Sony Xperia Z1 Compact vs Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini: Which is best for you?
26th Feb 2014 | 19:40
Both tiny phones, but with massively different internals
Design, screen and camera
Sony outdid itself with the launch of the Xperia Z1 Compact, bringing all the power of the full fat version and shrinking it down without much compromise. But those internals won't stop it being compared to the other smaller phones on the market, with one of the most popular being the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini.
Quite rightly, Sony is pushing the Xperia Z1 Compact as more than just another 'Mini' handset that will disappear into tiny handset obscurity.
The question remains then, in the quest for a smaller screened device, what are the differences and which one is the right one for you?
With both the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact and the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini handsets coming with bigger brothers, it will be of no surprise that the same design DNA in the Sony Xperia Z1 and the Samsung Galaxy S4 is still there, if not a little more petite.
The Z1 Compact comes with a far sharper and more industrial look than the S4 Mini, a smart handset hewn of glass and metal. Samsung instead followed a far more natural and curvier look with its handsets and has produced a smooth plastic device with the S4 Mini.
That extra heft isn't unwarranted though - the design build of the Z1 Compact is decent, if a little chunky, and feels like it has a slightly higher bill of materials than the Samsung.
With that glass and metal construction it'll be no bombshell that the Z1 Compact comes in much heavier than the Galaxy S4 Mini, weighing in a whole 30g heavier than the Samsung at 137g. The Sony is also larger; vital statistics put it at 127 x 64.9 x 9.5mm.
Samsung's smaller handset is smaller all round at 124.6 x 61.3 x 8.99 and weighs a mere 107g leaving it sitting in the hand a lot more comfortably.
Design differences also spread to the inclusion (or exclusion) of hard buttons and soft keys. Where Sony has left the Xperia Z1 Compact to deal with Android's on screen controls, Samsung has taken its more traditional route with a large central home key and back/menu buttons sat either side.
With a quick look at the specs sheet it is clear that the Sony is way out in front. The Xperia Z1 Compact comes with a HD 720p (720 x 1280) screen that leaves the 540 x 960 resolution of the Galaxy S4 Mini a little behind.
All those extra pixels in the same 4.3-inch screen mean that the Sony comes out much higher in pixel density too; 342 beats 256ppi every day of the week.
Fortunately for Samsung this only tells half the story. The Galaxy S4 Mini comes packing the same Super AMOLED screen technology, which is both extremely bright and comes with higher levels of contrast than the TFT screen of the Z1 Compact. This goes a long way to easing any pain caused by a smaller resolution.
It would be harsh to call the Galaxy S4 Mini screen poor. It is more than sufficient for sending messages and surfing the web, or for viewing all those images of cats in funny poses and dogs diving for tennis balls.
The added brightness also means that the Galaxy S4 Mini is also easier to use when out and about when sunnier weather hits your window.
One of the biggest areas that the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact will look to beat the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini is the camera. This is because it comes rocking a massive 20.7MP sensor where the Samsung comes with only 8MP.
Both the S4 Mini and the Z1 Compact come sporting front facing sensors too, although these are much closer in stature. Sony has made sure it's won the battle, but this time the battle was much narrower; 2MP vs 1.9MP.
Samsung and Sony have both also taken a look at the camera app, meaning they both offer up more than the stock Android that sits beneath.
Sony has thrown a little more in the way of the camera offering up a few more modes. The more professional photographer may decide they want to forgo the Superior auto mode and take on the Manual mode. This offers up a variety of scenes, as well as allowing the toggle of white balance and exposure.
Instagram lovers have also been covered with varying picture effects and filters allowing easy creation of interesting looking pictures without the need for any Photoshop wizardry. An AR mode also adds extra features including elves and dinosaurs... make of that what you will.
Samsung's variation comes in the forms of different modes: Auto, Beauty Face, Best Photo, Continuous Shot, Best Face, Sound & Shot, Rich Tone (HDR), Panorama, Sports and Night. These don't add a lot of creative features, instead being aimed at perfecting the more basic shots.
Colour reproduction on both is very good, although the contrast is much higher on the Galaxy S4 Mini. Much more detail has been captured on the skin of the satsumas though.
Colour contrast again is higher on the S4 Mini, with the Z1 Compact appearing a little washed out.
With the colours a little washed out on both, contrast levels are still much higher on the Galaxy S4 Mini. More detail on the cushions has been captured on the Z1 Compact.
A far greater amount of detail has been captured on the Z1 Compact, with edges appearing crisper. Although the contrast is higher on the S4 Mini, colours are more natural on the Z1 Compact.
Oddly, more detail has been captured in the background with the brickwork on houses coming out clearer with the Samsung. The Z1 Compact is much clearer in the foreground with text being much crisper.
There is a massive difference in the low light capabilities, with the Z1 Compact's sensor letting in a lot more light. This means that images come out a lot clearer and more visible than on the S4 Mini.
The zoom capabilities on the Z1 Compact are a lot greater than on the S4 Mini. Text is also much crisper and more legible on the Sony.
Performance, price, extras and verdict
Performance and Storage
The Xperia Z1 Compact also outdoes the Galaxy S4 Mini when it comes to performance, aided by increased levels of RAM and twice the amount of cores.
Sony has fitted the Z1 Compact with a quad-core 2.2GHz CPU and 2GB RAM putting it ahead of the dual-core 1.7GHz S4 Mini with its 1.5GB RAM.
In day to day usage the Galaxy S4 doesn't appear to suffer. Loading times of basic apps like messaging or calendar were nigh on identical, and both devices were smooth when scrolling between home screens.
All the extra cores in the Sony really come into their own when trying more intensive games. Loading times of Sonic Dash for instance were faster, and while most games ran effectively on both, the graphical prowess of the Z1 Compact is significantly higher.
Storage is also going to be an issue, especially if you're planning on watching a lot of movies or downloading a lot of apps. The Xperia Z1 Compact comes slightly better equipped with 16GB instead of the 8GB internally found in the Galaxy S4 Mini.
Both handsets support microSD though, meaning that an extra 64GB of storage can be thrown their way.
Price and colours
The big kicker when it comes to looking at the Z1 Compact and the S4 Mini is the difference in price. Packing in larger and higher power innards does mean that the Z1 Compact comes with a more premium price tag.
SIM free the Galaxy S4 Mini is a lot cheaper, available at around £250, and to get your hands on the Z1 Compact will set you back around £430-£450 SIM free.
Both the Xperia Z1 Compact and Galaxy S4 Mini also come in a range of colours meaning that the traditional black or white handsets are no longer the only kids on the block. Whilst neither can claim to have a smorgasbord of colours they do at least offer something a little different.
Sony has made the Xperia Z1 Compact available in black, white, lime, and pink whereas Samsung has left the S4 Mini to compete in black, white, orange, pink, or purple coloured overalls.
Both manufacturers have also added something to help differentiate themselves. The biggest of these on the Z1 Compact has to be the waterproof nature. This means that you can take photos underwater or text in the bath should the mood catch you.
Sony has also allowed access to the PlayStation mobile store which adds a little extra over and above the offerings that come with the Google Play store. Connect up your PS3 controller through a (purchased separately) USB cable and you no longer need a bog-standard Bluetooth controller.
It doesn't come with an IR blaster like the Galaxy S4 Mini does, so the Z1 Compact can't become a TV remote- it's a function that's useful on occasion, but not something you'd buy the phone for solely.
Both the Galaxy S4 Mini and the Xperia Z1 Compact are smaller screened phones, proving that you don't need to buy a 10000-inch screen phone in order to get a decent mobile experience.
Sony does this with a HD screen for watching movies, and high powered innards that make mobile gaming a real pleasure. It has also thrown in a high powered camera to help take some decent shots when out and about.
Samsung has taken a totally different route, downsizing its flagship in more ways that just size. This means that the Galaxy S4 Mini comes with smaller insides that are perfect for day to day use and for casual gaming but can struggle if you throw very intensive tasks its way.
Those wanting a flagship experience in a smaller package need not look any further than the Xperia Z1 Compact, as while the S4 Mini offers a decent experience at a reduced price it will always disappoint in returning true flagship performance.