Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

15th Apr 2014 | 10:19

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

Is the solution to the Z1 conundrum to make it smaller?

TechRadar rating:

4.5 stars

Sony shows the world how to make a 'proper' mini phone

Like:

Flagship specs; Waterproof; Decent battery life;

Dislike:

Poor bundled services; Awful low light photography; Glass back prone to smudges;

Introduction

Ratings in depth

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact
Sony Xperia Z1 Compact
Sony Xperia Z1 Compact
Sony Xperia Z1 Compact
Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

A mini handset has, inexplicably, come to mean a smaller, lower-spec version of a popular big screen device, which does nothing for those that want a slightly smaller display.

So kudos to Sony for taking a stand, crushing down the powerful Xperia Z1 but losing almost nothing on the spec list, giving the Z1 Compact a real chance to fight fight in a fierce market currently dominated by the HTC One Mini and Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, two devices that launched to critical acclaim but with a poorer spec list.

Eagle eyed readers will have noticed that the Sony Xperia Z1's baby brother hasn't adopted the traditional "Mini" moniker but rather comes with the title of "Compact".

Yes, Sony has given the Z1 Compact the smaller screen, but it has kicked diminutive RAM and lesser cores to the mobile kerb. Sony has even allowed the Xperia Z1 Compact to keep the waterproof nature of the Z1.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

A SIM free price of £430 (around $740, AU$850) and free on contracts starting at £27pm makes the Xperia Z1 Compact more expensive than the S4 Mini and One Mini.

This higher cost does allow for the inclusion of a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 2.2GHz quad-core CPU backed up by 2GB RAM though - and for the price it's comparable to a Samsung Galaxy S4.

The "Compact" name also alludes to more than just the smaller size; it can be no coincidence that the Xperia Z1 Compact shares its name with the style of camera that it is looking to replace. A 20.7MP Exmor sensor housed behind an award-winning G Lens aims to be the final nail in the compact camera coffin.

Unsurprisingly, the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact follows in the same design language that was started with the Xperia Z1.

A full frontal glass assault is joined by an all glass rear that gives the Xperia Z1 Compact a really clean feel. The choice of four colours (black, white, pink and lime) means that the business feel can be a little offset if you wish.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

While the glass helps add to the industrial feel, I found that it also meant I became a little obsessed with keeping it clean. Those that find they are forever trying to clean the screen to remove pesky fingerprints will find that that feeling transfers identically to the back.

It also hoovers up dust from the pocket, making it a real eyesore when you're just trying to look at a quick text.

The chassis, measuring at 127 x 64.9 x 9.55mm, curves slightly at the edges allowing the screen to be protected from side impacts, as well as allowing it to sit comfortably in the hand. I found that the metal and glass feel often left the Xperia Z1 Compact feeling cold when left out, but the material combination also leaves it feeling premium.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

It's this combination of materials that leaves the Z1 Compact sitting on the scales at 137g, although I found that I still needed to check my pocket occasionally to see if it was still there. There is no doubt that the phone feels a little heavy at first, especially when compared to the almost impossibly light Galaxy S4 Mini, but this feeling disappears as quickly as it is noticed.

The smaller frame made using the Xperia Z1 Compact easy to use one handed, and didn't suffer the same problems of grip that beset the original Xperia Z1. The power key in particular was pretty easy to hit.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

The curved edges also meant that I found it was more comfortable in one-handed use than the iPhone 5S, retaining the same business feel but without the sharp edges. However, the feel in the hand is one of a chunkier device - it doesn't have the same smooth stylings of the HTC One M8, for instance, and does feel quite hefty compared to other, better-balanced, phones.

Behind all that glass sits the first clue that the Xperia Z1 Compact isn't quite a fully-fledged flagship; a 720p 4.3-inch screen.

Many may scoff at the lower resolution, but Sony has given the screen a lot of attention, certainly more than was provided to the original Z1.

Pure stats show that the Xperia Z1 Compact has enough to compete, as its 340ppi outstrips that of the four-inch iPhone 5S, but the level of attention goes deeper than that as Sony looked to address issues that were found with the Z1.

Gone are poor viewing angles thanks to the inclusion of IPS technology to join the Bravia and Triluminos tech that were found in Sony's largest handset, the Xperia Z Ultra.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

However, coming to this from looking at a 1080p screen and you will be able to see the drop in level of sharpness - it's not massive, but the Z1 Compact doesn't have the best screen on the market when it comes to resolution.

Making the Xperia Z1 Compact dust and waterproof (to IP55 and IP58 standards) can't have been easy with the number of ports that the modern smartphone requires. Thankfully, Sony has managed this well, leaving me impressed with the way they are securely covered.

All bar one of the ports comes with an attached bit of plastic that stands up to some rigorous pulling, with Sony having fully waterproofed the 3.5mm headphone jack. Even the external speaker that runs across the base of the Xperia Z1 Compact has been given the treatment.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

The microUSB port and microSD slot (the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact supports up to a further 64GB of storage) are housed at the top of the left side, with the microSIM tray sat at the base. I found that this tray was rather flimsy, as well as being difficult enough to require tweezers to remove. Popping in a microSD card was a lot simpler.

With all the ports in the left side, Sony has left the right-hand edge to be populated with a couple of buttons. Amongst these is the standard volume rocker sat just below Sony's round and imposing power/lock button, as well as a TechRadar favourite: a dedicated camera shutter button.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

This serves a few purposes as it allows the Z1 Compact's 20.7MP camera to be loaded (and even have the photo shot right away) in one touch, as well as allowing photos to be taken underwater as the screen doesn't have to be pressed.

It also allows the camera app to function more like a fully fledged camera, with focussing and snapping being really easy.

The top and bottom edges contain only the waterproofed 3.5mm headphone jack and external speaker, respectively.

As with every smartphone, the back of the phone contains the camera sensor and LED flash. Elsewhere, only the Sony and NFC branding break up the solid glass rear.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

The Xperia Z1 Compact may come a higher price tag than its 'Mini' counterparts but also packs a smarter more professional feel backed up with whizzier insides that warrant a second and third look.

Big Heart, Big Camera, Small frame

One of the first things most will do when checking out a phone is have a look at the spec list. I know that specification lists only tell half the story of a handset, but this is a half that Sony has given a lot of thought to.

The power

One of the biggest things that stands out on the spec sheet is the Z1 Compact comes with flagship-sized insides. Sony has kept the same Snapdragon 800 SoC that packs a 2.2GHz quad-core CPU and Adreno 330 GP, as well as the 2GB RAM that keeps it all running smoothly.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

This puts it on par with the likes of the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4, not just the Mini versions of these devices - and at a price that's not too dissimilar either. Both these market-leading flagship alternatives come with 2GB RAM and quad-core CPUs clocked at 1.7GHz and 1.9GHz respectively.

It also means that the Xperia Z1 Compact comes more impressively specced than the Mini rivals it sits alongside. Both the Galaxy S4 Mini and HTC One Mini come with only two cores, and are equipped with 1.5GB and 1GB of RAM respectively.

The camera

Sony has given the Xperia Z1 Compact the same camera technology from the original Xperia Z1; namely the goliath 20.7MP sensor and the G Lens.

While it may not match up to the same 41MP that is found within the Windows Phone-toting Nokia Lumia 1020, it is one of the most advanced sensors found in Android handsets.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

This dwarfs the sensors that are found in the HTC One and One Mini which both come with four 'UltraPixels', as well as the 13MP and 8MP sensors that are found in the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy S4 Mini.

The most impressive thing here is how all these specs have been left largely untouched and yet still squashed into a smaller frame than the full flagships of the Galaxy S4 and the HTC One, meaning that the Xperia Z1 Compact sits incredibly nicely in the pocket and even more comfortably in the hand.

That same frame is also built out of metal and glass, that while adding a noticeable heft also allows the Xperia Z1 Compact to feel high end, even allowing it to retain the same waterproof nature of its bigger brother.

Using the phone in the bath has never been so simple.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

The interface

Being a Sony handset also means the Z1 Compact comes loaded with Sony's Android UI, giving it some tweaks from the standard Android UI that graces the Google Nexus 5, as well as giving it a completely different feel from Samsung's TouchWiz and HTC's Sense.

Sony's Android UI is something that's worth looking at - it's a stripped down version of the heavier skins of the rivals and will please those looking for a more sleek version of Android while still enjoying some tweakery.

That said, there's still a lot of emphasis on Sony products when you turn on the phone, with the likes of Video and Music Unlimited being rammed down your throat as 'Recommended' content and the main media apps front and centre.

Sony's media offerings are decent enough, but they're not real USPs at this time, with things like Music Unlimited a poor alternative to Spotify, meaning you'll have to head out into the Play Store to update these after purchase in some instances.

Sony's Video Unlimited section, for instance, allows the purchase and streaming of movies without needing to sign up to a monthly subscription in much the same way as Tesco's BlinkBox service.

Peer beyond the extra apps though and you're greeted with a phone that's really got a lot of power in a small package without being too obtrusive - and that's going to appeal to a lot of people.

Interface and performance

Sony originally equipped the Xperia Z1 Compact with Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, which was a little disappointing given that KitKat had been out for a while.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

The good news is that the Xperia Z1 Compact has since been upgraded to Android 4.4.2, bringing you all the latest goodies from Google.

Over the top of KitKat, Sony has equipped the Xperia Z1 Compact with a very well rounded and intuitive design.

Every OEM installs a level of customisation to differentiate themselves; Samsung has its TouchWiz design and HTC has Sense.

From the attractive slide-style unlock to the clean icons and the customised app drawer, it's clear that Sony has given its UI some real thought.

I am particularly fond of the app drawer, as it allows easy navigation though a toolbar located at the far left. It's these little touches that make smartphones feel smart.

The inclusion of themes is also pleasant, giving the Xperia Z1 Compact a slightly different feel and allowing you to change the whole look depending on your mood.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

The multitasking pane hides a feature that I think Sony should have made more of a song and dance about, as it rivals the multi-window feature on the Galaxy S4.

The ability to have floating apps such as a browser or screen shot made multitasking a lot easier and have long been a good feature of Sony devices - being able to simply open up a timer or calculator can be a godsend, although not having a torch option there seems weird.

A notification light (with multiple colours) also comes equipped on the Xperia Z1 Compact, giving it a leg up over the HTC One Mini and Galaxy S4 Mini.

For those that like to know whether they have a missed message, this is an almost vital inclusion.

My love for widgets was also well catered for with Sony allowing you to add up to seven home screens, long-pressing open areas to add them. I was disappointed to find that there is no infinite scrolling though, something that makes the Xperia Z1 Compact feel a little less fluid when swiping around.

Fluidity is something that exudes from the phone, aided by the 2.2GHz quad-core CPU and 2GB RAM. Moving between screens is a dream, and I found no hint of slowdown even when downloading large files, playing music and web browsing simultaneously.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

Looking at the GeekBench 3 results it is easy to see why; the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact averaged 2731 on multi-core performance.

Interestingly though I did find that before the Android 4.4 KitKat update, the Xperia Z1 Compact had a slightly better average at 2884.

That's not a huge difference, and when it comes to every day performance you won't notice any change between Jelly Bean and KitKat.

Comparing the new score with those listed on the GeekBench site, the Xperia Z1 Compact still scores higher than nearly all the listed devices on multi-core.

This can be attributed to the smaller screen size, with the Adreno 330 GPU not being put under extra strain having to redraw the extra pixels that full HD displays require.

Whilst many may have scoffed at the idea of a handset that 'isn't even full HD', this has been beneficial to the Z1 Compact whilst still providing a crystal clear viewing experience.

Sure, it's not got the razor sharp clarity, but that boost in performance (and, as you'll see later, battery life) is certainly worth having. If you like a smaller screen anyway, this is quickly turning into one of the main phones to be packing.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

The hardware within the screen also hides a really nifty feature; the ability to use it with gloves on.

With winter proving that capacitive screens aren't best suited to texting in the cold, the ability to wear normal gloves whilst sending texts is a godsend.

It also means that if you're deft enough, you can pretend to be a Jedi and move the screen without touching it.

This mode does show a larger circle on the screen when activated, which will pop up on occasion even when you're not using gloves.

I'd say it's worth having it turned off most of the time as it also sucks power - unless you're in a particularly icy country. Or just fricking love gloves.

Battery life and the essentials

Battery life

With the amazing specs that sit inside the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact, it would be a more than reasonable assumption to believe the battery pack would have to be enormous. Instead, it sits at a rather meagre-sounding 2300mAh.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

Battery life is all relative though. For instance, the Galaxy S4 has a 2600mAh option, but has as much larger screen, less efficient CPU and more pixels to deal with, so I think this size to weight combo from Sony is spot on.

During general day to day use, I found that the battery behind the Xperia Z1 Compact was a lot more than sufficient.

To help properly quantify this, from 7am one day I sent and received four emails, 140 SMS messages, had a race on Asphalt 8 and took 70 pictures as well as uploading them via Wi-Fi to Dropbox in an area with patchy signal.

I still had a whopping 53% battery left at midnight. Lighter users should achieve two days' usage easily.

Despite coming with more powerful innards than the Galaxy S4 Mini and the HTC One Mini, I found that the battery life of the Xperia Z1 Compact was equally good, if not better. Where a day's use of the S4 Mini left me with just over 30%, the same usage of the Z1 Compact yielded around 20% higher.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

The Xperia Z1 Compact also performed well against the HTC One (which also packs in a 2300mAh battery) in day to day use.

The impressive battery life can be attributed to the smaller screen and lower resolution placing a lot less strain on the GPU (but then again, the same could be said of the Mini rivals), coupled with Sony's battery-saving techniques. Stamina mode is particularly impressive, as it cuts down the amount of work the phone has to do.

Turning this on gave an estimated boost from 11 hours of use to a whole day which was perfect, giving the Xperia Z1 Compact the extra juice to cope with being away from the charger, and really will stave off battery depletion in general day to day life.

Having the quick toggles in the notification bar also means that switching Wi-Fi on and off, as well as disabling GPS or mobile data (things that can heavily drain the battery) is really easy.

A special shout out should be saved for the Qualcomm 800 chip at the heart of the Z1 Compact too - it's a real power saver and, while it does seem to diminish over time the general efficiency is something that I've given a big thumbs up to.

The Sony Xperia Z1 Compact also comes with all the necessary connectivity options too; Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, 4G LTE and GPS are all catered for. This ensures it is able to compete against all the 4G-toting flagships.

The essentials

There are certain features that any modern smartphone should include, and one of those is the ability to make and receive phone calls.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

I found that calls always came through clearly, leaving no times where I was struggling to hear or struggling to be heard. Signal holding was also as impressive, getting and holding signal as well as the HTC One.

In-call options were limited to the standard Android options (speaker phone, Bluetooth, keyboard etc) which will suffice for most. However, I would like to see some more innovation here, as companies like Samsung have implemented features like instantly being able to re-dial or message a contact when you hang up.

The contacts app is clean and well designed, the addition of the letters down the right hand side making it supremely easy to navigate quickly.

The messaging options on the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact are also all in order without being spectacular. In order to accomplish this Sony has included a skinned SMS app, as well as the standard email and Gmail apps plus Google Hangouts.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

None of the apps are inspiring, yet are all completely functional. The SMS app look is customised with the phone's theme, meaning you can't set custom backgrounds and font styles. It's a little thing, but something that the Z1 Compact would feel smarter for having.

Missives are handled with the Xperia keyboard, which appears to be modelled on the superb Swiftkey keyboard.

Unfortunately, Sony seems to have taken a near-perfect third-party app and diminished its effectiveness; the space bar is far too short so I kept hitting the full stop button.

Regularly sending messages that read "Hello. How.are.you today?" proves to be more than a little frustrating. This is something that Sony really needs to look at, perhaps go back to the drawing board and change a little less of what makes Swiftkey so popular.

On the plus side you can remove the smiley key, which makes the spacebar slightly wider, but it's still not a particularly brilliant typing experience.

You could just download the original SwiftKey keyboard (or other decent alternatives on the market, although this is my favourite) but that will involve a little bit of cash. If you do buy this phone, I urge you to do so though.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

Unlike many OEMs, Sony hasn't included a version of the stock Android browser to sit alongside Google Chrome, thereby removing any confusion over which browser is best to use. Chrome has always been my preference as it syncs with the Chrome desktop browser, as well as any other devices.

Web browsing on the 4.3-inch screen was never going to be as pleasant as on a full five-inch flagship, but viewing sites on the Xperia Z1 Compact was still easy as text was legible and images were bright.

The downside to having no stock browser is that it misses out on Flash support, something that is built into the HTC browser. Text reflow is also missing. With all the extras added to the UI, Sony really could have given a little something extra to the Android browser.

It's also quite hard on the phone's power, as there was sometimes some lag scrolling around the screen when using Chrome. I've seen the same thing on the HTC One, which works fine on its own inbuilt browser, so be warned that you might not have a stellar browsing experience on the Z1 Compact.

Camera

Sony has clearly put a lot of work into the Xperia Z1 Compact's camera, and it shows. Based purely on specifications the 20.7MP sensor dwarfs almost the entire smartphone market, but Sony has also taken a look deeper.

The whole camera app is well designed, and comes with enough features to satisfy both the amateur photographer looking to come up with some creative snaps that they can post to Instagram or Twitter, as well as the more serious photographer looking for something to replace the need to carry a compact.

Standard images in well-lit conditions are second to none, although the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact does appear to suffer in lower light conditions. This is an area that HTC has pretty much nailed with its UltraPixel technology, and is a little disappointing in a camera that promises so much.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

The inclusion of a dedicated shutter button does wonders. Not only does it allow for the quick launch of the app and capture of images, it also allows the camera to focus before capture. Being completely waterproof it also lets you capture images underwater, something difficult if you have to hit an on-screen button.

The downside is that this button is very small, quite stiff and doesn't make it clear when you've actually depressed it or not - it's still good to have, but I've played with better on phones.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

An Augmented Reality mode allows the capture of images with a layer added over the top, whether it be a 60s disco mode that gives faces funky glasses and big hair, or the butterfly mode that adds a few plants and insects.

This is something that I can see really appealing to those with younger kids, as you can pretend that the Xperia Z1 Compact is magic and can peer into a world that people can't normally see.

Other creative modes include the ability to add effects such as sketch images, brighten colours or create a Kaleidoscope. These are perfect for those who want to create something that can be shared via social media, but add little else.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

One filter that I really enjoyed was the partial colour mode. The Xperia Z1 Compact brings up a black and white image of what you can see, only allowing one specific colour to be added to an otherwise monochromatic image.

While this allows the creation of some pretty spectacular images, the range of colour that is taken can sometimes be really disappointing. It would be better if you could select items rather than specific colours.

The mode most users will use is Superior Auto, as it automatically selects all the best presets based on what is in front of you. Sony has also included the ability to allow you to change certain things though, thereby appeasing the more experienced photographer.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

White balance can be changed, as well as exposure, and different scene modes can also be selected. These change the settings slightly in order to allow a better shot in certain conditions.

Sony has also included three other main modes on the Xperia Z1 Compact's camera, the fourth being a sweep panorama mode that functions in the same way as on every other smartphone.

These three modes are Info-eye, Timeshift Burst and Social live. Info-eye captures a photo and then offers up information about what you have just snapped in the same way as Google Goggles, only its integration into the camera app makes it feel a lot more useful.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

The second, Timeshift Burst, is something that users of Sony phones of old will be very used to. A series of images are captured before and after you press the shutter button and presented in a fan allowing you to swipe through images and choose which one is best.

This is a mode that will prove incredibly useful if you take a lot of photos of faces, or of children that just won't sit still.

The final mode worth noting is the Social live feature, which does exactly what you might expect from the name. If you've connected it up to Facebook it broadcasts a live feed to those that follow your news feed, perfect for those that want to hold live web chats.

My overall time with the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact's camera was one that left me slightly cold. It's not a bad snapper by any stretch of the imagination, but given it's got so much heritage in the imaging space it's actually confusing how badly the Superior Auto mode can perform indoors.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

The likes of the LG G2 are much better at analysing an image and using software to improve things - the Sony option ends up with a really muddy picture with elements distorted at the outlying areas.

Images in good light and strong outlines are excellent though; if you're looking for a really powerful camera the Z1 Compact won't disappoint.

However, if you want something for day to day photography then I suggest you look elsewhere - HTC's option is much clearer and faster, despite not giving you many snaps you'd want to pull out and frame.

Camera samples

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

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Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

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Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

Click here to see full resolution image

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

Click here to see full resolution image

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

Click here to see full resolution image

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

Click here to see full resolution image

Media

Given its background in media Sony should be able to produce a device that is more than capable when it comes to media playback. To that end, I want a great music player, the industry's best media player and the most intuitive way of looking through your photos.

The Xperia Z1 Compact is pretty close in a number of those categories, but I do still have some reservations.

But let's start with the positives: the music player is certainly well-equipped.

Music

Those with large media libraries are catered for with the inclusion of a microSD slot giving it an immediate advantage over the likes of the storage-restricted iPhone 5S or HTC One. The 720p screen also means that it's larger and clearer than the iPhone.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

The Walkman history comes into play with the Xperia Z1 Compact; Sony clearly playing on its heritage to tempt you over to its music playing app. There is more to the Walkman app than just media playing though, instead becoming the hub of all your music, including streaming.

Many will likely have subscriptions to the likes of Spotify or Deezer, but Sony also has its own Music Unlimited service that ships with nearly every Sony device from laptops to smart TVs. This is well integrated into the Walkman app, meaning that you don't feel pressured into signing up, but Sony will be pleased to hear that it can prove tempting.

However, that's the initial stage. And it's pretty fiddly to remove the Music Unlimited stuff that's there from the outset - loads of tiles designed to farm you towards paying money to have a subscription.

And it's a poor service - sure, it works across a number of devices, but signing up is a connection nightmare and the speed of streaming or even loading albums a joke at times. I know it's not the only reason to use the app, but it's so tightly integrated it really irritates.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

In fairness, the number of songs available actually exceeds those to be found on Spotify, but such is the inadequacy of search it feels like there are many missing when there aren't. However, at least you're not bombarded by a million covers of the song you actually want, which is one of many users' biggest bugbears with Spotify.

In terms of pure music playback, the Walkman app is more than sufficient, providing all the necessary controls in a visually pleasing shell. I found the bright colours that changed with each album's artwork to be a nice change from the far duller and less colourful experience on iPhones or Samsungs.

The external speaker is also well placed for music playback. Sitting alongside the bottom end of the phone means that when laying down music isn't muffled. Volume was similarly not an issue.

With the Z1 Compact on a shelf and working on the other side of the room I was still able to hear the music. It is no rival to the BoomSound on the HTC One, but more effective than the Galaxy S4 Mini, and comes with xLoud ability that boosts output pleasantly.

Placement of the external speaker could cause problems on the Xperia Z1, as when watching movies it can be a little frustrating to have sound largely reaching only one ear. This isn't a problem I encountered, as I found the majority of movies were watched with headphones on.

Movies

Being only 4.3 inches does mean that the Xperia Z1 Compact lacks a little for those who want to be able to watch a lot of movies on the commute. For them, the larger-screened flagships such as the Galaxy S4 or phablets like the Xperia Z Ultra would be far more appropriate.

The screen has had a lot of attention lavished on it since the Xperia Z1 however, with Sony giving the Z1 Compact the same IPS and TriLuminous technology that are found in the much larger Xperia Z Ultra. This solved problems that were originally found with colour reproduction and viewing angles, it's good to see Sony taking note.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

However I wasn't impressed with the brightness on side-loaded videos, with most erring on the dark side even with brightness turned right up. It's a long way from other devices, but given that this isn't the phone for the movie fan, I can't see it being a huge problem.

Sony's movies app is well designed, being both attractive and highly functional. Load it up, and the last movie you were watching plays silently in the background meaning you're not left looking at a static screen.

It's only a small touch but is something that will delight and makes you feel you're playing with a premium device.

Also included for movies is Sony's Video Unlimited app. I was a little sceptical about the inclusion, but the app is very well stocked with some of the most recent films and doesn't require a monthly subscription. Movies can be downloaded or rented with prices matching those of purchasing or renting a DVD.

All media can be 'thrown' via DLNA, allowing streaming to devices such as Smart TVs. The Xperia Z1 Compact also allows the screen to be mirrored, perfect for watching movies or showing off all your photos on the big screen.

The bad news is I found that this didn't work as well as I'd hoped, with the connection often timing out before the screen was mirrored.

It's the bane of smartphone connections everywhere, and until it's made perfect the general public won't see this as a reason to buy a top-end handset.

Games

Gaming is handled superbly on the Xperia Z1 Compact with the four cores sat behind the screen handling even the more graphically intensive games with ease. Racing in Asphalt 8 was nothing short of a pleasure, with the lower resolution also helping the Adreno 330 GPU to keep things running smoothly.

Sony has also included its PlayStation store to grant access to a wider range of apps and games that cannot be found on the Play store. These games can seem expensive though, and the range on offer was not as wide as that of the Google alternative.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

One of the greatest advantages that the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact has for gaming is that it doesn't need a separate Bluetooth controller, as it can connect to the DualShock controller used with the PlayStation 3. This makes mobile gaming a lot easier, although needing a (separately purchased) USB cable renders it a little pointless.

If Sony think of a way to connect the two wirelessly, the Xperia Z1 Compact would make a great portable games console, connecting to TVs via the screen mirroring, but right now it will remain a cool feature that most won't bother with for a while yet unless you take a trip to Amazon and get a cut price option.

The competition

The Sony Xperia Z1 Compact is a phone that looks Mini but packs a Mighty punch. The key thing to realise here is that it's a phone that isn't a rival to the mid-range market, but a brilliant example of a smartphone for those that don't want a massive screen.

So what of the rivals - how does it compare to the cream of the competition?

The one they all want to be

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

Chances are that if you're looking at purchasing the Xperia Z1 Compact, you will have at least thought about buying an iPhone 5S. Apple's handsets are well known for their media capabilities, as well as the wide range of apps on Apple's App Store.

There is no doubt that despite the many leaps and bounds that the Android Play Store has made, and the inclusion of the PlayStation store, that the App Store is ahead in terms of app population and app quality.

Apple has also managed to create a really tight ecosystem that syncs together almost perfectly; apps and data sync from iPhones to iPads to iMacs and MacBooks, making them more useful for people who hop between devices.

The iPhone 5S falters when it comes to screen resolution though, with the Xperia Z1 Compact managing to pack a 720p display into a similar size, making it more pleasant for watching movies and playing games. It is also easier to hold with its rounder edges, is waterproof and takes higher quality images.

The big rival

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

Samsung's flagship Galaxy S4 is currently retailing at a very similar price tag to the Xperia Z1 Compact, with identical contracts seen. On the whole it seems that you may be getting more for your money with the Samsung too.

Its larger and higher res screen make it ideal for watching movies and for heavy web browsing, but also put a larger strain on the battery. The Galaxy S4 was a device that was built with media consumption in mind; media creation appears to have been put more on the back foot.

This means that the Xperia Z1 Compact beats the Galaxy S4 hands down when it comes to image capture.

The high-end specs also mean that it comes with slightly more powerful innards, although day to day use is largely fairly similar. Its smaller stature makes the Sony easier to hold, and the glass/metal construction also make it seem more fitting of a more premium price tag.

Sony's miniature marvel also excels in terms of battery life thanks to the Snapdragon 800 chip powering things along, something that the Galaxy S4 struggles with.

The Minis

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

With smaller screened and baby flagships proving to be one of the hottest areas of the mobile market, the Xperia Z1 Compact has a true fight on its hands in the form of the superb Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini and the HTC One Mini.

On paper the Z1 Compact has the beatings of both handsets; with double the number of cores, a lot more RAM and a better screen, be it quality or resolution. The HTC One Mini sports a 720p screen too (but isn't as vibrant), sitting alongside the Z1 Compact in beating the S4 Mini's qHD (960x540) screen.

Camera-wise the Xperia also smashes the S4 Mini and the One Mini, dwarfing the 8MP and four 'UltraPixels' found in those respective handsets. The HTC has the beating of the Z1 Compact in low light situations, though, as it captures more light with those larger pixels.

Neither the S4 Mini nor the HTC One Mini come waterproofed either, although all these extra features on the Z1 Compact do mean that it comes with a heftier price tag.

Hands on images

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

Verdict

The Xperia Z1 Compact is a phone that could prove vitally important to Sony if it is to help take on the dominance of Samsung and Apple in the mobile market.

Pitched with a smaller screen, it aims to challenge the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini and HTC One Mini in the stakes to be king of the baby flagship while being a great option for those who just won't compromise on specs.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

We Liked

The biggest draw of the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact has to be its flagship power. Packing four cores clocked at 2.2GHz and 2GB RAM into a shell that fits snugly around a 4.3-inch screen is something that can't have been done all that easily, yet all that power pays dividends, allowing for high-end gaming and super fast navigation.

l'm impressed by the Snapdragon 800 chip, bringing great power efficiency and strong 4G performance, and it's put to the best use yet in the Z1 Compact.

Design wise, the smaller Z1 also ticks all the right boxes. Sony has crafted a supremely gorgeous device that sits perfectly in one hand and forgoes all the issues that were found with the five-inch Xperia Z1.

On top of looking decent, the Xperia Z1 Compact's design is also highly functional as it is waterproof; perfect for those that have a habit of dropping phones in the bath.

In well lit situations its photos are second to none, and it packs a wide range of features that aren't available on other handsets. If you have kids, the AR mode will prove invaluable and those who need a decent camera with them for work will be well served by the 20.7MP offering.

We disliked

One of my biggest gripes with the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact has to be that keyboard. It is far too fiddly, the spacebar in particular isn't long enough and results in every other space being a full stop. For a keyboard based on what is probably the best third-party offering out there it was really disappointing.

The glass construction also proved to be a little frustrating. For those who find having a grubby screen one of the most annoying things in the world, having that problem replicated on the back of the Xperia Z1 Compact will be a massive bugbear.

The rounded edges make things a little chunky-feeling too, but that's largely subjective... the people I showed it to were divided, some thinking that the glass / metal combo was excellent, and some finding it over the top.

Low light photography was also noticeably poor, just as it was on the original Xperia Z1. I'm surprised this hasn't been improved on since the Z1, and would have meant that the Z1 Compact came way out on top of the HTC One and One Mini in terms of indoor and darker photography.

I also really take issue with the Sony subscriptions stuffed on there - Music Unlimited is too poor to warrant being so front and centre, and the Video Unlimited isn't that different from the rest out there, although is a good place to sniff out a movie and excellent if you've got a PlayStation in the living room.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

Verdict

The Sony Xperia Z1 Compact is the perfect device for those who think that some of the leading smartphones are just too big, but still want the best specs on the market.

Those top-end innards crammed into a smaller device means high-end power isn't missing for those with smaller hands, or if you want something more akin to the iPhone 5S.

Sony has addressed a lot of the problems that were found on the original Xperia Z1, and has created a superb handset in doing so. The screen doesn't suffer from the same poor viewing angles the Z1's did, although it will never be able to live up to the size and resolutions that modern flagships pack in.

A lot of focus will also be on the camera, and rightly so. The Xperia Z1 Compact's camera will often leave you wondering what the point of the traditional compact camera is, unless you plan to take a lot of photos inside or at night. It's a shame that potential of this 20.1MP Bionz / Exmor RS sensor isn't fully exploited - I was actually left rather confused as to why it can result in such noisy and muddy pictures.

Were it not for that (and the overbearing services Sony is pushing, which don't really add a lot) this would be an almost perfect phone, especially for a segment crying out for something like this.

But here's the upshot: the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact is, once again, the best phone the Japanese company has ever produced. It's attacked a segment of the market that's been underloved very well, and done it at an almost-perfect price point.

The Z1 Compact is a phone with the prowess of all that Sony has to offer but in a package a lot of people will love - here's hoping it gets the attention it deserves.

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