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Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

 Review: January 2014  

Last updated February 2014

Rating: 5 stars

In a nutshell: The Sony Xperia Z1 Compact is a pocket-friendly superphone! This smaller, cheaper version of the Xperia Z1 has a superfast quadcore processor, a 20.7 megapixel camera and is waterproof too!

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Last year we compared the Sony Xperia Z1 with the best superphones from other manufacturers and declared it to be the best! But not everyone wants to spend a fortune on a phone, or carry one with a 5 inch screen. Until now that meant you had to settle for second-best - the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini and HTC One Mini are lower in spec as well as lower in size than their flagship counterparts. But say hello to the Xperia Z1 Compact - just like the Z1, but compact.

Announced at CES2014, the Z1 Compact is now available in the UK.

Design & looks

The Z1 compact looks just how you'd expect - a compact version of the Sony Xperia Z1. It's a stunner! Constructed from two parallel glass plates with a metallic band running around the edge, the phone says "premium", with stylish details such as aluminium buttons completing the look. It's waterproof and dustproof too, and can be used under 1.5 metres of freshwater for up to 30 minutes.

The phone is comfortably ergonomic to handle. Its compact size makes it a very nice phone to hold and use, although at 9.5mm slim, it's actually slightly chunkier than it's full-sized counterpart. It's not a particularly lightweight phone either, weighing a solid 137g.

Of course, the downside of the small screen is the, er, small screen, but it's really not that small. Measuring 4.3 inches diagonally, it's still bigger than the iPhone 5s (which has a 4 inch screen). The number of pixels has also diminished, but roughly in proportion to the smaller screen size, so the pixel density is still very high. The total pixel count is 1280 x 720, making it able to display HD videos in their native resolution. And the IPS screen retains the Triluminos colour and X-Reality engine of the Z1.

We nearly forgot to mention that the Z1 Compact is available in a choice of unusual colours - Black, White, Lime and Pink - which will really make it stand out.

No loss of performance

While the screen size has been reduced, everything else that made the Z1 a superphone has been retained in the Z1 Compact. The phone runs Google Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean) and it runs it fast. How fast? 2.2GHz fast. That's because it uses the same Qualcomm quad core processor that powers the world's fastest Android phones.

The phone also has a full 2GB RAM available, 16GB of flash memory and the possibility to add a microSD card up to 64GB (SDXC supported).

This hardware future-proofs the device and makes it a much better option than the "Mini" phones from Samsung or HTC.

The phone uses this hardware to good effect too. It's PlayStation Certified with support for 3D and motion gaming and can deliver an impressive performance with any action game. It comes bundled with YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Google Maps for Mobile with Street view, plus access to over a million apps from Google Play. Everything runs superfast, with only the relatively small screen size to cramp your enjoyment.

20 megapixel camera

Yes, the full power of the Z1's 20.7 megapixel camera is here too. The camera uses Sony's Exmor RS sensor, a stacked CMOS image sensor that combines High Dynamic Range and W (white) pixels in addition to conventional RGB (red-green-blue) pixels for vastly better low light performance. The 20.7 megapixels are oversampled to generate 8 megapixel final images, which reduces noise and gives one of the very top performances of any existing camera phone.

When it comes to video, the Z1 Compact is again an extremely capable performer, able to capture richly detailed 1080p footage in all kinds of light conditions. A second front-facing 2 megapixel camera can take selfies or record video at 1080p resolution.

4G Connectivity

The Z1 Compact is a 4G phone with support for 8 LTE bands for up to 100 Mbps download and 50 Mbps uploads, as well as 3G HSPA with support for 5 bands. There's also quad-band GSM support.

In addition it supports every kind of connectivity option we can think of. NFC is fully supported with "one-touch" sharing of photos, music, etc between phones and screen mirroring on a BRAVIA TV. There's WiFi (including WiFi hotspot functionality), Bluetooth 4.0, USB 2.0, 3.5mm audio jack, HDMI and DLNA, plus some more exotics including MHL support, ANT+ wireless tech and Xperia Link.

Battery life

The Z1 came with a whopping 3000mAh battery big enough to power a small town, but the battery on the Z1 Compact is a more modest 2300 mAh. We can't say that's exactly small (it's the same as the battery in the HTC One), but it's a little more compact than we'd like. 

Nevertheless, Sony claims a video playback time of 12 hours, which isn't half bad and the phone should certainly take a whole day of use before needing a recharge. Sony's Stamina mode certainly helps to stretch the battery life to the max.

Conclusion - a compact superphone

The Xperia Z1 Compact is exactly what its name suggests - a compact version of the Z1 superphone. Unlike the HTC One Mini or Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, it's not a compromised version in any way except screen size and battery size.

We rated the Z1 as the ultimate smartphone of 2014 and it was voted #2 in our readers' Phone of the Year poll. The Z1 Compact is cheaper and more pocket-friendly, and that must surely make it the best compact smartphone available right now.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact features include:

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Sony Xperia Z1 Compact user reviews

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Average rating from 8 reviews:

Reviewed by El Mosio from UK on 27th Jan 2016
Started out well but this phone has got progressively worse with each software update.

First it was the garbled phone conversations my called users had to endure for months until I learnt to switch off "Microphone noise suppression" under Call Settings. Now, the Power button is unresponsive and it's difficult locking/unlocking screens.

Reviewed by Philip from Poland on 1st Mar 2015
Sony Xperia Z1 Compact – one of the most annoying phones I’ve ever had. First of all the camera performs very poorly - 20,7 mpx doesn’t mean that it takes good pictures. They’re just big and that’s it. And it doesn’t really give you much. In the daylight they’re comparable to photos from other phones but when there’s a little less light, everything is always blurred. And I mean always. Only putting it on a tripod would help but still not enough for it to take sharp pictures when there’s little light. Then there is the flash which is useless – again I mean it. You cannot use it as pictures are becoming blue. So forget about pictures after dark. This issue has been reported to Sony ever since the phone appeared on the market and thousands of people bought it and started complaining. No reaction from the manufacturer, no adequate software update to address this issue. Check other comments on this phone and you’ll see that every Z1 Compact fails here. Video recording is ok though. The quality is decent but it often cannot focus properly and struggles for several seconds. Also, the view is very narrow (doesn’t apply to photos – it’s much better there) which has just ruined my yesterday’s video when I tried to record something from the top with a stretched arm – this has led me to finally writing this review after a year of using the phone to warn the potential buyers about what lemon Sony has introduced to the market.
Another thing it the additional camera button (which not always works properly by the way) which if you hold opens automatically a camera app. Nice thing to have but it sets the camera only to 8 mpx mode/720p video. No way to switch so that you can take a full res picture or a video. I’ve search for that with no success. If you want to use 20,7 mpx and full HD, you need to unlock the screen and choose the camera app or after holding the button and starting the 8 mpx/720p mode you need to go to camera settings and switch to 20,7/full HD. Putting it simply – there’s no way of quickly taking a full resolution photo/video. Great!
Generally the phone doesn’t freeze at all. After having it for a full year, it has never frozen during all kind of actions. Never – and that’s a nice thing. Some apps happened to die several times but I think it’s not the phone’s fault but some issue with the apps themselves. The phone runs on 4.4 Android KitKat software which is the latest available so far.
And here I have to get back to the camera app which sometimes (5% of the time you run it) says that the camera is unavailable. Of course it usually happens when you want to take a picture quickly. No, you have to restart the phone and hope for the camera app to work this time.
This software has made the quick settings menu to split to two parts (tabs). If you open it (drag from the top) it only shows you notifications which I always read when they appear. I don’t store them so I’m not interested in seeing that 150 times a day. To get to the quick settings you need to click once more in the second tab. So you need to drag and click to get where you want. This has come with the 4.4 KitKat. Great improvement again! And now imagine that you do that every single time for almost a whole year (update was released later). This is just about the most annoying thing about this phone. If you want to open Internet connection, GPS, adjust brightness or anything other to work from that menu, you do not necessarily want to get through all kinds of different menus.
Speaking about speed, the reaction times are not bad. They’re not really impressive either. Switching through home screen’s pages is slower than in iPhone 1. Yes it is. It’s not a huge disadvantage but surprises me that a phone that is 6-7 (iPhone from 2007 or 2008) years younger does some simple things not as good as the “grandpa” iPhone (it’s battery still holds enough to use it as an music player :)).
Then there is the auto dimming screen that often doesn’t switch off. It just stays lit up all the time if you don’t turn it off manually using the side button. It will stay on until the battery dies, I checked. It’s like that since I bought the phone. Doesn’t always behave this way but it happened several times a week and the only solution to that is to reset it or completely turn off the phone. I thought it may be caused by some app running in the background and forcing the display to stay on but after turning all of them off, the problem didn’t disappear… So annoying. I’m now just waiting to swap it for a 2x as expensive iPhone which I do not need but the useless camera and the annoying way of the way the Sony works is too much for me and leaves me no choice. I had a Samsung Galaxy S before and it wasn’t perfect either. It was ok but was freezing a lot and that was its biggest problem. Some problems with reading the SD card also appeared (unfortunately Samsungs like to do that).
On the other hand the battery life is superb. Wi-Fi and data transmission work very fast. The screen quality is also good even though the factory brightness adjustment may not be enough for some of us and you’ll need to download an app that expands its range of adjustment.
The main speaker is rather quiet comparing to any Samsung which may not be a big deal bit it surprised me. The quality of sound (and music) is noticeably worse though (comparing to the SGS3 and a very old Galaxy S1).
The notification LED is barely seen so it’s basically useless unless you look at it directly. You may miss some messages because of that and it really, really bothers me in everyday life as I have to constantly look and check the phone being worried that I miss something important. Also, when you get a text message, the display doesn’t light up and all you get it that LED flashing from time to time. You also may not get any visual preview on the center of screen of what the message contains. Only after pushing the side button you may see an icon in the upper left corner and a part of a message at the time. Then the text disappears and all you’re left with is that tiny icon. Very frustrating, especially if your screen background is rather bright and it’s hard to see the little text message icon. These are the everyday problems living with the Xperia Z1 Compact.
If you use the alarm clock, you need to know that when it rings there’s only one way to turn it off – you have to slide your finger on the screen from a certain point to the side of the screen. It’s impossible to do that without looking at the phone because there’s no tolerance and you need to touch the screen in an exactly indicated spot. It usually takes several times to manage that especially if you’ve just opened your eyes. Better have something else for an alarm clock...
One last thing that is almost funny and ridiculous. When I grab the phone with one hand and hold it, I put my little finger underneath it to prevent it from slipping and falling on the ground. Now the bottom end has very sharp edges around the speaker and the microphone. You can feel them every single time. I just cannot comment on that…
This phone is just not well-thought and it makes using it very, very annoying. I really do not recommend this phone to anyone. I bought it because the camera was supposed to be so good. I’m never going to buy anything from Sony again, ever. It was released in 2014 and they still cannot get simple things to work. I spent some time to write all of that hoping that some of the ones that read it, avoid making a really bad decision.

Reviewed by johnny p from England on 2nd Oct 2014
We have 2 Z1 Compacts both new on contract earlier this year. One is fine but the other one has already had a new screen in July and now the new one has cracked.

I saw the first screen after it had been removed and it is surprisingly thin and not glass like at all. I am disappointed but not surprised at the second break.

In all other ways the phones function well as expected from the specs

Reviewed by Kerry Johnson from England on 12th Jul 2014
I adore this phone, it's by far the best out there, just a couple of things I'd like answering please? How do I switch off heptic feedback, I thought I could live with it but it's so annoying!! I've looked online and have tried to remedy from what was written but the steps seem to be incorrect as I cannot find it anywhere in any settings, please please tell me it's possible and how!?! Also how do I make a new album folder I like to keep everything organised...many thanks to anyone that can help!!

Reply by Will.i.was from Scotland on 15th Aug 2014
To turn off haptic feedback go into settings, sound then untick "vibrate on touch"

Reviewed by claudia from Malaysia on 25th Apr 2014
This phone is definitely awesome.
But what annoys me is, no call block which is useful.
And this phone cannot create & rename a new photo album.
Is anyone has the solution beside install another app?

Reply by Will.i.was from Scotland on 15th Aug 2014
To create a new folder go to Settings, File Commander then navigate to where you want the folder to be and hit the + icon on the bottom left of the screen. Easy!

Reviewed by Graham williams from uk on 22nd Mar 2014
I've had this phone about two weeks know and have had no problems works very well and the battery lasts me two days and is a good size not to big or small

Reviewed by John from England on 3rd Feb 2014
I have had this phone for 3 days and so far it has been excellent. Very good battery life, easy to use, excellent camera and very nice design. The image playback is excellent. The phone itself is very fast and everything is easy to navigate.

My previous phones were the iPhone 4S, HTC one x and Samsung galaxy 3 and this phone is by far the most impressive.

The only minor thing is the screen smudges easily because of the way it's made but it easily wipes away.

Overall an excellent phone with very high specs and should easily compete with the phones out there on the market

Reply by Peter Carruthers from England on 17th Feb 2014
TEXT REFLOW: Does anyone know if you have or can get text reflow for this phone?

The phone specs look fab but the only thing putting me off is not having the text reflow like HTC phones so any advise from you tech experts out there would be most appreciated.

Just for clarity, text reflow is where the text on the screen ill resize itself to fit the screen no matter how much you zoom in - this removes the need to scroll right to left to read what's on the page.


Reviewed by TM from UK on 2nd Feb 2014
Picked this up yesterday and very happy so far.

The criteria I have always had but never achieved were my next phone must be as powerful as most high end phones (not compromised like the S4 Mini or HTC One Mini), great battery power and pocket friendly.

I've had the S4's, LG G2's etc but for me (personal preference), they are just too big for an everyday device but as I say, it's personal preference.

My Z1 Compact is powerful and manageable and from what I have seen so far, decent battery life. Good job Sony.

Reply by yen from england on 19th Feb 2014
This is exactly true re size - why a bigger phone in design the 1st place ? this phone hits a good few points battery, screen, UI, android, tho its beaten by the s4 for its weeather & temp. sensors! but it does have ant+ compatibilty.

Otherwise a great phone and the best right now - end of !

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