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Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact Review: In Depth

4.5

The Good

  • Colourful, bright screen
  • Very slim and light
  • Remote Play

The Bad

  • Battery life not as good as iPad MIni

We review the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact, a supremely slim and light 8-inch tablet, which we might almost be tempted to take photos with. Almost.

Design: iPad Mini rival

It's pretty clear that Sony is gunning for Apple with the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact. This 8-inch tablet is a great size for clutching in one hand, just like the iPad Mini, although Sony has gone for a widescreen aspect ratio, rather than Apple's 4:3 'square' design. That actually makes it even more comfortable to hold in portrait mode.

At just 270g, the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact is even lighter than the iPad Mini. It's thinner too, with a crazy-slender 6.4mm build, but it's tough enough to survive some abuse - this tab won't just fold and crack when you put some strain on it. That makes it one of the most portable tablets we've played with since the Amazon Fire HD 6, which was compact but quite chunky.

That slim n' light design means you can lie back on the sofa and hold the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact overhead while you watch an entire movie, and your bicep shouldn't be crying for sweet relief. 

The slender finish isn't the only bit of sweet design either. Sony's Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact is also water resistant, just like the Xperia Z2 Tablet, so you can check your emails in the rain or watch Mrs Brown's Boys in the bath. Be careful if you do the latter though, because you might be tempted to throw a toaster in with you.

This waterproofing is accomplished with plastic flappy bits covering the micro SD slot, micro USB charging port and SIM card slot (in the LTE model). It's a shame that Sony couldn't make it water resistant without the flaps, like HTC's Desire Eye, but at least the earphone jack is open for easy access.

Screen and media: A satisfying eight-incher

While we enjoy a good ten-inch tablet like the iPad Air 2 or the Galaxy Tab S, we still think that seven to nine inches is the sweet spot. That's more than enough space for enjoying a movie on the go, browsing the web and all the kind of awesome things you do on a tablet.

Sony has well and truly nailed its screen tech in its latest mobile devices, with the Xperia Z2 and Xperia Z3 both boasting crisp and colourful displays. Good news is, the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact's 8-inch IPS LCD screen is another winner.

Not only does that 1080p resolution give you crisp visuals, ideal when viewing back photos or HD movies, but Sony gives you a choice of two visual settings. Either you can have Sony's X-Reality tech beam crisp and colourful images at your eyeballs, or you can opt for the mega-vibrant mode. This is supposed to make colours really explode, but to be honest we didn't notice much difference and we were happy with the results using either.

That screen is also powerfully bright, easily overcoming the worst that the British sun can muster (not an issue for the next seven months anyhow).

For a dinky tab, the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact doesn't pack a bad set of speakers either. They're positioned at the very top and bottom of the front panel (hooray, speakers that actually point at your face) and while they're not exactly likely to get a party started, they're powerful enough and sound quality is decent enough for enjoying movies without resorting to shoving in earphones.

Digital noise cancellation has thankfully made it onto the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact too, so as long as you're using Sony's compatible earphones, you can drown out the noise of drunken suits/screaming offspring in your train.

Features: Gamer gear

Android 4.4 KitKat has been skinned with Sony's usual Xperia overlay and rammed full of apps, which you'll either love or loathe depending on how embedded you are in Sony's ecosystem. You get access to Sony's usual movies and music services (for a fee, of course), plus its Lifelog app (see how much time you piss away on the internet each day), Socialife (our standard social media aggregator) and so on.

You can pick up a 4G LTE model, if you want to stay connected wherever you roam, else the base model is Wi-Fi only. Weirdly, you can pick up the Wi-Fi version in 16GB or 32GB models, but the 4G version only comes in 16GB. Thankfully there's a microSD memory card slot, so it's not really an issue - you can plug an extra 128GB in for little cost.

We were a little disappointed to see there was no IR blaster on the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact, something we're used to having on Sony's tablets. We've personally got a lot of random tech scattered about our home, so it's good to have a universal remote installed on our tab instead of a dozen plastic ones. Still, it's not exactly a dealbreaker.

If you're a gamer then you'll love Sony's Remote Play feature. This allows you to stream your PS4 games direct to the tablet, so you can hook up your Dual Shock controller and keep your game going even if the family wants to steal the TV for Corrie. It's also good for gaming in bed, if your console's stuck in your living room.

Performance and battery life: Double win

Like most Android tablets, the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact packs a Snapdragon 801 processor, which means performance isn't an issue. You can run apps on top of one another (courtesy of Sony's Small Apps tool), play the latest games and get busy with your video editing apps and you shouldn't see a hint of slowdown.

Battery life is another highlight. If you stream video non-stop on top brightness, then you can expect just under six hours of life per charge. The more restrained among us will happily get a full day of near-constant use.

The iPad Mini is still the champion of battery life sadly, with nine hours of video streaming per charge. Here's hoping an Android contender can topple it from the pedestal soon.

Cameras: Not a bad pair

Sony's mobile devices always packs some respectable camera tech, although it's always the part of any tablet that we're least interested in. Seriously, taking shots with a tablet is just a clumsy experience, and the results are rarely even shareable on Facebook let alone good enough for an album.

Still, it's always good to have a decent front-facing lens for chatting online and the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact delivers on that front. Even in low light (for instance, Skyping from a bar - our favourite work venue), the 2.2-megapixel lens kept us sharp and clear.

And if you really must take shots with the 8.1-megapixel rear camera, chances are you won't be disappointed. This camera isn't on a par with the likes of the Xperia Z3's snapper, but it's fine for everday shots thanks to the Superior Auto mode, which cleans up photos and keeps things looking sharp in most conditions. And at least the tablet itself is quite dinky, so you don't look like a total melon taking photos with it.

The camera isn't too bad in low light either; things obviously get a bit grainy but the results are still better than with most rival tablets. It was only close-up shots that had the lens struggling on occasion.

And of course, Sony has bulldozed a dozen other camera modes in, many of them focused around social media. Live on YouTube, Social Live and Vine all give you quick and easy means of streaming live or creating content for your social networks and they all work well. Just sign in with your account details and you're good to go.

Kids should get a kick out of AR effect and AR fun, which add cartoon effects to your photos, but most of the others, such as Multi Camera and Sound Photo, will likely never get used.

Verdict

Starting at £329, the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact is a serious iPad MIni rival. The sharp screen and slim and light design make it a great device for taking on your travels and enjoying movies, apps and games, while the rugged, water resistant build keeps it safe from harm. Battery life isn't quite as good as the iPad Mini's, but it'll see you through the day.

Key Specs

  • 8-inch
  • 1920 x 1200
  • 270g
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • 2.2-megapixel
  • 8.1-megapixel
  • 2.5GHz Snapdragon 801
  • 3GB
  • 16GB or 32GB
  • Wi-Fi or 4G models available
  • Water resistant

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