Photos

Photos in this post were taken with a Moto Z Play, and as you’ll see why when scrolling down, I don’t recommend the Z Play if you like decent pictures..

After the Android enterprise device support testing, Sony let me keep hold of the Xperia XZ1 Compact for a while longer, and I figure since it’s been more than 5 months since I sat down with the Nokia 3, I’d take the XZ1 Compact for a spin as a consumer device, too!

The XZ1 Compact is Sony’s miniature alternative to their new Xperia XZ1, a device I tested earlier that felt premium, well specced and was a delight to use (aside from my Nexus, was also the first device I saw ship with Android 8.0!). I therefore held high expectations for the XZ1 Compact, given the Compact line is intended to be a no-compromise alternative to devices some consumers deem too large.

Hardware

The photo above doesn’t do the XZ1 Compact screen any justice as the gaudy, poorly fitting screen protector is obscuring it, however the XZ1 Compact boasts a 4.6″, HD display housed within a 129 x 64 x 9.3mm frame. It feels small, yet solid given the chunky design and hard corners aligning with Sony’s familiar design language.

The colours pop quite nicely, and of course benefit from Sony’s Triluminos display with a multitude of options for colour, brightness and enhancement controls. I quite like that the display can get both extremely bright and quite dim, something that I’ve struggled with on other devices in the past and comes in very handy both in very bright and dark conditions. The inbuilt automatic brightness management does a good job of adapting to surroundings without being too aggressive.

At ~319PPI it is hardly comparable to high-end displays on the market, but given the small size I’ve absolutely nothing negative to say about the image quality in day to day use.

Around the display are speaker grilles and an 8MP front-facing camera.

Unlike the XZ1, the XZ1 Compact appears to be a mix of plastic, metal and glass. with the plastic cover on the back being a pretty gnarly fingerprint magnet (see the pic below)! I ended up covering it with a case pretty quickly given the difficulty I was having trouble removing fingerprints from the matte finish. It also flexes under a small amount of pressure, which honestly I’d forgotten was even a thing given the amount of glass and metal-backed devices I’ve used for a good while now.

Given the bigger XZ1 doesn’t use plastic, I wasn’t expecting to see it here, either. It feels obviously quite a bit cheaper due to this, even with the metal finish on the top and bottom; regardless of this however, the XZ1 Compact still benefits from IP68 water resistance.

On the back there are a 19 MP f/2.0 camera with laser autofocus and flash. The camera makes use of EIS rather than OIS, but the output has been pretty good regardless (see below). It also supports 3D scanning! The NFC radio location is indicated on the shell, making it much easier to get NFC working without the typical full-device swipe-and-hope I’ve had with some devices.

Along the right-hand side is the plastic volume rocker, and a power button/fingerprint reader which I quite like. Admittedly it takes some getting used to as it’s quite out of the way compared to the front or rear-placed fingerprint readers on other devices, but it’s much easier to use than Samsung’s oddly-placed fingerprint reader. It scans a fingerprint nice and quickly, and with the device being quite small, I can unlock it either with my right thumb, or just reach around with my left index/middle fingers to unlock the device. Handy!

Along the top is a microphone and 3.5mm headphone jack (thank you Sony).

Down the left-hand side are the SIM and microSD card slots; both are hidden behind a cover which is easily to pull out and doesn’t require a SIM tool to do so (another aspect of Sony I quite like). The SIM tray itself however is still the typical flimsy plastic piece I wish would go away, and still to this day Sony devices appear to require a reboot whenever a SIM card is inserted or removed. I’ve no idea why.

Along the bottom is another microphone and a USB C port.

Inside, the XZ1 Compact is specced as follows:

  • Android 8.0 (Oreo)
  • Snapdragon 835
  • 32GB Storage (microSD support)
  • 4GB RAM
  • 2700mAh battery
  • Fingerprint reader

The battery is interesting; while it may look quite small on paper, having to only power a 4.6″ display it does actually offer pretty decent battery life. With my work-related use (as it is my current work device) I’m putting it on charge once every couple of days and that’s better than I was initially expecting.

Overall then the device does feel well-built and substantial in the hand considering the size, even if I’m not a massive fan of plastic.

Software

Sony devices ship with a light skin atop Android which, depending on your own personal preferences, may be a good or bad thing. The XZ1 Compact is no different here, however although I do prefer pure, vanilla Android, Sony’s skin is by no means unattractive and is so lightweight I’ve mostly not even thought about it. It additionally ships with Android 8.0 and was one of the first OEMs to do so!

As with many devices I get hands-on with, the first thing I did out of the box was to remove/disable a whole heap of bloatware applications (Lookout, Amazon, EE, and more). This also extends to Swiftkey, the default keyboard on Sony devices. I don’t particularly like using it nor the popups it gives me to sign up, so that got swapped out with GBoard very quickly.

With that out of the way, the device is a delight to use. I appreciate the built-in swipe down to search the device from the home screen, the occasional app recommendations (if enabled, it’s optional) and that Google Assistant is right there in the corner if you swipe over to it, as with most phones with the Google launcher. Normally on devices I’ll have swapped over to Nova launcher, however I’m pretty content with Sony’s launcher for the time being.

Running a Snapdragon 835 on a small screen, obviously performance is going to be pretty good. Compared to the Snapdragon 625 in the Moto Z Play I currently use as a daily driver – and the stutter/lag I occasionally have to put up with – the Sony doesn’t miss a beat; animations are smooth, I notice no dropped frames or other stuttering during normal use or even when running splitscreen concurrently.

Naturally running 8.0 it also benefits from Oreo improvements, like picture-in-picture, notification dots, faster boot-up times and much more.

Camera

The camera is pretty good, though I’ve not put it through its paces in difficult environments (night, macro, etc). Certainly one of the better cameras I’ve used recently. There are plenty of other camera comparisons online, and I’d recommended searching those out, but the samples above give an indication of camera quality.

I have tried to AR apps that ship with the phone, which made for some interesting photos, though I can’t see myself making much use of it. Saying that, there are a number of camera apps available to liven up the experience for those who want to add a bit of pop to their photos.

Enterprise use

The XZ1 family (that being the XZ1 and the XZ1 Compact) were the first devices, outside of Google, to support zero-touch enrolment. I’ve written fairly extensively about zero-touch enrolment over on docs for further reading.

Even outside of Android enterprise, Sony are one of few OEMs who have supported native Android management for a number of years. Their design language is consistent, they stay on top of updates (as can be seen with the rollout of 8.0 across their estate at the moment) and while they don’t yet have an enterprise version of their devices, given the infrastructure and teams already in place working on enterprise-class devices, it won’t take much effort for them to do so (or offer extended support for existing devices, like this XZ1 Compact).

Conclusion

Although it’s not exactly fully aligned to notion of reducing size without any sacrifice, the XZ1 Compact is a powerful offering for those who don’t want the mammoth devices littering the market today. With the XZ1 Compact you get all of the power of the XZ1 but in a much easier to handle 4.6″ form-factor.

At £399 online currently it’s got some competition with the likes of the Nokia 8 with its dual cameras and a number of mid-range devices, but more often than not competitors won’t be pushing a Snapdragon 835. Sony definitely has the upper hand for consumers looking for a smaller device in any case.

It’s a very nice device. If it had shared the finishing materials of the XZ1, though, that would have been icing on the cake.



Jason Bayton

I’m an accredited mobile technology & EMM (MDM) specialist with an interest in Linux, Virtualisation, Hosting, Disaster Recovery, Internet of Things, Web Development and Open Source. I play the Sousaphone, too!

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