In some ways this is one of the most straightforward reviews I have ever written. Usually when we get a new device to review, your attention is taken straight to the weak points. Everyone knows the strong points, it’s the areas that may not be up to scratch that generate the most discussion.
The truth is, it’s pretty hard to find many weak points with this phone.
In the past with other Sony smartphones, that hasn’t been the case. There were areas that let the devices down and Sony risked being left behind.
To address this, Sony did something out of the ordinary and halved the usual update cycle. Every six months, Sony is releasing a new “Z” device and while that schedule won’t be kept up indefinitely, it is allowing Sony to rapidly remove flaws and produce devices that have a design and feature set that everyone is looking for.
Sony deserve every bit of credit they get for forging ahead with this strategy, most companies would never risk it. Usually companies prefer slow, incremental updates aiming to reduce user backlash. Sony risked annoying their loyal customers by outdating current flagships, that customers no doubt paid heavily for, after just 6 months. When people sign up to a 24 month contract with a network, purchasing the latest and greatest device, they usually expect it to be at the forefront for more than just 5 months!
When I reviewed the the Z1 and the Z1 Compact there were very similar concerns I had with both phones that prevented me from recommending either. The viewing angles on each device was very poor in comparison with their competitors. With just a 5 degree tilt in your hand, colours went from cold to warm, making reading a distracting affair. The other major concern was that the rear cover of both phones was very prone to scratches.
The rest of the phones were brilliant but those two issues were real deal breakers for most. The front of the phone didn’t present itself well due to viewing angles and when you turned it over you were met with scratches. Not a good combination.
Some accelerated product cycles later and Sony have addressed both issues.
Even though the screen is “only” 720p, the display on the Z3 Compact is one of the best panels I have ever encountered at this screen size. Viewing angles are good and the screen is very bright. (Yes, you read right. Viewing angles and brightness are good!)
Sony’s Bravia technology, in my opinion, is put to good use here, adding sharpness and a colour saturation that is usually only seen AMOLED devices. The criticism that will always be levelled here is that colours start to look unnatural but it is hard to argue with how visually impressive it is when you pick the phone up.
Movies and pictures look excellent and while someone who is used to looking at higher resolution screens will probably notice the difference, in general, the 720p screen is completely adequate. The debate over the pros and cons of different resolution screens will never end but I can’t really see anyone having an issue with the display on the Z3 Compact when purchasing at this price point.
I have been using the phone for just over ten days now, which is longer than usual for a review device, but I wanted to take the time to see how the back of the phone held up. I’m happy to report that there isn’t a single scratch on the phone to date and that’s a real improvement over previous models. Sticking with the exterior of the device, Sony has chosen to use a semi transparent plastic around the sides of the device instead of the metal construction of its predecessor but aesthetically, it works very well. The corners also have the bump guards seen on the bigger Z3 while all of the ports, trays and slots still hide behind their IP68 rated water and dust proof covers.
There’s still a dedicated camera button, which I’d love to see on all phones, with the only other major change to the exterior being the position of the speakers. Sony have gone with front facing speakers, in a symmetrical layout, which is super when holding the phone in landscape listening to music or watching a video. The speakers are quite loud but do lose quality quickly at higher volumes.
Overall the device measures in at 127.3 x 64.9 x 8.6 mm while weighing 129g. Its construction feels solid and from our tests do far, it should stand the test of time well.
The Z3 Compact comes with a 2.5Ghz, Snapdragon 801 processor and 2GB of RAM which was the benchmark for flagship specs up until recently. As a “Mini” device you don’t sacrifice any power and in general day to day use, the phone feels very snappy.
Out of the box, there was an update available which brought the phone from Android 4.4.2 to the latest 4.4.4. While the phone doesn’t run stock Android, Sony’s overlay is now light enough that it has no impact on performance. In fact in most places, it’s only Sony’s use of round icons and their themed widgets that really set this device apart from stock. In many areas it even improves on stock Android visually, but the main point to take away here is that this is more like a different theme than an actual overlay and doesn’t introduce lag to the UI like versions gone before.
Sony still bundles the most Apps out of any manufacturer. From anti-virus to “life logging” and everything in between! Depending on how you use your device, your milage will vary but as was the case before, Sony’s suite of Apps can’t be removed from the device unless you root it. Some people will no doubt find that very annoying.
The device has 16GB of internal storage with ~1.6Gb consumed by the system. There is also a micro SD card slot hidden under one of those flaps, capable of taking cards up to 128GB in size. It’s also worth pointing out that the phone takes the smallest “Nano” sized SIM card which means most people will also need a change of SIM when moving to this device.
All of the Irish LTE bands are supported as is 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0.
The Z3 Compact has a 2600mAh battery, which is down on its larger siblings’s, but above many other phones on the market. Battery life is fantastic. With the smaller, lower resolution display consuming less energy it seems like you never have to charge this phone. Most phones I review only last about 12 hours on a full charge as you are using them non stop in the first few days. The Z3 Compact lasted two full days and still had 13% left. Most people will get at least two to three days out of it and maybe slightly more if you turn on some of the stamina settings.
The one remaining area where the Z3 Compact really excels in specs compared with its other competitors in the “mini” section, is with its camera. At 20.7MP, it’s the same as the larger Z3 and a higher resolution than most phones on the market toady. We all know that high resolution doesn’t necessarily translate to good photos but I’ll take a high count over a low one any day! As with the previous Z range devices that I’ve reviewed, pictures taken at full resolution needed manual adjustments to make them look really good while pictures generally looked better using the 8MP Superior Auto mode. While there is much less of a difference between both modes on the Z3 Compact, I think the way most people will use this camera is as a point and shoot in Auto mode. Pictures taken at the higher resolution also take up a huge amount of space comparatively.
The Z3 Compact now comes with ISO 12800 support which I thought would be just another spec, but it really does makes a difference in low light situations. If you are in a dimly lit room, it almost seems like the flash is on lighting up the area. While images are still noisy in low light, it is hands down the best effort I’ve seen from a smartphone camera and will be a great help capturing images on nights out (or not!)
In general the camera takes very good shots. The issue with such headline grabbing specs is that you start comparing the phone with dedicated point and shoot cameras but it’s not quite up to that standard. For a smartphone though, as its price point, it does enough good in most areas to be considered among the best in its “mini” class.
In some ways this was just an incremental update over the Z1 Compact but in many other ways, it’s so much more. Most of the issues from before are gone and Sony are evolving the line at an incredible pace.
It’s hard not to love the Z3 Compact. It’s great to look at. It’s slim, light, durable and waterproof while still packing a great camera and some great specs. I’d love to see a 1080p screen if I’m honest. If you are used to looking at a higher resolution, you’ll notice the drop with the Z3 Comapct. Of course that lower resolution helps to deliver excellent battery life, but in some instances I’d be happy to sacrifice a few hours!
If you are in the market for a device at this price point or screen size, the Z3 Compact gets our recommendation as the device to get. It delivers enough in every category to push it ahead of the rest and we’ll be sad to have to give this one back to Sony!