Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact Preview – The little powerhouse is back

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Smartphone manufacturers show this year that they are far from finished innovating. They pay particular attention to making the screen edges smaller and smaller; just look at the S8 series, the LG V30 or the leaked images of the upcoming iPhone. That doesn’t mean phones are getting smaller, though. In fact, thanks to this development, the screens are getting bigger and bigger. At first a 5″ telephone was pretty much the standard, now it is somewhere between 5.5 and 6″.

And that’s bad news for people who want a small phone where you can easily reach all corners of the screen with one hand. For years, these people could find refuge with Sony, which released a small version of its top models under the name ‘Compact’. Fans of this series came home around this time last year when it turned out that the small phone of that year, the Xperia X Compact, was no longer a high-end phone, but a midranger. With matching hardware, cheaper-looking housing and without water resistance.

That turned out not to be the best move by Sony. In its own words, the X Compact did not do as well as expected and that is why it changed course and went back to the old way. The result is the Xperia XZ1 Compact, announced this week, which is high-end as usual.

Back to the success formula

The Xperia XZ1 Compact is the little brother of the Xperia XZ1 , which was also announced at IFA. And to get straight to the point: it is not an exciting or sexy phone, certainly not compared to the aforementioned top models of the competition. The design is typical Xperia with large screen edges below and above the screen, a fairly rectangular design and little frills. Especially practical, because Sony can store stereo speakers in those screen edges, for example. A big improvement over the Xperia X Compact is the finish. The latter had a glossy housing on which you could see fingerprints in no time and with the XZ1 Compact you will not be bothered by that so quickly thanks to the matte finish.

Also improved, or back in the making, is the phone’s water resistance. You can safely use it as a speaker in the shower and a rain shower is certainly no problem. To protect the SIM slot and the micro SD reader against water, they are hidden behind a cover. Not a big problem, because you won’t have to do that often. Furthermore, there is nothing new to discover around; connecting and charging is done via USB-C and a fingerprint scanner is again incorporated in the on/off button on the side.

We can be brief about the screen: it looks identical to that of other Xperia Compact devices. It is therefore again a 4.6″ screen with a resolution of 1280×720 pixels, which is set a bit too blue at first impression. Just like with the housing, Sony is therefore going for practicality here, because thanks to the relatively low resolution it consumes screen has little power and that is beneficial for the battery life.

High-end hardware and the latest Android

As mentioned, we see the Xperia XZ1 Compact as a real high-end phone and the main reason for that is the soc that drives everything: the Snapdragon 835. This is Qualcomm’s fastest and newest system on a chip and we also find it in LG’s newly announced V30 and the HTC U11. The octacore soc works according to the big.little principle and has four fast Kryo 280 cores with a clock speed of 2.4 GHz, aimed at the best performance, and four economical Kryo 280 cores running at 1.9 GHz. Sony has connected the soc to 4GB of RAM and 32GB of UFS storage memory, which can be expanded with a micro SD card. The battery in the XZ1 Compact is only 2700mAh, but thanks to the low screen resolution we expect – just like with its predecessors – a good battery life.

The impression we got of the speed during the short time we were able to use the XZ1 Compact is perfectly fine. Actually, the Snapdragon 835 is overkill for a phone with a screen resolution like this, but that means that you will not easily run out of performance and, for example, games can have a lot of computing power.

What also contributes to the high-end feeling is that Sony has genuinely done its best to provide the XZ1 Compact with the best and latest software. The Japanese manufacturer can take credit for being the first to put a device in the store that runs on Android 8 Oreo. At the moment, only Google’s Nexus and Pixel phones run on Oreo, and the next generation of Pixel phones won’t hit the market until after this Xperia XZ 1 Compact. There is not much remarkable to report about the software; As a rule, Sony adjusts little in Android, and we like that.

Augmented avatars

Sony has taken over the camera module from the Xperia XZ Premium. This IMX400 sensor has a resolution of 19 megapixels and 128MB dram directly connected to the sensor that serves as a fast buffer. As a result, the camera can record in 720p with a frame rate of no less than 960fps, allowing you to create extreme slow-motion images. For more information about the image quality, we refer you to our review of the Xperia XZ Premium; we assume that the XZ1 Compact will not deviate much from this.

New to the camera, or at least the camera software, is the 3D Creator app. You use the camera to scan an object or even a person and transform it into a 3D model. We’ve seen this sort of technique before, like at CES early this year . However, that implementation used two infrared and two normal cameras, while the XZ1 Compact only deploys the camera on the phone.

You first need to move someone from left to right around the object or person several times, varying a bit in height. Both the 3d model is built up and the textures that are needed to decorate the whole are collected. If you have made the recording, you can, for example, make an animated gif or a kind of avatar. With the latter you place someone’s head on a rendered body and you can choose crazy animations and positions for all kinds of things, optionally in augmented reality where the figures are projected into the real world through the smartphone screen.

Although the gimmick factor is high, from a technical point of view it is still great that Sony does this with a single camera and the relatively modest hardware of a contemporary smartphone. And we can imagine that it is fun to recreate your own family and friends as virtual dolls à la The Sims, but with their own faces. The lack of a standard for these types of models means that you will have to convert everything to images or videos before you can share it with others.

Preliminary conclusion

Compared to recent top competitors, the Xperia XZ1 Compact is not an impressive or flashy phone at first impression. The housing looks a bit ordinary, the screen is old-fashioned flat and there is only one camera on the back. If you think thin bezels, curved screens, dual cameras and more of that are important, you certainly shouldn’t be with this phone. The XZ1 Compact is an extremely practical and solid device for people who primarily want a handy phone without too much fuss.

A final plus point is the price. It’s painful to write, but it’s becoming more and more common for high-end smartphones to have an individual sales price that is approaching 1000 euros. Recent introductions have already moved in that direction, Samsung’s Note 8 is just touching that limit and we wouldn’t be surprised if the upcoming iPhone crosses it. Compared to that, the 599 euros that Sony asks for the Xperia XZ1 Compact is quite reasonable. This is certainly not a phone that is going to take a huge market share, but the people who don’t like big phones are expected to be very happy with it.

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