Last year, Sony experimented with its compact middle-class smartphone, the Xperia X Compact, and now it returns with the new Xperia XZ1 Compact as its 2017 contribution to the compact flagship smartphone world. Will Sony make a comeback in 2017 or is the Xperia XZ1 Compact likely to flop? Read on for our first hands-on review.
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Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact release date and price
The IFA has always been an important event for Sony since the launch of the Xperia Z3 Compact in 2014. Each subsequent year, Sony has launched a compact flagship smartphone at IFA. Unfortunately though, fans were disappointed with Sony Mobile last year because its small and handy smartphone with a 4.6-inch display, the Xperia X Compact, was delivered with middle class hardware instead of the usual high-end hardware from the top smartphones in the Xperia line.
So in 2017, Sony Mobile is bringing us the Xperia XZ1 Compact, going back to its roots with the compact Xperia smartphones. The convenient housing contains almost the same hardware as in the top Xperia model, the XZ Premium. The more expensive and more powerful hardware of the XZ1 Compact is also reflected in the pricing though. The Xperia X Compact launched in 2016 at $500, so we can expect the price of the Xperia XZ1 Compact to rise to $600 or so.
However, if you are looking for a powerful smartphone in a compact housing, you won't be able to find any alternative in the Android world and you'll have to go with the Xperia XZ1 Compact. it comes in four colors: black, silver, blue and pink will be available in the Fall when the device goes on sale.
Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact design and build quality
In terms of design, Sony Mobile stands its ground and has faithfully stuck to the design of the Xperia XZ series. The 4.6-inch HD resolution display has a relatively thick edge compared to current flagship phones. This frame is due to the internal structure and components used, which according to Sony could and should not to be eliminated. The fingerprint sensor and power buttons on the side are 1.5 mm deep, and above the display, the 19 megapixel Motion Eye camera, taken from the Xperia XZ Premium, also comes with a triple layer image sensor.
The bezel below the display contains a second loudspeaker and USB type-C connector. In addition, Sony has learned from the past and has placed the PCB, which is L-shaped, as far from camera sensor as it possibly could. It also has a heat-conducting plate including a heat evacuation pipe, which might be useful, for example, when recording something in 4K to avoid to the phone succumbing to temporary heat death.
It's a shame that the premium design hasn't quite been reflected in the XZ1 Compact. The device is mainly made of matt plastic; which has been reinforced with carbon fiber for better stability. This plastic wasn't used to cut costs but was actually used to technical reasons: if you use plastic, the numerous antennas don't have to be point outwards, but can be installed subtly behind the permeable material. This allows the Xperia XZ1 Compact to be compatible with 4G Cat.15, which provides download speeds of up to 800 Mbit/s.
As with the XZ Premium, only the top and bottom of the device is made of metal. The Xperia XZ1 Compact is protected against ingression of dust and water thanks to its IP65/68 certification. Last year's Xperia X Compact didn't have this certification.
Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact display
In terms of display, the XZ1 Compact offers the usual for its screen size, don't expect 4K or HDR with this 4.6-inch IPS panel. Having said that, having those features with this screen size isn't necessary, and maybe even obsolete. Instead, Sony provides a HD resolution display that should have a maximum brightness of 600 nits. In terms of screen protection, the compact Sony gets the same as its two larger siblings: Gorilla Glass 5.
Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact software
Sony has given us a little surprise for the software interface: it will offer this smartphone (as well as the XZ1) with Android 8.0 Oreo! That said, Sony will modify the interface with its own overlay, so for example it won't be possible to access the app drawer by swiping upwards and instead, it will propose a more classic launcher. We'll look at this in more detail in our full review.
During my short stint with playing about with the phone, I definitely saw some improvements on previous generations. For example, if you want to record videos in 4K, you can choose the definition and refresh rate directly from the settings. Thank you Sony!
Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact performance
The XZ1 Compact is meant to be a flagship so it must have high-end hardware. It uses a configuration that is identical to that of its siblings, the XZ Premium and XZ. With a Snapdragon 835 processor, 4GB RAM and a UFS memory, the XZ1 Compact is exactly like the XZ Premium and the XZ1, the only difference with the XZ1 is the size of its internal memory - the compact model has only 32GB. Rest assured though, this can be increased up to 256GB with a microSD card.
On paper, this smartphone should be able to stand up to other high-end models on the market. We'll see in our full review if it is able to holds its own in the very close rankings of the fastest smartphones on the market.
Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact camera
For the main camera, the Xperia XZ1 Compact was once again inspired by the XZ Premium. Not much has changed in terms of hardware but Sony has done some work on its software interface. The "Predictive Shoot" feature now triggers with a simple smile (as long as someone is in the shot). In addition, there will also be hybrid autofocus prediction, which will help maintain focus on a moving object across a series of photos. With this adaptive autofocus, it is possible to take up to 10 frames per second. Sony has also given us something in terms of the front camera: it has two focal distances, one of 12.5 mm with an angle of 120 degrees and the other of 28 mm with an angle of 80 degrees. This latter one is achieved by interpolation and cropping of the image. In order to be able to take decent selfies in darker environments, the whole screen can be used as a flash.
The Motion Eye camera can use a homemade app to analyze objects in 3D. From faces, heads, food or other objects, you can create 3D objects. You can then share these digital objects with friends too, from simple images to animated GIFs, to MP4 videos. Since Sony saves objects in 3D in OBJ format, it is also possible to use them with a 3D printer to print out real objects in 3D. We'll look at this in more detail in our full review.
Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact battery
The XZ1 Compact shares many of its technical characteristics with another device presented by Sony to the IFA: the XZ1. This is also the case with the battery, even though the large XZ1 has a capacity of 2700 mAh. Adaptive charging with Qnovo and the Quick Charge 3.0 are supported. With a screen resolution lower than the Full-HD of the XZ1 (5.2 inches), the battery should give you a pretty long battery life.
It's a pity that Sony was so stingy: there is no Quick Charge cable in the box. Why? No one knows...
It is still a early to have a clear opinion on this phone. What is certain is that this 4.6-inch screen has no real competitor: it is the only compact flagship that runs on Android. This alone will already attract users around the world. In addition, Sony has worked on its software interface in detail, and has also indicated that the XZ1 and XZ1 Compact will receive updates in 2017, including Android 8.0 Oreo.