Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

Is the solution to the Z1 conundrum to make it smaller?

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Given its background in media Sony should be able to produce a device that is more than capable when it comes to media playback. To that end, I want a great music player, the industry's best media player and the most intuitive way of looking through your photos.

The Xperia Z1 Compact is pretty close in a number of those categories, but I do still have some reservations.

But let's start with the positives: the music player is certainly well-equipped.


Those with large media libraries are catered for with the inclusion of a microSD slot giving it an immediate advantage over the likes of the storage-restricted iPhone 6.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

The Walkman history comes into play with the Xperia Z1 Compact; Sony clearly playing on its heritage to tempt you over to its music playing app. There is more to the Walkman app than just media playing though, instead becoming the hub of all your music, including streaming.

Many will likely have subscriptions to the likes of Spotify or Deezer, but Sony also has its own Music Unlimited service that ships with nearly every Sony device from laptops to smart TVs. This is well integrated into the Walkman app, meaning that you don't feel pressured into signing up, but Sony will be pleased to hear that it can prove tempting.

However, that's the initial stage. And it's pretty fiddly to remove the Music Unlimited stuff that's there from the outset - loads of tiles designed to farm you towards paying money to have a subscription.

And it's a poor service - sure, it works across a number of devices, but signing up is a connection nightmare and the speed of streaming or even loading albums a joke at times. I know it's not the only reason to use the app, but it's so tightly integrated it really irritates.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

In fairness, the number of songs available actually exceeds those to be found on Spotify, but such is the inadequacy of search it feels like there are many missing when there aren't. However, at least you're not bombarded by a million covers of the song you actually want, which is one of many users' biggest bugbears with Spotify.

In terms of pure music playback, the Walkman app is more than sufficient, providing all the necessary controls in a visually pleasing shell. I found the bright colours that changed with each album's artwork to be a nice change from the far duller and less colourful experience on iPhones or Samsungs.

The external speaker is also well placed for music playback. Sitting alongside the bottom end of the phone means that when laying down music isn't muffled. Volume was similarly not an issue.

With the Z1 Compact on a shelf and working on the other side of the room I was still able to hear the music. It is no rival to the BoomSound on the HTC One M8, but more effective than the Galaxy S5 Mini, and comes with xLoud ability that boosts output pleasantly.

Placement of the external speaker could cause problems on the Xperia Z1, as when watching movies it can be a little frustrating to have sound largely reaching only one ear. This isn't a problem I encountered, as I found the majority of movies were watched with headphones on.


Being only 4.3 inches does mean that the Xperia Z1 Compact lacks a little for those who want to be able to watch a lot of movies on the commute. For them, the larger-screened flagships such as the Galaxy S5 or phablets like the iPhone 6 Plus would be far more appropriate.

The screen has had a lot of attention lavished on it since the Xperia Z1 however, with Sony giving the Z1 Compact the same IPS and TriLuminous technology that are found in the much larger Xperia Z Ultra. This solved problems that were originally found with colour reproduction and viewing angles, it's good to see Sony taking note.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

However I wasn't impressed with the brightness on side-loaded videos, with most erring on the dark side even with brightness turned right up. It's a long way from other devices, but given that this isn't the phone for the movie fan, I can't see it being a huge problem.

Sony's movies app is well designed, being both attractive and highly functional. Load it up, and the last movie you were watching plays silently in the background meaning you're not left looking at a static screen.

It's only a small touch but is something that will delight and makes you feel you're playing with a premium device.

Also included for movies is Sony's Video Unlimited app. I was a little sceptical about the inclusion, but the app is very well stocked with some of the most recent films and doesn't require a monthly subscription. Movies can be downloaded or rented with prices matching those of purchasing or renting a DVD.

All media can be 'thrown' via DLNA, allowing streaming to devices such as Smart TVs. The Xperia Z1 Compact also allows the screen to be mirrored, perfect for watching movies or showing off all your photos on the big screen.

The bad news is I found that this didn't work as well as I'd hoped, with the connection often timing out before the screen was mirrored.

It's the bane of smartphone connections everywhere, and until it's made perfect the general public won't see this as a reason to buy a top-end handset.


Gaming is handled superbly on the Xperia Z1 Compact with the four cores sat behind the screen handling even the more graphically intensive games with ease. Racing in Asphalt 8 was nothing short of a pleasure, with the lower resolution also helping the Adreno 330 GPU to keep things running smoothly.

Sony has also included its PlayStation store to grant access to a wider range of apps and games that cannot be found on the Play store. These games can seem expensive though, and the range on offer was not as wide as that of the Google alternative.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

One of the greatest advantages that the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact has for gaming is that it doesn't need a separate Bluetooth controller, as it can connect to the DualShock controller used with the PlayStation 3.

This makes mobile gaming a lot easier, although needing a (separately purchased) USB cable renders it a little pointless.

If Sony thinks of a way to connect the two wirelessly, the Xperia Z1 Compact would make a great portable games console, connecting to TVs via the screen mirroring, but right now it will remain a cool feature that most won't bother with for a while yet unless you take a trip to Amazon and get a cut price option.

Sony has rectified this with the Xperia Z3 Compact, where you can connect a PlayStation 4 DualShock controller via Bluetooth. You can also use the Z3 Compact to stream PlayStation 4 games from the console to the smartphone via the Remote Play app. I'd love to see that feature brought to the Z1 Compact, but sadly it looks unlikely.


Phones and Tablets Editor

Gareth (Twitter, Google+) has been part of the mobile phone industry from the era of the brick to the tiny device in the pocket... and now watching them grow back up to behemothic proportions once more. He's spent five years dissecting all the top phones in the world as TechRadar's Phones and Tablets Editor, and still can't resist answering the dreaded question - "which new phone should I get?" - with 15 choices.