Saturday, May 31, 2014

Big things come in Compact packages. A Sony Xperia Z1 Compact Review

I'm not a fan of the current trend of ever-growing smartphone screen sizes, aka "Phablets". Mainly because I feel they are a compromise from both sides. They are neither small enough to be convenient to carry around, nor are their screens large enough to enjoy surfing or media properly. I don't think manufacturers should stop making phones bigger, I just wish they'd offer smaller options that aren't based on ancient technology. Thankfully, Sony did just that with the Xperia Z1 Compact.

At 4.3", the Z1 Compact is not small. Unlike the older Xperia Mini or Mini Pro, the Z1 Compact is just that, a compact version of it's larger 5" sibling, the Z1. Both sport a 2.2GHz Quad-core CPU, 20 Megapixel Sony Exmor RS camera, 2GB RAM, 16GB on-board memory, LTE, and IP rating. The only difference being screen size. The Z1 has a Full HD (1920 x 1080) screen, while the Z1 Compact has an HD (1280 x 720) screen. In actual use, the slightly lower pixel density of the Z1 Compact is not noticeable and offers very good color rendition and media performance. For those that may be wondering, the back of the Compact is plastic. The Japanese version however, is glass. I'm not fond of cases at all. So to protect my phone, I immediately got matte protectors for the front and back. The matte screen protector does degrade screen quality slightly, but it also keep it fingerprint free, and reduces glare. The benefits, for me, outweighed the slight color degradation.

Performance of the Z1 Compact is quite exceptional. I've been told that it's even better than the Z1 due to the fact that both the CPU and GPU have fewer pixels to power. As nice as the stock Sony Home app is, I find the common Android layout quite cluttered, hence I use Smart Launcher 2 which allows me to clean up my home screen and significantly boost performance. This launcher has worked on my old X10 Mini Pro til my current Z1 Compact and makes it so much easier to navigate with one hand. On the Compact, it uses such little resources, the phone really blazes through everything even faster than stock.

Battery life on the Compact is great. Coming from the much older Xperia P, which gave me about 7-10 hours of use, the Compact gives me well over 24 hours under similar settings. I used to always have to charge my phone at least 2x a day with my normal use, the Compact leaves me with about 25% charge by the time I'm about to sleep. This is using Sony's Stamina Mode which I leave on all the time. Without it, my Xperia P would last about 5-6 hours, and the Compact would last about 18-20 hours. Disabling data (or switching to 2G only) increases standby time significantly on both my phones. So glad I no longer have to lug around my charger or a power bank!

Audio performance is great too. My preferred audio app is Power Amp primarily because it can crossfade tracks. But other than that, the built-in Walkman app is great. Very sleek and refined. The Clear Audio feature in the Settings really makes a difference in audio quality/clarity when using Bluetooth headsets. But if you're plugged in via the headphone jack into a stereo system, you may want to disable this for a purer sound experience. The speaker is located at the bottom of the phone. Which I think is brilliant. Although the grille makes it look like the speaker occupies the whole bottom of the phone, the actual speaker is only about a third of the grille on the left side. Why I prefer this position is because it allows you to place your phone in your pocket with the speaker facing up and keeps it unobstructed for calls and notifications. You will appreciate this when you keep your phone in your back pocket since it rings pretty loud in a crowded street or mall. I wouldn't really rate any built-in speaker for proper media playback but it has decent volume specially when xLoud and Clear Phase are used. Other than that, I always use external speakers or a headset.

The camera is fantastic. Low light performance is excellent and Superior Auto is getting better. It may be a 20 megapixel camera but this is only available in Manual mode with HDR disabled. HDR, Superior Auto, and the other features drop resolution down to 8MP which is more than decent but kinda disappointing. 3rd party plug-ins like 360 Panorama and the Augmented Reality apps (quite fun) are accessible directly from the camera app or as individual apps on your home screen. Quick-lauch (holding the camera button down to launch the camera) will only launch in Superior Auto mode.

So far so good. Although I wish they had made the Xperia Z1 Compact a bit narrower, I think this is an excellent choice for those that don't want to sacrifice performance for the sake of a more pocketable Android device.

Past Tech Gospels

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