- Swift performance
- Great battery life
- Pocket-friendly design
- IP68 water-resistant
- Dated design
- Low-resolution screen
- No wireless charging
- Review Price: £499/$659
- 4.6-inch 720p screen
- Snapdragon 835
- 4GB RAM
- 32GB storage and microSD
What is the Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact?
When it comes to smartphone sizes, bigger isn’t necessarily better. As such, Sony is one of the few companies still releasing smartphones that are on the smaller side.
The Xperia XZ1 Compact is the latest addition to the Compact series – but, unlike last year’s mid-range deviation, Sony is back packing flagship specs into a tiny 4.6-inch form factor.
So while you might be willingly sacrificing screen size for pocket-friendliness, you won’t have to give up on Snapdragon 835-level performance nor some of the camera tricks on offer from Sony’s more sizeable models.
Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact – Design
It feels like quite some time now that Sony has been pedalling the same phone designs – for better or worse. And if you’ve held a Sony Xperia phone in the past odd years then you’ll largely know what to expect from the XZ1 Compact.
You’ll be in familiar territory with the squared off edges and sharp corners of the device. For a small phone, the XZ1 Compact is surprisingly thick at 9.3mm, but this lends it a robust feel. This is despite Sony moving away from the aluminium body of the Xperia XZ1, replacing it with a woven plastic material.
Even though it’s plastic, the phone feels nice in your hands – and not at all cheap, as is often the case with such a finish. There’s a slight texture and roughness to it, which helps you keep a good grip of the handset. The black review model also didn’t pick up greasy fingerprints or micro-scratches – often an issue with metal or glass. If black isn’t your preference, the XZ1 compact is also available in silver, blue and pink.
Nowadays, there really aren’t many rival phones that can be used comfortably one-handed. Next to other modern phones, the XZ1 Compact looks adorably tiny.
I’ve got small hands and experienced no problems reaching the top and bottom of the XZ1 Compact’s screen. However, this isn’t without a degree of discomfort, as a result of the sharp corners and edges. Sharp enough to jut out of your pockets if you’re wearing tight jeans, or poke the palm of your hand in use.
There’s a thin sliver of what feels like metal across the top and bottom edge of the device. Having accidentally dropped the XZ1 Compact during the testing period on a hard gym floor, two of the corners are chipped as a result. This unintentional drop test suggest that the edges of the phone aren’t the most resilient, even if the rest of the handset feels well made.You’ll find all the buttons on the right edge of the device. There’s a volume rocker, which I’d have preferred was a little larger since it’s fiddly to use. Below this is the lock button, which is indented slightly to make it easier to find. It’s one of Sony’s embedded fingerprint sensors (at least on the UK model – no such luck in the US, oddly).
I found the scanner reliable and quick, although as is the case with most such units, wet hands still prove a struggle. Its placement is good, too. I actually prefer it to both front and back scanners; it lets me unlock the phone quickly regardless of which way I’ve put the phone down.Below the scanner is a tiny camera shutter button. It isn’t the greatest shutter button I’ve seen, since the actuation doesn’t really ape a proper shutter button in terms of feel or size. There’s a half-press function for autofocus, but it feels a little fiddly. The button acts as a shortcut to the Camera app, however, which can be handy.
On the left-hand side is the nano-SIM port and a microSD slot for upgrading the somewhat meagre 32GB of storage. Up top a headphone jack remains, and on the opposite end you’ll find a USB-C port for charging. Surprisingly, there’s no wireless charging option, despite the phone body being made from a material that would facilitate it.You do get IP68 waterproofing, however, which was disappointingly absent in the previous Xperia Compact phone.
Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact – Display
Staying true to its name, the XZ1’s diminutive 4.6-inch screen keeps the overall size of the phone down. But it could have been reduced further had it not been for those pesky bezels at the top and bottom of the device, which make it look dated next to most other smartphones released in the past six months.
The display is still 720p, which isn’t really an issue since its smaller size doesn’t negatively affect the pixel density as much. Granted, icons on the homescreen still aren’t as sharp as I’d like, but this isn’t one of my more significant concerns with the display.
My main issue is that it’s just so difficult to return to a smaller display once you’ve been using 5-inch+ phones for some time. I found typing quickly on the minuscule keyboard particularly difficult. Typing and walking at the same time was even more frustrating.
For some time now, my tablet at home has been gathering dust due to the convenience of various phablets, but I ended up digging it out for some couch browsing because the experience proved just too fiddly on the tiny XZ1 Compact.
However, image quality of the screen is fine. The use of LCD over AMOLED makes for better viewing angles, even if colours don’t pop quite as much nor are blacks as inky. Brightness is decent, so I never encountered problems with outdoor visibility.
A smart backlight control mode stops the display dimming when you’re holding the phone and looking at the display. It’s a feature I wish other phones had; there’s nothing more annoying than a display that dims when you’re watching a video on Instagram.
Like the bigger XZ1, there are three colour gamut options: Standard, Professional and Super-vivid. The Professional uses the sRGB colour space. You won’t be surprised to discover that, unlike the XZ1, the XZ1 Compact offers no HDR support.
What I did miss while using the XZ1 Compact was an always-on display, and better handling of incoming notifications. There’s a little notification LED, but it’s really easy to miss. There’s also no way to have the display turn on even momentarily to show an incoming notification.
Even more irritating is the vibration pattern of a notification if the phone is sat on a desk. It has a sort of vroom vroom pattern to it that makes a lot of distracting noise.
Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact – Software
Like its bigger brother, the XZ1 Compact is one of the first phones to launch with the latest version of Android (8.0 Oreo) right out of the box.
This brings with it some new additions, including ‘notification dots’ on your homescreen that allow you to more easily spot when you’ve missed a notification. For those obsessive about keeping things neat and tidy, they can be another distraction, however. Especially when it isn’t obvious what you need to do to clear away the notification dot (Google app, I’m looking at you).
You also get ‘picture in picture’ for compatible apps. One useful application I’ve found so far has been with Google Maps. If navigation is on and you move away from the app, you’ll still get a little window with your next instruction overlaid on your screen. Other little changes to Oreo include a new lick of paint in the notification shade. Apps such as Spotify can now customise their notification cards, so you get album art and a different background colour.
Sony’s taken a relatively restrained hand overall to adding its own customisations. The app launcher scrolls horizontally rather than vertically, and there are recommended apps if you swipe left.
The biggest annoyances are pre-installed apps such as AVG anti-virus and a bunch of Sony-related apps. I also get annoyed by notifications from Sony’s Xperia app trying to pedal me theme packs. No-one wants micro-transactions on a phone they’ve already paid a lot of money for.
Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact – Performance
While the previous Xperia Compact offered mid-range performance, the XZ1 Compact delivers some serious pocket power courtesy of a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835. That’s the same chip powering big-hitters such as the Google Pixel 2, Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and LG V30 – all phones with much bigger and higher resolution screens. This is teamed with 4GB of RAM.
Performance, not surprisingly, is as swift as the similarly high-spec-packing Sony Xperia XZ1. For those keen on numbers, it actually pips the bigger XZ1 marginally with a Geekbench 4 score of 6554 and 1882 for each core. Needless to say, combined with that lower-resolution display, performance never feels sluggish. Apps load up in an instant and scrolling and swiping all feels super-slick.
More graphically intensive games such as Dead Trigger 3 also aren’t a problem, with r0ck-solid frame rate performance. The XZ1 Compact really is a pocket powerhouse thanks to that Snapdragon 835 and having a screen with less pixels to push.
Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact – Camera
Like both the Xperia XZ Premium and Xpera XZ1, the Compact model has a 19-megapixel rear sensor with f/2.0 aperture lens. It similarly uses a ‘memory stacked’ sensor, which means it swaps a limited amount of dedicated RAM for some extra camera trickery as well as improving general camera performance – in theory, at least. The XZ1 Compact lacks the dual-camera array seen in many phones nowadays; and as such, there’s no added telephoto reach or faux-bokeh portrait modes.
For still image performance, autofocus performed well for the most part, obtaining a lock relatively quickly in good lighting. There’s predictive image capture, which begins buffering images shortly before you actually press the shutter button, and a smile-detecting capture mode too. These features make capturing fleeting moments a little easier.
Still image quality is a bit of a mixed bag. The XZ1 Compact favours contrast and saturation over anything bordering on authentic. It makes for some rather dramatic-looking images, but they can be far removed from reality.
If you’re a fan of applying filters to your shots then this probably won’t bother you. Admittedly mundane, I took a picture of some toast in one instance and the XZ1 Compact boosted the contrast and saturation, which improved the shot in some areas. But when my eyes went from looking at the phone display to the actual scene in front me, I realised the contrast has been boosted so much that the shadow detail on the table had been completely underexposed. The wood grain of the table was missing entirely.
Some won’t mind this heavy software touch. Personally, I’d rather have a more authentic representation of the scene. After all, you can always fiddle with the image afterwards, but no amount of tweaking is going to bring back that lost detail.
There are times when the software image tweaking can have a nice effect, though. Sunset images in particular look far more dramatic thanks to that added warmth and colour vibrancy.
The camera does well in terms of sharpness, provided there’s enough light. In low light that f/2.0 aperture lens and high megapixel sensor begin to struggle. It’s at this point shutter speeds need to slow right down, so any scene with movement is likely to end up with motion blur. There’s also a little more noise in the shadow detail than I’d like.
The rear camera is generally a decent performer for still images, but it’s a distance off some of the big flagships overall.
The front-facing camera has an 8-megapixel sensor. Usefully, it lets you toggle between a wider and narrower field of view. The wide option offers a 120-degree FOV, which is great for getting a group of people into the frame but you do get some barrel distortion as a result. With decent light, the front-facing camera does a decent job of selfies.
Here are a few more example images:
Taking another leaf from recent Xperia phones, the XZ1 Compact can also record 960fps super slow-motion video. It suffers the same limitations I experienced with the Xperia XZ Premium, though. Namely, you need optimal lighting conditions. Under good conditions you can get genuinely cool videos, but you really need to be prepared to capture the scene as the timing is difficult to nail down.
A 3D scanning function uses the rear camera to let you scan faces or objects and then manipulate them. It’s a fun momentary distraction – but like the 960fps video, is likely to be a feature you’ll soon forget about.
Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact – Battery life
Battery stamina is one of the XZ1 Compact’s strongest points. It has the same 2700mAh battery as the bigger XZ1 – but a much smaller, lower-resolution display to power. This, combined with the efficient Snapdragon 835, delivers decent endurance.
On a heavy-use day, comprising sending and receiving numerous WhatsApp messages, non-stop social media monitoring and copious music streaming, I retired at 11pm with 30% of the battery remaining. This was having taken the phone off charge around 8am.
Half an hour of Netflix streaming at half brightness only knocks the battery down by about 7%. While you’re not looking at two days of juice off a single charge, I never once felt the need to carry around a portable charger. Nowadays, that’s all I want from a phone – and honestly, it’s a huge weight off my mind.
Why should I buy the Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact?
If you’re the kind of person who wants a small phone then these days your options are rather limited. Thankfully, then, the Xperia XZ1 Compact is a decent option. While you might be sacrificing screen size, this isn’t at the expense of performance. In addition, you benefit from stellar battery life too.
Where the XZ1 Compact is docked points is for its actual design: it feels dated. The camera performance is also a little underwhelming considering its price.
Ultimately, though, the only reason to consider the XZ1 Compact over other similarly priced phones such as the OnePlus 5 or now reduced in price LG G6 is its size.
For me, however, moving to a smaller handset was the most difficult part of the review experience.
A pocket powerhouse with plenty of battery life – but that design is looking rather dated.