factor, and Sony devices have always been known to feature great standby times and useful power saving modes, allowing for this device to really go the distance. Even with moderately heavy usage, I was able to get an average of 2 days of battery life, helped by turning on some power saving features once the capacity went down to 25 percent. Average users will probably get even longer out of this device, making it one of the best battery experiences currently available.

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The camera is another point of no compromise, as  the same 20.7 megapixel shooter returns here, along with a 2.2 MP front shooter. As such, the experience of photography is very similar to what you get with its bigger sibling, but with the more compact size of this phone, the dedicated camera button might a little small for some.

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The camera software experience is also identical, with their being plenty of modes to play around with, including Background Defocus, and AR modes that impose characters on your real life scene. 4k video recording is also available, capturing some good detail, but keep in mind that it  leads to some pretty large file sizes. Manual mode is where you’ll be able to take full advantage of the megapixel count, but it will be a raw shot without the software enhancements, which is a bummer.

That being said, the higher data capture of the 20.7 megapixel pictures is offset by the low noise performance of the Superior Auto 8 megapixel pictures, though the difference is not as glaring as it was in the original Z3. Colors are rendered quite well, though you might get the occasional overexposure. A high ISO range helps get some usable shots in low light and actually works more often than not, which can’t easily be said for other phones. Continuing to pair high powered optics with a feature full application, this is another good smartphone camera from Sony.

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The Xperia UI returns once again and as always, there isn’t much to say about it, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in this case. Simple, stock-like elements are on the surface, like the homescreens, notification shade, and all that any Android user may already be used to. Small additions like the Small Apps in the recent apps screen give quick multitasking tools, while Sony’s own take on the gallery app and the built in Walkman music application bring some distinct Sony style.

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A big addition to the whole Xperiz Z3 line is the ability to stream PS4 content straight to you device on the same network , which I am really excited to try out. I haven’t bought my own PS4 yet though, and it has to be considered that a lot of PS4 video games might not be ideally suited for a display of this size.

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And finally there is the Lifelog, Sony’s huge data capture apparatus that quite literally logs your entire life on the Xperia Z3 Compact. Everything from internet usage, to steps taken, are recorded by it, shown by an avatar that will reenact what you’ve done if you choose to look back at it. It’s almost creepy how much it logs without you really knowing about it because it’s always on, but if you’re the type that does love to journal your life, you might find something really useful in the Lifelog.

While releases on major carriers is still unclear for North American users, the Sony Z3 Compact can be found for the unlocked price of around $529. Competition was quite scarce is this smartphone segment, but the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Alpha now bring in some diversity. That said, Sony is still the dominating force in the “compact but flagship” arena.

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So, there you have it – the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact! With phones getting as big as they are, it is always refreshing when a smaller device is in hand, and that feeling is definitely there with the Xperia Z3 Compact. The Xperia Z3 is a wonderful phone, certainly the best main Sony flagship, but the Xperia Z3 Compact takes pretty much everything that its larger sibling offers, and puts it in a package that is accessible by just about everyone. Which is why it gets our Editor’s Choice award, for continuing to set the bar in the smaller phone market, through a distinct lack of compromise and that quintessential Sony style.

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