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Sony Xperia Z3 Compact Review: In Depth


The Good

  • Comfortable one-handed use
  • Water-resistant, sleek design
  • Sharp, vibrant screen
  • Adaptable camera

The Bad

  • Overheats on 4K

We review Sony’s new premium mini phone, the Xperia Z3 Compact, which packs HD visuals, a powerful quad-core processor and a superb 20.7-megapixel camera into a dinky body. The best mini mobile of 2014?

We had no hesitation in proclaiming the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact our most exciting smartphone that was launched at this year’s massive IFA 2014 expo. Make no mistake, the full-sized Xperia Z3 is an awesome bit of kit too, but Sony has really impressed us by cramming most of that flagship phone’s fantastic features into this dinky 4.6-inch handset.

So, does the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact live up to our hype? Here’s our full review.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact review: how good is the screen, camera and features?

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact: Design

Even if you’re not a fan of Sony’s bigger phones, the wee Xperia Z3 Compact is truly a thing of beauty.

Sharing roughly the same dimensions as the iPhone 5s, the Xperia Z3 Compact packs a 4.6-inch screen into a deliciously diminutive body. Sony’s stuck with its Omnibalance design, but while some users don’t get on with the rectangular finish in larger phones such as the Xperia Z2 and Xperia Z3, that blocky construction - combined with subtle curved edges - feels great in miniature form.

Comfort levels are pretty much perfect and we enjoyed using the phone with just a single hand, instead of doubling up all the time. At just 129g it’s also pleasingly light, so it won’t weigh down your pocket.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact review: how good is the screen, camera and features?

The tempered glass front and back lend a premium feel to the Xperia Z3 Compact and thankfully our black model didn’t prove too vulnerable to fingerprint marks and scuffs. Of course, those smooth surfaces are rather slippery, so you’ll want to keep a tight hold of the phone in case someone knocks your elbow and the thing goes flying.

Good news if you do drop it, however, as the all-new impact-resistant corners will soak up drop damage and, touch wood, keep your Xperia Z3 Compact in one piece.

The Xperia Z3 Compact is also fully water resistant just like its bigger brother, so you can dunk it in 1.5 metres of water for half an hour with no ill effects. Always good if you’re so addicted to your phone that you can’t bear to put it down when you have a bath.

Sadly there’s no sleek silver edging on the Compact, something we enjoyed on the full-sized Xperia Z3, but we love the funky inverted design of this phone’s plastic edges. Your nano SIM slot, memory card slot and micro USB port are all hidden away under flaps, which are easy to prise open and help to keep the phone waterproof.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact review: how good is the screen, camera and features?

We’re also big fans of the new colours. You can snatch up the Xperia Z3 Compact in red and green as well as white and black, and those vibrant finishes look gorgeous. We definitely prefer them over the slightly dull choices Sony picked for the Xperia Z3.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact: Media

So, the Xperia Z3’s 5.2-inch screen has shrunk down to a 4.6-incher, but it’s still a gorgeous panel with Sony’s Triluminos and X-Reality tech on board, for sharp and vibrant image reproduction.

First, the bad news. Like the Xperia Z1 Compact before it, the Xperia Z3 Compact trims back the Full HD 1080p resolution from the full-sized flagship. However, the 720p resolution suits the smaller screen just fine, giving 319 pixels-per-inch (ppi). You have to practically push your face against the screen and squint quite hard to see the individual pixels.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact review: how good is the screen, camera and features?

Likewise, colours absolutely pop off the screen, making this one of the most brilliantly vibrant displays we’ve seen on a smartphone since Samsung’s Galaxy S5. Line the Xperia Z3 Compact up with HTC’s One Mini 2, for instance, and you’ll notice a clear difference in richness and tone. And while it’s rather defunct to say that one is better than the other, because that’s all down to personal preference, we reckon Sony’s mini mobile is a blooming good way to take in a movie.

Kudos to the built-in speakers too, which aren’t only front-facing but also pump out a surprisingly powerful sound. You’ll easily be able to fill a small room with music and it definitely does justice to action games if you can’t be arsed to plug in headphones.

Sony has also added High-Res Audio support to the Z3 and Z3 Compact, a great addition if you're sick of those fuzzy MP3 tracks. That's on top of the noise cancellation, first seen on the Xperia Z2, which uses Sony's own-brand earphones to register and dampen background noise.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact: Features

As you’d expect from a premium phone, the Xperia Z3 Compact packs in plenty of bonus features. For a start, there’s support for 4G LTE, plus NFC for hooking up with peripherals, a Sony stalwart.

Then you get the usual Sony media services, for renting movies or streaming music. Playstation 4 owners can even stream games direct from their home console using Playstation Remote Play, with full DualShock controller support, so it’s entirely possible to play Destiny while you’re taking a dump. God bless technology.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact review

Sony’s Lifelog is an interesting twist on the usual tracking apps, which not only records any exercise you may do (in our case, scarily little) but also all kinds of random activities. How much time you spend browsing the web, watching movies, listening to music and reading eBooks - it’s all recorded, for whatever reason.

Lifelog’s pretty handy if you want to set a daily target for reading, or perhaps if you’ve vowed to waste less time online, but otherwise all this life tracking does seem a little excessive. We can’t imagine anyone scrolling through their history, reminiscing about the precious hours they spent pissing about on Facebook.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact review: how good is the screen, camera and features?

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact: Performance and battery life

Unlike most mini handsets, Sony hasn’t compromised when it comes to performance. A quad-core 2.5GHz Snapdragon 801 processor has been stuffed inside, along with 2GB of RAM, so you’ll have no problem running apps side-by-side or blasting through the latest games.

Sony promised a mighty two days of battery life per charge when the Xperia Z3 Compact launched, which we definitely took with a mountainous heap of sugar. Sure enough , if you want to regularly check emails or mess around with apps, that two-day estimate is a ways off.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact review: how good is the screen, camera and features?

However, the Xperia Z3 Compact should still comfortably see you through a full day even with heavy use, even when hooked up to a wearable fitness tracker like Sony’s SmartBand. More typical use gives a day and a half of play before the phone powers down, and if you need longer then Sony has included a power saving mode which knocks off non-essential features and functions.

We also put all of our phones through a video streaming test too, to see how many hours they can play movies over Wi-Fi on top screen brightness. The Sony Xperia Z3 Compact lasted for just over five hours, which is about what we’d expect of a phone this size.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact: Cameras

Sony hasn’t slashed the camera compared with the full-sized model either, so the Xperia Z3 Compact rocks a 20.7-megapixel snapper with Exmor RS sensor, plus all of Sony’s wacky tools and modes.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact review: how good is the screen, camera and features?

Superior Auto is the standard go-to mode for everyday use, which automatically selects the best settings for the surrounding conditions. As ever, we found our photos came out crisp and clear almost every time, packed with detail during daylight hours. Sony’s new ISO levels make for even better low-light shots too, even without using the flash. They’ll still look grainy if things are too dim, but the flash does a good job of lighting things up without making everyone in your shot look like a wraith.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact review: how good is the screen, camera and features? Sony Xperia Z3 Compact review: how good is the screen, camera and features?

As usual, Sony has crammed even more bloody camera modes into the Z3 Compact, most of which have decent novelty value for a short while at least. Some of the new features, such as Sound Photo and Face In appear to have been lifted wholesale from Samsung’s Galaxy S5, but live bloggers will enjoy the new Live on YouTube mode, which adds to the existing Social Live feature. We also liked the Vine mode, which is well designed to quickly and easily create six-second looping clips for immediate upload.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact review: how good is the screen, camera and features? Sony Xperia Z3 Compact review: how good is the screen, camera and features?

Kids will get a kick from the Augmented Reality (AR) features too, expanded here via the ‘AR Fun’ mode. This allows you to paint directly onto the screen (and no, we somehow resisted the urge to add virtual willies to every single photo), or throw cartoon objects like bombs and arrows around the place.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact camera AR fun test

You can also shoot Full HD video, or even bump up to 4K if you want the ultimate ultra-crisp home movies. Of course, like the Sony Xperia Z2, filming in 4K takes its toll on the little Xperia Z3 Compact. After five minutes, the phone was properly toasty to the touch, while the battery counter dropped at the rate of one per cent every minute.

At just over ten minutes, the phone gave up entirely and shut itself down. But at least our video saved itself first.

Still, even the bog-standard HD footage we shot came out well, with image stabilisation to keep everything smooth. The lens adapts well to changes in light intensity and audio is picked up well.

A 2.2-megapixel front-facing camera does the job for video chats and selfies, which are made significantly easier thanks to the physical shutter button on the edge of the phone.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact: Verdict

The Sony Xperia Z3 Compact isn’t just the best mini phone we’ve played with this year, it’s one of the very best smartphones that money can buy. Packing premium features and specs into a comfortable-to-fondle frame, the Z3 Compact offers an excellent user experience with next to no drawbacks.

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