Sony Xperia Z3 Compact Review
We go hands-on with Sony’s latest Compact smartphone
This is our review of the SIM Free Sony Xperia Z3 Compact, which we have available to order on the Clove website here at the fantastic price of just £290.83 (£349 inc. VAT).
Update 14th October: the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact accessory bundle offer will be ending very soon. More info here
Roughly six months ago Sony launched a new breed of smartphone into the market. A smartphone that many desired but never really existed; but Sony took a bold step that has ultimately paid off for them.
The Xperia Z1 Compact was and still is as powerful as the Sony Xperia Z1 on which it was based, but had a smaller display to make the overall handset more user friendly, but did not want to sacrifice memory and processing power; which was too often the case with other ‘mini’ or ‘compact’ models.
Whilst I like to keep reviews as balanced as possible I do have a personal affinity with the Z1 Compact. It is my device of choice and I could not be happier.
The problem with the Z1 Compact was that it was released at the same time as the Z2, but was based on the previous Z1, in theory out of sync with Sony’s range.
With the launch of the Z3 comes the launch of the Z3 Compact to keep the 2 in line with each other and much closer matched in terms of specification.
The differences between the Z3 and Z3 Compact are:
- The compact has 2GB RAM rather than 3GB
- The display is a 4.6” 720p IPS panel as opposed to the 5.2” 1080p
- The battery is 2600mAh as opposed to 3100mAh
- It is 8.6mm thick and 129g compared to the Z3 at 7.3mm thick and 152g
In comparison to the Z1 Compact:
- 2.5GHz processor compared to the 2.2GHz quad-core of the Z1C
- 4.6” 720P display rather than a 4.3”
- 2600mAh battery rather than 2300mAh
- 8.6mm thick and 129 grams rather than 9.5mm thick and 137g
- Stereo speakers
- Softer edges on the Z3 Compact
So with less than a year between the two how does the latest model stack up? Find out in our video review below or keep reading for the full written review.
Like its predecessor the hardware is good, but slightly more cutting edge.
- Android 4.4 KitKat
- 2.5GHz Quad-core processor
- 2GB RAM
- MicroSD memory card slot
- 16GB internal memory
- 4.6” 720p HD Triluminos display
- Global 4G LTE
- Bluetooth 4.0
- Dual channel WiFi
- MHL 3.0
- GPS with GLONASS
- 20.7 megapixel camera
- 4K video recording
- 2,600mAh battery
- 8.64mm thick
- IP65/58 rated – 1.5 meters for 30 minutes
Compact but powerful is certainly what the Compact offers and unlike the Mini equivalents from Samsung and LG, the Z3C is not mini on specs.
Whilst as you would expect this Android phone to be compared to other Android handsets, we can not rule out the new iPhone 6, with its 4.7” display. The Compact is certainly going to shake up this space and should be a consideration for anyone looking at the iPhone 6 but not set on iOS.
If not for the benefits the Z3C brings in features, then for the price. Even at RRP the Z3C is £165 cheaper.
Sleek and svelte may not be words used to describe the original Z1 Compact, but the Z3 Compact is certainly more fitting of such.
Not only is it slimmer by approx 1mm the softer and smoother curved edges offer a much more comfortable in hand experience that the bulkier and squarer Z1C.
It is great how Sony have managed to increase the screen size yet keep the form factor almost identical. Managed mainly thanks to smaller bezels.
Like its big brother the compact has a solid frame but it feels of plastic in construction, although underneath I believe it is metal. Each of the 4 corners having a separate piece of material inserted and colour coded to the device. It detracts from the design ever so slightly but does have a very practical purpose.
It is designed to absorb impacts considerably more effectively and with the smaller bezel around the screen this can go a long way to help protect the handset should it be dropped on any one of the corners.
The edges of the device are actually a smoked plastic and you have to see it to understand it, but it looks really nice and feels soft and warm to the touch.
The display dominates the front panel with a speaker above and below the screen, centrally located. The front facing camera sits to the upper right side with the proximity and light sensor on the opposite side.
A Sony logo sits just above the screen.
The LED notification light is in the far upper left corner. Not too bright when it does flash and it can be turned off.
On the middle of the right hand side is a less pronounced power button under which the volume rocker and dedicated camera key sit.
Switch to the left side and at the top you have the microUSB connection and microSD memory card slot under a cover labelled microSD.
Below this is the magnetic charging connector.
On the lower left side is the nano SIM card slot under another of the port covers, yet this one is not labelled..
On the top of the handset is the 3.5mm headphone jack. There is port cover here as the jack has been treated with a special coating. There is also a microphone.
On the bottom you will find the much loved lanyard attachment to the left side and a microphone on the right.
Turn the Z3C over and on the back there has been no real change in positioning from the Z1C. In the upper left corner is the 20.7 megapixel camera and LED flash. This camera module is more centrally than the Z3 and from the Z1C, the flash has been moved a little further away from the lens, probably to address a reported flash bleed in images on the Z1C.
Just above center is an NFC logo indicating whereabouts the NFC reader in the device is.
The shiny, Sony logo sits centrally on the rear panel with the Xperia branding at the bottom.
With the Z3C gaining an extra 0.3” with no increase in resolution, remaining at 720 x 1280 the Pixels Per Inch has taken a little knock on effect dropping from 342 to 319.
Is the difference noticeable? Maybe to the most particular users and if you really look for it.
Sit it next to a full HD or quad HD display and then yes you can tell the difference.
Maybe Sony should have included a full HD display in the Z3C but it is a question of balance.
Images still look bright and crisp and I think many can argue the screen quality is good enough for a mobile device in my opinion. How many HD films do you need to watch on a mobile and is full or quad HD that important?
Personally I have found few occasions where I really wished for full HD.
Like any phone manufacturer, the technology inside is tweaked to produce the best on screen results. There is within the Z3C there are two key technologies that have been used to assist in producing what you see.
The first is TRILUMINOS which uses LEDs to emit purer reds and greens creating a brighter and more uniform light. This essentially offers a wider palette of colours over conventional display methods so what you see on screen is more representative of the natural scene.
The second part is X-Reality for Mobile which optimises images to improve colour reproduction, sharpness and contrast, as well as remove noise. Technically speaking there is a lot more to X-Reality than this, but you get an idea of what it does and how it aims to improve your experience.
The result is personal opinion the Z3C certainly pops that little bit more than the Z1C.
I think all told the IPS panel does a pretty good job, with good viewing angles and generally quite acceptable battery performance as a result. Whilst on that subject an extra 300mAh over the Z1C should be quite useful.
Windows Phone and BlackBerry may be two types of operating system that exist amongst others, but at the moment it is primarily a two horse race between iOS and Android.
The Z3C is most certainly wearing the Android colours and is also aiming to win supporters of iOS thanks to what this compact powerhouse offers.
When there was once discrepancy between the OS, both are becoming more similar and apps are most certainly available on both platforms. Be it your social networks, business or personal fitness apps, you will find them on the Google Play Store, that comes loaded on the Z3C.
If you are new to Android, then one of the key appealing factors is the mass array of applications available from the Play Store, from games to social to productivity apps, all the big titles are there for you to download, a large proportion of which are free.
Another great ability is the way in which you can make the phone yours, personalising and tweaking to make yours different to every other. From changing the stock wallpapers and themes of the device to sound and notifications for specific contacts. Add and remove home screens, app shortcuts and widgets, customise the app order in the app tray and generally make your device work for you.
Google Now is too a great feature that if you let it integrate with your life can be really powerful, delivering key, information when you need it. Just press and hold the home key and swipe up to the Google icon to access.
If you are making the switch from an iPhone then you may need to spend a little more time getting setup first time than existing Android users. However Sony have set to make this transition as simple as possible. Xperia Transfer is the app that you need to use for the most simple of switching between the two platforms.
Of the 16GB internal storage available on the device, only 12GB is available to you as the user because the OS takes up a proportion of this. Store whatever you like on the internal memory, but if you are running out of space using the microSD memory card slot that supports 128GB cards is a great solution for more memory intensive files such as music and pictures.
Sony do include a few of their own customisations over the standard Android experience. This is to give you as the user a little extra value but also differentiate their products from others out there. Additions primarily include Sony’s multimedia suite of applications from Sonys Lifelog app Movie Creator, but there are a few others I feel are worthwhile additions. You can see the apps you get in the following screenshots. Smart Connect is one of the more undervalued apps that can be of real benefit if you set it up correctly. Garmin Navigation and AVG AntiVirus Pro are also included.
You will get the very latest version of Android 4.4 KitKat and Sony are reasonably good with their updates. Yes there will be delays, but they have made marked improvements from where they used to be with the number of updates and speed of updates they bring.
If you are into your gaming then the Z3 Compact has a lot to offer.
Also built into the Xperia Z3’s software is Glove Mode, which as the name implies, enhances the screen sensitivity so that you can use the phone in colder climates.
Smart Backlight Control keeps the screen on when you look at the phone, no need to actually touch the handset. Smart Call Handling allows you to answer a call by bringing the phone to the ear, rejecting a call by shaking it and silencing a call by turning the phone over. Tap To Wake Up turns the screen on after a double tap on the display.
As if these customisation options were not enough, you can even adjust the white balance of the display.
Swipe down from the top of the screen and be presented with the notification shade which is split into ‘notifications’ and ‘quick settings’. All your key notifications will show here but you also have access to key settings of your choice.
Other small extras included on the Z3C include ‘small apps’. Press and hold on the running apps key and at the bottom you are presented with list of apps such as a calculator, stopwatch, sound recorder and screen capture tool. These small apps sit in windows on top of Android, can be moved about on screen and retain their position even as the phone is being used in the background. Only upon closing them will they disappear.
The Z series for some time has had PlayStation Mobile certification, but the Z3 family will from November 2014 have Remote PLAY.
What is Remote PLAY? Well, PS4 users hold onto your hats. You can play your PS4 games on your Z3C.
Let me paint the picture. You are happily playing your PS4 when your other half switches the TV onto something that would drive you to go and wash the dishes. However, the dishes can wait. Leave your PS4 switched on, connect you Z3C to WiFi, enable Remote PLAY and begin playing the PS4 game back on your Compact.
However, it gets better. Purchase the GCM10 game controller mount and dock your Compact on top of your PS4 controller. Now you can play the game with the PS4 controller!
The quality of the game is downscaled to boost performance, but we can live with that!
If you wonder whether the Compact can handle it, then fear not, a quad-core 2.5GHZ processor and 2GB RAM will keep this and other daily tasks performing quite nicely. It is a bit of a shame it did not get the 3GB of the Z3, but that may be the price to pay of going for a smaller form factor.
The purist Android user may shed a tear at the way Sony have customised the Z3, but I give them credit for offering an all round balanced option which works for the personal and business users alike. If you do not like something change it, that is the beauty of Android.
If you had not yet got the gist, the Z3C has all you need.
Bluetooth, WiFi (2.4 and 5GHz frequency) and GPS including GLONASS.
The Z3C does too have MHL connectivity, MHL 3.0 in fact.
MHL 3.0 is the very latest technology and allows you to output 4K video to a 4K display. Now it need not be 4K, but it is possible. For the most part it will be 1080p, but it makes for a brilliant business and personal solution. Whether you are showing off your holiday snaps or giving your client winning presentation you can look very slick running it all from your phone.
USB host functionality means that you can too connect things like memory sticks to the Z3C (adapter required). Not that this is an everyday need. However should someone want to give you a large file then this makes for a simple sharing option.
A magnetic charging port on the side of the device is not for show and has a purpose. To confirm to the IP rating the microUSB port is hidden under a port cover.
The magnetic charger does away with the need to open the cover. Use a microUSB magnetic adapter or opt for the Sony DK48 charging dock to keep it powered and sat at an ideal viewing angle.
Of course there is too the cellular connections of 2G right through to 4G, all of which perform well. The Z3C does take a nano SIM though.
The Z1 Compact produced a reasonable punch when it came to sound, but what I have found as time has gone on, it that the speaker located on the bottom is not always practical and sometimes becomes muffled.
To keep the Z3C in line with the Z3, the Compact now boast stereo speakers.
There is too the waterproof 3.5mm audio jack when you want to keep the audio to yourself.
The speakers on the Compact do have a tendency to be a little directional, but that is to be expected to a point, but the overall audio experience is quite fulfilling.
Improved audio is helped further by the inclusion of DSEE HX (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) and Hi-Res Audio.
DSEE HX is a technology that allows you to upscale low quality song to nearly high-resolution sound quality. Commonly used MP3 and AAC files are refined and restored to provide an audio experience nearer that received from very high resolution FLAC files.
Hi-Res Audio on the other hand looks to reduce distortion and noise and reproduce higher frequency sounds.
In our un-scientific test the Z3C was registering in the high 80’s on the decibel meter approximately 10db higher than the Z1 Compact. The sound clarity was pretty good, better than the Z1C, although compare it to the Z3 and it sounds a little like it is struggling a little bit. The Z3 sounded a little more rounded and balanced. That may have something to do with the speaker and the space in the body of the phone.
Subsequently, the Z3C should offer an audio experience that rivals most other MP3/audio players.
The Z3C has a few marginal differences over the Z1C camera.
The first is that the Z3 now records in 4K. Capable of in excess of 5 minutes of recording at 3840 x 2160 the 4K footage is downscaled when played back on the Compacts screen, but can be viewed in true 4K via the MHL connection.
The second main difference is the ISO. It is capable of an ISO of 128000 which means you can capture better low light photos and there was a marked improvement..
Taking the best in Sony camera technology and squeezing into a mobile is always going to be a challenge, but they have managed to do a good job and the performance is consistent across the Xperia Z family. The Z3 of course boast the latest and best tech along with software refinements.
Many comment how you no longer need a dedicated camera or video camera. Unless photography is a hobby or you have a particular desire for the very best then on the most part the camera on the Compact will outperform compact cameras from only a couple of years ago.
Think about how you use the photos. Do you only ever share them online and view back on the phone or computer screen, then if so a dedicated camera can be written off.
The results are generally very good. Always best in bright, natural light scenarios, you still get pretty decent shots in lower light environments thanks to the on board technology.
In some shots whites did blow out and the quality is lost quite quickly when you zoom in.
Using flash can leave shots appearing grainy on occasions, but on the most part photos and video results are very good.
I take the majority of my images in superior auto mode. Most of us will use this option rather than delving into all the manual options; but they exist if you want them, to get that perfect shot.
In the interest of trying to be fair as most of us point and shoot; thus using manual mode may result in better final results.
The camera has lost the ever so small recess it once had. It would also be nice if it was factionally further in on the chassis to stop the potential finger creeping into the shot, but after a few attempts you find where to place your hand.
There are plenty of shooting options, including timeshift mode that captures 61 images in just 2 seconds.
The dedicated camera key is also a massive plus. You can keep a firm grip on the phone whilst capturing the image. You can too use the volume keys as zoom controls as you have 8x digital zoom.
Smaller form factor does mean a smaller battery, but the Z3C has gotten smaller and lighter but gained a bigger battery. Smiles all round!
The additional 300mAh will go some way to powering the larger screen but should last you through a working day just fine.
Not all that often do I need to charge my Z1 Compact through the day or early evening and I am a moderate user of the phone.
Rarely would I need to switch on STAMINA mode, but if I do I do see an improvement. Get it right and you can get 2 days out of the Compact.
Unless you are a light user or are willing to make some sacrifices for the 2 day life, be under no illusion that a daily charge will be necessary. The Compact is powerful and you find yourself doing so much on it, so the battery feels the impact.
The battery can not be removed, it is built in, but then again most are, now including that of the iPhone with which the Compact is a very close competitor.
Ever changing, at the time of writing the Compact is £165 cheaper than the iPhone 6 and does in my opinion offer quite a bit more functionality, if not as refined in some places.
£165 goes a long way as splashing out £540 for the iPhone will make even the most cash rich wince.
The Compact is quite a bit more than the LG G2 Mini and not that much more expensive than the S5 Mini from Samsung. It does offer quite a bit more though for many.
If you want the bigger screen and a bit more RAM, the Z3 is circa £140 dearer.
You need to always chose the device that is right for you.
I love my Z1 Compact. It works, lasts the day, feels comfortable and I rely on it, I am lost without it.
Having spent time with the Z3 Compact it is obvious that it is a marginal upgrade over the Z1C and whilst the added differences do not require me to upgrade small improvements do make a difference. I would have no qualms in upgrading, I know I would feel at home straight away, in fact I do not want to hand this review unit back.
The Compact feels much more in line with the Z3 and comes to market at a time when the iPhone 6 is set to dominate the highstreet and online advertising. It also feels that more refined and polished with a bit more processing power, more camera options and that brighter display.
If you are looking for a Compact and powerful workhorse, then you would be doing yourself an injustice to opt for anything else, unless you have a particular need or preference for another device.
The Z3C will keep you future proofed, but you may find a bargain in the Z1 Compact if you do not need the very latest in specs.
Whether the Compact range will now be updated every 6 months like the flagship Z, only time will tell; whatever Sony have retained my custom.