You can’t fault Sony for not being consistent in the flagship department and going all-out with their Xperia phones. One area that has been in limbo though are small-form factor phones where it has been mostly hit-or-miss over the years, some are good but not by much.
In response, Sony is adamant about reviving the uber-capable pocket-sized smartphone with the Xperia XZ1 Compact, which as it name implies is positioned as a one-handed phone that does almost everything bigger phones can do. Aside from dimensions this Android handset is unique, if only because it’s an bygone niche shadowed monstrous phablets today.
The XZ1 Compact follows the existing ‘loop’ design language within the confines of its size. The styling is boxier than its bigger brothers, but doesn’t hurt your palm now that the edges are rounded off for ergonomic comfort. Button layout and other important pieces are retained for familiarity with the volume rocker, camera shortcut, and flushed power button sitting on the right-hand side, which despite their attempts you’ll often end up locking the phone rather than changing the volume itself. Another point for US owners is that the fingerprint scanner is again omitted.
The construction is painstakingly robust, but you won’t be fooled into thinking the unibody is not made of plastic. But it’s not conventionally cheap by touch and in the sense of being low-end because the XZ1 Compact is a combination of a glass fiber woven plastic, which is supposed to be lightweight and stronger. The physical connections continue with a IP65/68 rating so the XZ1 Compact will likely survive some carelessness on your behalf if you happen to spill beer (or whatever you drink) or accidentally drop it into the toilet.
Otherwise, the rest of the package will not be mistaken as anything else beyond an Xperia. The top and bottom are capped with actual metal and the 4.6-inch IPS screen is protected by Gorilla Glass, with the latter rocking 1280×720 HD resolution. Of course some will complain that the 319 pixel density but all of this is abstract considering the size and the TRILUMINOS/X-Reality display more than makes up for any shortcomings — you still get excellent contrast and vibrant colors without negatively impacting battery life, similar to what you’d get from an iPhone SE.
Like other Xperia phones you can expect a swarm of technical features and specifications that will exceed expectations. The XZ1 Compact is equipped with some big guns specifically a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor with 4GB of RAM, and sports the latest version of Android Oreo (8.0). On the flipside, internal storage is only 32GB but you can easily get a microSD card up to 256GB for additional storage in a pinch.
Carrier support is exclusive to GSM and can be taken unlocked to AT&T, T-Mobile, or abroad when traveling internationally for gigabit LTE (4G) benchmarks of 800Mbps (maximum). Other methods of wireless connectivity include NFC and 5GHz band Wi-Fi, along with PS4 Remote Play.
Hi-Res Audio is included thanks to internal DSEE HX engine and will satisfy audiophiles wanting to take their LPCM, DSD, and FLAC playlists with them. Wireless performance of high data audio is also possible with Sony’s own LDAC technology, supporting triple the regular bitrate via Bluetooth of up to 990kbps and aptX audio compatibility.
As an everyday phone we got three days out of the XZ1 Compact with clear HD calls, but expected battery life is clocked in at two days of constant usage, even when taking on multitasking and gaming sessions. Admittedly, this number isn’t a standout among the majority of phones out there but Sony has provided some helpful ‘Stamina’ features to prolong life and disable unnecessary connectivity whenever possible. We also like the Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 support which worked nicely for us, taking roughly 25-30 minutes to fully charge the XZ1 Compact from a dangerous 7% through a basic USB car charger.
Xperia probably feature the second-best cameras you get on a smartphone today and the XZ1 Compact is no different. Compared to the XZs I reviewed a while back, the 19MP Motion Eye manages to take clear and colorful pictures in situations where lighting is good, but quality varies greatly whenever the XZ1 Compact taken away from brightly-lit surroundings. This was odd because this appears to be the same rear facing camera that features the same 4K recording and that awesome 960fps slow-motion video, although the front camera is more modest at 8MP with a 120-degree super wide-angle 18mm lens.
The coolest feature by far is the 3D scanning, which is carried over from the XZ1 with sensors and a preloaded app that collect visual data to create models ready for compatible 3D printers, display apps, and other programs that support models. When operational, the scanner app will stack memory directly for information transfer and accuracy. It does quite a good job in its default modes for facial, head shots, food (because Instagram), and free-form objects.
But there are a few caveats that hamper the experience a little bit: first off is the fact that you have to experience a tutorial just to enable it, which is very annoying if you already understand the baiscs and want to jump immediately. Compatibility outside of the app is okay and images can be exported as an .OBL file for personal use, but images appear monochromatic and upside-down. Another issue is that Sony admits integration is currently limited — although they’re working with Facebook 360 among other social media apps to take advantage of the tech.
At $599, the Xperia XZ1 Compact is a promising take on a pocket flagship — and at least here in America — an uncommon one-handed alternative usurped by large-format devices. This is one of the most powerful smartphones around, and it helps that its discreetness is a highlight that’s missing for particular users. Granted, this is small category for people who goes out of their way for unlocked models, this probably won’t appeal to everybody but Sony seems comfortable enough to offer it.