Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact review: Small, powerful and now cheaper

DEAL ALERT: Carphone Warehouse has dropped the price of a SIM-free Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact handset to £199, which is a lot lower than some competitors’ prices (for example, the same phone currently costs £359.99 on Amazon). To make the most of Carphone Warehouse’s generous offer, click here and head to their site.

Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact review: Small, powerful and now cheaper

Lee’s review continues below.

Sony’s fresh Xperia XZ1 Compact is, as the name suggests, the smaller version of its Xperia XZ1 handset. With a 4.6in display, it’s not only far more pocket-friendly than its 5.2in sibling, but it’s cheaper, too.

Despite its smaller size, though, the XZ1 Compact doesn’t scrimp on the specifications. Powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, 4GB of RAM and with 32GB of internal storage, which is expandable up to 256GB via a microSD card, it’s just as powerful as the flagship Sony Xperia XZ1 and Sony Xperia XZ Premium.

The smaller version of Sony’s latest handset not only serves to show that pocket-friendly phones still exist, but it does everything so spectacularly well that it will make you question why big-screened phones are the go-to standard today.

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Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact review: Design

In simple terms, the Xperia XZ1 Compact is a shrunken version of the larger Xperia XZ1 with a 4.6in screen instead of a 5.2in one. Besides that, though, the design is strikingly similar – from its silky soft plastic matte finish to its chamfered edges at the top and bottom, softly rounded sides and sharp-edged corners.

Like the rest of Sony’s lineup, it’s IP68 dust- and water-resistant, there’s a side-mounted power button that doubles up as a fingerprint reader, coupled with a dedicated shutter button for the camera situated on the right-hand edge.

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Unlike the recent iPhones, Sony’s Xperia XZ1 Compact has a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top edge while at the bottom you’ll find a USB Type-C port with Quick Charge 3 support. In short, this is a practical and attractive handset.

Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact review: Display

Where the XZ1 Compact is let down, however, is its display. The 720p resolution feels a little dated in 2017, especially on a £500 smartphone. Then you’ve got all of Sony’s rivals pushing the bezel-less design, making the XZ1 Compact’s once-attractive “Omnibalance” design – with its equally large bezels above and below the screen – looking somewhat frumpy in comparison. That was what I thought initially, anyway. Expect to change your mind the more you use it.

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Aside from the sub-Full HD resolution, the XZ1 Compact’s display is nothing short of superb. Colour accuracy is top notch, especially with the phone’s “professional” display mode engaged. Covering 89% of the sRGB colour gamut, the XZ1 Compact’s contrast ratio reaches an impressive 1,280:1 while brightness peaks at a glaring 611cd/m². When all this is added together, it makes for one very impressive smartphone display that won’t leave you squinting during a YouTube marathon, even in direct sunlight.

Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact review: Performance and software

And there’s even more good news when it comes to the core hardware. Despite its miniature size, the Xperia XZ1 Compact has the same octa-core 2.35GHz Snapdragon 835 chip as the mighty OnePlus 5 and Sony Xperia XZ Premium handsets. Paired with 4GB of RAM, 32GB of storage and Android 8 Oreo, it’s safe to say this is high-end hardware.

And, when it comes to performance, the Compact is a winner. It performed exceptionally well in the benchmarks, with the XZ1 Compact returning near identical multi-core and single-core CPU scores to 2017’s other Snapdragon 835-equipped phones. And, thanks to its lower resolution display, it delivers superior graphics test results as well.

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In further good news, battery life is also much improved over the regular Xperia XZ1. In our continuous video playback test, the Compact lasted 16hrs 29mins where the Xperia XZ1 lasted a mere 11hrs 53mins.

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Finally, the XZ1 Compact is also one of the first phones we’ve seen with Google’s Oreo OS, although as usual Sony is adding its very own software overlay. This adds extra organisational features to the app drawer, among other nice-to-have extras such as Sony Remote Play, which allows you to stream gameplay from your PlayStation to the screen of the phone. Apart from this though, it’s a reasonably subtle tweak.

Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact: Camera and 3D scanning

When it comes to the camera, the Xperia XZ1 Compact’s specifications hold up well compared with rivals, which is what you’d expect from a company that manufactures the camera modules built into most of today’s smartphones.

Its 19-megapixel f/2.0 rear shooter is identical to the regular XZ1’s and it benefits from electronic image stabilisation (EIS) for extra-stable video recording, while its “predictive” phase-detect and laser autofocus systems promise quick, reliable shooting in good and low-light conditions.

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In terms of image quality, the XZ1 Compact performs on par with most modern smartphones. Images are highly detailed in good light, thanks to the 19-megapixel sensor and shots are sharp with good colours. Photographs are marred a touch by over-sharpening and image-compression artefacts, which can lead to the loss of some fine details. However, given the higher pixel count, pictures looked crisper than those taken with the OnePlus 5, capturing plenty of detail in intricate brickwork and foliage.

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Low-light performance is decent, too, although our test shots did look a touch on the noisy side, something that’s exacerbated by the phone’s sharpening algorithm. Overall, photo quality is fractionally better than the OnePlus 5 but it’s not on the same level as the Samsung Galaxy S8.

So what about that 3D image scanning feature that Sony has been keen to tout since the XZ1 and XZ1 Compact announcements? Well, that’s a bit of a mixed bag, too.

It’s easy enough to operate: simply load up the app and point the rear camera at an object of your choice – faces, food, whatever takes your fancy – and follow the dotted lines onscreen. Once you’ve finished, just tap to confirm you’re done. You can then re-scan to fill in more intricate details with the camera if needed, and tap to confirm when you’re all finished to begin rendering.

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Despite it being easy to use, though, it’s rather time-consuming and the results are inconsistent. Face and head scanning worked on occasion, but too often you’re left with a Frankenstein’s monster of a face or something that looks like you’re a mangled burn victim.

Nevertheless, if you do manage to create something you’re happy with, you can quickly export the file for printing out at home, if you happen to have a 3D printer, and then you can have your head preserved for all eternity.

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Will it be something that you’ll make use of often? Probably not. But it’s something to have fun with if nothing else.

Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact review: Verdict

With superior performance, great battery life and a fantastic display, Sony’s XZ1 Compact is nothing short of a marvel. It has performance on par with the best smartphones in the industry, as well as an impressive camera and yet its small size means it’s a lot easier to slide into a pocket than most flagship smartphones these days.

And the best thing about it is that, at £500, it’s £100 less than the regular-sized Xperia XZ1 and £200 cheaper than the iPhone 8. The elephant in the room is the OnePlus 5, which is even cheaper at £450, but that’s a considerably bigger device.

In short, if you prefer your phones to be usable one-handed, you won’t be disappointed with the Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact. It not only serves to show that pocket-friendly phones still exist, but it does everything so spectacularly well that it forces you to wonder where our obsession with big-screened phones started in the first place.

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