Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review: waterproof and great value


WhistleOut
24 July 2014

The Xperia Z1 Compact may have been out for about 6 months now, but it’s still kicking around as a great-value mid-range phone complete with 20MP camera and waterproof exterior. It’s very similar to the original flagship Xperia Z1 in many respects, which is a high compliment for any phone in this price range.

Design

4/5

The Z1 Compact sports a familiar look. Both the front and rear are make of scratch-resistant glass and the sides are rimmed by a metal frame that includes the port flaps that cover the USB, microSD and SIM slots, which are crucial for keeping out liquid.

Unfortunately, the “scratch resistance” of the glass only goes so far. We found that in just over a week our model had some decent scratches on its rear from contact with other items kept in the same pocket. Fortunately, the glass covering the screen appears to have been made of sterner stuff and is still in great shape.


The phone itself has two dust/water resistance ratings: IP55 and IP58. These ratings it shares with the Xperia Z1 and more-recent Xperia Z2. They jointly mean that it can withstand pressure from a mild jet like a kitchen tap (IP55) and that it can be fully submersed in over a metre (3 feet) of water for over half an hour (IP58).

With a 4.3 inch screen, the Xperia Z1 Compact really does live up to its name. 4.3 inches may have been big a few years ago, but these days it’s downright diminuitive. It’s refreshing to use a phone that can be easily used with one-hand every once in a while, even if there are definitely some good arguments in favor of more screen real-estate.

Another great addition held over from the flagship Z models is the dedicated camera button. This button automatically launches the camera app when the phone is unlocked, and lets you take photos more easily than if you had to touch the screen. Also, thanks to the waterproofing, you can even take photos while underwater. Try doing that with your Galaxy S5, I dare you (I don’t. Don’t do it).

Our final favorite bit about the Z1 Compact’s look is its color options. As well as the regular black and white, it also comes in bright yellow and bright pink options. These two vibrant motifs are not available from every carrier or vendor, but it’s worth looking in to if you’re sick of the same old color schemes, as we are at times.

Some last points worth noting are the virtual keys and the non-removable battery. On-screen buttons and the inability to switch a battery out for a new one are contentious issues for some users. On the whole, though, it’s not going to affect the majority of people, and virtual keys are the kind of thing you quickly get used to with a bit of experience, even if you count yourself a hater.

User experience

4/5

We’ll get it out of the way first: Sony’s user interface (UI) isn’t great. It’s not bad, either; it’s just kind of ‘there’. It’s not pretty, nor is it ugly. There’s nothing to wow you, nor are there any glaring omissions or frustrations. It’s the kind of interface that you never really notice, because there’s nothing to really take notice of.

One thing we will say is that you should update the Z1 Compact as soon as you get it. Out of the box it ships with Android 4.3. Go in to Settings > About Phone and tap Software Update. Make sure you’re connected to WiFi and have plenty of battery life. Your update to Android 4.4.2 KitKat should begin shortly, so long as it’s available in your region. This will make your phone noticeably faster at mundane tasks, and give a few little tweaks to the UI that are all minor improvements.

It works fairly smoothly, obviously, or else that would count as something to take note of. In fact, it’s quite fast for a mid-range phone. This is probably more thanks to the surprisingly-powerful quad-core 2.2GHz processor and 2GB of RAM rather than the UI, a combination that comes close to rivalling many top-end model handsets.

The 4.3 inch screen, too, is quite good. At 720p HD (720x1280) it has more pixels per inch than an iPhone’s Retina display. Colors come out vibrantly and contrast is good. It could be a little brighter, though. Sometimes viewing it in direct sunlight was a little difficult, but generally it was good.

One small issue we had was with the keyboard. We’re a big fan of swype-style typing, but the screen on the Z1 Compact seemed to lag every once in a while. This meant that a swipe action for a single word would be split in to two, leaving you with two unrelated words in your text. It could be frustrating, but this was the only piece of functionality in which we noticed the screen lag affecting anything.

Another occasional problem was a delay when launching the camera app. Mostly it booted up quite quickly, but sometimes it could take upwards of five seconds. Other times pressing down on the shutter button seemed to have no effect at all, and we’d have to press it a few times to get it to register.

Battery life is pretty standard for a modern phone. It easily lasted a day, but never quite made it to two. You're still going to need to charge it every night, but if you do you'll not often find yourself in desperate need of a power outlet.

Overall it was an impressive and novel experience from a mid-range device. The minor inconveniences were more than off-set by the thoroughly usable speed and smoothness with which the Xperia Z1 Compact conducted itself.

Camera

4/5

The 20.7MP camera is pretty good. Don’t go expecting it to be better than something like you’d find on a Galaxy S5 or LG G3 just because the Megapixel (MP) count is higher, but it’s definitely better than we expected considering its price bracket.

Shots during the day come out fantastically. There’s a great amount of color and tonnes of detail. It achieves focus quite quickly and isn’t too put-off by movement.

Shots indoors are also quite good. There’s less noise than we’ve seen from other phones in this class and once again focus is quick.

Night time is when it starts to struggle a little. The flash suffers from the old problem of washing out colors with a sort of white hue. It also has the tendency to occasionally bug out and cover the whole image in a sort of bluish-white haze. Generally, though, it’s no better or worse than other mid-rangers in low-light conditions.

Verdict

The Sony Xperia Z1 Compact is an awesome mid-range phone. It's fast, has a great camera and is fully waterproof. You can get it in a variety of colors and it won't be a cause for discomfort in your pocket.

Honestly this is one of the best phones in its price bracket right now. Admittedly the UI is a little boring, but the hardware handles just about anything you'd find yourself doing with ease.

If it weren't for the camera and the water-proofing then the Z1 Compact would have trouble differentiating itself from the pack, but with them onside it's absolutely worth your serious consideration.


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