Sony Xperia Z1 Compact Review and Giveaway

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This is, perhaps, the first credible iPhone competitor to emerge on the Android scene in recent memory. Small, waterproof, packing a 20.7 megapixel camera and a beastly Snapdragon 800 chipset, the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact is a different take on what a small Android phone should look, feel, and cost like.

sony xperia z1 compact review

While we’ll get to its impressive internal specifications in a moment, the most noticeable thing about the Z1 Compact is, indeed, the size. Unlike virtually every other premium device in the market today, the Z1 Compact is just a skosh larger than the iPhone 5s. It is easy to use one-handed even if you don’t have big hands.

Specs and Competitors

Now, those numbers: 2 gigabytes of RAM, an Adreno 330 GPU, a 4.3-inch 720p display boasting 342 ppi (higher than the iPhone’s), and a 2300 mAh battery that just keeps going. In Android-land, these are top of the line specs at the moment – a true rarity for a device this pocketable. The Z1 Compact can be had for $558 at the time of writing.

The Xperia Z1 Compact’s closest competitor is, of course, the iPhone. We won’t get into holy platform wars here, so let’s just talk hardware: at $649, the iPhone 5s, just as pocketable as the Z1 Compact, and is king of its own domain. It has a fingerprint sensor, which the Z1 Compact lacks, but it isn’t waterproof. At 640 x 1136 pixels, its display is lower resolution than the Z1. Its only has an 8 megapixel camera compared to the Z1 Compact’s 20.7, and its 1/3-inch sensor is smaller than the Z1 Compact’s roomy 1/2.3-inch sensor, too. Say what you will, though, the iPhone 5s is a decidedly premium device, oozing style and quality – which is more than can be said of the Z1 Compact’s other competitors.

For some reason, Android phone makers seem incapable of producing compact devices without severely crippling their specs, resulting in bland, cheap shadows of devices that could have been. Let’s look at three examples from leading makers:

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First up, the previously-reviewed Galaxy S4 Mini. If you were expecting anything as beefy as the previously-reviewed Galaxy S4, you’d be sorely disappointed. The Mini is cute and pocketable, but has a 540 x 960 pixel sreen, just 1.5 gigabytes of RAM, an Adreno 305 GPU, and a 1900 mAh battery. The good news is that you can now have it for just $350.

sony xperia z1 compact review

Then there’s the HTC One Mini. This little guy fares better in the screen department, with a 720p screen and a pixel density of 342 ppi, just like the Z1 Compact. But when it comes to RAM, it sorely disappoints, with just a single gigabyte (to the Z1 Compact’s 2). The GPU is an Adreno 305 here as well, and the chipset is just a Snapdragon 400 (to the Z1 Compact’s 800). Again, it’s a cheaper device, now available for $410.

Finally, there’s the new LG G2 Mini. At the time of this writing, this phone doesn’t have an MSRP yet — but despite being brand-new, it will see the light of day packing a low-res 540 x 960 pixel screen, a single gigabyte of RAM, and the same Adreno 305 GPU as its spec-starved brethren. At least it has a 2440 mAh battery, one area where it exceeds the Z1 Compact.

The bottom line here is that the other major Android phone makers seem content to slap their top-of-the-line branding on so-so devices. Sony bucks this trend, delivering a device that looks, feels, and costs like a premium gadget.

What’s In The Box

sony xperia z1 compact review

It was interesting to contrast the Z1 Compact’s packaging with the recently-reviewed Oppo N1 CyanogenMod edition. While Oppo worked hard to make the N1’s packaging as fancy as possible, Sony went the opposite route with the Z1 Compact: It comes in a compact, square, unassuming box.

As for what’s inside, it’s pretty much what you’d expect: You get a charger, a micro-USB cable, and a set of lovely Sony earbuds. You do get a couple of nice extras: a USB OTG cable, and a screen protector. All accessories feel high-quality, just like the phone.

Look and Feel

sony xperia z1 compact review

The Xperia Z1 Compact mimics much of the Z1’s aesthetics. The phone is held together by an aluminum chassis, and has a glass back. It comes in a number of colors – we bought a bright-yellow unit, just because. Sony seems to have found its groove with its Xperia line: Even if you strip the phone of all marks, you’d still know it’s an Xperia at a glance.

sony xperia z1 compact smartphone review

Along the device’s right edge, you’ll find the same distinctive power button you get with the Z and Z1. Below the power button is the volume rocker, and below that, near the bottom-right corner of the device, is the phone’s dedicated camera button (which you’ll find on the Z1, but not on the original Z). At the bottom-right corner itself, you’ll find Sony’s customary lanyard loop – a killer hardware feature when you’re carrying around an expensive phone.

sony xperia z1 compact smartphone review

The top of the phone houses the headphone jack. Like on the Z1, the headphone jack is exposed while still being waterproof. The phone’s left edge is where all of the other other ports, covered with protective flaps, live: Up top you’ll find the microUSB port, closely followed by the microSD card slot. Then comes Sony’s dock connector (two bare metal contacts), and finally, the SIM card slot.

sony xperia z1 compact smartphone review

At the bottom of the device you’ll find a speaker grille. It’s hard to make a waterproof speaker sound decent, and the Z1 Compact’s speaker isn’t much to write home about. It is, however, much louder than the original Z’s. Finally, the back of the device houses the 20.7MP camera and the accompanying LED flash.

Living With The Xperia Z1 Compact

sony xperia z1 compact review

The Z1 Compact was good enough to make me wonder why do I even need a larger phone. There’s a lot to be said for a device that comfortably fits in your hand. For one thing, the phone tended to fade into the background: I didn’t have a massive display to stare into, so I spent more time away from the screen, looking at the world around me.

xperia z1 compact review

When I did need the phone, it performed admirably. As you can expect from a Snapdragon 800 device with 2 gigabytes of RAM, apps were snappy and multitasking was effortless. Just like the Z1, I was able to use the camera button to wake the phone from sleep mode and launch straight into the camera in just a couple of seconds.

One of the phone’s few drawbacks in daily use was its finicky Bluetooth mode: When pairing with the previously-reviewed UE Mobile Boombox, the Z1 Compact paired just fine, but would not play music. I did get it to work once after fiddling with the settings, but couldn’t get it to repeat the feat in other attempts. This was disappointing, particularly given the Z1 Compact’s weak built-in speaker.

xperia z1 compact review

While the Adreno 330 is more than powerful enough to run modern Android games, gaming on a 4.3-inch screen is not such a great experience. Maybe I’m getting older, but it was just too small for comfort in my case.

sony xperia z1 compact

The 2300 mAh battery may not sound like much, but the Z1 Compact survived over 24 hours of regular use without a charge, and without enabling Sony’s Stamina mode. Sony claims that this battery-sipping mode would let the phone last about 41 hours on a charge under regular use. In my own testing, I got 42 hours of straight use in Stamina mode when combined with the stricter Low-battery Mode which disables even more functions when the battery is really low. It is not without its drawbacks: My alarm clock didn’t ring in the morning, for example (even though the phone still had a little bit of juice). Sony promises that its own alarm will work, but the dialog shown above makes no promises about third-party alarm apps.

The Stamina mode is one of the customizations you’ll find in Sony’s flavor of Android. Most make sense, such as the customizable toggles in the pull-down notification menu and the lovely default launcher. The only nonsensical inclusion in the Z1 Compact is floating apps: These tiny apps that hover over whatever else you’re doing make sense on a large screen, but don’t feel as useful on a 4.3-inch screen.

review sony xperia z1 compact

The camera is one of the Z1 Compact’s banner features; it also happens to be the exact same camera you will find on the previously-reviewed Xperia Z1, where we dedicated an entire section of the review to showing it off. The camera app that comes with the Z1 Compact is exactly the same as on the Z1. It’s a good camera, and it works, but don’t expect it to perform any spectacular feats of low-light photography. I feel I can comfortably carry it around in lieu of a compact point-and-shoot.

A Compact, Capable Android Phone

review sony xperia z1 compact

Some products are made to look great on TV; others are made to actually be great in life. A phone with a 4.3-inch screen may sound like a hard sell in a world obsessed with cramming pockets full of ever-growing screens. But once you actually use the Xperia Z1 Compact, smallish screen and all, it may just change your mind. I know it changed mine.

The Z1 Compact defines its own niche – it’s pretty much the only truly premium compact Android phone out there. I can only hope it sells well enough to establish the category.

MakeUseOf recommends: Buy it.

How do I win the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact?

You may enter by submitting your name and email address. You’ll receive one entry simply by doing so.

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This giveaway begins now and ends Friday, March 28. The winner will be selected at random and informed via email. View the list of winners here.

The Winner

Congratulations, Stuart Conover! You would have received an email from Please respond before April 4 to claim your prize. Enquires beyond this date will not be entertained.

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Comments (685)
  • Phil

    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 no 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.

  • Morrison

    All the features I have read sound awesome, except the low light abilities and smaller screen (Not that one can get everything in one phone).

  • Bruce

    camera and waterproof good but every phone needs to be built like a cat unbreakable.

  • Neil Anderson

    20.7 megapixel camera, it’s waterproof, small

  • sandy

    waterproof – finally a phone that’s waterproof :-)

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This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.