Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact review

GSMArena team, 25 September 2017.

Wrapping it up

Sony's engineers must’ve had more than a few challenges to deal with in delivering the Xperia XZ1 Compact to market fully prepared to take on any of the rival flagships. But there we are, this super-mini has everything the XZ1 and XZ Premium have except for the screen.

Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact review

The good news is, the screen resolution lets the Compact get the best out of the cutting-edge Snapdragon 835 chipset and its Adreno 540 GPU. The bad news is… well… the screen resolution is pretty low by today’s standards. No two ways about it.

But it’s also a small screen by today’s standards – so it manages a decent 319ppi (vanilla iPhones have 326ppi). The signature Motion Eye camera is here to stay – with improved low-light capabilities, too. And that 960fps slow-mo video capture is still a treat we wouldn’t say no to.

Waterproof, stylish, comfortable - the Xperia XZ1 Compact is one of the most powerful smartphones around with one of the best single-camera setups. Plus, the 8MP super-wide front snapper puts a nice twist on group selfies.

Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact key test findings

  • Another refinement on the Xperia design and yet it's as recognizable as ever. The switch from metal to reinforced glass fiber plastic pays off in sturdiness and scratch resistance.
  • The 4.6-inch LCD screen fails to impress in terms of resolution and isn’t HDR-compliant, but has top-notch maximum brightness and excellent sunlight legibility. The contrast could have been better, though.
  • Battery life is excellent at 108h of endurance rating with great scores across our set of tests.
  • The Xperia launcher has clicked with Android 8 from the first try. The familiar Stamina battery-saving modes and Sony's own multimedia apps are backed by a few new Oreo features, like notification channels and picture in picture video support.
  • The XZ1 Compact lives up to flagship standards in CPU performance and aces the GPU scores. It does tend to occasionally score lower than Snapdragon 835 competitors, but real-life performance is silky-smooth.
  • Just like most other recent Sony stereo setups, the one in the XZ1 Compact isn't particularly loud. Still, it is a lot better for multimedia consumption than a mono alternative and the balanced speakers sound quite nice.
  • Audio quality through the analog jack has decent clarity but below average loudness.
  • The primary camera produces detailed photos with improved corner sharpness and very good colors, contrast, and dynamic range. Predictive capture recognizes smiles now, although it's only kicking in half the time. The new autofocus burst is nice. The low-light performance has seen some improvement but still lags behind the current flagship competition and requires the use of a tripod to get the best out of it.
  • 4K videos look good, 1080p likewise. 4K recording is no longer a separate shooting mode in the camera settings, yay! The 960fps slow-mo HD video recording holds a lot of potential, but capturing the right moment takes a lot of precision and practice, since you only have about 0.2 seconds to work with.
  • The XZ1 Compact comes with a super-wide angle 8MP selfie camera. It lacks autofocus in comparison with the XZ1's 13MP sharpshooter. The 8MP selfies, both wide and regular, have plenty of detail and good dynamic range. Just keep the subjects well-lit and be mindful of the always-on skin smoothing (you can disable it in the settings).

Noteworthy alternatives

Apple's iPhone SE is probably the smallest premium phone available today. It's a good match for the XZ1 Compact in screen quality and performance, though the smaller screen, shrunken battery and awful selfie snapper might be big turn-offs. The SE is cheaper though, to be fair.

You can also opt for the 4.7" iPhone 8 which comes with an arguably better screen and an all-metal design, plus its main camera is great at low-light thanks to the optical stabilization. Apple's ecosystem is a completely different ball game though and the iPhone 8 is more expensive than the Xperia Z1 Compact.

Apple iPhone SE Apple iPhone 8
Apple iPhone SE • Apple iPhone 8

The Huawei P10 isn't much bigger than the Xperia XZ1 Compact, but it offers a bigger, higher-res screen, a Leica-powered dual-camera with OIS and a bigger battery. On the other hand, the P10 has no waterproofing, no slow-mo videos, and no Android Oreo. Its GPU performance isn't quite on par, either.

Huawei P10
Huawei P10

The recently released Nokia 8 may not be as small as the XZ1 Compact, but offers a class-leading 5.3" screen, the same Snapdragon 835 chipset, and an excellent camera experience with three Zeiss-certified cameras - a pair at the back and one up front. The all-metal Nokia 8 is just splash-resistant and not fully water proof but, on a positive note, it costs the same as the Sony and you can get it with more RAM and at least double the storage.

Nokia 8
Nokia 8

The Galaxy S8 has gotten cheaper and still boasts an enviable spec sheet. It's obviously not as compact though and cannot match the GPU prowess unless you lower the screen resolution. When it comes to screen, camera and overall experience though, there is no doubt the S8 still has it.

Samsung Galaxy S8
Samsung Galaxy S8

Lastly, for some extra €100 you can upgrade to the big Xperia XZ1 with a 1080p HDR screen and a metal unibody. You’ll obviously be getting more screen and more pixels per inch, but also more bezel to go with them. And the identical batteries do have a sizeable difference in mileage. With identical talk and standby times, it’s the on-screen tests that tip the overall result well in the Compact’s favor. The battery life gap is even wider for the XZ Premium but the 4K display does come at a price.

Sony Xperia XZ1 Sony Xperia XZ Premium
Sony Xperia XZ1 • Sony Xperia XZ Premium

Final verdict

Sony is the only player left in the compact flagship game. So, is it a win? Apple had one successful entry, but it may as well be the last one by Cupertino. The rest? Well, the bezel-less race is on and it's much more attractive and entertaining.

Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact review

As for Sony, it has a winner in the XZ1 Compact but some tough questions to answer too. If you give users so much horsepower and imaging capabilities, will they not want more screen real estate and resolution to enjoy them on? If the Compact had a 1080p screen it would perhaps have made the XZ1 redundant, wouldn’t it?

Now, the XZ1 Compact’s screen is about the size and resolution of an iPhone 7 or 8 – which is to say no worse than some of the best-selling phones around. Yet, from a purely Android perspective the screen size and resolution are some two-three years behind. What’s wrong – the size or the perspective? Can you blame Sony for focusing on the performance? Most midrange phones today come with 5-inch full-HD screens and offer reasonable speed and productivity. An edge in performance is a lot less tangible than a few fractions of an inch of screen diagonal.

In hindsight, last season’s Xperia X Compact isn’t such a disappointment after all. It had to answer the same questions and it did as best it could. But the XZ1 Compact deserves that much more credit for trying to restore the lineup’s reputation. Credit to Sony too for believing that it's not the size of the phone in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the phone.

Reader comments

  • Anonymous

I love my SONY XZ1 Compact!! I have been looking for a phone with a smaller screen than 5 inch. I have had this phone for over a year now. I have to say it is one of the best 3 phones I've ever had!!

  • NOBODYOLD -

I buy this phone because i utilised 3 years another model sony[zi compact] and i was verry satisfait .I want buy the new xz1 compact because the Procesor is more powerful and his memory too. the phone is magnific and i verry enchanted about performan...

  • Reprotski

Hi guys, Any reported camera going black on this model yet. I'm hesitant to buy Sony as I had 2 Xperia Z3 compacts which the camera didn't last for a month on the first and about 3 month for the second. I had the Xperia Ion and Acro S which still r...