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Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review: Worthy rival to iPhone


Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review: Worthy rival to iPhone
Overall Rating: 4/5



Big screen phones are wonderful. They can double up as a phone and an entertainment device. But what if you don't want a large-screen phone? What if you don't like the large slab of glass pressed against your cheeks when you are making a call on your phone? What if you don't like to carry the phone that barely fits in the pocket of your jeans? What if you have small hands?

You have two options: Buy the top-end iPhone or get one of those Android phones that have smaller screen but boring design, cheap build quality and slow hardware.

Sony is trying to address this problem with its latest phone in the India market. Xperia Z1 Compact - how aptly named, eh - is a small phone but with top-end features and hardware. It is basically, the compact version of quite popular Xperia Z1.

It looks really good; on almost all parameters that matter.

Build and design
Z1 Compact follows the design adopted by Sony with Xperia Z and Z1. Sony has built Z1 Compact using one-piece aluminium frame. The back cover is topped with glass, which feels really tough.

However, tough or not, glass is glass. If you use Z1 Compact without a cover, it is likely that you will start seeing scratches on it after several weeks of use.

The edges have been rounded in Z1 Compact, which makes it fit really well in hand.

The whole design is very classy. It is minimalistic and looks good, especially because all ports, except the one for 3.5mm jack, are covered with flaps and the metal buttons, including rather prominent (but stylish) round power button.

Under the power button there is the volume rocker and below that a camera shutter release button. The volume buttons are placed too low and are difficult to reach during calls. The camera shutter release button is too small and pressing it makes holding the phone steady while clicking photos difficult. Minor issues but issues nevertheless.

Z1 Compact is a waterproof phone. This means you can use it in the rain or even take a call with it while you are in a shower. Now we realise that taking calls while you are shower is a bit extreme. But it is undeniable that a waterproof design is incredibly useful in a phone and is a great convenience.



With all the glass, metal and clean lines, Z1 Compact looks and feels really a premium phone. The finishing on this phone is fantastic. Looks are subjective but in our opinion it looks as good as an iPhone 5S and HTC One. As far as iPhone 5C, which has a plastic body and is a direct competitor to this Sony phone, we don't think there is any comparison. Z1 Compact wins hands down.

Display
Z1 Compact has a screen that measures 4.3 inches. The resolution is also lower. Unlike Z1, which has a screen with FullHD (1080P) resolution, Z1 Compact uses a screen with 720P resolution. But what Z1 Compact gives up in quantity, it gains in quality.

Among all Z series phones so far, Z1 Compact has the best screen in terms of how colours it can show. Despite using a TFT panel screen, this phones shows rich and deep colours. Brightness, though, still doesn't match screens on phones like Galaxy S4 or LG G2. This means if you are using Z1 Compact under direct sunlight outdoors, you may find the screen little dim and text may not be legible on it.



The quality of touch response is fantastic. Also, given that it is a smaller screen, we don't miss FullHD resolution on Z1 Compact. In our use we found that it showed crisp text and photos.

Software
Z1 Compact is powered by Android 4.3. Sony is likely to introduce Android 4.4 in Z1 Compact through a software update in April but it doesn't really matter, at least from the perspective of user experience. Sony uses customized version of Android and we don't think users will even notice the difference between Android 4.3 and Android 4.4.

Talking of customizations, Sony's software in Z1 Compact is a mixed bag. The user interface looks good and slick - though not as good as the stock user interface in Android that we see on Nexus 5. Of course, it is all Android. And the level of customization is not as drastic as found on some of the Chinese phones. This means, you can still set home screens, access app drawer and customize Z1 Compact like any other Android phone. Sony's mini apps - they float on the top of the open app in a small window - such as note app and calculator are available on Z1 Compact. These apps are useful.

By default Sony has installed a lot of apps. This is both good and bad. Good because you get apps like Facebook and File Commander preinstalled. Bad because if you want, you cannot uninstall them. Though, you can disable them. Then there are apps like BigFlix, Sony Jive (a rather limited music store for streaming songs), Sony Select (an app store) and WisePilot (a navigation app). We didn't find these apps useful. They just add to the clutter and are unnecessary.

Camera
Z1 Compact has a 20.7MP primary camera. It also has the same large image sensor found inside Z1. Camera is a highlight feature of Z1 Compact and for right reasons. In our use we found Z1 Compact to be a very good shooter. In good light, it captures images that show punchy and accurate colours. The performance of the camera is also very good as it focuses and clicks images fast.

In low light, if you use the default shooting mode and keep the hand still, Z1 Compact clicks impressive photos. Though, it also tends to over process images. But if you are going to use photos on social media sites or on the web, the over processing is not a major concern.

 

That said, there are two issues. And both are likely related to the camera software. By default, Z1 Compact clicks images in Superior Auto Mode, which means in 8MP size. If you want to click images in 20MP, you have to use Manual mode. Don't worry, it is not the usual manual mode. It is rather Auto mode with access to a few more settings but Sony calls it manual mode. Anyways, that is not the problem. The problem is that in Manual mode, you can't select any 'scene'. The various 'scene' modes like 'night' or 'macro' are only available in Superior Auto.

 

Also, we found that in some scenes with lots of bright light, images shot with Z1 Compact lacked contrast. This is a minor issue, though.

The performance of primary camera while shooting videos is impressive. The FullHD videos that we shot with Z1 Compact showed clear and sharply-focussed footage. The phone also has the option to capture videos in HDR mode, but we preferred the normal mode. The HDR mode captured deeper colours but also had more noise in videos.
In our use, the 2MP front camera handled the video chats well.

Performance
Z1 Compact is powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor. It is a top-of-the-line quad-core processor running at 2.2GHz. Z1 also has 2GB RAM. A powerful processor, lots of RAM and optimized software make Z1 Compact a very fast phone.

We did not notice any user interface lag on this phone. It seemed as fast as Nexus 5. And that is saying a lot, considering Nexus 5 is the fastest Android phone out in the market. The device handled web browsing, social media use and multi-tasking with ease. GPS in the phone works well. The device also played most of our 1080P videos with ease. Some video formats that could not be played with default player were handled fine by third-party apps like MX Player.

During calls, we found that Z1 Compact mostly maintained good connectivity. The voice during calls was clear and loud. Speaking of loudness, the speaker in Z1 Compact is very good. It not only produces rich sound - well, as rich as you can realistically expect from a small smartphone - but is also loud enough to be used in a small room for music playback.

Battery life of Z1 Compact is above average. When used with a 3G connection, the device lasted for around 14 hours before its battery drained completely.

Gaming
The graphics processor in Z1 Compact is Adreno 330, which is a very capable chip. The result is that Z1 Compact plays almost games available for an Android phone. Casual games like Angry Birds run smoothly on this phone. Even the demanding games like Asphalt 8 are smooth at their maximum graphics settings.

Verdict
We like Z1 Compact a lot and recommend it even with its rather high price of Rs 36,990 (in market the phone is available for around Rs 35,000).

In the same price, you can buy Xperia Z1, which is almost the same thing with a bigger screen. Or you can get the excellent LG G2 or very good Samsung Galaxy S4, which recently got a massive price cut and is now available for around Rs 30,000. Or you can just pick the Nexus 5, which we believe is the best Android phone, due to its fantastic price of around Rs 29,000.

But all these phones have a big screen and hence a big size, which you may not like. If you want a small and Compact phone but don't want to give up on performance and camera, Z1 Compact is the best package in the market. iPhone 5C is the only competition on this parameter but in our opinion Z1 Compact is a better deal because of the better hardware, superb performance, better design and more premium finish.
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