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Thread: Our Sony Xperia Z3 Compact review: No Compromises

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    Our Sony Xperia Z3 Compact review: No Compromises

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    Since flagship phones displays have been increasing in size over the past few years, new segments in the market have opened up for phones which have slightly smaller displays. One interesting segment are smaller versions of flagship phones.

    One of the first was the GS3 Mini; which was really a budget phone named after the GS3. This trend continued the following year with the HTC One Mini and GS4 Mini.

    However, earlier this year Sony added a twist to this trend when they released the Z1 Compact. Unlike the competition, the Z1 Compact was not a budget phone in expensive clothes; it was the first ‘mini’ phone with full-sized specs.

    Here’s their follow up, the Z3 Compact. Since the Z3 Compact was released, Samsung has jumped on-board the small phone, big spec bandwagon with the Samsung Galaxy Alpha.

    What about the Samsung Galaxy Alpha?

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    The Samsung Galaxy Alpha is basically the ‘mini’ version of the GS5. Like the Compact, the Alpha makes very few compromises to fit into its more svelte form factor. That said, compared to the Z3 Compact, Samsung has left more on the table with the Alpha.

    To be honest, there’s no comparison between the two. There’s one spec which really stands out that demonstrates how serious Sony is with the Compact. The Compact is packing a 2600mAh battery while the Alpha has an embarrassingly small 1860mAh. Battery-wise, Samsung brought a knife, to a gun fight.

    You do get a removable battery with the Alpha and guess what; if you’re a power user you might actually have to use this feature since the battery is so small. Don’t forget that even though the battery is removable, the Alpha lacks the Compact’s MicroSD.

    If that’s not enough, the Compact has the same camera as the Z3 while the Alpha has to make due with a different lower quality camera compared to what you get with the GS5.

    The Alpha does have sexy metal sides but the edges. Just remember, Samsung is still kind of new to the metal phone game so they made the rookie mistake of making the sides too hard, so the Alpha is not very comfortable to hold. Sony made the same mistake last year with the Z1.

    I do like the fingerprint reader on the Alpha which is genuinely useful since most people have to unlock their phone many times a day. Then again, the Z3 Compact counters with water and dust resistance which is also a very practical feature.

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    While the choice between Z3 and GS5 is difficult, if you have to choose between the Alpha and Z3 Compact it’s not even close. Compact all the way.

    What about the Sony Xperia Z3?

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    If you’re a Sony fan, then you have to pick between the Z3 Compact and its larger brother, the Z3.

    While both have very similar specs, there are a few subtle differences between them.

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    First off, the Z3 has a larger 5.2” display while the Compact’s is only 4.6”. Practically speaking, there is a difference when you use them. These days, Android seems to be optimized for screens that around 5” in size so when you use the Z3, everything feels right. On the Compact, everything on the screen feels a little more cramped.

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    While the Z3 has a larger footprint than the Compact, the Compact is noticeably thicker. It doesn’t bother me at all but it does feel a bit chubby when you have them side-by-side.

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    The Z3 has exposed metal sides which feel very classy. The Compact has metal sides too but they’re covered with a round layer of cheap-feeling soft plastic.

    The Z3’s stereo speakers are more powerful and have better sound quality.

    Between them, it’s a tough choice. Unless you really need a smaller phone, I’d probably lean towards the Z3 myself but it’s really a personal decision.

    One thing I can say is that you really don’t sacrifice anything meaningful with the Compact.

    Pricing:

    In Canada, the Z3 Compact can be picked up for $149.99 CAN on contract or $549.99 off-contract on Bell. If you get it from the Sony Store, it’s $599.99 CAN or $529.99 USD unlocked. Spoiler alert; the Z3 Compact is an awesome phone and it’s a bit of a crime that it’s not more widely available. Then again, since it’s only $100 less than the full sized Z3, I think many people would rather just opt for that.

    Specs:


    • 4.6” 1280x720 IPS display
    • 2.5Ghz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
    • Adreno 330 graphics
    • 2GB RAM
    • 16GB storage
    • MicroSD
    • 20.7/2.2MP cameras
    • Water and dust resistant
    • Android 4.4
    • 2600mAh battery
    • Stereo speakers
    • LTE (Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 13, 17, 20)
    • 127.3 x 64.9 x 8.64mm
    • 129g


    Body:

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    While the Compact’s body looks like the full sized Z3’s, it’s actually quite different. Both have glass on the front and back but I swear the glass on the Compact’s glass feels like plastic.

    The Compact’s metal frame goes all the way around the sides but it’s overlaid with permanently attached soft plastic bumpers which wrap all the way around the sides. To be honest they feel kind of cheap though they do offer very good grip. Maybe Sony should have left them metal and included a plastic case.

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    Like the Note 3, the gap between the panel of glass on each side and the metal frame varies all around. I think this is to keep the glass from cracking as the metal frame shrinks and expands depending on the temperature.

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    Regardless of the reason, it looks terrible. If you’re designing a phone, you should avoid having to make compromises like this.

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    The Compact is one of the only phones on the market with a spot to connect a lanyard. Sony should include a miniature version of the Compact that you can attach.

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    The power button on the side is noticeably more tactile than the larger Z3’s. It doesn’t sound like a big deal but the cheap feeling power button is one of the worst things about it. Ditto for the volume buttons which are much nicer on the Compact.

    If you’re looking for a small but powerful Android phone which can be easily used with one hand then look no further. The Compact is beyond reproach in this regard. It can be used with one hand easily.

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    Heck, it’s only slightly larger than the iPhone 5/5s!

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    The power button is right where your thumb is and the slightly thicker profile make it easier to hold.

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    There’s connector on the side which you can use to attach the Compact to a dock in order to charge it. Rather than waste your money on an overpriced on a Sony dock (who would rather put their personal phone on a dock than have it in their hand?) - I recommend you hit up Amazon or eBay and pick up a 3rd party charging cable for around $10. With that, you’ll never have to open the covers over the Compact in order to charge it.

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    Speaking of covers, I like how the Compact has all its covers on the left side instead of having one on each side like the Z1, Z2, Z3, etc. I find this arrangement much more intuitive. Just open the door closest to the top of the phone to charge it.

    Display:

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    In front is a 4.6” 1280x720 display. It’s quite similar to the Z3’s display which is a good thing. While it’s not quite as bright as its bigger brother, it’s still one of the brighter displays on the market.

    Off-angle viewing is very good. There’s some off-angle colour shift but it’s very minor.

    The colour is slightly over-saturated so while colours pops, it looks unnatural at times and can be annoying to look at.

    There are 3 sliders which you can use to adjust the colour on the Compact. Interestingly, they can only be adjusted upwards. This is a nice feature but I wish Sony had also included some colour presets like Samsung does.

    If you’re looking at the spec sheet, you’ll notice that the Compact’s display only has a resolution of 1280x720 vs 1920x1080 on the larger Z3 and many other Android flagships. More importantly, the Compact’s PPI is only around 320 while the Z3’s is over 400.

    Does this mean that the Compact’s display is less sharp? Yes, but practically speaking, the difference isn’t that noticeable unless you look closely.

    Camera:

    I’m quite impressed that Sony managed to cram the same 20.7 megapixel 1/2.33” sensor found in the Z3 into the Compact. Even though the Compact is smaller, you don’t really give up anything on the camera front.

    Performance is identical to the Z3 so it’s one of the better cameras on the market in terms of image quality. Just to refresh, while the Compact can get good results from its camera, it has to rely on heavy handed image processing so sometimes pictures end up looking over-processed.

    Like other recent Android flagships, the Compact is able to shoot 4K video. In My Z3 review I praised its ability to shoot over 14 mins of 4K video. While I don’t have a huge list of how long each flagship is able to record for, at the time, 14 mins was the longest I’ve timed. LG and Samsung phones are capped at 5 mins while the Motorola Moto X could only manage 10 mins. The Compact was able to record for at least 24 mins! It would have recorded longer but I ran out of space. That’s a good segue to my next point...

    Remember, the Compact only comes with 16GB of built-in storage of which you can only use around 11GB so make sure you get a MicroSD if you plan on using the camera. You know the 24 minute 4K video I recorded? It took up a whopping 9.4GB.

    Software:

    Recently, Sony has been pretty good about keeping the version of Android up to date on their phones. The Z3 Compact is currently running 4.4.4 but Sony has promised that it will be updated to Android 5.0 Lollipop. Whether it receives further updates after this, remains to be seen. I wouldn’t be surprised if it received updates for another year or two.

    The Compact comes with Sony’s Android user interface. It’s a good looking launcher that isn’t too obtrusive.

    The problem is that lately, Sony has been piling on extra apps. Here’s a list:

    • Walkman
    • Album
    • Movies
    • PlayStation
    • What’s New
    • Sony Select
    • Lifelog
    • News from Social Life
    • Video Unlimited
    • TrackID
    • Smart Connect
    • Xperia care support
    • Backup & restore
    • TrackID TV
    • Xperia Center
    • AVG AntiVirus
    • Xperia Lounge
    • Sktech


    Don’t forget that on top of these, the Compact comes with Google’s versions of some of these apps along with some Carrier crapware. My Bell unit also comes with MyBell, TV, Bell RDM, Navigator and a link to buy ringtones, wallpapers, etc from Bell.

    Between the Sony and Bell stuff, the Z3 Compact reminds me of when you buy a PC and it’s littered with ‘extras’ that no one wants. I guess the convergence of phone and PC is complete.

    To be fair, not all of Sony’s extras are worthless but do they really need to be so prominent? It makes it hard to find your apps or rather, it forces you to customize the phone so that the extra-ware is hidden.

    I like how Sony includes their Tiny apps in the launcher which allow to launch special apps which hover over your other apps. It’s not the sort of feature you’ll use all the time but sometimes it’s useful.

    Performance:

    The Compact comes with the same processor as the Z3 but only 2GB of RAM vs 3GB plus its clocked slightly slower. You won’t notice any difference between them performance wise.

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    Actually, since the Compact has a lower resolution display and the same graphics processor, in some cases it has faster 3D gaming performance compared to the regular Z3.

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    As a Phone:

    Maximum earpiece volume on both is identical but I find that since the Compact is a tiny bit smaller, I’m able to hold it a little closer to my ear.

    While the speakerphone is powerful, it’s just a notch quieter than the Z3’s.

    RF performance is identical to the Z3 so it’s very good.

    Battery life is excellent. You get a 2600mAh battery on a 4.6” screen with the Compact while the Z3 has a 5.2” screen and 3200mAh.

    To put it in perspective, the Compacts screen is about 23% smaller yet it’s battery is only about 20% smaller so its battery life is about the same as the larger Z3’s.

    It should last the day and half way through the next for most users.

    Media Capabilities:

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    The built-in speakers are not quite as loud as the Z3’s but that’s nothing to be ashamed of because the Compact’s are still one of the louder ones on the market. I’m impressed that Sony included two speakers - I’m pretty sure most other companies would have taken the easy way out and only put one in on their smaller model.

    While the speakers are quite powerful with good range, there’s something funny about them. I’m not sure but I suspect it may have something to do with them being stereo but being too close together. I don’t normally test for this but it appears the Compact’s left and right speakers are swapped, I’m not sure if this is why it doesn’t sound quite right to me.

    I’m speculating here but maybe the sound from each speaker is leaking into the opposite. Like when you play something on one side and cover up the speaker grill you can still hear it out of the other.

    Like all recent Android flagships, the Compact’s headphone out is excellent. It sounds great and is extremely powerful. There’s a Clear Audio checkbox which which is supposed to make music sound better but I found it just makes everything sound horribly messy - no wonder it’s off by default.

    I already talked about it earlier but the Compact only comes with 16GB of storage of which around 11GB is available to use. If you get the Compact, do yourself a favour and pick up a 32 or 64GB MicroSD.

    Conclusion:

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    Overall, I’m very impressed with the Z3 Compact. I’ve tried a few ‘mini’ versions before like the GS4 Mini and the HTC One Mini and for the most part, they were just watered down versions of their bigger brothers.

    The Z3 Compact on the other hand doesn’t really make any compromises compared to larger Z3. They have the same powerful processor, identical cameras, both are water resistant, are endowed with large batteries, glass backs, etc.

    You do give up a few features but none of them are big sacrifices to make. Most people aren’t going to notice the missing GB of RAM since you still get 2GB. Ditto for the Notification LED and slightly less sharp display.

    The term “no compromises” gets misused a lot but the Z3 Compact really is a no compromises phone in a compact body.

    4 Howies out of 5.

    Pros:
    Stereo Speakers
    Water resistant
    Compact form factor
    Powerful speaker
    Nice Camera
    Long battery life

    Cons:
    Speaker sounds funny
    Only 16GB of built-in storage
    Last edited by howard; 12-02-2014 at 04:05 PM.

  2. #2
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    Except for the stock email app which has been buggy since the Z1...quite the compromise if you're a business user.

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    Z3C>Alpha.
    The only reason I'd get the Alpha is if it's 150 cheaper than the Z3C, which it isnt.

    Z3C+WIND44 Roaming plan = set for a few years.

  4. #4
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    the other huge reason for the Z3c over the Alpha is Stamina Mode. with typical usage (YMMV, natch), i'm getting 2.5 days between charges -- and this is with about 20% juice left in the tank, and without hardware performance dampening on. Sony has done a really commendable job with power management.

  5. #5
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    I'm deciding between the sony xperia z3c or the iphone 6, both similar screen size but z3c definitely more pocket friendly, and of course about 300usd different. On the other hand I'm thinking going with apple for the first time, and give it a try.....

  6. #6
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    Had to return my Z3C back to Sony store due to:
    1 Out of blue scratches on camera lens! (Never had with iPhone)
    2. Can connect two Bluetooth devices at the same time.
    3. No scratch protection on the back cover (very slippery too)
    4. Last but not least, charging port location, very inconvenient especially with the car holder.

    Other wise great phone very powerful for its size.
    But now I'm back to my I5s


    via the HoFo App

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    Now that their physical stores are being closed, beware of their online store's return policy:

    All Sony Mobile Products including Xperia phones and accessories are considered final. For Warranty and repair related information contact Sony Mobile at 1-866-737-7733 or [email protected].
    http://store.sony.ca/helpdeskarticle...eturn_purchase

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    Thanks for the review but just to let you know that Sony Z3 is not $600. It is $700, here in Vancouver!
    Thank you

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