Sony has been releasing a flagship smartphone in its Xperia Z series every six months rather than the annual cycle that most other tier one brands follow. Every iteration is a slight improvement on its successor that don’t exactly set the market on fire. While Sony has been focusing on positioning its flagship smartphones at a premium with its OmniBalance design and extensive use of glass and metal, the strategy hasn’t quite worked in the commoditized Android ecosystem where hardware specs win over design and functionality. However, Sony had also launched a “Compact” version of the Xperia Z1, which floored us enough to call it the iPhone of Android smartphones. Today Sony has launched the second variant, which it calls the Xperia Z3 Compact (it being the compact version of the Xperia Z3) with the same philosophy of giving top-of-the-line hardware in a handy form factor. Can the Xperia Z3 Compact have us fall head over heels for it again?
Hold the Xperia Z3 Compact and you will know that Sony’s designers have put their heart into designing it. The phone might look as if someone trained the shrink gun from “Honey, I shrunk the kids” on to the Xperia Z3 but there are a lot of subtle tradeoffs that work in its favor. The front and back are covered with Gorilla Glass, which make the phone appear premium but at the same time sturdy enough to withstand sharing the same pocket space with keys and coins. The side trimmings are no longer metallic and have been replaced with soft touch plastic, which makes sense as you can actually wrap your hand around the device and the soft plastic feels much better on the skin than metal.
The left edge has those familiar flaps, one for the micro-USB charging port and microSD card slot and another for a nano-SIM card slot. Yes, the Xperia Z3 Compact has a nano-SIM card slot. My gripe with Sony’s SIM card trays continue as the tiny rubber tray is extremely difficult to use. It beats me why Sony won’t spend time redesigning it when it is improving every other aspect of the phone. The right edge has the power button slightly above the centre, followed by a slightly tiny volume rocker buttons and the dedicated camera button at the bottom. Ideally the volume buttons should have been above the power button as it is more intuitive to use. In the present configuration, the buttons feel cramped and counter intuitive to muscle memory.
That said, Sony’s designers have managed to cram in a bigger display and more features in the same footprint as the Xperia Z1 Compact, which was launched earlier this year. In fact, the Xperia Z3 Compact is thinner than its predecessors and that says a lot. The Z3 Compact has a 4.6-inch display against the 4.3-inch display on the Xperia Z1 Compact and it now has much narrower bezels. Like always, the phone is water and dust resistance and this time it is IP68 certified and can be submerged in water up to one meter for up to 30 minutes.
Coming to specifications, the Xperia Z3 Compact is almost the same as the Xperia Z3 barring the display, of course. We are talking about a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 2.5GHz quad-core processor with Adreno 330 GPU, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage along with a microSD card slot that can accommodate cards up to 128GB. There is a 20.7-megapixel camera on the rear that can now also record 4K videos at 30fps and a 2.2-megapixel front-facing camera.
The Xperia Z3 Compact has a 4.6-inch 720p display, which many might find low resolution. However, I found no major qualms with the display resolution. Sony has finally managed to come with a good display in terms of viewing angles, brightness and visibility under sunlight.
One of everyone’s constant complains with Sony’s Xperia Z smartphones was the camera performance. Sony was the first Android smartphone maker that not only offered a high resolution camera but also manual controls. However, it never got it right and clicking great shots was always a hit and miss affair. Sony has fixed it with the Xperia Z3 Compact to a great extent.
You no longer have to resort to manual mode to get good shots. The superior auto mode also detects scenes accurately and the post processing is a vast improvement from earlier. By default, in superior auto mode you get photos in 8-megapixel resolution and you can get full 20.7-megapixel photos in manual mode where you can also adjust the exposure value. Apart from the minimal controls, the full resolution photos are good for clicking first, zooming later scenarios. Finally, Sony has a decent camera worthy of being on a flagship smartphone.
In terms of performance, the Xperia Z3 Compact is probably one of the few smartphones that truly surprise. The 2,300mAh battery easily lasts for close to two days with moderate usage of an hour of calls, two hours of Internet browsing and two email accounts. Double the voice calling and Internet browsing duration and still the Xperia Z3 Compact easily saw me through 24 hours without seeking a charger.
While the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact is almost perfect, it won’t be the only compact high-end Android smartphone in the market for long. On September 27 Samsung is expected to launch the Galaxy Alpha in India. Given Samsung’s brand value and its marketing might, the Galaxy Alpha would be the Xperia Z3 Compact’s biggest hurdle