Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact review: A mini handset with flagship features

The Xperia XZ1 Compact squeezes top-end features into a 4.6in smartphone, at a flagship-besting price

Price
£416
  • Superior performance; Great battery life; Fantastic display
  • Gimmicky 3D scanning; Pricey

Sony's Xperia XZ1 Compact tries to prove that a 4.6in smartphone has some relevance in 2017. With displays getting bigger, phones getting larger and trouser pockets bulging, small-screened phones are likely to be a relic of the past.

But, the Xperia XZ1 Compact not only serves to show that pocket-friendly phones still exist, but it does everything so spectacularly well that it forces you to wonder where our obsession with big-screened phones started in the first place. Need more convincing? Here's why the Xperia XZ1 Compact is a standout smartphone in 2017.

What you need to know

As the name suggests, the Xperia XZ1 Compact is the smaller version of Sony's Xperia XZ1 handset. It has a teeny tiny 4.6in 1,280 x 720 display, slips into any pocket with ease and, best of all, it's considerably cheaper than its larger cousin.

It doesn't scrimp on the specifications, though, including Qualcomm's latest and greatest Snapdragon 835 processor, 4GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage, which is expandable via microSD card by up to 256GB.

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There's also a 19-megapixel camera on the back, which supports Sony's new 3D scanning tech (it's not good, but more on that later), and the Compact runs Android 8 Oreo with Sony's launcher software plastered on top.

Design

The Xperia XZ1 Compact cuts a familiar figure. In fact, besides its smaller footprint and silky soft plastic matte finish, it looks near identical to the larger Xperia XZ1.

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The Compact adopts identical chamfered edges at the top and bottom of the phone, complete with softly rounded sides and sharp-edged corners, which are primed to play havoc with your pockets.

It's IP68 dust- and water-resistant, just like the rest of Sony's recent lineup. There's a fingerprint reader doing double duties with the side-mounted power button, and there's a dedicated shutter button for the camera situated on the right-hand edge.

On the top edge sits a solitary 3.5mm headphone jack and on the bottom you'll find a USB Type-C port with Quick Charge 3 support.

Display

The 4.6in 720p display feels old hat in 2017, especially on a 500 smartphone. And in a year where the big manufacturers are all pushing the bezel-less approach the XZ1 Compact's frontage looks decidedly frumpy at first. But it'll thwart your expectations.

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Aside from the sub-Full HD resolution, the XZ1 Compact's display is superb. Colour accuracy is terrific, especially with the phone's "professional" display mode engaged. It covers 89% of the sRGB colour gamut, the contrast ratio reaches an impressive 1,280:1 while brightness peaks at a glaring 611cd/m2. This is one fabulous smartphone display and it won't leave you squinting at your Facebook feed in direct sunlight.

Performance and battery life

The Xperia XZ1 Compact is powered by the same octa-core 2.35GHz Snapdragon 835 chip as the Galaxy S8, OnePlus 5 and XZ Premium all are. Pair that with 4GB of RAM, 32GB of storage and Android 8 Oreo from the get-go and it's clear Sony hasn't scrimped on its innards.

The Compact is one speedy handset, performing exceptionally well in the benchmarks, scoring 1814 on single core and 6532 on multi core. That's an almost identical perfomance to 2017's other Snapdragon 835-equipped handsets. Indeed, thanks to its lower resolution display, it also delivers superior graphics test results over its competition too.

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Battery life is much improved over the regular XZ1, with the Compact reaching 16hrs 29mins in our continuous video playback test, as opposed to the XZ1's 12-hour longevity.

Camera

The XZ1 Compact's 19-megapixel f/2.0 rear camera is identical to the regular XZ1's and benefits from Electronic Image Stabilisation (EIS) for seriously stable video. The excellent "predictive" phase-detect and laser autofocus also makes another appearance, for speedy hassle-free shooting in all sorts of lighting conditions.

Given the higher pixel count, pictures looked much crisper than those taken with the OnePlus 5, capturing plenty of detail in intricate brickwork and foliage. There was a tendency to over-sharpen the image which leads to the loss of some of the finer details, while low-light performance was decent, if a touch on the noisy side.

How about that 3D scanning tech, then? It's simple to use: just map a face, head, food or any other object with the rear camera by following the dotted lines that appear onscreen. You can then re-scan to fill in more intricate details with the camera, and tap to confirm when you're ready to begin rendering.

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The problem is, despite its simplicity, the results are horribly inconsistent. Face and head scanning can be nice and detailed on occasion but too often you're left with a Frankenstein's Monster of a face.

Still, it's impressive that all the fancy post-processing is rendered on the handset itself, without sending it over to a distant server somewhere. And, there's the likelihood of future integration with Sony's PlayStation division in the future, which could soon transform this otherwise gimmicky feature into something more compelling.

A note on price and competition

Sony's XZ1 Compact is 500; that's 100 less than the regular-sized XZ1. At that price, the XZ1 Compact just about dodges flagship territory, instead coming up against 2017's mid-rangers such as the OnePlus 5 (450) and Nokia 8 (499). Samsung's superb Galaxy S8 can be scooped up for around 530 nowadays so that's worth considering in the same price bracket, too.

Verdict

Sony's XZ1 Compact is a mid-range marvel; don't let its dinky size fool you. Performance is on par with the best smartphones in the industry, it has a camera that's ideal for photographers on a budget, and a fantastic-looking display.

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The Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact faces stiff competition, sure, coming up against such smartphones as the excellent OnePlus 5 and Nokia 8, but its unique approach (at least among Android smartphones) is sure to win it fans industry-wide. If you prefer your phones to be usable one-handed you won't be disappointed.

Verdict

With a budget price, superb camera, and a performance on par with some of the industry's best smartphones, the Xperia XZ1 Compact is a mid-range marvel

ProcessorOcta-core 2.45GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
RAM4GB
Screen1,280 x 720, 4.6in, IPS
Dimensions129mm x 64mm x 9.3mm, 140g
Storage32GB (microSD support)
ConnectivityBluetooth 5.0, NFC
Camera19MP rear, 8MP front
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