Hands-on: Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

Sony has announced the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact, a shrunken down version of its flagship Sony Xperia Z1 smartphone, at CES 2014. Pocket-lint was invited to spend time with the new handset ahead of the global reveal at the Consumer Electronics Show to see whether you should be getting excited for this miniature wonder.

What's in a name?

Sony says the "Compact" name is designed to represent that the phone is a compact version of the Xperia Z1 rather than a mini version with poorer specs in the way that the rest of the industry is using the term.

It's the same marketing trick that The Times newspaper in London took when it moved from a broadsheet to tabloid paper and likely to work well for Sony. The idea is that Sony has compacted the flagship model rather than made a mini, and therefore sub-standard, version of the phone.

It looks familiar

If the Xperia Z1 Compact looks somewhat familiar, it is because Sony is already selling the phone in Japan under the moniker the Z1F.

Announced in October 2013, the phone went on sale in Japan in December. This new version is identical, merely losing the F in the name and now getting a global launch.

It also looks familiar because the design matches that of the Z1. It features the same waterproof design, the same curvy corners, the same construction methods, and the same proportions, but with a 4.3-inch display instead of a 5-inch.

If you liked the Z1 but felt that it was too big, this might be the phone for you. In the hand the new size, which is slightly bigger than the iPhone 5S, works well. It's lot more manageable than the larger Z1 flagship model launched in 2013 and we suspect will appeal to those who think the Z1 is just too big. It is thicker, however, although in reality we didn't find this to be a problem.

The Xperia Z1 Compact measures 127 x 64.9 x 9.5mm and weighs 140g, which is a little heavy for a device of this size. For reference, the Sony Xperia Z1 is 144.4 x 73.9 x 8.5mm and weighs 170g.

There will be a range of colours, including a hot pink, a bright lime, and the more traditional black and white. The pink and lime are really going to stand out, like the iPhone 5C and Nokia Lumia colours. You'll have to be a certain person to find the lime one appealing, but you probably know who you are.

Difference on display

The new Z1 Compact will come with a 4.3-inch IPS 1280 x 720 pixel resolution display rather than the 5-inch 1920 x 1080 display found on the Xperia Z1. This is perhaps the compromise that the Z1F makes, as this brings the sharpness down a step, but that's still nice and sharp.

It's the same resolution as the HTC One mini and we found that to be a great display to use. From our time with the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact the same is true. There's plenty of detail on offer, although we're yet to experience it in real life. We will, of course, give it a much more thorough investigation when we have the Z1 Compact in for a full review.

The introduction of IPS makes a huge difference in the quality of the display and the viewing angles on offer. We've seen many screen sizes over the past couple of years, and the 4.3-inch display here is a good middle point - not too small, but not overly large - and as a result we think the Z1 Compact may have wide appeal. 

The same internal specs

Many of the "mini" versions of smartphones launched in 2013, like the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini and the HTC One mini, reduced the specs when slotting into a smaller package, but that's not the case here.

With the Z1 Compact, apart from a difference in battery capacity and display, you'll find the same 20.1-megapixel "G Lens" camera, powerful quad-core 2.2GHz Snapdragon 800 processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of built-in storage, and NFC.

The battery might be smaller, but Sony continues to impress with power options. Here you get a 2300mAh battery instead of a 3000mAh battery, but you also get Sony's very good battery stamina software options that work to save you as much battery as possible. We weren't able to test the battery, but from what we've experienced of Sony's battery management on recent devices, we think it will cope well.

Android 4.4, well almost

As you might expect, the Z1 Compact features Sony's enhancements over Android and that includes a number of tweaks to the UI and camera app. Sony's new Compact smartphone doesn't come with latest version of Android, 4.4, but Sony is promising to add it almost instantly.

Sony confirmed to Pocket-lint that although the Xperia Z1 Compact comes with Android 4.3 Jelly Bean out of the box when the smartphone hits the UK in mid-February, it will be getting Android 4.4 hopefully some time in March.

First impressions

When we reviewed the Sony Xperia Z1 in September 2013 we said that the while "there's a lot to love about the Sony Xperia Z1. It's a valiant effort, but not infallible."

We liked the the design overall, saying that "it's a smart-looking device that exhibits plenty of quality and there's stacks of power under the hood of that 5-inch HD display". 

Before adding: "It's the power that really shows off, as the Z1 skips through anything you can throw at it, but there are niggles: the display isn't the best in class, it gets too hot when you push it in the processor stakes, and all the efforts in the camera department don't seem to really bring huge gains."

It's too early to say, based on the time we had with the phone, whether the Z1 Compact will benefit or suffer from the same traits as its bigger brother. However from the time we did spend with the phone it was fast, easy to use  - and, more importantly, easy to hold, certainly one-handed.

READ: Sony Xperia Z1 Compact vs Sony Xperia Z1: What's the difference?

This is one of the more powerful small handsets out there, so we'll be interested to see just how well it copes and whether it handles the heat from the Snapdragon 800 better than the Z1.

We'll be reviewing the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact in full as soon as we can.