Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact review: small but powerful

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While most smartphone OEMs are creating standard and plus or XL sized versions of their smartphones, Sony believes there’s still a market for a small, compact flagship that doesn’t skimp out on the specs. But is there still a need for a small phone with flagship caliber specifications or have consumers fully adapted to the abundance of large screened smartphones that we have today? Find out in our full review of the Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact!

Design

The Xperia XZ1 Compact, as the name suggests, is a smaller version of Sony’s main flagship, the Xperia XZ1 and as such it shares many of the same features and specifications. Aside from the phone’s smaller size there are a few key differences, the most notable being the phone’s design.

Instead of the rounder and slightly curvier design of the XZ1, the XZ1 Compact is more reminiscent of classic Sony designs with a more boxy rectangular look. There are some slight tapers all around but for the most part the XZ1 Compact has a flat appearance on all sides and has a less aggressive loop design when compared to the XZ1.

The phone’s construction is also worth noting as it’s made mostly from plastic whereas the XZ1 features an all metal construction. Despite the difference in material choices, the XZ1 Compact has a very solid and sturdy feel and there are hints of metal on the top and bottom portions of the phone that add to the phone’s overall build quality. The phone’s body is coated in a non-glossy satin-like finish that provides a nice grip and doesn’t attract fingerprints.

The XZ1 Compact’s main appeal is that it’s just as powerful as the standard XZ1, only smaller

If it wasn’t obvious enough already, the XZ1 Compact’s main appeal is that it’s just as powerful as the standard XZ1, only smaller. This smaller size equates to a phone that is an absolute breeze to use in one hand.

Many manufacturers are attempting to make bigger phones smaller by slimming down bezels, but Sony simply made a smaller phone. While having a small phone can have it’s drawbacks, it’s extremely refreshing to use a phone that can be navigated without two hands or any awkward shuffling just to reach the farthest corners of the screen.

Display

A smaller body naturally means a much smaller display. The XZ1 Compact’s screen is an IPS LCD measuring in at at 4.6 inches with a resolution of 1280×720 which is .6 inches smaller on the diagonal than the XZ1 and also lower resolution.

Compared to many smartphone screens that we’ve seen in 2017, the screen on the XZ1 Compact is fairly standard. It’s surrounded by thick bezels on all sides and doesn’t feature any fancy curves or rounded corners. It’s a screen that could easily sound underwhelming but it’s a more than serviceable display especially on a smartphone of this size.

The 720p resolution is low but on a 4.6-inch screen it works perfectly fine, equating to 319 ppi

The 720p resolution is low but on a 4.6-inch screen it works perfectly fine, equating to 319 ppi. It clearly isn’t the sharpest and, having grown so accustomed to quad HD displays, my eyes were immediately able to see the difference. But it’s still sharp enough to comfortably read text, flip through photos or browse the web.

Regardless of sharpness, the quality of the display is quite nice as colors are pleasantly vibrant, the viewing angles are good and outdoor visibility is not an issue in direct sunlight as long as the screen is at max brightness.

Sony’s software allows for tweaking of the display’s colors with a few different profiles that can change the display’s vividness and contrast, and white balance adjustments can also be made to better suit your tastes.

If you’re big into media consumption, the small amount of screen real estate feels undeniably cramped.

If you’re big into media consumption, the XZ1 Compact’s screen won’t offer the best experience simply due to its small size, which is the only real downside to this display. It still works fine for watching YouTube or playing games but the small amount of screen real estate feels undeniably cramped.

Performance

The guts of the XZ1 Compact are completely identical to it’s bigger brother. The XZ1 Compact features the same Snapdragon 835 processor with 4 GB of RAM and, as expected, the phone performs beautifully. It’s fast to launch apps, play games, and swiping and scrolling through web pages or the Android interface is smooth and fluid.

The lower resolution display certainly makes the phone feel ever so slightly snappier due to less strain being put on the processor. The phone performs every bit as well as any other flagship with the same specs and regardless of how much I threw at it, the XZ1 Compact was always able to keep up.

Hardware

When it comes to the rest of the phone’s hardware, there are no compromises here and the XZ1 Compact comes with all the bells and whistles that you would want in a smartphone. For starters, there is a 3.5 mm headphone jack and the XZ1 Compact provides the typical slew of audio capabilities as prior Sony phones including Sony’s proprietary DSEE HX technology that will upscale compressed music files for a closer to Hi-Res sound. There’s also built in support for other high resolution audio codecs such as LDAC.

The XZ1 Compact also features dual front facing stereo speakers giving the phone’s thick top and bottom bezels a purpose. The speakers are clear with no distortion but definitely lack in volume compared to other phones with a front facing speaker setup.

For storage, the phone is available in only one storage capacity at 32 GB but should you need more there is a microSD card slot with support for up to 256 GB of additional storage. IP68 dust and water resistance is also on board, giving the phone protection against the occasional splash in the rain or submersion.

The phone does feature a fingerprint sensor in the side mounted power key but, like the last few generations of Sony devices, the fingerprint sensor has been omitted from the U.S. model. It’s something we’ve now become accustomed to with Sony phones but it’s still disappointing that U.S. consumers don’t have access to this feature.

Despite the phone’s smaller size, the battery capacity is still the same 2700 mAh power pack as the standard XZ1 – lasting me a full two full days of use

Despite the phone’s smaller size, the battery capacity is still the same 2700 mAh power pack as the standard XZ1. This sounds small for a phone in 2017, but it has proven itself to be more than enough. Plus, the lower resolution 720p display makes a huge impact to the phone’s longevity.

The XZ1 Compact has been quite the marathon runner, lasting me a full two days of use before needing a charge. I consider myself a heavy user as I watch quite a bit of YouTube and play games for several hours per day on my phone so I was extremely impressed with the XZ1 Compact’s battery life. Screen on time consistently reached the 5 to 6 hour mark.

Camera

With the exception of the front facing camera, the camera experience on the XZ1 Compact is identical to the XZ1. The XZ1 Compact features the same 19 MP rear facing Exmor sensor as the XZ1 with 5-axis image stabilization, 4K video recording, and slow motion video at a whopping 960 frames per second.

The main camera experience on the XZ1 Compact is identical to the XZ1

Instead of the 13 MP front facing shooter of the XZ1, the XZ1 Compact has an 8 MP front facing camera but it’s still more than capable for video calls and taking selfies. It’s a wide angle lens which makes it easy to fit more into the frame but it does suffer from some slight barrel distortion towards the edges.

Sony dubs the rear shooter a “Motion Eye” camera as it’s able to predict and capture unexpected motion. The way this works is a fairly simple process and it’s all done automatically by the camera. When the camera senses unexpected motion such as a person running or a moving car it will predictively capture three photos in addition to the one you take yourself giving you 4 photos. You can then assess the results and pick the one that looks best or keep them all.

The XZ1 Compact camera can easily capture moving subjects with little to no motion blur

It’s a neat and useful camera trick that works very well and when paired with Sony’s predictive hybrid autofocus, the camera can easily capture moving subjects with little to no motion blur.

The other standout feature that’s also available on the standard XZ1 is the 3D scanning capabilities through Sony’s new 3D creator app. This app lets you scan faces, food, or any other random object with its free form scan technology. For a mobile product, the 3D scanning of the XZ1 Compact is impressive and Sony is working on giving this technology more utility. For now these scans can be used as wallpapers, GIFs, and be shared to social media but eventually these scans will be capable of being used as gaming avatars or to insert yourself into a game once these partnerships become available.

The scans can be backed up and sync’d to the cloud for safe keeping and you can even print them off if you have a 3D printer. If you don’t own a 3D printer, the 3D creator app allows for easy ordering of your prints through Shapeways or Sculpteo, both of which Sony has partnered with.

The quality of the 3D scans themselves are very accurate and look incredible but for best results you’ll want to create your scans in well lit areas. Scans in low light will make it hard to capture the details properly, which often resulted in deformed scans in my testing.

With the same rear camera and image processing, the image quality is the same as the standard XZ1. In adequate lighting, color reproduction is pleasant but not oversaturated and there’s plenty of detail and sharpness. But just like the XZ1, the XZ1 Compact’s biggest weakness is dynamic range. Shadows are overly dark causing details to be lost in these areas.

The camera performs decently in low light but the lack of optical image stabilization is apparent as photos don’t always come out with tack sharp focus. White balance can sometimes be problematic and in extreme low light situations, highlights can look heavily overblown with a lot of blooming or flaring effects.

Software

When it comes to software, Sony currently has a big leg up as the XZ1 Compact is currently one of the few smartphones on the market to ship with Android 8.0 Oreo. All of the Android 8.0 features remain intact such as notification dots, native picture-in-picture, improved visual tweaks, new autofill APIs, and much more.

The XZ1 Compact is one of the few smartphones on the market shipping with Android 8.0 Oreo

Sitting on top of Android Oreo is Sony’s own skin which doesn’t drastically alter the experience (as it’s still very close to stock), but Sony’s skin does feel outdated in some aspects. The app drawer for example still utilizes a dedicated button in your dock instead of the swipe up that pure Android uses. Sony’s skin does however include some nice features such as customizable themes and Playstation integration. Outside of Sony’s typical suite of apps the software is virtually free of bloatware.

Specifications

Sony Xperia XZ1 Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact
Display 5.2-inch Full HD with HDR
1920 x 1080 resolution
423 ppi
4.6-inch 720p Triluminos Display
1280 x 720 resolution
319 ppi
Processor 64-bit octa-core (2.35 GHz Quad + 1.9 GHz Quad) Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, 10 nm processor 64-bit octa-core (2.35 GHz Quad + 1.9 GHz Quad) Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, 10 nm processor
RAM 4 GB 4 GB
Storage 64 GB
MicroSD expansion up to 256 GB
32 GB
MicroSD expansion up to 256 GB
Cameras Rear camera
– 19 MP 1/2.3″ AF sensor with f/2.0 aperture

Front camera
– 13 MP 1/3.06″ sensor

Rear camera
– 19 MP 1/2.3″ AF sensor with f/2.0 aperture

Front camera
– 8 MP sensor with 120° wide angle

Battery 2,700 mAh
Non-removable
QuickCharge 3.0
Qnovo Adaptive Charging
2,700 mAh
Non-removable
QuickCharge 3.0
Qnovo Adaptive Charging
Water resistance IP68 dust and water resistance IP68 dust and water resistance
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11
LTE Cat 16, 4CA, 4×4 MIMO
Bluetooth 5.0
USB Type-C, 3.1
NFC
DNLA
Wi-Fi 802.11
LTE Cat 15, 4CA, 4×4 MIMO
Bluetooth 5.0
USB Type-C, 2.0
NFC
DNLA
Sensors Accelerometer
Fingerprint Sensor (not in US)
Gyro Sensor
Accelerometer
Fingerprint Sensor (not in US)
Gyro Sensor
SIM Nano SIM
(single or dual market dependant)
Nano SIM
Software Android 8.0 Oreo Android 8.0 Oreo
Dimensions and weight 148 x 73 x 7.4mm
156 grams
129 x 65 x 9.3mm
143 grams

Pricing & Final Thoughts

The Xperia XZ1 Compact is available as an unlocked GSM device and starts at $599.99. It can be purchased through retailers such as Best Buy or Amazon and at the time of this writing it can currently be found at a discount. Unfortunately, you won’t find this phone hitting carrier shelves any time soon if that is your preferred method of purchase.

If one handed usability is your main priority, you won’t find a phone that does it better than the XZ1 Compact

The 600 dollar price tag is admittedly steep considering there are many other flagships with better specifications and more forward looking designs for an equal or lesser price. The XZ1 Compact does however have it’s advantages such as the 3D scanning capabilities and Android Oreo out of the box.

But ultimately what it boils down to is how much that compact form factor is worth to you. After all that is the main appeal of this phone. In this day and age a small sized smartphone with flagship specs is hard to come by and if one handed usability is your main priority, you won’t find a phone that does it better than the XZ1 Compact.

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