Although most smartphone manufacturers have made compact versions of their flagships handsets, most have been extremely watered down, where the only similarity is in the name. Not so with Sony. Its Xperia Z1 Compact packed the same slick design, supercharged processor and stunning camera as its top-end brother, but came in a much more pocketable size. I was so impressed, it earned a near-perfect review.
One year on and Sony is ready to flaunt its successor.
The Xperia Z3 Compact (Sony decided not to launch a Z2 Compact to match its Z2 phone earlier this year) has a 4.6-inch display and a fully waterproof body. Like its big brother the Xperia Z3, it also has a 2.5GHz quad-core processor and a 20.7-megapixel camera. A new addition on all Z3 phones is the ability to use the device as a wireless display for your PS4 -- that means you can actually play PS4 games on your phone.
The Z3 Compact is due to go on sale from October, although Sony hasn't been forthcoming with details about exactly where it'll be up for grabs or how much it will cost. Previously, Sony's phones have had a European launch, followed by an Asia rollout, although the US has typically been left out until later. We'll update this article when we find out more.
Design and display
The physical dimensions of the Z3 Compact remain the same as the Z1 Compact, yet it manages to pack in a larger 4.6-inch display. This isn't some terrifying black magic at play though -- Sony has made the bezel much slimmer, maximising the screen size within the same size frame. The huge bezel on the Z1 Compact was my chief complaint as it made the screen look squashed in, so it's great to see an improvement here.
The phone has a similar aesthetic to its predecessor, with the same glass front and back and minimalist Sony Xperia branding. A key change is around the edge, where the aluminium band has been replaced with an opaque plastic one. I'm not particularly keen on this tweak as it gives the Compact a less premium look and feel than its metal-edged big brother. The charm of the Z1 Compact was that it offered exactly the same premium design and components as the flagship, but in a smaller frame. With a plastic edge, that's not quite the case anymore.
Still, I do think it's a great looking phone and it's very comfortable to use in one hand -- something that can't be said for the majority of 5-inch or bigger flagships. As well as the standard black and white, it's available in turquoise and dark orange hues, with matching plastic sides.
It is of course still completely waterproof, letting you submerge it for 30 minutes in up to 1.5 metres (4.9 feet) of water. Not only does that keep it safe from spilled drinks, it allows you to watch Netflix in the bath without fear of dropping it and take pictures while swimming in the sea. The screen won't work when wet, but a dedicated camera shutter button on the edge allows you to shoot in water.
The display has a 720p resolution, which may seem a little low compared to the slew of full HD and indeed 2K ones knocking around, but on a much smaller screen size, such high resolutions can be overkill. As it is, it seemed perfectly crisp and extremely bright and bold too, but I'll reserve judgement for the final review.
The phone will arrive with the latest Android 4.4.4 KitKat software on board, onto which Sony has slapped the same skin you'll find on most of the recent Xperia phones. The main Android structure is the same -- multiple home screens, an app tray, pull down notifications and settings bar -- but you'll find various visual changes as well as a helpful menu to the left of the app tray that lets you easily reorganise your apps.
It's running on a 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, backed up by 2GB of RAM, which is a fiercely powerful engine. I have no doubts that this phone will be able to casually handle anything you throw at it. It certainly seemed extremely nippy in my hands-on time. Sony explained that the 801 is a more power-efficient processor, which apparently allows the Z3 Compact to deliver up to two days of battery life. That's a bold claim -- I'll certainly be putting it to the test -- but would be excellent if true.
An interesting addition to the Z3 Compact -- and the rest of the Z3 series -- is the ability to use the phone as a display for your PS4. Your console will still do all the processing, but it will let you stream the game to your phone, so you can hook up a PS4 controller over Bluetooth and play actual PS4 games on your phone. Sony reckons it's great if your partner wants to watch something on TV when you want to play games. Let's be honest though, its real value is the fact that we can now play glossy PS4 titles on the toilet. Smashing.
A 20.7-megapixel camera sits on the back of the phone, which is the same resolution as the previous Z1 Compact. It has had a few tweaks though. For starters, it now has a wider 25mm lens, allowing you to capture more in each scene. Sony also reckons it's the first phone camera to have ISO speeds up to 12,800.
ISO speeds refer to how sensitive the image sensor is -- the higher the number, the more sensitive it is, and the more sensitive it is, the brighter the image. An ISO speed of 12,800 is extremely high, particularly for a phone, so the camera could be great for low light shots in dingy bars. Keep in mind though that high ISO levels typically result in large amounts of image noise, especially from small image sensors on phones, so I'll wait to see the results before I declare it a success or not.
The Sony Xperia Z1 Compact is my favourite Android phone of the past year, so I was a little nervous to find out if Sony would be able to refresh it and still keep it brilliant. My nerves haven't been completely extinguished, as it's arguably a little hit and miss. Replacing the luxurious metal band for plastic immediately makes it look and feel less like a premium device -- something that its predecessor didn't struggle with.
The reduced bezel allows for a bigger screen, however, and it hasn't made the phone any more bulky. The PS4 display feature, if it works as Sony reckons, could be super handy for gaming fans. If the camera and battery improvements are as good as I'm told, then the Z3 Compact should maintain its position as the best compact smartphone around.