Sony Xperia Z3 Compact: Australian Review

In the last couple of weeks, you'd be forgiven for thinking that there was only one brand of smartphone on the market. The iPhone 6 has been a massive hit. But there are plenty of people who don't like the iPhone, don't like iOS, or don't like Apple. If you're one of those people, have we got the phone for you; prepare to be impressed. The Xperia Z3 Compact is Sony's — and Android's — answer to the iPhone 6.

Gizmodo loves technology. Our product reviews are presented thanks to Dick Smith.

What Is It?

Specifications
  • Processor: 2.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 (MSM8974AC)
  • RAM: 2GB
  • Screen: 4.6-inch IPS LCD, 1280x720 pixels (319ppi)
  • Storage: 16GB, microSD up to 128GB
  • Camera: 20.7-megapixel (4:3 ratio), 4K video recording
  • Connectivity: Category 4 4G/LTE, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, PS4 Remote Play

The Sony Xperia Z3 Compact is a 4.6-inch smartphone running Android 4.4.4 Kit-Kat. It's the successor to the 4.3-inch Xperia Z1 Compact, and despite packing in extra screen real estate, it's no larger.

Measuring 127x65x8.3mm, the Z3 Compact is definitely compact in the world of 5-inch and above phones like the larger Z3, Samsung's Galaxy S5, and over-5.5-inch monsters like the LG G3 and Samsung Galaxy Note 4.

Because of this, the Z3 Compact is the natural competitor to the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 (not the phabletesque iPhone 6 Plus). It's not really worth comparing the two on specifications alone, to be honest, since it's apples to oranges (or Apples to Androids, as the case may be).

What is worth pointing out, though, is the fact that the Z3 Compact is entirely waterproof, to the highest IP68 standard — that's one of its defining features not only against the iPhone but against all other Android competitors as well. That same rating makes it dustproof, although with so much outward-facing glass it's not exactly smashproof. That glass is extremely reflective, too, which might annoy some.

The Z3 Compact launched in Australia alongside the larger, 5.2-inch Z3, and the 8-inch Tablet Z3 Compact. All three devices are nearly identical apart from their differing screen sizes and resolutions — they have the same processing hardware, identical designs, identical software — and this means that whichever you buy, you'll get the same consistent experience.

Outright its big brother, the Sony Xperia Z3, will cost you $849, and the Xperia Z3 Compact will cost $699. That’s a fair bit of a bump from the price of the Z1 Compact, which you could buy for $550, but even at the higher price the smaller phone is an excellent deal.

If you want to buy the Z3 on a plan, it’ll cost you $10 per month at Telstra on a 24 month $70 Mobile Accelerate plan. At Optus, it’ll be $13 per month on a $60 plan, at Virgin it’ll be $5 per month on a $60 plan, and at Vodafone it’ll be $8 on a $70 plan. For the Z3 Compact at Telstra, it’ll be $3 per month on that same $70 plan, at Optus it’ll be $13 per month on a $50 plan, and the smaller handset won’t be sold on a plan at all through Virgin and Vodafone.

It's available in Australia in white, black — the most attractive, as usual — as well as pastel green and orange.

What Is It Good At?

Oh my God. Where do I start? Since I laid hands on it at IFA 2014, and since I got hold of it for review, I've utterly fallen in love with the Z3 Compact. It, and by the same reasoning the larger Z3 as well, is by far Sony's most refined smartphone, and unlike the masses of like-for-like Android handsets the Z3 Compact really does have some great standout features.

Let's start with the battery. To be honest, the Sony Z3 Compact has made me lazy. A few nights ago, I fell asleep with the Compact in my hand after a day of working and using the phone as usual. On any other new high-end phone this would be an alarm-clock-missing death sentence, but I woke up the next morning with Sony's wake-up alarm going off and didn't even bother charging the Z3 Compact until lunchtime — because the battery on this phone is amazing.

It's a 2600mAh (non-removable) lithium-ion cell, so reasonably large for the size of the phone, but it is Sony's software smarts that mean the Z3 Compact barely sips any power at all. Sony claims '2-day' battery life for the larger Z3, and only '1.6-day' for the Z3 Compact, but the combination of frugal hardware, an incredibly efficient and relatively low-resolution display, and smart software tweaks mean the Z3 Compact is a battery monster. It's the longest-lasting Android phone I've ever used, and I can't praise that fact highly enough.

The screen of the Z3 Compact is a 1280x720 pixel IPS panel, and I know that's going to sound mediocre and low-end to some people. It's not perfect — more on that later — but for the size of the phone, the resolution is actually pretty much perfect, and more importantly the display's black level is on point. This is a beautiful smartphone display, with excellent viewing angles, beautifully saturated colour, and a hugely versatile range of brightness from relatively dim to extremely luminant. You might be turned off by that 720p number, but don't be — it's only one factor making up an otherwise very impressive screen. (It's that low resolution that contributes to the great battery life, too.)

Sony's design team has probably been snoozing since the launch of the original Xperia Z 18 months ago. The Z3 Compact has a lot of subtle refinements over its predecessors, but it's still essentially a Z — a single pane of glass on the front panel, a single pane of glass on the back, and a plastic bezel running between the two. The white and black variants are stark and austere, but the two colours — especially the bright orange — are much more playful.

Compared to the original Z, though, and even the Z1 Compact, the Z3 Compact's smoothly curved plastic makes it feel much thinner and more comfortable to hold than it looks, and that's a feat worth mentioning. The phone's buttons are all arranged down its right side — power, volume up and down, and a physical camera shutter — and are very easy to tap with a forefinger or thumb depending on your handedness. Ports are hidden behind two waterproof panels on the left, and there's an external magnetic connector for an (unfortunately optional) dock adapter.

Sony's software experience on the Z3 Compact is, in a word, good. Like Motorola, Sony doesn't mess with the stock Android 4.4.4 Kit-Kat formula too greatly — the biggest difference is in its delineation of notifications and quick settings in the swipe-down top menu. Being a Sony phone, you get that entertainment empire's various middling in-house apps for movies and music, as well as an integrated PlayStation app that pairs with your PS4 to act as a second screen or to play your games remotely — very, very cool. The feeling you get when using the Z3 Compact is that the software is just as carefully considered as the hardware.

MORE: PS4 Remote Play - Australian Review

What Is It Not Good At?

Being a relatively late 2014 smartphone release, a pedant would say that the Z3 Compact's Snapdragon 801 chipset is outdated. It is, technically, inasmuch as the Galaxy Note 4 that will be around in stores at the same time runs Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 805, which is significantly more powerful and supports LTE-Advanced. Sony has done great things with the Z3 Compact's CPU, though, which is still high-end, and the phone never feels slow or clunky.

Only having 16GB of internal memory and 2GB of RAM, too, means that specs sheet porers will find the Z3 Compact inferior to the Galaxy S5 and other early-2014 superphones. The mediocre inbuilt storage is a disappointment — 32GB would have been handy — but that's easily solved with the use of the 128GB-capable microSD card slot, hidden away under a cover next to the phone's microUSB charging port.

The low 1280x720 pixel resolution of its screen, too, will turn those wanting the absolute latest and greatest off. Sony could have used a higher resolution display in the Z3 Compact — the HTC One M7 had a 1080p 4.7-inch panel — and, if you're looking very closely, you can see the difference between the two. It's a beautiful screen in every other respect, but having more pixels would make large pages of small text easier to read, and would give a better overall camera experience. You just have to remind yourself of that lovely, lovely long battery life.

Of the three devices in its family, and even up against larger phones like the Galaxy S5, the Xperia Z3 Compact is just a bit chubby. It's mostly Sony's squared-edges design responsible for this, with the flat rectangular glass panels and the curved bezel making the Z3 Compact feel surprisingly similar to an iPhone 5S. The 5S, though, is thinner, coming in at 7.6mm versus the Z3 Compact's 8.4mm. With much more internal capacity to fit components and battery, the 7.3mm Z3 feels much slimmer.

Sony is making a lot of noise about the fact that the Z3 Compact and Z3 sport a new 20.7-megapixel sensor capable of shooting in low light up to ISO 12,800, but on my particular Compact I really only liked the photos I took in good lighting. Don't get me wrong — in good light, the Z3 Compact's camera can take great photos (check out the Porsche below), but in poor light heavy-handed noise reduction really takes its toll on quality.This may change by the final production version, of course, so take these photos with a grain of salt. In its default 16:9 shooting mode, the Xperia's 20.7-megapixel images are downscaled to 3840x2160 pixels, or 8 megapixels, but if you want the full resolution you'll have to shoot in 4:3.

The camera menu is at least intuitive, and the physical shutter button is very helpful — both for pre-focusing and capturing photos, and for quickly launching the camera app from any screen or from when the phone itself is locked. You can't view your captured photos until you unlock the phone, but for spur-of-the-moment pictures it's incredibly helpful.

Should You Buy It?

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact

Price: AUD$699

Like
  • Incredible battery life.
  • Refined design, waterproof.
  • No-nonsense Android, PS4 Remote Play.
Don't Like
  • Relatively chunky.
  • Low screen resolution.
  • Almost outdated specifications.

Sony has done amazing things with its Z3 series, and none of them more so than the Z3 Compact.

It's a small phone, but it's incredibly powerful. It's a small phone, but it has amazing battery life. It's a small phone, but that doesn't mean you have to settle for anything less than the best.

If you want to split hairs, the screen could be better, the hardware could be newer, and the phone itself could be thinner, but it's those compromises that contribute to the overall success of the Xperia Z3 Compact.

Having cycled through the Galaxy S5, then the LG G3, and now the Z3 Compact as my personal phone, it's the Compact that stands out the most as a step forward for Android smartphones.

LG's screen is beautiful, Samsung's specs are killer, but Sony's refinement of that original Xperia Z philosophy makes this my favourite ever Android handset.


Comments

    Times have changed so much that a 4.6 inch phone is described as "small"!

    Being too harsh on the specs I'd say. 720p is perfectly fine for a 4.6" screen. That's 319ppi, the 'retina' screen of the iPhone 6 only has 7 ppi more. 16GB internal storage should also be fine, and there is micro SD slot. The camera is great, the battery life is great.. 2GB ram and a 2.5 Ghz Snapdragon 801 are also perfectly fine. Not even close to being outdated. Even hardcore users will barely see any difference between 3GB RAM and a Snapdragon 805. Especially because Sony doesn't ship too much bloatware with its phones.

    There is no other phone <= 4.7" with comparable specs. Except for the Z1 compact. And probably some less known China phones. The 'mini' phones are a joke spec wise. Good job, Sony.

      I thought Campbell was pretty fair. He said "if you’re looking very closely, you can see the difference between the two". So there is a difference between 1080p on a 4.6" screen, but it's very slight. I'd be more than happy with 720p, and in fact I see it as a benefit over 1080p for superior graphics frame-rate and battery life.

      The only thing that looks to be a bit of a letdown is the camera. IMHO they would have been better off using a lower megapixel sensor with larger pixels that allowed more light through to the sensor. There is probably still room for improvement with noise-reduction tweaking before release though, and in well lit conditions it looks great.

      Overall it looks like it's going to be one of the nicest Android handsets of the year, and hand-down the best in it's size-range.

        Hm yeah, alright. 1080p is actually twice as much pixels as 720p. My HTC One M7 has a 1080p screen as well. I can also spot a slight difference between similar sized phones with 720p screen. But it is still very acceptable.

        The Z3C will most likely deliver a better gaming experience with a Snapdragon 801 and 720p screen, than 1080p or even 1440p phones with a Snapdragon 805 processor. "Almost outdated specifications.", nope. And when you aren't playing any games it will be just as fast as well.

      "Sony doesn't ship too much bloatware with its phones"
      ha-haha-hahahahaha
      It really depends if you use the preloaded Sony apps (Walkman, Playstation)

        The walkman app is almost a good media player. It's built in with lots of features, and a good design. Hell I can even play flac with reasonable sound quality through a set of Sennheiser HD555s. They also include the infinity button which loads gracenotes trackID and links to youtube music videos. It even makes WiFi DLNA feel natural. My only quip is they choose a 5 band EQ every single time. That and a lyrics reader feature would be pretty cool But it's still more options than any of the other STOCK music players in Android. So Campbell, would you recommend the compact over the big one? I am still on the fence because GSM arena said the battery isn't quite as good on the larger variant

      I think the review was fair. He isn't saying that 720p is BAD, just not top of the line. Personally, I much prefer the higher resolutions, because they can display whole websites without as much scrolling, but the tradeoff is battery life, which this phone evidently has in spades.

      If you wrote reviews I would read them.... you should write reviews.

    the fact that you can access the camera without unlocking the phone kinda takes away the big advantage apple has had in terms of my requirements.

      I think since jelly bean you have been able to get to the camera without unlocking the phone on android

        i'm not able to do it with my note 2... maybe it's just me ._.

          I don't think Touchwiz had it properly until 4.3 or 4.4. Prior to that you could have it on there but couldn't have any sort of locking mechanism (number, pattern etc)

            I've had this on my htc one+ since 2012. I'm pretty sure android had this before apple?

              Apple had this in 2012 as well (iOS 5.1).

          You'd be looking at 4.3 jelly bean or 4.4 Kit kat, but like the 2012 edition of the note 10.1, Samsung dropped the ball on updates

      You can always put your own lock screen in that'll disable the functionality. Widget Locker's great

    Excellent review. I love nearly everything about this phone from what I've read so far. I really hope you're right about the camera software being improved-upon before release though, as I'm quite disappointed by those low-light shots. Well below the standard set by Samsung, Apple, Nokia and HTC.

    Be wary of the 16gb phone memory!! I got a Z2 a few months back, as a change up from Iphone to take advantage of the external SD. Well, wasn't I stupid! You can't transfer apps to the card!! So, if you're like me, you have a few games (Pinball Arcade, Real Racing 3 etc), and now, the memory has been used totally. Sony has not made the function available and now the phone is full and I am stuck. It is good phone though... just need to be able to move apps.

      I see you have a down vote, not sure why. Anyway, i had the same problem with my DesireHD and Samsung S3, not all the apps can be moved to the external storage, made space management a chore.

        I'm on my first android with an external SD card and found this confusing as well (I've just gotten the HTC Desire 816). My understanding from "research" (read: a quick google because I couldn't work out how to move apps like Spotify) was that after you put the SD card in, then any apps installed after that time will use the larger of the two storages (inbuilt vs SD). So, even though the Spotify app won't move over to the SD card, all of the offline playlists are now stored on the SD card. This may still annoy you, but it suits me fine - it's music, photos and movies that I need off the inbuilt storage.

      That's in part thanks to Android kit kat disallowing apps to modify SD contents. It's a little annoying since now I have to connect to my WiFi home sharing network to delete videos from my SD card, and not after I finish watching them. I've seen apps with root level permissions work though

      Root + Foldermount is the only thing that will save you in those circumstances. 16GB really is too little space for a modern flagship phone and it's insane that they still won't let us move apps to the SD card. But if you're willing to root, you can do it with Foldermount and it works with no issues.

    Wonder if it bends :)

      Probably, but I bet it goes back to its normal shape afterwards ;)

    Does the Compact feature the Pencil Stylus mode... or whatever they call it.

    Where you can use a pencil, or pen or whatever you have as a reasonable stylus?

    It’ll be out “before Christmas” according to Sony.
    The Z3 Compact launches in Australia tonight
    What?

      It's launching tonight, but it'll be in stores before Christmas.

        So they've officially announced the phone in Australia now, ok that makes more sense, in a marketing sort of way.

          Bought one of these outright at a Telstra Shop about 3 weeks ago.

    Do Sony ever do NFC or wireless charging on their phones? Have come to love both these features with my Nexus 4 and can't really live without them, otherwise the upgrade decision would be easy.

      I thought it had NFC?

      Has NFC, doesn't have wireless charging. Sorry, forgot to stick that in the Specs box!

      What do you do with the NFC? i have high hopes of using it to replace my visa debit card when using paywave but i can't find any information that tells me this can be done. (except a small article about commbank enabling the samsung s3 to allow the feature but scant other information)
      my partner will most likely get the z3 big i want some knd of windows phone (1520 maybe)
      both have nfc but as stated, i have no idea if it can be used the way i would lke (bank is NAB)
      Dami

        https://www.google.co.nz/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&es_th=1&ie=UTF-8#q=sony%20nfc%20camera%20lens

      NFC has been in Sony phones for about 3 years. No wireless charging, but Sony has dock chargers. Plus wireless charging is essentially a fancy dock. The Gold pins on the left hand side of all Z series phones allows it to connect via docks.

    If only the Z3 had wireless charging, that'd make it close to perfect.

      and it means you dont need to open ports to charge it, just drop it on a qi puck

      I am seriously considering picking up this bad boy: http://www.sonymobile.com/global-en/products/accessories/magnetic-charging-dock-dk48/

        That'd be fine if I didn't already have a qi charger next to my bed, next to the couch, on my desk and in the car!

          What QI chargers do you have? I just got a G3 and am in the market, but only want to spend $30-$50

      No it doesn't have wireless charging, however the magnetic charging port failed to get much more than a brief mention in the article. I own a z2 and it's fantastic. It allows you to place the phone in a dock or use a cable to charge, whilst not having to open up the waterproof flap all the time. Which means when you eventually drop it in water by accident and it happens that you didn't seal closed the charging port cover, you're sweet cause you don't have to open it up to charge.

    Any mention of how the sound/audio performs? Coming from an HTC One M7 I'm interested but would like to know the speakers its packing.

      That was one thing I didn't want to mention. This particular phone has speakers that are a fair whack worse than the Z3s and Z3Cs I saw at IFA, so I didn't to give it a bad rap unfairly.

        I'm also using a m7 and am looking forward to any update on how the speakers perform.

    It's not the iPhone, iOS or Apple I don't like, it's the braindead, sanctimonious morons who use them without being even the slightest bit aware of what else is out there and who aren't the tiniest bit interested in finding out. i.e. Those who simply assume that because it's an Apple product it must be good without conducting any level of qualitative assessment of the options.

    And let's be honest here, at the end of the day it shouldn't be about "like" or "don't like", it should be about "gets the job done with the least amount of hassle", shouldn't it?

      Not everyone is a tech geek like us that dotes over the latest releases, argues over specs and reads exhaustive hardware reviews before deciding on their latest gadgets. I love being a geek, but I totally respect that not everyone is like me. Some people are busy with many other aspects of life, and hence they just want their tech experience to be easy and simplified as possible. I often don't think Android is the best choice for people that don't like to fiddle with settings when perhaps all they care about are running their apps and having a reliable, fast camera etc. For those people Apple is fine and I get sick of people being labelled "sheep" "braindead" or worse because if it.

      I know next to nothing about cars (and don't want to know) so I'm sure mechanics would knock me for choosing a simple, reliable brand without spending years researching beforehand. It's the same for all sorts of specialist areas that I'm not particularly interested in, so why should I knock people for not worshipping technology like I do?

      By all means pride yourself on having good tech skills and knowledge and choosing your products wisely. But why bring down others that want a basic "just works" experience? (Sure it's not always true, but Apple's quality standards are mostly excellent).

        Spot on. I love Android and talked it up so much to one of my friends when she wanted to upgrade her iPhone. She got an S3 and HATES it.

          I did the same thing with my Dad - recommended he get a HTC M7 as I thought Android had simplified to the point he would like it, and find it more productive than an iPhone for work. I was wrong. It was too confusing for someone of his vintage, and had too many niggly issues. His next phone was an iPhone 5S and its a much better fit for his needs and skill level. (and he is CEO of a large company so no slouch in the productivity department). It's just that the simplicity of iOS and its 1st class app ecosystem made more sense for him (and made it easier to contact all the iMessage users in his contact circle among other benefits). The camera is also dead simple to use with very pleasing results and the TouchID fingerprint scanner provides an excellent level of security in a very user-friendly way.

          Apple get a very unfair rap from all the elitist tech heads who think they always know better. iOS obviously leaves a lot to be desired compared to Android' advanced & more-open functionality , but for many regular users it's benefits are insignificant and at times buggy or confusing.

          I quite happily recommend Apple to people that I think are better suited to their products. To do otherwise would be disingenuous.

            extremely well said and couldnt agree more.

          bet you are off the christams card list then haha

        every flagship from 2013 gets thing done perfectly. Apple is not doing a better job in many aspects of getting thing done.

      I think you are painting all apple users with one brush. Yes there are the people who have only ever used an iPhone and dont care what else is out there but there are also the people who have tried other things and gone back to an apple.

      For example myself. I am currently using an iPhone for personal use. I have a galaxy through work and also I tried out a Nokia windows phone previously. I much prefer the iPhone hence why I went back to them. I tried others (and still using galaxy) but I prefer the apple. Personal preference, not because im a braindead sheep. I think it is a bit elitist and typical of a lot of tech savvy android users who like to bag apple products. Just seems a bit silly to me. Different options for different people, dont begrudge them making a choice.

      Last edited 01/12/14 5:24 pm

      What about the people that only buy Samsung phones, everyone I know who uses an android phone has a samsung.

      And I have a friend who has had 4 Galaxy's ask me why I don't switch to android. My only answer is, I will when you do.

      Last edited 02/12/14 7:02 am

    I cannot wait to get my hands on this thing!

    or just purchase a magnetic usb cable off of ebay for 6 bucks lol

    This looks awesome. I'm starting to think about updating my S3 and so far this is the only thing that's got me excited. Here's hoping I can hold out just one more year..

    October 14 from Telstra. $600 or $73 a month. Boom!

    WHATS THE THEME?
    LOOKS BEAUTIFUL.

      Action Launcher + Click UI + Muzei -- check it here: http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2014/09/the-three-apps-i-install-on-every-android-phone/

    Good looking phone. Loved the underwater unboxing video!

    THIS just might make me move from iPhone to Android. Well done Sony

    If you wrote reviews, I would read them. You should write reviews.

    Be wary about the internal memory!! I have the Z2 and is a great phone, but due to the poor memory, it is effectively full all the time. Apps can't be transferred to SD (unless you root). So if you enjoy gaming, you are effed in the A (Thanks South Park!). A couple of games, say a racer, a pinball simulator and et voila! You have no memory left, despite the fact you've 64gb awaiting to be used. So dumb. So, So SO DUMB!!!!

    Since this has been pushed to the front page ( not even an edit for outdated details i.e. price and availability) the Qualcomm claim the 801 supports LTE-Advanced, do you have any source saying that it doesn't? The comparison with the 805 makes it sound like it doesn't support LTE-A when according to Qualcomm's website it does.

    "Integrated 4G LTE Advanced World Mode, supporting LTE FDD, LTE TDD, WCDMA (DC-HSUPA), CDMA1x, EV-DO Rev. B, TD-SCDMA and GSM/EDGE
    CAT4 speeds of up to 150 Mbps with support for up to 2x10 MHz carrier aggregation
    3rd Generation integrated LTE modem, with support for LTE-Broadcast and LTE multimode dual-SIM (DSDS and DSDA)"

    wow nice review but this phone is a joke i have had it for a month and nothing but faults
    i tired to turn away from apple and give android a go but wow what a disapointment
    1) external charger does not work
    2) both front and back panels are glass back panel broke after 2 days use
    3) viewing angles are terrible
    4) over all build quality is a joke
    5) external jack output is very low compared to other phones
    6) when phone is turned to landscape you can not view whats on the screen with sun glasses on (perfect example using sat nav when driving on a sunny day unusable)
    7) touch screen detection and accuracy is very poor

    back to iPhone it just works.

      I've had the same phone for over a month now, and have seen none of the issues you're talking about. This thing is awesome.

    Is it just me, or does it look like an iPhone 4 to you guys too?

      Its just you. My Z3C next to my wife's iP4S and they look quite different. There are similarities, such as the glass screen back but otherwise no.

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