Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact review

One of the main issues with 2016’s Sony Xperia X Compact was that it had forgotten its legacy. While maintaining its iconic, pocket-sized demeanour, it lacked the brawn and playful quality of the Xperia Z5 Compact.

Thankfully, Sony has come to its senses with the Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact.

This 4.6-inch smartphone is capable of just about everything its larger sibling, the flagship Sony Xperia XZ1 is, but in a smaller, more battery-efficient form factor that can be easily operated with one hand.

If you’re looking for a smaller Android handset, this is one of the few you can buy that offers top-end specs along with a compact design.

Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact release date and price 

  • Price is set at £499 which we estimate to cost around $675, AU$840 
  • Release date is set for September, but further details are currently unclear

The Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact release date is pegged for the end of September 2017, but pre-orders are open now. You’ll be able to buy it from a variety of networks and retailers, as well as directly from Sony itself.

The Xperia XZ1 Compact price is £499, which is around $675, AU$840 – those US and Australia prices are not confirmed yet. In the UK you’ll be able to get the handset SIM-free, while contracts begin at £30.99 a month with a £29.99 upfront cost.

Design and display 

  • Small form factor is great for those who don't want a device with a huge screen
  • Typical Sony design of the last few years, but uses plastic on the rear
  • 4.6-inch 720p display is sharp and bright, much better than it sounds on paper

Like the XZ1, the Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact has received a bit of a shake-up in terms of design over its predecessor. While it’s still boxier than the larger flagship, its edges have been slightly rounded off for a more ergonomic feel in the hand.

Compared with the full-size XZ1 you might be expecting some compromises to have been made in the process of squeezing this phone into its compact form factor. But other than its dimensions, which come in at 129 x 64 x 9.3mm, there’s honestly not much that’s different here, that’s a good thing.

While the chunky design might put some people off, there’s something rather endearing about the XZ1 Compact. Its almost cutesy look is appealing, and it’s nice to have a smaller option when most mainstream manufacturers are only making large-screen premium phones.

The body of the phone is plastic, but it’s not ‘plastic’ in the cheap sense of the word – and it certainly doesn’t feel like a low-end phone in the hand.

The unibody is constructed from a glass fiber woven plastic, which is both strong and lightweight and also gives the phone a pleasing feel and finish. You really wouldn’t know this wasn’t metal, as it feels sturdy when you’re holding it in your hand.

The top and bottom of the device are capped with metal, while the front is protected by Gorilla Glass. Thanks to the smaller design we also don’t think this phone is particularly heavy at 140g.

When you’ve got this phone on your person you’ll barely notice it, while with many modern smartphones it’s all you can do to fit them in your jeans pocket. Sony’s habit of making its smartphones dust- and water-resistant continues here, with the XZ1 Compact having an IP65/68 rating, which means it’ll even survive a dunk underwater.

We ran this phone under the tap and it survived the experience, which means your phone should be okay if it accidentally slips into the bathtub, or if you have it in the bathroom while you shower.

Despite being a good bit smaller than the Xperia XZ1, the XZ1 Compact retains that phone’s button and port layout. The volume rocker sits on the right-hand side of the phone, and we found this a little too small – it’s around the same size as the adjacent power button, so we regularly accidentally locked the phone rather than changing the volume.

The power button itself sits flush with the body of the device, and – unless you’re in the US – has a fingerprint scanner built in. We found this to work quickly, and as it sits where your thumb naturally falls on the device when it’s in your hand it’s easy to reach.

Note that ‘unless you’re in the US’ though. Inexplicably, and maddeningly, Sony has once again omitted the fingerprint sensor from the power key for the US market, limiting security options to a PIN or pattern. Exactly why Sony has chosen to do this remains unclear.

For colors you have the choice of Black, Snow Silver, Horizon Blue and Twilight Pink. We tested the Horizon Blue option – it’s a highly distinctive color compared to any other ‘blue’ phones we’ve used, and it certainly turned some heads.

The XZ1 Compact’s 4.6-inch display rocks a 720p HD resolution, which is standard for Sony’s Compact line and comfortably positions it against its main competitor, the iPhone SE; it may disappoint some, but we didn’t miss having a higher-resolution panel.

It’s a bright display and it’s colorful too – if Sony had opted for a Full HD panel it would have likely just impacted negatively on battery life, without adding greatly to the user experience.

If you like to play a lot of games and watch a lot of video on your phone you may find this smaller panel too small, but we liked the size of the screen, and it’s just right if you like to be able to use your phone one-handed.

Battery

  • Same size battery as the larger Xperia XZ1 with a 2,700mAh cell
  • We found it would last a full day of intensive usage
  • Fast-charging tech is impressive, but no wireless charging

The 2,700mAh battery in the Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact may not sound that generous on paper, but thanks to the phone’s smaller 4.6-inch display coupled with the improved power efficiency of the Snapdragon 835 chipset and Android Oreo software, it offers impressive stamina.

It’s the same cell as in the Xperia XZ1, but as here it’s only powering a 720p display it performs much better than it does in the larger phone.

During our testing we never found the battery dying on us before the end of the day. Even with extensive use we found it would last a full day, and still have around 10% left in the tank when we plugged it in at night.

Compared to a lot of top-end Android phones at the moment that is some phenomenal battery life, and while it doesn’t hit the two-day heights of the Moto E4 Plus, it also doesn’t have a heavy and stocky battery inside.

Putting the Xperia XZ1 Compact through our standard battery test, which involves playing a 90-minute video with the screen brightness at maximum and accounts syncing over Wi-Fi in the background, we found it dropped down to 83%.

Despite the phone having a wireless charging-friendly plastic material back, Sony hasn’t incorporated wireless charging in the Xperia XZ1 Compact, and considering Apple’s new focus on the technology it’s a shame Sony hasn't decided to do the same.

Wireless charging is becoming increasingly commonplace in the latest phones, so it would have been a smart move by Sony to include it here.

There is at least fast-charging tech on offer with the Xperia XZ1 Compact, which should mean your phone is pumped up to 50% from zero in half an hour or so. We found this worked as advertised, and the switch to USB-C tech is a great move from Sony.

Camera

  • Uses a 19MP rear sensor that comes with slow-mo capabilities seen in the Xperia XZ Premium
  • 8MP front-facing camera with wide-angle lens, that's great for selfies full of people

The XZ1 Compact also boasts the same 19MP rear-facing camera as the larger Xperia XZ1 and Xperia XZ Premium.

This means it has a sensor that’s capable of super slow-mo video recording at 960 frames per second. This feature is by far the highlight of the camera, and it’s a great extra little feature to play with.

We managed to get some fantastic slow-mo shots, and they’ll beat anything you can shoot on the iPhone or Samsung Galaxy Note 8. That said, this feature does have a very limited use case.

There’s also a mode called Predictive Camera where it burst shoots three images before you press the camera shutter, and it does this through smile-detection technology. It should mean if you shake slightly you'll hopefully still get a non-blurry shot, but that’s also because of Sony’s fast auto-focus technology too.

In terms of everyday camera use, we found the 19MP sensor would shoot some impressive photos but would struggle with low-light photography. If you’re shooting at night the photos can sometimes become quite grainy.

Landscapes shot in good light came looked good, although not as impressive as we'd hope for from such a powerful camera.

There’s also an 8MP front-facing snapper on the XZ1 Compact. Sony is aiming this phone very much at the social media/selfie generation, and the front-facing camera is a key component of its appeal.

It offers a super-wide mode that gives you a 120-degree field of view, which is similar to that of our eyes and allows you to cram more of your buddies, or the beautiful vista behind you, into the shot.

We found ourselves using this mode frequently, as it gives your selfies a different style, but it’ll become genuinely useful if you’re shooting a group of mates or you’re in front of an impressive landscape.

You can switch between this wide-angle view and a more typical 80-degree option that's perfect for those close-up Instagram pouts and Snapchat Stories.

The front camera also offers video recording, and if you find yourself in a dim bar you can employ the help of the display flash – this turns the phone’s screen bright white when you hit the shutter key to ensure that your selfies aren’t a blurry, dark mess.

Camera samples

Anything else I should know? 

  • Top end performance with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 and 4GB of RAM
  • Limited storage with only a 32GB model on sale
  • One of the first phones to come with Android Oreo right out of the box

It may be small, but the Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact is powerful, with a Snapdragon 835 chip and 4GB of RAM on board. These specs earn the phone some immediate future-proof cred.

It puts the Compact right up there with the Samsung Galaxy S8, LG G6, HTC U11 and Huawei P10 in terms of pure power, which is certainly impressive.

We ran the phone through Geekbench 4 and it came out with an impressive score of 6,500, one that’s reflected in everyday performance as well as intensive usage, such as when gaming or multi-tasking.

We haven’t found XZ1 Compact to be as powerful as the Sony Xperia XZ1, and it’s slightly behind the OnePlus 5 or Honor 9 in terms of benchmarking, but this is still one of the most powerful phones on the market, and you really won’t be disappointed with its performance.

Inside you'll also find 32GB of storage, which these days doesn’t feel particularly generous. You can expand on this with a microSD card, but it would have been ncie if Sony had offered 64GB of storage as standard, like it did on the Xperia XZ1.

The Xperia XZ1 Compact launches with Android Oreo onboard, and it’s one of the first phones to be available with the new software. Sony’s own UI sits over the top and it's great to have the latest version of Android at use here.

Hopefully this indicates that Sony is keen to keep the phone up to date with subsequent versions of Android too, so you should be future-proofed for a few years.

The UI itself can look a little dated, but it’s much improved over the Sony phones we’ve seen in the past. There are a few unnecessary pieces of Sony software included, such as the PlayStation or What’s New apps, but these can be deleted if you want to free up the space on your device.

Like its larger sibling, the Xperia XZ1 Compact also comes with Sony’s new 3D Creator application, which enables you to quickly and easily take 3D scans of faces, heads, food and random objects on your phone, and then save, share on social media and even 3D-print your creations.

It’ll take you a while to get the hang of the process, but it’s a fun tool to play around with once you’ve made one. Below you can see a video in which we try out the feature on the Xperia XZ1.

Among other things is means you can map your friend’s face, put their likeness into silly videos and send it to your friends as either a GIF or MP4. There’s not much else you can do with these scans, but it's another entertaining feature.

We hope it’s a feature that Sony will one day bring to the PlayStation 4, so that, for example, you’d be able to play a game with your face on your character.

Like the XZ Premium, the Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact brings support for Hi-Res audio, and is even capable of upscaling MP3 tracks to sound better through a decent set of headphones.

When using such heaphones with the phone there’s a notable difference in audio quality compared to other handsets.

There are also dual-firing speakers on the front of the phone, which makes for great audio performance when you’re listening to music or watching videos on your phone. If audio quality is a key feature for you, this is another reason to buy the Xperia XZ1 Compact.

Verdict

The Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact is a promising step forward for the popular one-handed-use series.

The price is a touch higher than we’d hoped for, but there are still a lot of reasons to recommend this capable and pocketable smartphone as your next handset. 

The fact that it’s one of the most powerful phones on the market, and is running Android Oreo software, are just a couple of the big highlights of this phone.

Who’s it for?

The Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact is the phone for you if you’re looking for a compact device that offers high-end spec and runs Android software.

Sony is the only company making handsets with screens this small that can still keep pace with the big, high-end handsets, and the Xperia XZ1 Compact is even more powerful than its close riva, the iPhone SE.

This phone is also a great buy if you’re looking for a phone that’s running the latest Android software, as the Oreo update is ready and waiting for you.

Unlike Pixel handsets it’s not running stock Android O, but you’ll get all the benefits of the newest software and it means your phone is fairly well future-proofed too.

Should I buy it?

The Xperia XZ1 Compact isn’t a cheap phone. It sits at the high end of the mid-range price bracket, meaning it’s competing with handsets like the OnePlus 5 or Honor 9 for your money, but it is the only phone right now with top specs and a smaller display.

If you genuinely think you’ll be disappointed with the screen resolution this may not be the best phone for you, but we found the display to be bright, and packing enough pixels to make everything look good.

The impressive battery life of the Xperia XZ1 Compact is something we haven’t seen from many flagship phones in recent years. It lasts for at least a day of intensive usage, which is some of the best battery life on a modern smartphone.

Competition

Here are a few alternative handsets to consider if you’re not certain that the Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact is for you.

Honor 9

One of our favorite small-form-factor Android handsets is the Honor 9. It comes with a 5.1-inch display, which is just below the screen size of the larger Sony Xperia XZ1, although the phone itself is smaller than the Sony handset.

It also comes with a particularly powerful dual-sensor rear camera, a premium-feel glass design and plenty of other high-end features, as we’ve come to expect from flagship Honor devices.

iPhone SE

The iPhone SE is still holding onto the small screen of the iPhone 5S, and every handset from Apple before that. It has a 4-inch screen, which is even smaller than the one on the Xperia XZ1 Compact, and runs iOS software.

If you’re embedded in the iOS ecosystem, the iPhone SE is the best small phone to go – even though it’s now getting on a bit it looks great and runs smoothly.

OnePlus 5

The OnePlus 5 has a much larger display that the Xperia XZ1 Compact – in fact, you may find it too large at 5.5-inches – but it does come at a similar price.

It has a dual-lens rear camera that we’ve found takes more impressive shots than the Xperia XZ1 Compact’s shooter, and the metal body feels a touch more premium than Sony’s offering.

James Peckham
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