Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact review

Small yet perfectly formed

Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact review
A small and slim tablet - but is the screen good enough?

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The Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact uses Android 4.4.2 with a Sony custom interface, of the same style found in its phones. It's one of the prettier, faster custom interfaces, though doesn't quite have the friendly lifestyle vibe Google has coaxed out of standard Android 5.0, the very latest version of the software.

At first, it clearly seems to want to appear a bit more sophisticated than the competition. It uses a swish-looking Xperia live wallpaper, whose swooshy styling is seen across loads of Sony products from its TVs to the PlayStation line. It's colourful and good-looking, but ultimately perhaps a little serious for some people.

However, all that can dissipate if you want it to. The Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact's interface embraces the style of clean simplification that makes the own-brand Google Now interface for Android 4.4 so pleasant to use. There are no extraneous sections or dividers in any of the main interface bits.

Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact review

The app menu is simple and features no extras

The apps menu features simply app icons, no extras, and the homescreens are yours to play with aside from the Google Search bar and the icon dock. Pick the right wallpaper and you can largely determine the character of the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact yourself.

Some Sony-Specific elements remain, though. For example, if you swipe left-to-right on the apps page, it brings up a menu from which you delete and arrange your apps. This style is very much Sony-specific, but again helps to keep the interface extremely clean and simple: the menu is hidden until you want it.

Its approach to the notifications menu and the settings toggles on offer within it is similarly pared-back. This part is perhaps a bit more contentious, though. With a tablet-size display, Sony arguably has enough space to jam a brightness slider and a few features toggles into the standard notifications menu. But instead these controls are relegated to a secondary tab in the menu, and you still have to bring up another control to a change brightness.

Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact review

The notifcation and settings menus are pretty pared back, but the keyboard works nicely

I'm talking about an inconvenience of a couple of seconds, but those used to devices with more direct feature toggles may find it an annoyance.

Actual performance is commendable, though. Sony's interface is generally a bit snappier than arch rival Samsung's TouchWiz, with often brings a little lag with it. Rather funnily, I actually found the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact to be faster than the Nexus 9 in use, with very little lag.

Sony seems to have been keen on achieving this sort of performance, looking at the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact's specs. The 2.5GHz Snapdragon 801 is nothing out of the ordinary: a high-end processor but one that is now a step behind the top Qualcomm chips. However 3GB of RAM is fairly generous, and is a good insurance policy against general stuttering and interface lag. It seems to have worked, too.

In the Geekbench 3 test, the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact comes out with 2730 points, a good result and more-or-less just what I'd expect from a 2.5GHz Snapdragon 801 device.

Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact review

Top end games work without issues and the 1080p screen is good for watching video

Do the gaming results stack up? Absolutely. With a 1080p screen, the strain on the CPU/GPU shouldn't be any greater than it is in the Sony Xperia Z3 phone. Top-end games like Dead Trigger 2 and Asphalt 8 work without issues.

However, the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact does get a little warm under even mild strain, something I've noticed in a number of the slim Xperia phones and tablets. It never reached worrying temperatures, though.

Battery life

The Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact has a 4500mAh battery. That's not huge when you consider the significantly smaller Nexus 7 has a 3,950mAh unit, and doesn't exactly provide amazing battery life with that.

Sony talks pretty big about the Xperia XZ3 Tablet Compact's abilities, though. It says the tablet can last for 15 hours of video of a charge, which is well in excess of what most tablets manage.

However, with our standard 720p MP4 video test the battery drained by 30%, suggesting the tablets would only last for five hours off a charge. That's very poor, but take into account that this is at top brightness, and the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact's backlight goes very bright indeed.

To get a more real-world indication of stamina I set the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact to play the same MP4 video on loop, but with the brightness set to a much more ordinary 50%. Like this, the tablet lasts for a much more remarkable 15 hours 15 minutes. I was starting to think Sony was telling porkies about this thing's stamina. It isn't.

Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact review

Sony clearly seems to have put an awful lot of work into making these screens energy efficient at normal brightness levels, even if they chomp through power when jacked-up.

The Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact also offers several battery-saving modes intended to further extend stamina. These are seen more often in phones than tablets, where they're generally more useful, but having them on-board is particularly handy, especially if you're going to pick up the 3G/4G version.

Stamina mode lets you restrict the apps that can perform processes while the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact is in standby, can turn off all data when the tablet is sleeping and even restrict CPU performance. You can pick and choose which elements are turned on, giving you a degree of customisation over how stamina works.

Low-battery mode is similar, but designed to kick in only when the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact reaches a certain battery level. Again, it restricts things like background processes, performance, and screen brightness too.

Location-based Wi-Fi is the last major power mode, and it automatically switches the Wi-Fi signal on and off depending on whether you're within range of a known Wi-Fi network. If you're going to use the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact predominantly while at home it won't be of much use, but will increase longevity if you're going to take the tablet with you wherever you go.

Andrew Williams

Andrew is a freelance journalist and has been writing and editing for some of the UK's top tech and lifestyle publications including TrustedReviews, Stuff, T3, TechRadar, Lifehacker and others.