Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

21 Feb 2014

Great battery life and superb performance in an attractive waterproof package; what’s not to like?

Price when reviewed: 
440(£440 inc VAT)more
Buy it now for 
5

The size of smartphones has been following an inexorable upward curve in recent times, but Sony is bucking the trend with the Xperia Z1 Compact. It's a smartphone with top spec components, but squeezed into a smaller chassis with a 4.3in display. See also: the 11 best smartphones of 2014.

It's certainly easier to slide into a tight jeans pocket than, say, a Samsung Galaxy S4 or Nexus 5, but it isn't quite as light or thin as you might expect. It weighs a rather porky 134g, and measures 9.6mm from front to back, which makes it a good deal chunkier than the super svelte Apple iPhone 5s.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

That's presumably down to the design of the Z1 Compact, which as with previous Xperia smartphones is clad in glass at the rear as well as on the front. The phone's large battery may also have something to do with its heft. At 2,300mAh, it's big for a phone of this size, and even matches far larger phones, such as the HTC One for capacity.

It certainly delivers impressive stamina. Our battery tests, newly updated this month, revealed that for light tasks and 3G data, the Z1 Compact is highly efficient. Streaming a 128Kbit/sec podcast file using SoundCloud over a 3G connection, uses up only 2.7% of total battery capacity per hour. Playing back a 720p movie using the stock video player consumes 5.4% per hour.

Gaming drains capacity fast, however. The GFXBench battery test gave an estimated runtime of 3hrs 20mins, or a consumption of 30% per hour. Still, the results indicate that overall battery life is excellent, and anecdotally, we found it we were able to get two days use out of it with care.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

The Z1 Compact also turns out to be very fast indeed. Not only does it feel responsive, but its 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 SoC and Adreno 330 GPU helped it post a superb set of benchmark results, the most notable of which were its GeekBench 3 multi-core and GFXBench T-Rex HD scores of 2,713 and 34.9fps. These are both results that put the Z1 Compact amongst the quickest Android handsets we've seen.

For many, such excellent battery life and fast performance will be reason enough to put this excellent handset on their shortlist, but it has plenty of other things to recommend it. As with its Xperia siblings, the Z1 is waterproofed, with flaps covering all the ports and sockets; as long as all the seals remain intact, it can be submerged to a depth of 1.5 metres.

It has a 20-megapixel camera with a 1/2.3in sensor that snaps highly respectable stills and crisp, smooth digitally stabilised 1080p video. It's much better than the Nexus 5's snapper, and on a par with the Galaxy Note 3 for quality. And the Z1 Compact lacks little when it comes to features: there's 4G compatibility, NFC and 802.11ac on the wireless front; 16GB of storage expandable via a microSDXC slot; plus an FM radio tuner and HDMI output via MHL.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

The only caveat to all of this is the Z1 Compact's 720p display. Although it's superbly bright at a maximum 504cd/m2 and has an apparent contrast ratio of 1,680:1, Sony makes heavy use of dynamic contrast, adjusting the intensity of the backlight depending on what's on screen.

In some ways this is a good thing. It helps conserve battery when watching TV or movies with lots of dark scenes – this goes some way towards explaining the phone's good result in our video-based battery depletion test. We normally set the brightness level of the display calibrated to 120cd/m[sup]2[/sup] using a colorimeter to measure a white screen, but brightness dips as soon as darker movie content appears on screen. We tested again with the brightness adjusted up manually (we had to estimate 120cd/m[sup]2[/sup], and the result was a more realistic consumption of around 14% per hour. That's still superb, mind.

On the other hand, our experience was that it tended to give a rather bleached look to brightly lit photos and videos.

That puts a dent in what was looking like a perfect showing for the Z1 Compact. It isn't cheap either, at £440 SIM free. Nevertheless, it's still an excellent smartphone, and one that currently has no direct rival among high-end Android phones. The Nexus 5 offers more bang for your buck, and the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is more accomplished all-round, but if you're after a powerful, long-lasting Android smartphone that won't stretch the seams of your trouser pocket it's the only phone to buy.

Details

Price ex VAT £367
Price inc VAT £440
Contract monthly charge £25.00
Contract period 24 months
Contract provider Mobilephonesdirect.co.uk
Overall rating 5
Features & Design 5
Value for Money 4

Battery Life

Talk time, quoted 18hrs
Standby, quoted 25 days

Physical

Dimensions 65 x 9.6 x 127mm (WDH)
Weight 134g
Touchscreen yes

Core Specifications

RAM capacity 2.00GB
Camera megapixel rating 2.0mp
Front-facing camera? yes
Video capture? yes

Display

Screen size 4.3in
Resolution 720 x 1280

Other wireless standards

Bluetooth support yes
Integrated GPS yes

Software

OS family Android

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