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Sony Xperia Z1 or Sony Xperia Z1 Compact: Which is best?

Big or small, it’s the obvious choice that underpins which of these two powerful smartphones you should opt for, either way, Sony says you’re getting the best it has to offer right now.

Sony Xperia Z1 vs Sony Xperia Z1 Compact: Design

The Xperia Z was a strong jumping off point for Sony in 2013 and its OmniBalance design language has evolved nicely throughout the year, crystallising in the near identical aesthetic the Z1 and Z1 Compact share.

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The larger display and body make the Z1 the more svelte of the two devices. The Compact meanwhile has a waistline that’s 1mm thicker, not as elegant as its bigger brother, but still expertly made and of course, easier to handle.

The Compact also shifts all the important ports to the left-hand side of its aluminium frame, but aside from that, every other aspect of the design is simply a scaled down lift from the full sized Z1, including excellent build quality and IP58 certified waterproofing.

Sony Xperia Z1 vs Sony Xperia Z1 Compact: Screen

Both handsets should be considered flagships and indeed share nearly identical hardware, save for the displays in use. The Xperia Z1’s 5-inch TRILUMINOS LCD is wonderfully sharp and perfect for enjoying content when viewed head-on, viewing angles however are a little weak, with content looking washed out pretty quickly from the moment you tilt the phone.

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Meanwhile the Z1 Compact uses the same strong Sony technology but in a lower resolution 4.3-inch 720p HD panel. However, the IPS technology in use means that overall this display takes the cake. Great viewing angles, sunlight brightness and colour depth make this our preferred screen out of the two.

Sony Xperia Z1 vs Sony Xperia Z1 Compact: Interface

Sony’s Xperia Z Ultra gave us the first glimpse of the interface you’ll find on both handsets – as with the OmniBalance design on the outside, it’s a natural evolution of the UI championed by the original Xperia Z. It’s a clean and clear take on Android 4.3 Jelly Bean (the Z1 launched on version 4.2), with a UI that makes it easy to customise and organise homescreens and applications respectively.

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There’s no discernable difference between the UIs on each handset, although Sony could have added an extra row of icons on the homescreen of the Z1, which currently only allows for a 4×4 grid, just like the Z1 Compact. Why they didn’t squeeze an additional column of apps in there may have simply been to help ensure the Z Ultra retained one of the aspects that makes it unique.

As the user experiences are so alike, both benefit and suffer from the same strengths and weaknesses. The cohesive experience offered by Sony’s own apps like Walkman and Movies are nicely styled and relatively easy to use. They’re also heavily integrated with broader Sony services like Music and Video Unlimited; as we mentioned in the Z1 Compacts’ review, this is great if you already buy in to the Sony ecosystem in such a way, annoying if you never plan on using the services, as they can’t be hidden.

Sony Xperia Z1 vs Sony Xperia Z1 Compact: Performance and battery life

Underpinning both handsets is one of the most popular chipsets on the market right now and it’s also found in the myriad of other flagships outside of Sony’s family too. Naturally, the focus of the Z1 Compact is to emulate the values of full-sized Z1, including its performance and as such, both boast the same 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core chip, paired to 2GB of RAM.

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Such capable hardware ensures that both phones feel extremely responsive and luckily Sony’s user experience isn’t too heavy to cause unnecessary lag in day to day use beyond waiting a split second to open more intensive apps. Benchmarking reveals that in some respects, particularly graphically, the Z1 Compact has the edge, going toe-to-toe with the Z1 it performs equally as well if not better, but there is one key reason for this advantage, its screen.

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Although as we stated earlier, in real-world use the lack of Full HD won’t cause you any issues on the Z1 Compact, it’s also less demanding on the hardware. The higher resolution Z1 allows you to enjoy movies and top-tier games in their native resolution, which means more pixels need to be powered all the time. Practically, the usability is by no means compromised on the Z1, it’s a fantastically snappy, powerful device. The Z1 Compact may only sway you as a result of its split second advantage in opening intensive apps.

The other key point to the Compact is its battery life. We manage a day with the Z1 comfortable, but despite the smaller 2300mAh cell in the Z1 Compact, it can go for around 50% longer.

Sony Xperia Z1 vs Sony Xperia Z1 Compact: Camera

20.7-megapixels. It’s a big number, certainly not to be sniffed at, even by the likes of the mighty iPhone or, of course, the Nokia Lumia 1020. In the world of Android, both of these handsets boast one of the best smartphone camera experiences around. Sony’s Cybershot expertise has garnered like for like strengths in both the Z1 and Z1 Compact, not to mention a robust feature set to keep things interesting.

Click each image below to see a high res comparison

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Both benefit from superior low light and noise handling over previous Sony handsets and with manual control you can choose to shoot full-sized images, or stick them in superior auto and let the camera system decide which of its tools are best suited to the shot at hand.

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The identical sets of camera tech mean that although there are minor differences in contrast and colour temperature between both devices, expect consistent results. Our samples highlight the Z1’s tendency to push colour and contrast a little more than the Z1 Compact.

Sony Xperia Z1 vs Sony Xperia Z1 Compact: Verdict

It’s all a matter of perspective, do you want a device that speaks for itself, exuding an imposing sense of power, or do you want something more understated, a pocketable powerhouse which might surprise people with its feature set and will put many a rival phone or phablet to shame?

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Sony’s latest portfolio is all about choice, thankfully using a more refined approach than the likes of Samsung, but whether you pick the Z1 for its display, or the Z1 Compact for its size and battery, you won’t be disappointed.

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