Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact review – worthy successor to Z5 and big improvement on disappointing X
With its improved camera, battery life, water resistance and fun apps like 3D scanning, the new Compact is a return to form for Sony after the let-down of the X model. The only real problem: the flimsy memory card slot
The Compact line of the Sony Xperia series has long been a consumer favourite.
It’s not just its size – the 4.6-inch screen is a rarity on the smartphone market these days – but its specs (both the Z3 and Z5 came with a Snapdragon 800 series processor and latest Android OS) and its long battery life are major draws.
That is why last year’s X Compact was such a huge let-down. Not only did it not come with a top-of-the-range chipset (it ran on Snapdragon 650 instead), the model was not water resistant and its camera unimpressive. So will the latest XZ1 Compact, which looks like a worthy follow-up to the Z5 Compact (on paper at least), be able to get things back on track?
Design and hardware
The XZ1 Compact looks small but clunky at first sight – 9.3mm thick and with those unapologetically thick top and bottom bezels that are a common feature of all Sony smartphones. In the hand, thanks to its hybrid metal/plastic casing, the unit, weighing 143g, feels solid and premium.
Sony doesn’t like to mess around with its design language, so the positioning of the volume rockers, USB Type-C port, 3.5mm headphone jack, power switch (which doubles as the fingerprint sensor) and the camera button (for easy point-and-shoot) are the same as in recent models. Two powerful speakers are embedded in the top and bottom bezels (which partly explains their thickness).
The (single) SIM and memory card slot is on the side, and this is my first major gripe with this new phone. As you pull out the removable port cover, it is attached to the microSD tray only. So where do you put your nano SIM card? It took me some time to finally fish out the SIM card tray, but not without first pulling out a fragile plastic ID tag. Using excessive force would risk breakage. This is just poor design.
Elsewhere, the good news is the XZ1 Compact has the IP65/68 water-resistance rating.
Software and features
This model is among the first to run on the latest Android OS 8.0.0 (also known as Oreo); coupled with the Snapdragon 835 processor, all Sony and third-party apps operate smoothly without any noticeable lag or delay. During our testing, the phone did start to get warm after the camera was on for 10 to 15 minutes.
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And with this handset, you will be using the camera a lot. Although Sony has not jumped onto the dual-camera-lens bandwagon, its shooters – a 19-megapixel rear camera and an 8MP front camera – still offer plenty of features.
There is the 18mm super wide-angle with a 120-degree field of vision (for selfies); the super slow motion video mode (which didn’t come as an built-in camera function in the X Compact); 4K video recording (which was missing from the X Compact); Sony’s SteadyShot function that prevents shaky videos; and the new “autofocus burst” mode can take up to 100 shots in 10 seconds.
The new 3D Creator app has, by far, the highest novelty value. Use it to scan a person (or an object) with the camera. Depending on which mode you have chosen, either a face scan or a full 360-degree head scan will be produced. You can then share that via Bluetooth or on social media (though you cannot directly post the 3D rendition onto Facebook, it can only be accessed through a designated Sony weblink).
You can digitally paste a face scan onto a selection of preloaded skins using the augmented reality app AR effect. The results are totally bizarre, but fun.
However, the calibration doesn’t always work, especially when scanning a person with a full mop of hair or facial hair. We kept getting error messages and it totally failed create a 3D rendition of any objects.
Performance and battery life
Packing a 2,700mAh battery, one charge lasted more than a day with moderate use (internet surfing via Wi-fi, photo and video taking, music playback, transferring files via Bluetooth and making a few short calls).
The XZ1 Compact is a welcome upgrade to the disappointing X1, both in terms of hardware and software. The camera is above average, producing quality images and videos – even in extreme low-light conditions. It comes in four colours; I like the black best because it hides those thick bezels. At HK$4,298 (Sony is currently running a HK$3,998 special offer at its stores), the XZ1 Compact is giving even its flagship sibling, the XZ1, a good run for its money.
Dimensions: 129mm x 65mm x 9.3mm
Display: 4.6” HD Display, 720 x 1,280 pixels
Battery: 2,700 mAh
OS: Android 8.0.0
Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
Cameras: 19MP rear camera, 8MP front camera
Memory: 32 GB, 4GB RAM (with expandable memory microSD up to 256 GB)
Colours: white, black, blue and pink