With a title like that, you might be thinking ‘well that’s great… onto the next one’. And if you indeed do think that way, no problem. However, I encourage you to read further because this review is more than just a write up about a Sony smartphone but more importantly, a review about a Sony smartphone which has snuck under the radar of the Note 4, iPhone 6/6 Plus, Galaxy Alpha and even Sony Xperia Z3 press coverage and managed to deliver arguably the most compelling Android smartphone package ever. So without further ado, I give you the Z3 Compact Review.
As far as first impressions go, this is a beautiful looking bit of kit. The phone is a plastic slab sandwiched in-between two sheets of glass to give it the minimalist style we have come to associate with Sony. The rounded edges make it gorgeous to hold and use one handed, the main selling point of these ‘small’ devices nowadays.
The screen is a 4.6″ 720p display, perfect for this size and given the best possible position to impress with minimal bezels flanking its sides. I won’t bore you with the fancy terms used by Sony to describe its display but simply put, it’s one of the finest displays I have ever seen on a smartphone. The colours are life-like, with visibility angles infinitely better than some 1080p displays.
The camera was the first place I started. We have a few times on TekTalk’s weekly podcast the frustration of using recent Sony smartphone cameras. They are not badly equipped but the difference between the camera processing on a Sony smartphone and an iPhone (Apple exclusively uses Sony lenses on their iPhones) is night and day, leading to tech people questioning why Sony would create such beautiful hardware and fall short spectacularly in a department in which they are a legendary name. Well, I can now confirm that those questions need to be put to bed once and for all. Also still lacking truly great night time photos, the Z3 Compact camera is a stunning bit of kit and in my opinion, the first real Android threat to an iPhone in the camera department. The photos aren’t ridiculously over saturated or excessively sharpened like on some high end flagships like the S5 or the One M8. Instead, we have photos showing an accurate representation of what was seen at that time. The shutter button also helps make the experience much quicker than unlocking a phone or doing gimmicky hand twists to start the camera. All in all, a camera worthy of the Sony branding.
Playing a song on the phone through the excellent Walkman app (more on this in the software part), I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of output. Now the quality on the front facing speakers is not even close to my experience with my previous smartphone, the One M8, but it is still much better than 99% of the phones available right now. My audio samples used to test the front speakers (DMX’s No Sunshine, Ariana Grande’s Problem and AC/DC’S Shoot to Thrill) allowed me to get an insight as to how the speakers sound across a broad spectrum of music (the songs have elements of many musical genres) which it passed with flying colours. I noticed low-mids being very clear, vocals not being drowned out by ramped up bass levels and each instrument clear defined and appreciated. The highs were a little flat but by tweaking some settings and turning on ClearAudio for example, those gripes were quickly remedied. If you are into audio quality but not at the level of audiophiles, you cannot go wrong with this phone.
The Z3 Compact comes running 4.4.4 KitKat out of the gate with Sony UI layered over the top. Unlike their previous efforts with Jelly Bean, the UI has been decluttered with some Sony specific apps and services on show. Those apps, unlike most of the apps preinstalled on a Samsung device for example, are generally useful. The PS4 remote play feature is a decent second screen experience that will only get better over time. The Walkman app mentioned earlier is as good a default music app as any I have seen. I really like the interface used, the amount of information presented on artists and albums as well as the audio tweaking settings. Add to that, the Video and picture gallery app (Album) and you have a robust software feature set which Sony should be really proud of. You also get the Lifelog app preinstalled but I did not test it, essentially because I am locked into Endomondo and MyFitnesspal. The Sony UI skin is very light and the more I have used it during the last 6 weeks of testing, the more I have avoided keeping the Google Now launcher on the phone. After the first week, it has been Sony’s UI all the way and that is a high compliment. It isn’t all high praise though sadly. Sony, for some stupid reason has decided to stick their ‘What’s New’ feature right where you would normally drag up for Google Now. What possessed them to do such a thing, only Sony knows but it is very frustrating when going into Google Now and accidently being put through to essentially an advert for Sony movie, app and music content. I would not mind it as much if it could be deactivated but that is not possible. I hope Lollipop fixes this.
So… how can I sum this experience? In short, it has been a brilliant one. Sony has shown that you can make a ‘mini’ Android smartphone, pack it with the latest and greatest specs and most importantly, adds excellent value software for the most part to create a package which not only competes with the super high end flagships but in my opinion, blows them away. The One M8, Galaxy S5, Xperia Z2/Z3, Galaxy Alpha and even the iPhone 6 are no match for this little beauty. Some would debate the comparison with the iPhone 6 because it’s iOS v. Android but that is not what I am looking at. In terms of experience, the iPhone 6 has had a poor start software wise and with its uninspiring design, it looks like a cash-in sequel of a highly successful franchise. The Z3 Compact however, feels like Sony listened to those cries for a fully specced ‘mini’ Android phone and then the groans when the One Mini 2, Galaxy S5 Mini, LG G3 Mini/S/whatever else LG could think of and the Galaxy Alpha came out and decided to offer a compelling alternative. This is a truly stunning outcome and for me, a former One M8 owner who sold that and invested in a Z3 Compact, the switch was well worth making.
A smartphone which does everything an owner wants with very little in the way of gimmicks… The Sony Z3 Compact is my phone of the year.