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.
What Is It?
- Processor: 2.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 (MSM8974AC)
- RAM: 2GB
- Screen: 4.6-inch IPS LCD, 1280×720 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 1280×720 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.
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 1280×720 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 3840×2160 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 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.