The Sony Xperia Z3 Compact is the latest addition to the Sony Xperia series of Android smartphones. As the name suggests, the device is largely based on the design of the new Xperia Z3, but with a reduced form factor that uses a 4.6 inch screen that means it can be pitted directly against the new 4.7 inch iPhone 6. There is little doubt that the Z3 Compact can compete as Sony have managed to create real gem of a smartphone that does not compromise on features or performance. Read on for our detailed take on the Sony Xperia Z3 compact.
Sony Xperia Z3 Compact: Hardware Overview
Before we go any further let’s paint a picture of what you are getting with the Xperia Z3 Compact in raw hardware terms. One thing that jumps out at me immediately is the inclusion of a genuine flagship-class processor, the Snapdragon 801 from Qualcomm. This is the same chip we saw used on the Samsung Galaxy S5, HTC One and both current and previous flagship 5 inch devices from Sony; the Xperia Z2 and Z3. This is fantastic to see and places the Z3 Compact on a higher plain than most other compact design revisions like the HTC One Mini 2 and the recent LG G3 S, both of which use the Snapdragon 400 chip, a thoroughly mid-tier offering compared to the 801.
Other key specs include 2GB of RAM, an attractive 720p IPS LCD display, water and dust proofing, plus a 20.7MP camera that promises to deliver the same exceptional photos that we saw on the Xperia Z2, and more recently the Z3. Apart from the reduction in screen resolution, these are very close to what Sony and other manufacturers pack in to their top range offerings. The hardware used here is on the Z3 Compact is top class, and a higher grade of hardware than we usually see on a device of this size.
Before digging deep in this written review, don’t forget to check out our video, in which I get some very valuable input from our very own Nicole Scott, a true Sony Fangirl:
Xperia Z3 Compact: Full Specifications
Here are the specifications of the Xperia Z3 Compact in a table side by side with those of the Xperia Z3, HTC One Mini 2 and LG G3 S.
Sony Xperia Z3 Compact: Specifications Comparison Table
|Sony Xperia Z3 Compact||Sony Xperia Z3||LG G3 S||HTC One Mini 2|
Super LCD 2
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 801|
|Qualcomm Snapdragon 801|
|Qualcomm Snapdragon 400|
|Qualcomm Snapdragon 400|
|Storage||16GB||16GB / 32GB||8GB||16GB|
|microSD||Up to 128GB||Up to 128GB||up to 64 GB||16GB|
|Cameras||20.7MP & 2.2MP||20.7MP & 2.2MP||8 MP & 1.3MP|
(plus Laser Focus)
|13MP & 5MP|
|Thickness||8.6 mm||7.3 mm||10.3 mm||10.6 mm|
|Weight||129 grams||152 grams||134 grams||137 grams|
|OS||Android 4.4.4 KitKat||Android 4.4.4 KitKat||Android 4.4.2 KitKat||Android 4.4.2 KitKat|
It is clear to see that the Z3 Compact shares more in common with its larger Z3 brethren than either the LG G3 S or the HTC One Mini 2, especially when it comes down to processors and cameras. The Xperia Z3 Compact is also the lightest of the four models at just under 130 grams, yet it contains a battery larger than all but the larger Z3. Once again Sony flexes its muscles in the battery stakes – more on this later.
Xperia Z3 Compact: Design and Build Quality
Sony has created a really compelling design ethos with its headline Xperia Z series phones. The combination of glass and metal has certainly earned the company plenty of accolades, and while the Z3 Compact does not use the same Gorilla Glass in the devices construction, it still manages to replicate the outstanding good looks and solid feel of previous the Xperia phones that we have had the pleasure of using. There are key differences between the latest Xperia Z3 and the Z3 Compact however; the Z3 Compact uses more plastic than the Z3 which employs plastic for the corners of the device but curved, iodized metal on the sides. The plastic almost feels rubbery and just as it is used on the Z3 to protect the corners from damaging falls, it could well be used on the Z3 Compact to help with grip, a more pressing concern on smaller device perhaps.
The Z3 Compact uses tempered glass on the entire front of the device – a design that ends up looking not entirely dislike what we saw on the iPhone 5 and 5S. While the sides are made up of several plastic panels, the corners are actually separate pieces of rounded plastic, a design that apparently helps improve durability. The power button is positioned in the familiar Sony fashion just over half way up the right hand edge and is made of aluminum. Below that sits the volume rocker with a camera shot button below that nearer to the bottom of the phone.
The in-hand feel is exceptionally solid, but without feeling overly heavy. The device cannot be opened and thus uses a non-removable battery. SIM card and microSD card access is via a flap on the upper left side edge. The flap also covers the devices USB port and clicks snugly into place to form part of the phones’ water and dust proof design. As with all Xperia Z series devices there are two metal studs on the center of the right edge that are designed to allow the device to work in conjunction with a Sony charging dock as well as Sony Remote Play which integrates the device with your PlayStation 4.
The rear cover of the Z3 Compact is made of plastic, not glass as we have seen with previous Xperia designs including the Z3. The use of plastic however is not actually that obvious as Sony is using one piece of non-removable high grade plastic (possibly something similar to industrial grade Perspex) that does a fantastic job of imitating real glass.
Overall the design and build quality we have here are exceptional. Sony has managed to create a very attractive compact version of what we saw on the Z3. The beautifully curved aluminum edges are gone, as is the glass back panel, all in favor of plastic, but the truth is Sony is totally getting away with it. It feels almost as good as the Z3. Almost. It’s actually very close to being a loyal version of the Z3, which is high praise indeed. Let’s not forget either that the Z3 Compact is also IP68 certified which means it is dust and water resistant for over 1 meter for 30 mins. Good enough for a swim if you look after your flappage…
Sony Xperia Z3 Compact: Gallery
Display: Triluminos 720p
As a company, Sony are one of the few around that can compete with Samsung in the field of display technology. Sony have been making flat screen TVs and displays since their inception and are pioneers and leaders in the field. The Xperia Z3 Compact combines a potent mix of several Sony display technologies including Triluminos Display, Live Color LED and X-Reality. Despite the over zealous marketing going on, the display truly is one of the most impressive 720p panels you will ever meet.
Sony touts the Z3 Compact as having one of the brightest displays they have ever produced, and I can believe that. The brightness levels here are incredible. At full brightness levels indoors you may feel that the company have gone overboard. This is as bright as anything I have seen, including the Samsung Galaxy S5 and its incredible Super AMOLED display.
Sony Triluminos display technology looks after the colors generated by the pixels of the display, and in fairness, it looks great. The colors are stunning, bright, crisp and very accurate. This is also thanks to Live Color LED that pushes color saturation with filters in place to avoid over saturation and maintain evenness.
Let’s just be honest here. This is a great display. Hardcore geeks may turn their nose up at a 720p display, especially as we are now seeing more QHD (2560 x 1440) screens arrive on the market, but don’t be fooled. The quality of the panel and the pixels it uses, is way more important than sheer pixel count. The display on the Z3 Compact is glorious and well worthy of any top tier device.
Camera: 20.7MP Sony Exmor RS
Sony has long developed its own in-house camera technologies, and generally speaking, the company’s Exmor RS sensor technology is one of the strongest smartphone camera sensors around. We have also seen Sony act as a third party supplier, with Exmor RS sensors appearing on the OnePlus One and Huawei Ascend Mate 7, both excellent smartphone camera offerings. However, we would expect Sony to keep the very best for themselves, and from what we are seeing on the Xperia Z3 Compact, that certainly seems to be the case.
The Xperia Z3 Compact features a 20.7MP camera with auto-focus, and LED Flash that features a 1/2.3″ Exmor RS image sensor. This is a larger sensor that has a 25mm wide angle Sony G lens so you are physically fit more into your photos, plus it has the highest ISO sensitivity we have ever seen, reaching an incredible 12,800 ISO level. In terms of video recording the Z3 Compact is capable of 4K video recording, shooting at 3,840 x 2,160 resolution with the option to playback the content on compatible 4K TVs using an MHL 3.0 connector. The device also sports a really well made two stage shooter button, that makes taking photos on your smartphone much easier than stabbing at the screen with your finger.
In terms of the hardware used, the Z3 Compact uses identical hardware to the Xperia Z3. This validates Sony’s positioning for the Compact as a true flagship device, packaged in slightly smaller device. And just as Nicole found with her Xperia Z3 review, it really is one of the best cameras that you will find on a smartphone. Check out some of the sample pics we took. Most of them using the Superior Auto mode, which selects the ideal settings for each photo.
In terms of modes and apps available, Sony has added a broad range of apps, plus the opportunity to download and install more.You will find Superior auto, Manual mode (adjust settings by hand), Sound Photo (that allows you to take a photo along side a short audio clip), AR effects and AR fun Fun (adds an array of virtual objects or virtual scenes including animated dinosaurs…) Multi camera (records the same scene using both front and rear cameras), Face in (adds a selfie to any photo). There are also 4K video mode, Timeshift Video (120fps shooting with slow motion), Creative Effects (a selection real-time filters), Info-Eye (attempts to show you more information about what you are looking at), Timeshift Burst and Sweep Panorama. This is the full array of Sony camera apps, and identical to what you will find on the Xperia Z3.
Here is a shot taken using the DeFocus Mode which is very similar to what we have seen on competing products, allowing you to focus on either near or far aspects of the shot. Sony even gives you a slider to dictate how much blur to add.
The large sensor really makes a difference in reasonably low light situations. Don’t get me wrong, it is not going to save you in the dark (although the LED flash is very useful), but when the light is in short supply you find that many smartphone cameras get quite noisy. The Z3 Compact manages to avoid this and actually gives you very realistic and natural looking snaps even when the light is far from optimal. In many of the shots below, it was almost twilight, but the Z3 Compact manages to make it look like a slightly overcast day. This is really impressive.
As we have seen on other flagship devices in the past six months, the Z3 Compact can get a little hot when shooting 4K for extended periods (there is a warning the first time you shoot 4K), but in reality you are more likely to run out of storage space on the 8GB unit as 1 min of 4K footage will take up around 400MB.
The main take away from using the Xperia Z3 Compact’s camera, is that you are getting a real flagship experience. Sony has not compromised on the hardware used here. It’s as good as a smartphone camera gets.
Sony Xperia Z3 Compact Photo Gallery
Snapdragon 801 Performance
When it comes raw, under the hood performance, the Xperia Z3 Compact is a monster. In many of the benchmarks we ran, we were seeing equivalent or even superior test results to the Samsung Galaxy S5, a device widely regarded as the top dog of flagship smartphones. This is not so surprising because the Z3 Compact uses the current top tier offering from Qualcomm, the Snapdragon 801, a quad-core mobile processor that is clocked at 2.5GHz and is joined by the Adreno 330 graphics core. So far in 2014, the Snapdragon 801 is one of the best you can find and was featured in all this year’s top Android products, including the OnePlus One, the Xiaomi Mi4, the HTC One M8, the Galaxy S5, LG G3 and of course both Sony Xperia Z2 and Z3 devices. Only the new Snapdragon 805 featured on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has the right to lord over the 801. Expect to see the 805 arrive on Sony’s Z4 in six month’s time.
Check out the benchmarks below. The Xperia Z3 Compact is mini power house:
Sony Xperia Z3 Compact: Benchmark Comparison
|Sony Xperia Z3 Compact||Sony Xperia Z3||Samsung Galaxy S5||HTC One M8|
|GFX Bench Manhattan||11.7fps||11.5fps||11.1fps|
|GFX Bench T-Rex||27.4fps||24.7fps||27.1fps||28.2fps|
|3DMark - Ice Storm||19363||19030||18373||20594|
During some fairly intense gaming we did notice a little heat develop, but actually no more other phones in this class. The Adreno 330 GPU churns through the top games with ease, not least because its working with fewer pixels. In fact, you could argue that the Z3 Compact manages to score as well as it does in 3D gaming testing because its lower resolution display makes such an impact. Compare the LG G3 and its QHD display, that is basically like tying the 801 processor to a large rock compared to what we have here.
Never before have I actually been a bit pissed off at a phone because it was taking so long to benchmark – in all truth, that is what happened with the Z3 Compact. The Laptop Magazine Battery Test that we usually use just went on and on for hours. The final result was an astounding 16hours, 33mins. The device is fitted with a large 2,600mAh battery, which is actully quite large for a device of this form factor. Consider the iPhone 6 (the top competitor device in this space perhaps?) and its 1,810mAh battery; Sony again is delivering.
The down side of course is that the battery is non-removable, as with many of the top tier smartphones which opt for a more solid, uni-body design. There are great options to extend battery life also with Sony’s Stamina Mode options. Ultra Stamina mode will turn off data, allowing only less power hungry applications and services which include phone, contacts, messaging, camera, album, calendar, alarm and clock, calculator and FM radio. No web browsing. There is also Low Battery mode which is totally customizable in terms of which functions and services you want to enable and disable, including things like Bluetooth, GPS, mobile data and more.
In general you would have to say that the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact really proves Sony’s strength in terms of battery life. All day. Two days or even three days for lighter users. This is excellent battery life. Industry-leading even.
Software: The Sony Xperia UI
The Sony Xperia Android UI on the Xperia Z3 Compact is in essence the same as what we found on the Xperia Z3. They are virtually indistinguishable and carry Sony’s distinctive flavor of Android. The UI is slick, very well thought out and performs really well, with no stuttering or lagginess. When it comes to Themes, there are several available on the device, but Sony will want you to drop a few dollars in the tin if you want a broader selection. The default theme contains a Sony swoosh styled animated wallpaper that changes color every hour. It’s not revolutionary, but it is elegant and inoffensive.
Delve deeper and there are options for Live Wallpapers (mostly stock Android ones) but with plenty of options for some good looking Xperia Wallpapers.
In terms of navigation, the Xperia Ui has plenty to write home about. I like the way you can swipe down from the top of the screen to access notifications, but two fingers will take you directly to quick settings which can be customized to your heart’s content. There are plenty of widgets you add to your home screen and like vanilla Android you do have an app draw from which to launch apps that don’t need to be on the home screen. Sony is doing a good job of balancing the amount of apps that are pre-installed, giving you a broad range of apps that you would expect from any Android Kit Kat device, without going overboard and moving into bloatware territory.
One exception perhaps is the What’s New app/widget which is installed by default and resides to the left of your home screen. The app showcases Sony selected apps and content. Hhmm… not a fan. This is one of the first things I would be tempted to remove. Likewise Sony Lifelog is a major data mining app that maps out your life according to what data the sensors of the phone received including steps walked, what music you listened to, what apps you use most, how well you slept, how much you spent on Facebook etc. I don’t do fitness apps, but Lifelog, takes things to an almost uncomfortable level. Who gets this data? Sony? Ok, who else?
Overall, the look and feel of the Xperia UI is ok. I would however, reference some really good looking modern Android interpretations from Huawei, Xiaomi, ASUS and LG for example who, in my opinion, have managed to make Sony seem a little dated. When it comes to icon design, themes and wallpapers, Sony may have to think about modernizing their approach. Many of the companies I just mentioned will also give you much more in the way of customization with icons and wallpapers that seem a touch more modern than what Sony are offering.
Sony Xperia Z3 Compact: Final Thoughts
The Sony Xperia Z3 Compact really is a true flagship, in miniature. In fact, side by side with the Xperia Z3, you could hardly describe it as a small phone. The 4.6 inch display puts it squarely in iPhone 6 territory, so we should probably describe as competing in the mainstream smartphone space, a space where it must surely excel. It is a beautifully crafted, solid smartphone with plenty of highlights that make it standout from the crowd. Performance is top, top grade. The rear facing camera is one of the best you will ever use on a smartphone and the battery life is quite simply off the chart.
These are all plenty of reasons for us to recommend the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact. Possibly the best sub-five inch smartphone on the market right now.
Don’t forget to check out our full and detailed review of the Sony Xperia Z3: