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sony xperia z1 compact review 3

As far as back the days of the Cybershot range, Sony has long leveraged its SLR smarts for its cameraphones. And the Xperia Z1 Compact is very much in that tradition.

So how does it stack up against the likes of HTC’s UltraPixel lens? And what about the iPhone 5S’s eight-megapixel, light-loving, f/ 2.2 aperture-augmented snapper? Is this the handset that means you can finally ditch your dedicated camera? Read on and we’ll try and answer your questions.

First impressions and design

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How times change. Just three or four years ago, any phone with a 4-inch screen was considered large.

Now here we have the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact, which – alongside the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini and HTC One Mini – is thought of as small, even though its 4.3-inch screen is still bigger than the iPhone’s.

So really, it’s not a small phone. It’s just small in comparison to the 5- and 6-inch goliaths we’ve seen of late.

But what makes it stand out from the other mini versions of flagship mobiles is the specs.

Most of these diddy devices make concessions when it comes to the hard numbers, but the Xperia Z1 Compact packs pretty much the same technical abilities as its bigger brother, the 5-inch Z1. No mean feat.

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It has the same all-glass front and back as well, which gives it a real premium feel.

And it feels reassuringly well made, too, all the more so considering it’s waterproof in up to 1m of water for up to half an hour.

This (literally) watertight design is a world away from the faux-leather that Samsung seems so keen on bolting onto the back of its handsets.

The Z1 Compact also comes in a range of four colours: white, pink, green, or black.

They’re not quite as bright as the iPhone 5C or Nokia’s Lumia range, but it’s nice to have the choice all the same.

Software

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Software-wise, we’re looking at Android, but it’s 4.3 Jelly Bean rather than 4.4 KitKat.

Sony has confirmed the Z1 Compact will get the update to KitKat at some point, though we’re waiting to hear exactly when that’ll be.

Sony has skinned Android with its own UI, which makes its own services pretty prominent.

Nothing wrong with that, though it’s not quite as slick an experience as bare bones pure Android.

Sony has added its own folders for photos and videos too, doing away with the Gallery app found on devices running stock Android.

Other Sony additions include apps for a Walkman music player, PlayStation Mobile, Sony Select (essentially another app store besides Google Play), TrackID (which is like Shazam), Video Unlimited, Xperia Lounge and Xperia Privilege.

Nothing game-changing then, but extras all the same.

Features

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This is the real selling point of the Z1 Compact. In terms of meat and potatoes, it’s pretty much the same handset as the full-size Z1.

That means it packs a fantastic 20.7-megapixel camera which takes excellent shots.

Side by side with pictures from our (admittedly rather lacklustre) Nexus 4, the Z1 Compact’s look stunning, with sharper edges and much more vibrant colours.

The Z1 Compact’s snaps also came out much more detailed.

Inside is a stonking 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chip. Partner that with 2GB of RAM, and the handset runs like a dream.

Flicking around Android is a cinch, with menus moving as quick as you can prod them.

It also handled all the movies and games we could throw at it, with no noticeable slowdown.

Compare it to the other mini mobiles at this size, and the results are even more impressive.

The only real sacrifice is the screen. Instead of the 5-inch, 1080p jobby found on the full-size Xperia Z1, the Z1 Compact sports a 4.3-inch display with a resolution of 1,280x720 pixels.

You might think this is a bit of a step down, but not at all. You don’t really need a higher resolution at this size.

And it actually packs a higher pixel per inch rating than the iPhone 5S – 342ppi for the Z1 Compact, compared to 326ppi for Apple’s flagship.

So it’s really not a compromise at all.

4G comes as standard, as does NFC for quick and easy wireless transfers. Both are a huge plus at this size.

It has a microSD card slot too, for expanding the 16GB memory by an extra 64GB. This is another boon, considering the likes of the Nexus 5 go without to keep the price down.

Usability

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This all sounds very impressive on paper, but it’s when you start using the phone for yourself that you really find out how good it is.

If you have small hands, or are just tired of trying to grapple with phones the size of small televisions, the Z1 Compact is a godsend.

The smaller screen is great for web browsing and generally using the phone one-handed. But despite its diminutive size, videos and games still look fantastic on it.

The camera is especially impressive.

In the past, if you wanted snaps of this quality you’d have to go for the chunky Nokia Lumia 1020, or the full-size Xperia Z1.

How Sony has managed to cram in such awesome processing to a package this small is nothing short of a marvel.

At 9.5mm thick, the Z1 Compact is 1mm fatter than its bigger brother, and almost 2mm more portly than the iPhone 5S.

But that’s a very small price to pay considering how much more compact it is.

With fairly heavy use, including browsing, emailing, watching videos and playing games, we got a full day out of the battery, no sweat.

With more conservative usage, it should be well into day two before it needs a recharge.

Verdict

Most mini mobiles so far have been a disappointment, but with the Xperia Z1 Compact, Sony has bucked the trend, and for that it should be applauded. It packs high-end specs into a tight and very premium-feeling chassis.

Throw in waterproof skills, and you’ve got a very real challenger to the iPhone 5S for the best sub-4.5-inch handset around.

It is pretty pricey, unfortunately, costing £449.95 SIM free, or free on contracts starting at £27 a month. But that’s just the cost of these kinds of specs.

And it doesn’t come with the latest version of Android, which is annoying.

But for anyone who wants a more reasonably-sized phone that runs Google’s OS, and doesn’t want to compromise on the specs, it’s ideal.

Key specs

  • Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean), upgradable to 4.4.2 (KitKat)
  • 16GB internal storage
  • microSD 64 GB
  • 4.3-inch shatterproof glass screen
  • 20.7-megapixel camera
  • NFC
  • 4G

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