Sony Xperia Z3 Compact Review

It’s hard to watch Sony struggle so hard in the mobile space, especially considering they bought out Ericsson and revamped their entire line, offering quality hardware with good and evolving software. The Xperia Z series is still Sony’s bet on flagship devices, and a lot has happened since the original Xperia Z from February 2013. Sony has reiterated the line with incremental upgrades every 6 months or so, which lands us on the current Xperia Z3 line, including the Xperia Z3, Z3 Compact, and the Tablet Z3 Compact. All of which run very similar software, and runs on very similar hardware as well. So let’s dive into the Z3 Compact.

The hardware

The Xperia Z3 Compact is beautiful, let’s be clear on that. The device is built in high quality with Sony’s classic Omnibalance design, which results in a device that is square, with rounded corners – everywhere. Visually this is very stunning, and the emerald blue variant I have suits it extremely well (the frame of the device is made of plastic, but it shares the color and has a see-through effect, leaving a design that reminds me of a marble), but it does sacrifice durability, comfort, and grip. Both the front and back are made of glass, which are shatter-proof, but can hardly take a hard fall. You have to be willing to give these up, to enjoy it.

I highly recommend the colorful variants of the phone if you’re into colors, as that frame just really makes the phone extra special to look at, but still keeps it subtle.
If you do want the phone, but think about gripping and protection, consider a case for it (but I highly recommend a snug one, that is tightly packed around it).
The phone offers regular charging through micro USB, and it has a magnetic port for charging. This sadly isn’t included in the box, because it really makes charging the device easier (especially since all ports, beside the AUX, is sealed behind flaps, making it waterproof). The magnetic charger also works as a small stand, so consider buying it for convenience and having a dock handy. Other than that, the phone offers the typical inputs and buttons. The power-button and the volume rockers are all found on the right side of the phone, and an aux-port on top. Additionally, Sony has made a camera-button as well, on the bottom right side, perfect for snapping pictures. All buttons have a nice clicking feel to them. Destinctive resistance, and good quality.

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The display

Sony’s flagships have always been criticized for it’s screens, especially on the original Z and the Z1. I’m happy to say the screen is absolutely beautiful; color reproduction is spot on and vibrant, the screen is seemingly on the glass, the density is high. The only drawback is viewing the display at an angle, it doesn’t wash out, but it does get less bright, which in turn will lessen the quality of the experience. As a user of the device, it’s a non-issue, and I haven’t heard complaints about the screen from friends when viewing something together.

The speakers

The Z3 Compact has stereo(!) speakers in the front(!!). These points are king. Ever since HTC made the HTC One (M7) with it’s front facing Boomsound speakers, everyone’s been jealous. Speakers up front makes sense, and stereo sound is just an absolute minimum. So why hasn’t more manufacturers done this? I don’t know, but Sony stepped up and it’s awesome.

However, it’s not all great. The quality of the speakers are mediocre. I assume it’s because it’s waterproof, but while loud enough, they offer a flat and somewhat high-pitched sound. It’s not annoying or horrible, but it’s far from HTC’s speakers. But again; front facing stereo speakers = win. Period.

The software

The Xperia Z3 line shipped with Android 4.4 Kitkat; right out of the box the software is nice and clean, and the start-up guide is very helpful at setting the device up with your Google account, Facebook account, or your Twitter account. If you’ve seen the Xperia home before, you know what to expect here. It’s very similar to stock android, with a few minor changes in the user experience, and mostly just a visual overhaul. Generally the Xperia phones are lighter in colours and have a hint of a metal look, but Sony does offer themes you can download and install, if you’d like some variation to your phone, or generally give it more personality.
The performance is great, offering prompt app launches and smooth animations. I did however experience that the amount of RAM wasn’t enough, when I jumped between too many demanding apps. Specifically when I edit photos from one app to the other, the software stutters and a reload of the homescreen will occur. It’ s a bit of a mystery why the Compact has “only” 2 GB of RAM, while the Z3 has 3 GB of RAM. Though arguably, this doesn’t happen often, as I said, it’s only when I’ve had several camera and editing apps open that it struggles.

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Beyond that, I’ve experienced the software to be extremely stable. In fact, the only thing that’s been unstable (force closing or freeze) is Google’s new Inbox app, which is a new emailing system. So i suspect it’s to do with that (it only closes if I want to open an email with an attachment).

PlayStation Integration

Sony has pushed the PlayStation integration even further with the Z3 line (which will also expand into earlier iterations of the line). If you have a PS4 system, an update has been available which makes it possible to stream games from the PS4 to your Xperia Z3 (any model). It is recommended to buy a little clip for the controller, so you can basically have a portable(ish) PS4 with you, this only works over wifi though. It would have been awesome, if you could stream over a 4G connection (provided you had data enough for that). I have tried to test it, but alas, my friend’s wifi router wasn’t up for the task (or so Sony tells me in the setup). It’s a shame, and I can’t tell you how well this works.

If you still haven’t got a PS4, you can take easy advantage of your PS3 in a way. You can connect a PS3 controller to the phone; the first time through USB (USB adaptor is included in the box), and after that, it’s connected by default, which means you can use it wirelessly (just like on your PS3). This basically means you can play any game that supports a controller with your PS3 controller, including various emulators. So you have tons of games and systems available that are quite playable too. To be clear though, this doesn’t stream PS3 or PS Vita games, it controls supported Android games.

The camera

Let’s talk about the camera, it’s no secret that Sony is a big player in this department. Most smartphones today uses Sony sensors. The Xperia Z3 Compact uses a Sony Exmor RS sensor with a resolution maxing out on 20,7 megapixels. That’s a large number for a phone, and it’s actually not entirely true. The camera app that comes with it do support 20.7 MP, but the “Superior Auto” function is actually set at a more modest 8.0 MP. In this, you simply point and click, Sony will do the settings for you, and it actually works really well. The phone has a shutter button on the right side of the phone, which also is a 2-fase button (Press lightly to focus, press firmly to take a photo). Holding this in will make the phone burst as fast as it can. You can change this in settings, whether to take photos in full quality, or to take faster photo’s (but in lower resolution). With high quality, you take roughly 2-3 pictures a second, and in the faster setting you get around 5 photos a second, still in good quality, so consider that (There’s also the action shot feature, which takes 30 pictures before and after you take a photo, so  you can get the absolute best photo).

The camera app offers tons of features, from silly AR apps (that are great at parties or with kids) to defocus features, slow-motion, motion shots, record live to youtube, motiongraphs, you name it, Sony’s got it basically. It’s great to experiment with, and fun to use, so I recommend playing with these features.
The Manual mode offers everything you would expect of a regular camera, you can change setting like exposure, ISO, resolution, lighting conditions and so on. It’s in this setting you can tweak the resolution to 20.7 MP, but it will limit the camera to some settings.
I would like to dive deeper into this later, so I really can show off it’s features and advantages, I’ve taken some photoshoots around town, and the results are positive, regardless of the time of the day.

Overall, it’s a feature-packed camera, that’s easy and fun to use, delivering photos in high quality. There’s always reviewers saying the camera lacks color and vibrance, and it’s actually true, but a little editing (or Google auto edits through Google+) fixes this easily, it’s nothing ruining great photos though and the screen on the phone is excellent, so I don’t mind at all.

The battery

Sony has begun bragging about their battery life, and has since the Xperia Z line improved on this with every upgrade. By now, they say it will last you 2 full days. That’s quite the statement, and honestly, I can see why.

It’s the first phone I’ve owned that lasts me all day. From 7 AM to 11 PM, it will last me all day with moderate to heavy use. With moderate use checking email once or twice a day, browsing the usual social media apps, shoot a couple of photos, the battery will land just under 50%. However, with heavy use, taking more photos, editing them, browse 9gag (sorry), take notes, play games every now and then, watch some youtube (you know basically doing everything a smartphone can do), the battery will see the end of day with around 10-20%. Considering the battery is only 2700 mAh big, it’s quite the achievement anyway. It has to do with the software, and the screen’s size and resolution. It’s a winning combination.

Mind you, I have Stamina Mode enabled, with a few tweaks that permits a few apps to work all the time, otherwise, the phone is pretty idle when the screen is off. This does not impact performance, but it will provide longer standby times. Pure Stamina Mode, with no tweaks will even keep the device running longer too, since all apps will be restricted, but that setting has some caveats if you do use some sensors and data collecting. Sony devices also sports Ultra Stamina Mode, which will turn off all internet connections, including 4G/3G and wifi, and even will limit what you can actually do with your device. It basically turns your smartphone into a regular phone. With this feature enabled, you can expect beyond awesome battery life and standby times (we’re talking about a week or 2 in standby). Useful if you just want to be reachable by phone or SMS, and use it as a camera.
In the end; yes, it can last 2 days on a charge, but it depends on a little tweaking and usage control. However, I can’t ignore the stats; it lasts me all day with power to spare almost regardless of use. I’ve gotten 8 hours of screen-on time with this device, lasting from 7 AM to 10 PM.

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Conclusion

I can keep this short. The Sony Xperia Z3 Compact offers great features, great battery, great camera, great software, and a great design, with practical design too. Offering flagship specifications, at a lower price than many others, it’s hard to go wrong with it. It’s a well-rounded device, with only a few drawbacks, and some stand-out features that elevates it too. If you want a quality phone, and it shouldn’t be too big, I can’t see a real competitor for this device, only the iPhone 6. But if you want Android, and you want one of the best devices out there, and size isn’t too important, go for the Xperia Z3 Compact. It’s a solid 9/10 from me, bearing in mind you can’t take points away from it being fragile, because you will know this, going into it.

The Sony Xperia Z3 Compact impresses me a lot. My expectations were fairly high, but I did expect it to have more drawbacks. That’s not the case though, it delivers a premium device with premium software. Sony has made not only a good phone, they’ve made a truly great phone.

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