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Smartphones are getting bigger every passing year and everyone excepts Apple to hop on the mega screen smartphone bandwagon. If you keep on asking yourself for a device which is high-end yet fits in your hand, your options are pretty limited. Until the launch of the Xperia Z1 Compact, there was no real competition to the iPhone 5C and iPhone 5S which come under ultra-premium compact smartphone category with high-end features.
Unlike other “mini” versions of flagship smartphones such as Galaxy S4 Mini and HTC One Mini, the Xperia Z1 Compact shares all the high-end features with the Xperia Z1 except its form factor. It comes with a 4.3″ screen instead of a 5″ one which makes the device very comfortable to hold.
The Xperia Z1 Compact is priced at US$100 lower than the original Xperia Z1. So is it the mini you have been waiting for?
Design and Build Quality
Sony has given huge importance to design in all of its smartphones, be it the high-end or the low-end. They all look like a part of the family due to straight and symmetrical design patterns. The Xperia Z1 Compact uses metal for its side frame while the front is covered by Gorilla Glass 2. The device looks very premium and comes in four colour options; white, black, yellow and pink. Sony has once again used wide bezels around the screen which makes it slightly larger than it should be. Two things which can be somewhat irritating about its design are its camera lens placement and back surface. The camera lens is towards the edge of the device and you can see a part of your finger in some of your images every now and then. Unlike the Xperia Z1, the back cover is made of a plastic material which makes it prone to scratches within no time.
The volume rocker and camera shutter hardware button, which are on the right side, felt slightly smaller than they should be. The microSD card slot, micro USB port and the micro SIM card slot are covered with air tight plastic flaps to stop water from seeping into the device which makes it IP57/58 water-resistant. Gladly, Sony worked hard enough to make the headphone jack go away with the necessity of a similar air-tight flap. Otherwise it would have been quite irritating for the users to remove and place the flaps every time they use headphones. The device is also dust and shock resistant. Overall the device is very comfortable to hold, although not as comfortable as the Moto G or the Moto X.
Display Quality and Audio Performance
Of all the smartphones released by Sony in the past couple of years, display was the area that needed to most improve and the company’s done pretty good work in that regard. The Xperia Z1 improved in colour accuracy, brightness and contrast but the viewing angles were unacceptable. The Xperia Z1 Compact has improved in that aspect as well. It features the best display ever in a Sony smartphone.
Its 4.3″ IPS LCD might be smaller but has very good viewing angles, brightness and contrast. Even the black levels are as good as any LCD panel can get. It can even be operated with gloves on. White balance settings can be used to tune the screen according to your taste.
The audio quality through headphones is very good. WALKMAN media player provides dozens of audio settings to play with including ClearAudio+, Dynamic Normaliser, ClearBass, Equaliser and VPT Surround Sound settings. Activating the ClearAudio+ option disables the equaliser and VPT because it tunes the audio according to the music which is being played back. The loudspeaker isn’t good though. The volume output is very low, probable the lowest in recent times. You can easily miss calls in noisy environments. There was no problem in cellular or wifi signal reception though.
The Xperia Z1 Compact features the exact same camera which is used in the Xperia Z1. The 1/2.3 inch Exmor RS camera sensor is one of the largest in the market, second only to the Lumia 1020. The Sony G lens and a single LED flash complete the primary camera hardware. There is no OIS though. Even the 2MP front-facing camera can shoot full HD videos at 30 frames per second. The actual image quality is one of the best in the industry, only behind the Lumia 1020 and Lumia 1520. Although subjects near the edges of images appear a bit blurry due to slight shortcoming of the Sony G lens. Videos recorded through this device shows effects of jumpy autofocus. Also, due to lack of OIS, the videos aren’t as smooth as the ones recorded through Lumia 1020. Images clicked while recording videos have a resolution of 2MP as opposed to at least 4MP which other high-end smartphones are providing.
On the camera UI and software side of things, a lot of additional options and effects are provided. Sony has a unique camera UI where third-party developed camera add-on apps can be downloaded and installed, which are then displayed with the camera modes. Background Defocus mode takes two images for a great bokeh effect, just like the DSLR cameras or the Nokia Refocus camera app. For capturing high-speed subjects, Timeshift Burst can be used which clicks 61 images within two seconds. The desired or all the images can be saved. Motiongraph Camera add-on app can make instant GIFs by recording two seconds of videos which can then be manipulated with different effects.
Internal Hardware and Performance Guts
It features the same 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor which is used in all the high-end smartphones this year. It combines four high performance Krait 400 CPU cores with powerful Adreno 330 GPU. There is even 2GB RAM. Out of 16GB internal storage, around 12 GB is available to the user. Storage capacity can be expanded using a microSD card slot up to an additional 64GB. The device performed completely lag-free while playing high-end games, web browsing, multitasking or any multimedia processes. I tested two graphics intensive games; Real Racing and The Amazing Spiderman. Both ran extremely smoothly. It scores one of the highest in AnTuTu and GFXBench. Other hardware includes proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, gyroscope and compass all of which work without any problem. Flash drives, external storage devices, keyboards and mice can be used through USB OTG and USB Host.
Operating System and UI
The Xperia Z1 Compact was released with Android 4.3 Jelly Bean. But after the launch of Sony Xperia Z2, Sony has rolled out the latest Android 4.4.2 KitKat for Z1 Compact which brings UI and performance improvements along with new camera modes and options. The whole UI is one of the most polished ones around with a lot of customisability options. Being a Sony Xperia smartphone, it comes with an attractive, downloadable themes and nicely designed widgets. Three mini apps can be opened at once from the multitasking menu and they come in quite handy at times. Quick Setting toggles can be customised, activated or deactivated as per preferences. You can also set which applications can show you notifications. Even system icons can be enabled or disabled.
Connectivity Options and Battery Endurance
Other than usual connectivity features such as 42Mbps HSPA+, dual-band WiFi ac/b/g/n, Bluetooth v4.0 + LE and microUSB v2.0, there are a lot of advanced options such as NFC, Miracast, DLNA and MHL. It can even act as a media server so that multimedia files stored in this device can be accessed on other DLNA compatible devices like smartphones, tablets, computers or televisions. It has Miracast screen mirroring as well. Multimedia files can also be shared through Bluetooth or WiFi Direct. There are a lot of sound effects. Some audio enhancements from Sony such as ClearAudio+ and Clear Stereo really enhances the music quality.
The 2300mAh battery lasts two days easily, due to software optimisation from Sony. The device can be used continuously for over ten hours of video playback or web browsing. You can turn on the ‘Location based Wi-Fi’ to save battery. This feature activates WiFi only when you’re at a location which has a known or previously used WiFi hotspot such as either your home or work. The STAMINA battery mode will intelligently turn off unnecessary connectivity options like 3G while the device is locked or in sleep mode. This helps in increasing the battery life by a good margin. It has to be charged continuously for two hours to fully charge the device from nil.
Verdict: Overall, I liked the Xperia Z1 Compact but as with any other smartphone, it isn’t perfect. It has a very good screen, a decent camera, premium design, marathon battery life and Android KitKat. If you want a high-end Android smartphone with compact screen, the Xperia Z1 Compact should definitely be considered as a possible solution.