Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review: The best small Android phone to buy right now

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Suffice to say, the Compact is way out in front of the other mini phones. Both the Galaxy S4 Mini and HTC One Mini have dual-core chips that, while more than adequate for the essentials, don't handle demanding gaming and multitasking as smoothly as the Compact.

Camera

On the back is the same 20.7-megapixel camera from the Z1. I found the Z1's camera to be capable of capturing some great shots, and with exactly the same sensor and optics, it was no surprise that the Compact performed similarly well.

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My first shot of London's St Paul's Cathedral has a great overall exposure, with rich colors and plenty of detail from the 20-megapixel sensor.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Shooting over the Thames river, the automatic mode did a decent job of keeping the bright sky under control, while still keeping some detail in the dark buildings on the right hand side.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The generous helping of megapixels provides satisfying clarity on the fine details of this cute cat's face.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Among the picture effect settings is a sweep panorama mode, which I found worked well.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

There's also a rather brilliant kaleidoscope mode, which turns even the most mundane of scenes into a piece of unusual modern art. This picture of a Fanta and a Diet Coke can in the CNET lunch room would be pretty boring otherwise.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

An augmented reality mode lets you apply various effects onto the screen, including this fish that decided to photobomb my picture, a variety of daft wigs and glasses to superimpose on your subjects' faces or even a 3D T-Rex who'll walk around virtual trees and volcanoes on your desk.

Some previous Xperia cameras haven't impressed due to an annoying lag time between taking each shot. The Compact however doesn't seem to suffer from this problem. Rapidly tap the on-screen camera button and you'll be able to snap around two shots a second, which I found to be comparable to the iPhone 5 and HTC One. Autofocus slows things a little of course, but you can still take a shot a second, which is considerably faster than the roughly five seconds per shot on the Nokia Lumia 1020. Still not fast enough? There's a burst mode that rapidly takes 20 shots for you to choose the best from.

Battery life

The Z1 Compact packs a 2,300mAh battery into its beautiful frame, which gave a very respectable battery life, so long as you're reasonably careful in how you use the phone. The biggest drain on the battery is the screen -- spend a few hours watching Netflix at maximum brightness and you'll quickly see the juice ebb away.

It holds its power well in standby mode though and with mixed usage -- some Spotify on my commute, sending and receiving emails and texts throughout the day, a spot of Web browsing and taking some photos in the evening -- there was still juice in the tank when I went to bed. The same cannot be said of the Nexus 5 or the Z1, both of which I needed to charge up in the office in order to have power left when going out in the evening.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

If you play a lot of games in your day, or are constantly keeping the screen on to keep in touch with colleagues then you'll probably need to give it a charge throughout the day as well, but if you're more careful then there's no reason at all you shouldn't get a whole day of use from the phone. Use it more sparingly and keep power-hungry background tasks like GPS and Wi-Fi turned off and you'll be able to get a decent way into the second day too.

Conclusion

Sony has done with its mini phone what we hoped other manufacturers would do with theirs -- shrink the size of the flagship, but keep the elite lineup of specs. Mix in the waterproof construction, the beautiful design and the good camera and the Z1 Compact is a superb phone for those who don't want their pockets stretched out by 5-inch goliaths.

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