Sony Xperia Z3 Compact review

Time to step out of big brother's shadow?

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact review
Does the Xperia Z3 Compact stand tall next to its bigger brother?

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The Xperia Z3 Compact now runs Android 5.0.2 (Lollipop), and as is customary with Sony handsets, it comes with Sony's own modified overlay. While in many ways similar to the stock Android experience, there are a few tweaks to the interface.

Design wise, the interface takes visual cues from the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4's cross media bar UI, with a relaxing background swirl and changing colours. As a long time PlayStation 3 user, I was quite happy with the look, being used to it, but I can appreciate that it won't be for everyone.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact review

The interface picks up the look of PS4 cross media bar

If you're not too keen on that look, it's pretty easy to change the wallpaper and theme, either from your own photographs or from a selection of preinstalled pictures and designs.

One nice feature of Sony's own wallpapers is that many of them are panoramic. What this means is that as you swipe between screens, the wallpaper scrolls. It's a nice feature that livens up the background without being distracting.

Elsewhere the experience is similar to stock Android Lollipop, so if you're already accustomed to Google's mobile operating system, you'll feel at home here.

I particularly appreciate how Sony has kept the look and feel of Lollipop's core components – namely its slick drop-down menu, springy lockscreen notification system, and card-based multitasking menu – relatively untouched. Most manufacturers seem bafflingly keen to rip these up and start again when they're an integral part of what makes the OS so good.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact review

Android Lollipop has been implemented faithfully

When it comes to the drop down notification menu, Sony has actually enhanced it slightly by offering the ability to personalise the shortcut functions.

Less subtle but still quite useful is the small apps bar present in the multitasking menu, which lets you overlay small single-purpose applets over the top of whatever you're doing. Think calculator, timer, and screenshot apps.

As I mentioned earlier, Sony has seen fit to include a number of its own apps that link in with its various services, and your reaction to their presence on the Xperia Z3 Compact will range from "oh that's handy, I've got a subscription for that" to "why is this app taking up precious space on my phone?"

I fell somewhere between the two. As a PlayStation owner, I liked the PlayStation app, which let me send and receive messages to my friends on PSN. However, if I had an Xbox rather than a PlayStation, the app would be useless.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact review

The PlayStation app is a real boon if you own Sony's console

Using the app wasn't quite a seamless experience, either. When first setting up the Xperia Z3 Compact I was asked if I had an SEN (Sony Entertainment Network) or PSN account.

As I did, I was able to sign in with it. Ideally that would have been the last time I needed to sign in to that account, with the Xperia Z3 Compact taking care of the rest. However, on using the PlayStation app I was asked to sign in a number of times.

The Walkman app handles music playing duties and was a cute reminder of the days when Sony ruled the portable music player market. The app itself is fine, and is arguably more useful than before now that it integrates your Spotify account rather than Sony's unmissed Music Unlimited service.

Not only does it play your own music, but you can stream and music through the leading subscription service, which is all part of the rebranded PlayStation Music service. It's sure to be useful to a lot of people.

The Walkman app can also find and play music through your home network via DLNA, which is a nice touch. The Movies app works in a similar way, with the videos you've imported from your PC nestled alongside videos you've taken with the Xperia Z3 Compact's camera as well as video rentals from Sony's PlayStation Video (formerly Video Unlimited) service.

The Album app handles photos and ties in to Sony's PlayMemories Online, which is an online storage service for your photos that offers unlimited storage for free. The app can also find photos on any DLNA devices connected to your network.

The layouts of the apps are attractive, and I was pleased to see that although Sony obviously wants you to use its services, they're not forced upon you, with your own content given prominence. The presence of Sony's services might not appeal to everyone, but I thought Sony wasn't too obnoxious about it.

There are a number of other apps preinstalled, such as AVG AntiVirus and Garmin Navigation Xperia Edition. This is a satnav device that uses the Xperia Z3 Compact's built-in GPS features. The app is free for a month, after which you need to pay a subscription. The app itself is fine, if a little rough around the edges, with a few extra features over Google Maps, such as lane and traffic information, that might make you decide to go with a subscription, .

A small LED on the top left-hand side of the body of the Xperia Z3 Compact lights up to give you information without having to turn on the screen and use the main interface. This includes a white light to indicate new messages, a blue light for Facebook updates and more.

It's a handy reminder when you have the phone on a table or desk near you, but it's of little help if the Xperia Z3 Compact is tucked away in your pocket.

Matt Hanson
Managing Editor, Core Tech

Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Core Tech, looking after computing and mobile technology. Having written for a number of publications such as PC Plus, PC Format, T3 and Linux Format, there's no aspect of technology that Matt isn't passionate about, especially computing and PC gaming. Ever since he got an Amiga A500+ for Christmas in 1991, he's loved using (and playing on) computers, and will talk endlessly about how The Secret of Monkey Island is the best game ever made.