Sony Xperia Z3 Compact Review

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact

Posted: , posted by Victor H.

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Camera

The 20-megapixel camera on the Z3 Compact delivers very good image quality with mostly nice colors and good detail. 4K video recording is also on board.

The Sony Xperia Z3 Compact comes with a 20.7-megapixel main camera with a single LED flash and a 2.2-megapixel front shooter. The main camera features a 1/2.3” sensor, the largest of all Android sensors out there. How big is it? Compared to, say, an average for a flagship, 1/3” sensor, it’s nearly 64% bigger. At the same time, because of the high megapixel count, pixel size comes in at the pretty small 1.1 micron pixels. In terms of optics, Sony's G lens is one of the widest lenses we’ve seen on Android - a 25mm one. While great for shooting landscapes or in a small room (more content gets into the frame), this is a bit of an extreme lens that takes some getting used to the width of the shots at first. Aperture is set at f/2.0, making this also one of the fastest smartphone lenses out there.

If we had to summarize the camera app, it is more of the same, where by more we mean a lot of additional modes, and by same we mean that it keeps the visual style of earlier Xperia Z’s. More options is not necessarily a good thing: it tends to get overcomplicated and cramped with tabs, lists, options, modes... For instance, a simple thing like enabling HDR requires you to switch to manual mode and shoot in 8-megapixel resolution, otherwise the setting is simply not available. It takes a separate manual to just learn the intricacies of the Z3 Compact camera, but for those who want to keep it simple, we recommend just sticking with the ‘Superior Auto’ mode. In the default Superior Auto shooting mode, the handset shoots 8-megapixel photos made by pixel processing of the 20-megapixel feed from the sensor for better overall quality. We prefer having these high-quality 8MP photos instead of not-so-good 20MP ones, and they are smaller as well, so you can share them quicker. You can still shoot full 20-megapixel images (without this processing benefit) in Manual mode, but those images tend to have lackluster sharpness, more artifacts, and are also noisier than the 8-megapixel shots.

For camera enthusiasts, the manual mode allows an all-manual ride: you can select resolution, from the full 20-megapixels to 8-megapixels and less; you can tweak exposure, white balance, ISO, metering and focus modes, as well as switch the digital stabilization on and off. All of that sounds great on paper, but those options are so deeply buried in menus that finding them is a challenge (you have to remember in what shooting mode which option is available and where it’s located).

That’s hardly all the modes, though: you have camera tricks with augmented reality that detects the geometry of the scene and can make animated dinosaurs appear on top of your image or what not (fun features with little practicality). Tou have live YouTube streaming via the Social life mode, a straightforward option that would be very useful to some. You have a creative effect for various fun filters and overlays; there is the Sound Photo that records sound along with the picture. And then Multi Camera records simultaneously from both the front and rear cameras. Then, you have modes that duplicate other modes to complicate things even further: for instance, you can enable burst shots in the settings, but you also have a Timeshift mode that captures 30 shots in 2 seconds (tip: Timeshift will start shooting even before you press the shutter key).

What about the image quality? As we said, we recommend using the simple 8-megapixel images captured in Superior Auto in most cases. Images in it look very good, with lively color and plentiful detail. Pictures are not perfect though, and the camera occasionally - rarely - misjudges colors (you can see the cold-looking pictures of the cars below, for instance), but they are definitely on par with what most other flagships offer. Indoors, the camera does a very good job as well, keeping noise at a reasonable level and colors are pleasingly balanced. With the flash on we do get a very slight blue cast (no dual-tone flash here), but on the whole picture quality is good.

The sweep panorama option is still a big disappointment - images come out with a low resolution, lacking sorely in detail. Sony also brags about adding an ISO settings as high 12800 for Low Light mode for still images, which should help if you shoot in pitch dark. In other modes, ISO peaks at around ISO 3200, and ISO 2000 is the maximum in night scene mode for video.

Up front, there is a 2.2-megapixel shooter that does a decent (but not stellar job) with selfies.




What about video quality? The Z3 Compact adds 4K video recording capabilities, but it does warn you that the app might shut down if (or rather, when) the handset overheats, and we’ve seen this happen around the 5-minute mark. 4K video recording features nice colors, it is rich in detail and comes with a 50+Mbps bit-rate, but it does show strange distortions (with a rolling-shutter-like artifacts), and it does not support Sony’s excellent digital stabilization, so every tremble of the hand is seen in video.


Multimedia

The bluish display takes out a bit of the video experience, but for all else, media looks good on the Z3 Compact.

Apart from the standard Google suite of apps (that we won’t talk about here), there are a few notable Sony first-party additions that often replace the stock Android ones. Sony’s Album app is a neat gallery that you can pinch to zoom in and out in, and you have some basic photo editing options bundled in as well.

Sony brings its Walkman app for music. Apart from doing all that a typical music app should do - namely, categorize your music by albums, artists, songs, and so on; allow you to view your songs per folder; give you an equalizer to tweak the sound - the Walkman app also has some brand new signature Sony features. The most notable one is support for the Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE) HX codec. This codec allows you to play compatible files at close to high-resolution audio quality. In combination with the new, 5-pin headset jack, you can pick up a pair of Sony MDR-NC31EM earbuds (bundled in the box with the Z3 Compact in select regions), and enjoy this hi-res audio with noise cancellation.

Thankfully, Sony has also increased the volume output of the speakers, something that was an issue with the quiet Z1 Compact speakers. In the Z3 Compact we have dual, front-firing, stereo speakers with what goes by the bombastic “S-Force Front Surround” name. This is the same tech that Sony debuted in the Z2 half a year ago.

In terms of sound quality, though, sound comes out a bit muffled - be it because of the water-sealing of the device or another reason - and in an ideal world, we’d like a bit more clarity and depth.

Sony’s video player gets the job done with a bit of extra flare - you get to see a short sequence of every video as a live thumbnail, so you get an idea about its contents. That’s a nice touch. For all else, you have fairly rich codec support, and we could play all files we threw at the player with ease.



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PhoneArena rating:
9Excellent
Display4.6 inches, 720 x 1280 pixels (319 ppi) IPS LCD
Camera20.7 megapixels
Hardware
Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, Quad-core, 2500 MHz, Krait 400 processor
2 GB
Size5.00 x 2.56 x 0.34 inches
(127 x 64.9 x 8.6 mm)
4.55 oz  (129 g)
Battery2600 mAh, 12 hours talk time

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