Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

Compact in size but certainly not undressed

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

Early this year Sony announced the little brother of the Xperia Z1 and he is going through life as the Z1 Compact. A water resistant device with good specifications.

For example, the z1 Compact has a 20.7 megapixel camera. Also a Snapdragon 800 processor with four cores that run at 2.2 GHz is no child's play. Even the battery of 2,300 mAh is quite large. The camera owes its name mainly to the relatively small 4.3 inch screen. According to Sony, this is a Triluminous HD display that is controlled by Sony's own X-Reality for Mobile engine.

Contrary to the other manufacturers, Sony does not opt for the addition of 'Mini' but prefers 'compact'. This is because today the term 'Mini' is more associated with a stripped down version. Other compact, or mini versions, of large, high-end smartphones are the LG G2 mini, HTC One mini and the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini. But we shouldn't compare it to that. Actually, the iPhone 5s is a better competitor.

What's with the device?

In the flat, square box, in addition to the device, we found a USB cable with an adapter plug for the socket and a pile of paperwork. Unfortunately, just as with the Z1, we had to do without a headset. However, a USB transfer cable was included. This can be used to transfer data such as contacts, photos and bookmarks from your iPhone using an app. In addition, based on the apps installed on your iPhone, the app proposes similar apps that are suitable for the Xperia Z1 Compact. To transfer the same information from another Android phone, NFC can be used and the cable is not required.


In addition to black and white, the Z1 Compact is also comparable in neon yellow and pink. As you can see from the pictures, we had the yellow version at our disposal. Nevertheless, the Z1 Compact, just like its big brother, is completely shrouded in black at the front. Underneath is of course the screen in which the function keys are processed by software. At the very top is the ear loudspeaker which ingeniously conceals the notification light. Along all sides of the screen, the Z1 Compact also needs quite a bit of extra space. As a result, the screen appears to be on the small side in relation to the device. This becomes awfully clear when we put the LG G2 mini next to it. Both devices are the same size but the G2 mini has a 4.7 inch screen.


On the right side of the camera is the camera button, volume buttons and power button. The buttons are on the small side and are rather close together but it is good to operate them with your thumb. On top of the device, just like the Z1, there is a gaping hole where the headset can be connected. A strange sensation on a waterproof phone, but it turns out to work.


On the left side the Z1 Compact has slots for a microSD card and the SIM card. Both are covered by a cover. This also applies to the USB connection. In the middle there is a recess that seems to be meant for a docking station. This recess is slightly recessed in the device and because of its black color it looks sloppy. The speaker is at the bottom of the unit.


Apart from a chrome trim around the camera lens, the back is as smooth as the front. The camera is slightly recessed so that it is less prone to scratches when lying on a table. However, the back of the camera itself is sensitive to scratches. The back of the camera is made of plastic and not glass. The Z1 Compact looks exactly the same as the Z1 but is a bit smaller. Because of this compact size, the device lies a lot nicer in the hand than its big brother.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact covers open

The device is dust-proof and protected against a low-pressure water stream. Furthermore, the device can be submerged for 30 minutes in non-salt water to a depth of 1.5 meters. Of course, all valves must be properly closed. Fortunately, the device reminds you of this every now and then!


For endurance, a special power management section is included in the settings menu. This contains three different functions to stretch the endurance. These are Stamina mode, low battery and WiFi on site. In Stamina mode, WiFi and mobile data are turned off as soon as the monitor is turned off. To keep an app like WhatsApp active, it can be added to an exception list. The other two may be self-explanatory, where WiFi on location has little impact on the device's functionality compared to the other two. Finally, it is also possible to queue up background data and send it at set times.


All in all, the Z1 Compact is able to last a full day on one battery charge with relative simplicity. This is comparable to its big brother. On an average day we have 2 email accounts active and use the camera and social media on a regular basis. Phone calls are short and incidental.

Call quality

The phone function interface is unchanged on the Z1 Compact. At the top of the screen there are four tabs with on one of them the call function where contacts can be searched in the phonebook via smart dial. The sound quality while calling is fine in terms of volume. Usually the sound does not have to be at its loudest to be able to understand the other party. It could sound a little shrill. There is an equalizer available to adjust it to your taste.


The sound quality of the speaker on the bottom of the unit is not very good. Probably due to the fact that it has to be waterproof.


The Xperia Z1 Compact's screen measures 4.3 inches diagonally and has a resolution of 1,280 × 720 pixels. In combination with the automatic screen brightness, this ensures that details and text are nicely displayed, even outdoors in sunlight.


Brightness, white balance, hibernation, daydreaming and font size can be set for display. Nevertheless, there still seems to be a bit of a yellowish haze over the image. There is also the X-Reality for mobile function, which provides improved photo and video quality, and the glove mode to be able to operate the screen even with gloves on.


The Z1 Compact runs on Android 4.4.2 with a Sony shell over it, which has been further modified in a number of respects compared to its predecessors. There was certainly still room for improvement and it is a clear progress. Although Sony has also introduced a few peculiarities.


On the lock screen, the camera can now be activated in the same way as Google Now in the rest of the interface. Strangely enough, in both cases you have to drag your finger exactly to the icon and the rest of the semi-circle doesn't have the same functionality as we are used to with most other Android phones.


The screen behind the status bar is now finally split into two separate parts for notifications and quick settings respectively. The notifications tab shows messages and other notifications that arrive on the device. Parts of messages can then already be read and you can also drag and drop the notification to the left or right. For the quick settings 16 of the 17 options can be selected. By dragging down the status bar with two fingers, this part will be shown directly on the screen.


The application menu is set up in grid form as usual with Android and should be browsed horizontally. When you leave the menu it will automatically return to the first page. On the left side of the menu Sony has put some sorting options for the menu and a shortcut to the Play Store.


Furthermore, there is of course the collection of start screens that the user has at his disposal. These are five by default and two more can be added. The start screens can be filled with widgets, icons of apps and shortcuts. On the start screens, apps can also be placed in folders. Here again, Sony drops a stitch because the functionality is still not fully developed. This way, the folder will not disappear if there is only one app left in it.


In addition to the recently opened applications, the multitask menu also displays four shortcuts to small apps floating as widgets above the interface. The user has a limited choice, albeit limited, to configure these four shortcuts themselves.


The phonebook is a tab in the calling application and will be filled with your Google contacts as soon as you enter this account into the device. In addition, contacts can be retrieved from a SIM card, Facebook or other accounts. To keep the resulting list organized, sorting and filtering options can be set.

By far the most convenient of these is the option to display only contacts with a phone number. In addition, there is the possibility to search for link candidates. This allows you to combine data from the same people from different accounts so that you can link a phone number with an email address and contacts are not listed twice.


Sony has expanded the message application a bit with a sketch function that allows you to add drawings to a message. An SMS is then converted to MMS. Sony's email application has been neatly taken care of. Accounts from the known providers are easy to set up and there is support for Exchange ActiveSync but getting messages via push is not possible.


Sony's standard keyboard is somewhat changeable in use. First of all, you need to dive into the settings to make basic functions such as numbers and punctuation quicker to reach. And in the vertical position, the space bar is on the narrow side, so the dot is often selected. Luckily there is a pretty helpful wizard to help you easily get through this.


It is possible to check a maximum of three writing languages. This will of course result in the expected errors in automatic word choice, although it has been improved compared to the large Z1. The device now seems to have a better idea of the language in which the rest of the text is written and to take this into account. You can also enter text by dragging your thumb over the keyboard. Unfortunately you have to be very careful and the device very often chooses the wrong word.


In addition to WiFi and Bluetooth, the Z1 Compact also supports 4G, NFC, DLNA and WiFi direct. In the settings menu there is a separate section for Xperia connectivity. This contains a number of functions that the Z1 Compact can perform when paired with suitable devices. These include Mirror link to control your Z1 Compact from another device via USB, screen reproduction to display the Z1 Compact's screen on a television, Windows tethering to connect to the internet from a Windows 8.1 PC via your phone's network connection and Throw to wirelessly play Xperia content on other devices.


For surfing the internet the Z1 Compact has Google's own browser Chrome. Chrome is not the fastest browser but it works smoothly and pages load smoothly. Furthermore, it is stable, well-organised and has plenty of functionality in house. Moreover, Google is still working hard to improve it so it shares more and more functionality with the browser on your PC.


The Z1 Compact has the same 20.7 megapixel camera as its big brother. The idea behind this is that you can zoom in on a photo without loss of quality. The interface and functionality of the camera are exactly the same as on the large Z1. At the bottom right of the screen, the camera mode can be selected from automatic superior, manual, info-eye, social live, time jump recording, AR effect, photo effect and sweep panorama.

The automatic superior mode is the default mode when the camera starts up. Here on the left side of the screen the flash can be adjusted and under the three vertical dots there are a number of additional settings for photos, videos or general. Such as self-timer, smile shutter, face recognition, SteadyShot, geotags and shutter sound. In this mode it is not possible to change the resolution of the photos, which is annoying because the maximum resolution is 8 megapixels.

In order to use the complete sensor of the Z1 Compact, it is necessary to switch to manual mode. However, HDR is not available and ISO is limited to 800, so the full 20.7 megapixel can only be used in well-lit conditions. The automatic mode works very well in terms of contrast and colours, even in difficult lighting conditions, but shows quite a lot of noise fairly quickly. The detail reproduction suffers as a result. The camera has to do without optical image stabilization, but has digital stabilization in the form of SteadyShot.

Unfortunately we came out a bit cheated when it comes to the functionality of the camera. In the beginning the camera appeared to freeze completely as soon as a picture was taken. This could be undone by turning the screen off and on for a while, but then the photo was not saved. After restarting the camera, this problem was solved but the camera now started up annoyingly slowly. Eventually everything turned out to be due to an update of the photo mode AR effect. After we reinstalled it, everything was fixed.


The photo album on the Z1 Compact has multiple functions, including the ability to synchronize with online accounts. In the grid view you can also zoom in on the photos. Unfortunately, it is still very cluttered because all the images are together. So no distinction is made between images from WhatsApp, Instagram or the camera itself.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact camera samples
Click above for more sample pictures of the Xperia Z1 Compact


Existing programs

The Z1 Compact comes standard with the applications calendar, alarm and clock, backup and recovery, diagnostics, downloads, wireless alerts, Drive, Facebook, File Commander, Movies, FM radio, voice search, Google, Google+, Hangouts, McAfee Security, NeoReader, news and weather, notes, OfficeSuite, Pixlr Express, Play, PlayStation Mobile, Calculator, Sketch, Smart Connect, SocialLife, Sony Select, Support, Tasks, TrackID, update center, Walkman, WhatsApp, Xperia Lounge and YouTube.


For most of these apps, we are still not really broken. Many of the things Sony adds to make a phone more user-friendly are not necessary as far as we're concerned. In such a case, they only get in the way. Exceptions are Smart Connect and TrackID.


Our biggest stumbling block with the Z1 was its size and the corresponding weight. This has of course been overcome with the Z1 Compact. The Z1 Compact actually gives you the capacities of the Xperia Z1, but in a smaller jacket. Sony has managed to reduce only the screen and battery size, the rest is the same. So you have a high-end phone in a compact and waterproof housing.

After we fixed the setbacks with the camera, only the keyboard remained as a clear drawback of the Z1 Compact. Typing with this is reasonable, but the other input method does not score well enough. Moreover, you have to go into the settings quite a bit to make the keyboard ready for use. However, we keep the idea that a large screen would have fitted in the device. Even though they had only made it 0.2 or 0.5 inch larger. Other manufacturers succeed better in making the black edges around a monitor narrower.

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