Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact review
Sony is taking a brave step with the Xperia Z3 Compact Tablet. With an 8in screen, its principal rivals are the Apple iPad mini 3 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4, yet at £329, this Android tablet costs more than both. In fact, that price also makes it more expensive than the Nexus 9 and the 16GB iPad Air. See also: what’s the best tablet of 2014?
Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact review: specifications, key features and design
At first glance, it’s difficult to see how the Z3 justifies its inflated price, especially in terms of the bald specifications.
On the display front, it comes with an 8in IPS display with a resolution of 1,200 x 1,920. And inside, it’s powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 SoC, with 3GB of RAM and an Adreno 330 GPU. None of this is groundbreaking stuff, and for £329, we’d also expect a little more storage than 16GB (although there is a microSD slot for expansion).
However, a closer look reveals a handful of things that elevate this tablet above the humdrum. It has the same water- and dust-resistance as the firm’s smartphones – the Sony’s IP68 rating means that it’s impervious to the ingress of dust and capable of being submerged in up to 1.5 metres of water.
The cameras are also a cut above the tablet norm – at least when it comes to the numbers – with an 8.1-megapixel camera on the rear and a 2.2-megapixel shooter up front, but there’s no LED flash to help out in low light.
In terms of connectivity, there’s a full roster of top-end tech, too, with 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1 and NFC for quick pairing with wireless peripherals. There’s also a 4G version (not yet officially available in the UK) that can be used to make phone calls, albeit only via Bluetooth headset or in speakerphone mode.
And for those who own a PlayStation 4, the Z3 holds a unique appeal – it sports a special mode that allows users to pipe games from the console to the screen of the Z3 Tablet Compact.
The design proves another factor in the Z3 Tablet’s favour. For starters, it’s the lightest, slimmest tablet of its size, outdoing both the iPad mini 3 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 in this regard. It’s 124mm wide, 213mm tall and only a fraction thicker than the iPad Air 2, at a hardly there 6.4mm. And it’s the merest slip of a thing, weighing little more than an ebook reader, at 266g.
Despite that, there’s barely any flex or give anywhere to be found – no mean feat for such a dainty tablet. It’s an engineering achievement Sony should be proud of – it’s only a shame that the design is so bland. The matte-black plastic finish on our review sample has a slight sparkle to it, but otherwise there’s very little about the look of the Z3 Tablet to raise the temperature, not even a selection of bright colours; it’s only available in black and white.
Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact review: screen, performance and battery life
It’s just as well there’s plenty else to like about Sony’s compact tablet. The Full HD display, stretched across 8in, delivers a pixel density of 283ppi, which is as sharp as you need.
It’s searingly bright, reaching 477cd/m2 with the brightness turned up, and contrast is a very respectable 1,078:1. The tablet also features Sony’s latest display technology – Live Colour LED – which is supposed to deliver “super-sharp images and accurate colours”. Alas, while the Z3 delivers on the first part of that claim, it’s a little way off on the second.
When we measured it, we recorded an average Delta E of 6.37, which would normally indicate colours that were way off. But although hues look a little more intense than we’d expect from a colour-accurate display – whites in particular appear cold and bluish – sRGB coverage is excellent (98%), and colours across the rest of the spectrum don’t look particularly unnatural to the eye.
Performance is as you’d expect from a £329 tablet – that is to say, excellent. The Z3 Tablet has a quad-core, 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, 3GB of RAM and this delivers a solid set of benchmark figures. In the single- and multi-core Geekbench tests, its scores of 977 and 2,654 compare well with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4’s 936 and 2,768 and its GFXBench T-Rex HD (onscreen) frame rate is twice as good, at 28fps. It also outstrips the iPad mini 3’s year-old hardware by 24% in this test.
It feels extremely responsive, too, whether you’re browsing hefty web pages or panning and zooming around in Google Maps. But the really impressive side to the Sony Z3 Tablet Compact’s performance is battery life. In our 720p looping video-playback test, where we set the screen to a brightness of 120cd/m2, the 4,500mAh battery lasted an astonishing 17hrs 45mins – smashing the PC Pro record for tablet battery life. That’s 50 minutes longer than the previous record-holder, the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9in (2014), and 5hrs 23mins longer than the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4.
In the GFXBench battery test, the tablet gained a projected runtime of 4hrs 49mins, indicating that stamina isn’t limited to video. It does fall behind the iPad mini 3 (5hrs 9mins) in this test, though.
Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet: cameras and software
When you move up the tablet price scale, one of the things you should expect is a better camera, and that would certainly seem to be the case from the specifications.
Fire it up, and you’re faced with an impressive-looking selection of modes and options. It’s similar to Sony’s smartphones, with Intelligent Auto mode selected by default, and a host of fun features to tinker with.
Alas, the Z3 Tablet’s rear 8-megapixel camera struggles to produce good-quality results consistently. The main problem here is lens flare, which means that most of our shots in less-than-favourable conditions came out lacking in contrast and looking washed out. We weren’t too keen on Sony’s processing of pictures, either, with heavy-handed compression artefacts smearing over the finer details.
Our test photos weren’t a complete disaster, but the Z3 Tablet Compact’s camera is best viewed as an emergency camera – and one that’s only worth using when your smartphone runs out of battery.
Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact: verdict
Despite that, the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact is still a fabulous piece of hardware. The battery life is incredible, the display is super-bright, and performance is excellent. Couple that with a slim, lightweight, water-resistant chassis and you have a high-calibre compact tablet – one that holds an edge over all its rivals.
The problem here is the price. It costs £329 for the 16GB Wi-Fi version, which makes it more expensive than the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 – currently £280 from some online outlets – and more than the already overpriced iPad mini 3; even the larger Nexus 9 and the original iPad Air are a smidgen cheaper.
The Sony Xperia Z3 Compact Tablet is fantastic, but only if you don’t mind paying for it. Its rivals may not boast better hardware, but they offer better value.
Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact specifications
|Processor||Quad-core, 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801|
|Screen resolution||1,200 x 1,920|
|Memory card slot (supplied)||microSD (up to 128GB)|
|Wireless data||Optional (with phone call capability)|
|Size||124 x 6.4 x 213mm|
|Operating system||Android 4.4.2 (KitKat)|
|Price||£329 inc VAT|