The Z3 Compact's small size does not come at the expense of battery life, features or hardware.

The Z3 Compact’s small size does not come at the expense of battery life, features or hardware. Photo: Sony

When Sony recently announced and launched its flagship Xperia Z3, it was no surprise to see a smaller ‘mini’ version of phone tagging alongside. Many smartphone-makers — including HTC and Samsung — produce cheaper, smaller versions of their primary model, and Sony has done so previously with its Xperia Z1 Compact.

Yet while most of these phones skimp on features and specs as well as size, the Z3 Compact surprises by matching its larger brother in almost every regard.

This is not a phone that’s merely “pretty good for a compact”. The Z3 Compact squeezes everything you could want in a flagship phone — including ample processing grunt, top notch media functionality, a great camera and comparatively endless battery life — into a simple and elegant 12.7cm x 6.5cm frame with 4.6-inch screen. This is the best small phone on the market, but it can stand toe-to-toe with the full-sized leaders as well, including the newly-upsized iPhone.

The Z3 Compact keeps the square, seamless glass design of its predecessors while adding some much-needed softness to the edges.

The Z3 Compact keeps the square, seamless glass design of its predecessors while adding some much-needed softness to the edges. Photo: Sony

The Z3 Compact feels great to handle, keeping the hard, monolithic glass design of previous Xperia Z phones while pillowing the edges with grippy translucent plastic to stop the edges digging into your hands.

As with previous devices in the Z line, the Z3 Compact is waterproof and dustproof which, combined with the device’s sneakily-integrated nylon corners, gives it some serious resiliency despite its elegance.

The display is brilliant and benefits from the same image processing technologies honed for home theatre use in the Bravia line of televisions. Output is at a resolution of 1280×720, which is a tad disappointing and lower than the Android standard of 1920×1080. However given the size of the screen I struggled to notice any loss of detail between this display and the Z3’s larger one.

Android's inherent advantages in connectivity and flexibility are augmented with Sony's own touches, like streaming from a PS4.

Android’s inherent advantages in connectivity and flexibility are augmented with Sony’s own touches, like streaming from a PS4. Photo: Sony

At only 4.6-inches one could worry about the multimedia and reading functionality of the Z3 Compact, but I found it to perform at least as well as larger phones in both cases. For watching videos I tended to hold the phone a little closer to my face than I would with a larger phone, but while streaming a HD video the quality was still top notch.

In terms of imaging, the Z3 Compact feels and performs more or less like one of Sony’s mid-range point-and-shoot cameras. The phone packs the same 20.7 megapixel 1/2.3-inch Exmor RS sensor we’ve seen in the last few in the line, while adding a wider 25mm-equivalent f/2.0 G lens. It won’t set any records for low-light performance, however in most conditions images taken with the ‘auto’ mode are crisp and accurate.

A huge range of settings and options are available for tinkering too if you want to do things manually (which you will if you want to leverage the camera’s full power), with more available from Sony’s camera-specific store. The physical two-step camera button on the side of the phone helps make the experience feel less like taking pictures with a phone and more like a point-and-shoot too. 4K video recording is supported (or 720p 120fps if you prefer), and the baked-in Handycam-inspired software is fine for simple edits and uploading to YouTube.

Another standout is the Z3 Compact’s performance as a music machine. Sidestepping some of the limitations of vanilla Android, Sony’s Walkman software supports a wide range of formats including m4a (which is great for those bringing a library across from an iPhone or who want to manage their music with iTunes) and, for the first time on a smartphone, DSD.

The music player admittedly takes many cues from Apple, but adds much-needed functionality like building playlists on the fly, queuing tracks and integrating your various music subscriptions and marketplaces. If you’re listening without headphones, the two front-facing stereo speakers are by far the clearest I’ve heard on a device this size, although volume is not its strongest suit.

Internally, the Z3 Compact packs the same Snapdragon chipset, same quad-core 2.5 GHz CPU and same GPU as its bigger brother, plus all the the same sensors and wireless capabilities. There’s less parity when it comes to memory, as the Compact packs 2GB of RAM compared to the Z3’s 3GB, but with the lower screen resolution easing the load there’s no discernible difference between the phones’ speed or performance for day-to-day use.

The GeekBench 3 benchmark test has the Z3 Compact matching the Z3 for processing power, and it shows in how well the device copes with multitasking and more taxing operations. The little phone’s a beast for gaming too, the lower resolution allowing the Compact’s graphics-processing performance to mop the floor with the Z3’s according to GFXBench results. It even overtakes the impressive iPhone 6 Plus by a significant margin.

I put the machine through its paces and was unable to find any games that didn’t run perfectly at max settings, although the small screen is obviously suited to some game genres more than others.

Of course all this brawn and functionality would be for nothing if it came at the expense of battery life, and this is perhaps where the Z3 Compact (and the larger Z3) most impresses. With heavy use (constant data, listening to music, a couple of voice calls, a little gaming, lots of reading), the Compact’s battery lasted me more than 30 hours. Activating stamina mode (which disables data when you turn the screen off) can give you even greater results, and the ultra stamina mode (which switches off everything except voice calls and text messages) claims it will keep your phone alive for more than 10 days. It’s uncanny to put a smartphone on to charge overnight and realise it still has more than 60 per cent of its battery left.

The Xperia Z3 Compact is a small, elegant phone that doesn’t skimp on power or features, is hardy and long-lasting enough to take camping and refined enough to stand in for a decent camera, media device and games machine. This phone should be on the radar of every Android user who wants a smaller device but doesn’t want to skimp on flagship luxuries, and it could even tempt iPhone users put off by the larger screens and middling battery life of Apple’s latest.

Key specs

Size: 127 x 64.9 x 8.6 mm
Weight: 129g
Screen size: 4.6-inch
Storage: 16GB (expandable with up to 128GB MicroSDXC)
Camera: 20.7MP primary camera (1/2.3-inch sensor, 25mm-equiv. focal length)
Other: NFC- enabled

The Xperia Z3 Compact costs $ 699 direct from Sony, and is available on contract from Telstra and Optus.