Home > Android Phone Reviews > Sony Xperia Z3 Compact (D5803)
Sony Xperia Z3 Compact
What's Hot: Small yet powerful with full flagship specs. Great 20.7MP camera, lovely display, water resistant.
What's Not: Not available direct from US carriers so you'll have to buy it full retail.
Reviewed October 16, 2014 by Lisa Gade, Editor
in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)
It isn't easy going small, at least not when it comes to smartphones. The Galaxy Note started the big screen rage and even Apple has supersized the iPhone with the 5.5" iPhone 6 Plus and the so-called less "bigger" iPhone 6 with its 4.7" display. In Android and Windows Phone land, there are Galaxy mini phones and HTC mini phones that water down the specs of their bigger siblings, but few dare to mix flagship specs with smaller footprints. Why? In part it's hard to fit a big power hungry processor, high capacity memory chips, a large battery and bigger image sensors in a small package. Sony has been a pioneer of miniaturization for years: one could argue that they made Ultrabooks before it even became a thing, and they made some crazy small "notebooks" like the UX Windows handhelds and Vaio P notebooks. Enter Sony's Compact line of Xperia Android phones: no mini specs here, rather you'll get most everything you get in the big flagship Xperia Z3 model.
I have nothing against big phones or phablets. I was an early champion of the original Samsung Galaxy Note, a phone that struck some reviewers as absurdly large at the time. I've been using an iPhone 6 Plus a lot recently and have dabbled with the new Galaxy Note 4. I have big hands and am a tall woman. I can handle a big phone, but at some point I wondered why I was struggling to jam a baby tablet into my pants pockets, or juggle it at the grocery store while trying valiantly to keep one hand on my shopping cart. 4.6 and 4.7 inch phones feel refreshing after those minor battles, and if you feel the same way, the Z3 Compact is a great no-compromise alternative.
Where to Get One?
Currently no US carrier offers the Z3 Compact (Verizon and T-Mobile will sell the full size 5.2" Xperia Z3v and Z3). But there's hope if you use a GSM carrier (AT&T and T-Mobile are the two largest GSM networks in the US). Sony now sells the unlocked GSM Z3 Compact on their website, and several imports also carry the US LTE 4G friendly D5803 we used for this review. Sorry Verizon and Sprint customers: your carrier uses a different network technology called CDMA and the Z3 Compact unlocked GSM model won't work on your network.
Specs at a Glance
The Xperia Z3 Compact is certainly one of the more unique and attractive phones on the market thanks to the clean Omnibalance design with glass front and back and some very attractive color options. At 4.55 ounces it weighs the same as the iPhone 6 and it beats the competing Samsung Galaxy Alpha on several key specs including battery capacity and camera resolution. It leaves the Galaxy S5 mini in the dust.
The Android 4.4.4 KitKat phone has Sony's lightly customized UI and their apps like Walkman for music and PlayStation are here. If you have a PlayStation 4, the Xperia can act as a remote play device (that feature will be available sometime in November 2014). The phone has a really lovely 1280 x 720 (319 PPI) Triluminos display, an excellent 20.7MP rear camera and the same 2.5GHz Snapdragon 801 quad core CPU with Adreno 330 graphics as the 5.2" Xperia Z3 and other flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S5.
The front and back are Gorilla Glass 3, while the sides are translucent frosted nylon for impact protection. The Z3 Compact has a microSD card slot and 16 gigs of internal storage. Sony manages to pack a 2600 mAh battery into this small and light 4.55 ounce phone. The Z3c is available in mint green, orange, white and black. The mint green and orange aren't fluorescent or overly flashy primary colors; rather they're complex and pleasing, though admittedly attention-getting. Our mint green unit has a mix of blue, green and yellow to create the interesting hue. The orange model leans toward warm red so it doesn't look like a caution sign.
Since the Xperia is water and dust resistant, you can shower with it, wash it in the sink or answer a call while fixing sprinklers. It also means that side doors cover the micro USB port, SIM card slot and microSD card slot to prevent water intrusion. The headphone jack and speakers have a sealant coating to prevent water from entering the phone. We're impressed that the side magnetic charging connector is somehow waterproofed as well (magnetic charging dock not included, it's sold separately for $35).
The phone is easy to hold thanks to the small size and ever so slightly rounded nylon corners, and it fits in pockets that a phablet never will. It's compatible with skinny jeans, though I'd be careful of putting too much pressure on anything that's covered in glass front and back. Since Sony crammed a seemingly impossibly large battery and a host of flagship internals into the Z3 Compact, you'll feel the heat on the back if you run a few races in Real Racing 3 or stream HD video for 30 minutes. You won't burn yourself, but the back of the phone does get hot.
Deals and Shopping:
Sony Xperia Z3 Compact Video Review
Performance and Horsepower
In terms of performance, synthetic benchmark numbers are similar to other phones running on the same Snapdragon 801 with Adreno 330 graphics and 2 or more gigs of RAM. One could argue that performance in 3D games could be a bit better than the 1080p or higher crowd since the Xperia Z3 Compact only has to drive 720p resolution. While today's more demanding 3D titles like Asphalt 8 do run fluidly and are a joy to play, benchmark numbers aren't showing any significant performance gain. The Xperia has 2 gigs of RAM vs. the 3 gigs used in phones like the Xperia Z3 (not Compact), Samsung Galaxy S5 and US LG G3 models. Sony's UI is very light and doesn't have the overhead of Samsung and LG's UIs, so I don't find 2 gigs to be an issue.
The phone has 16 gigs of internal storage and there's a microSD card slot that supports cards up to 128 gigs. Android 4.4 KitKat is a bit picky about external storage when it comes to application installation so that can be hit or miss, but you can store videos, music and all manner of documents on a card. The phone saves photos and video to microSD as well, and that can save considerable space, especially if you're fond of 4K video recording.
||3DMark Ice Storm
|Sony Xperia Z3 Compact
|Samsung Galaxy Alpha
|Samsung Galaxy S5
|Moto X (2nd gen)
|Moto X (first gen)
|HTC One M8
|Sony Xperia Z1S
|Samsung Galaxy Note 3
|Samsung Galaxy S4
|HTC One M7
Geekbench 3: 968 / 2745
Some folks have lamented that small phones like the Samsung Galaxy Alpha, iPhone 6 and HTC One Remix don't have full HD 1920 x 1080p displays. Honestly, Android is all about specs wars, but worrying about this spec isn't worth your time. At 319 PPI pixel density and 720p on a 4.6" panel, we can't discern individual pixels, HD videos look awesomely detailed and photos are very sharp. It's great for reading ebooks and web pages too, as long as you're OK with slightly smaller text than you get with the 5" and higher phones.
Sony has come a long way when it comes to displays. Honestly, they make some of the best HD TV, laptop and tablet displays, and we were surprised when the first gen Xperia Z models had weak viewing angles, average brightness and less than awe inducing contrast. The Xperia Z3 and Z3 Compact are a whole new world, even though Sony continues with the older marketing labels like Triluminos and X-Reality. Viewing angles are more forgiving now (pull it out of your front pocket and glance down; yep it's easy to see). Contrast is high, though nothing reaches the near infinite contrast levels of Super AMOLED, and colors are luscious yet not unnatural. Sweet! Sony's X-Reality setting, which is turned on by default, amps up the colors to comfort those coming from AMOLED displays, and we found it appealing without being overdone.
Phone and Data
We tested the unlocked D5803 model with US and worldwide LTE 4G bands on AT&T and T-Mobile's US networks. The phone uses a nano SIM card and it supports all of AT&T's LTE bands as well as T-Mobile's. T-Mobile will at some point start using band 12, and the Z3 Compact lacks that band, as do many phones including the iPhone 6. I don't see that as a problem in the next year or even two.
Call quality is very good on both ends, but earpiece volume is a little lower than average, so I had to press the phone firmly to my ear to hear the conversation when in a noisy mall. Headphone volume is average and Bluetooth volume is fine.
LTE 4G speeds were par for the course on AT&T and T-Mobile in the Dallas area where both carriers have strong coverage. The signal bar indicator isn't overly optimistic, but if you look at the "about this phone" section and check the connection, signal strength in decibels matches these carriers' current generation phones. We had to enter the correct APN (data connection) settings since the phone opted for 3G setting rather than 4G LTE. It's not hard to create new APN settings and each carrier has support pages that provide the needed info.
Sony makes some of the top cameras on the market, from the RX100 mark III to the A7 and A6000. Happily, that prowess continues on to their smartphone cameras. The Z3 and Z3 Compact have a significantly larger than average 20.7MP 1:2/3 sensor and a good quality Sony G lens (the G means it's a higher end lens, though not as ritzy as Zeiss). I've seen some mixed opinions on the Z3 and Z3 Compact camera, and I have to say this is a photographer's camera. Yes, you can use Intelligent Auto + (the same setting available on several Sony standalone cameras) and use it as a point and shoot with 8MP resolution photos that generally look pretty good as your reward. But it really shines when you use the many manual settings that will look familiar to prior Xperia Z owners and Sony camera owners, but might seem daunting to first time users. The images overall have a more "real" and dimensional camera look rather than camera phone, but they aren't perfect every time. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus take great photos nearly every time and they have superb automatic modes (in fact, they have no manual mode). This is not the iPhone 6. Play with the settings, frame your shot, test out 4:3 aspect ratio for a more photography-like result.
In my tests (and I'm a camera buff), images had very natural contrast, good handling of high contrast settings that tend to cause white out on many camera phones and natural colors that are pleasing. Reds do tend to bloom more than I'd like--that's a common digital camera problem, but I'd like to see Sony control it better. The camera doesn't amp the contrast and go to town with sharpening like some Samsung and LG smartphone cameras. You can do that yourself in post processing if you like. Focus times are excellent and generally spot-on. The white flash is very powerful and can overwhelm close subjects, and the camera isn't shy about using the flash in auto mode. The flash does help the camera bring out a noticeable amount of detail, but our subject sometimes looked pale. Speaking of low light, the camera really shines here. It captures more detail with less noise and reasonable color saturation than many camera phones on the market thanks to the big sensor. It's much better than the admittedly darkness-challenged Samsung Galaxy S5 and holds its own against the iPhone 6.
The phone can shoot 1080p video and 4K video and it has HDR and software image stabilization. When enabling 4K video recording the camera app warns you that this generates a lot of heat and the app may eventually shut down. It's not kidding. 4K is great for a 3 minute video, but don't count on it for a 20 minute video unless it's chilly outside. That's the price we pay for a very compact phone with a big battery.
One of my favorite features is the dedicated camera button on the side: press and hold it to launch the camera app (bypassing waking the phone and swiping to unlock). It also acts as the shutter button, and I find it doesn't induce unwanted phone movement as does tapping on the screen to snap a photo.
It's all good news here. The 2600 mAh battery (sealed inside) is nearly the same capacity as the Samsung Galaxy S5; an impressive feat that leads to impressive battery life. Sony offers good power management tools including Stamina mode that turns of wireless radios during long sleep periods, but even without enabling these, the phone easily lasted us two days on a charge with moderate use. If you play a lot of demanding 3D games, use the GPS for long trips or record lots of 4K video footage, you'll get less, but it's hard to get the phone to die before bedtime.
Sony includes a USB cable and 1.5 amp charger in the box. If you want to use the magnetic charging cable either with Sony's petit DK-48 dock or a magnetic charging cable, you'll have to source those on your own. The dock is handy because you can use Sony's smart options to have the phone automatically silence and run the alarm clock app when docked for the night (or not, if you prefer charging during the day). The magnetic connector is handy for those who hate having to open the waterproof door over the micro USB port to charge.
Say hello to my little friend: I really love the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact and I don't want to give it back. It fits in any pocket, is easy to use one-handed, has a lovely screen, a top notch camera and it's fast. That's a combo you don't see often anymore. The phone is also attractive and distinctive looking in that Xperia sort of way, and I really like the color selection. If you're on AT&T or T-Mobile in the US, you can even buy it direct from Sony now with a US warranty. Go for it.
Price: $529 full retail
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Above: iPhone 6 Plus, Samsung Galaxy S5, Samsung Galaxy Alpha and the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact.
Display: 4.6" Triluminos display. Resolution:
720 x 1280. Has ambient light sensor, accelerometer and proximity sensor.
Battery: 2600 mAh Lithium
Ion Polymer rechargeable. Battery is not user replaceable.
Performance: 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad core CPU with Adreno 330 graphics. 2 gigs RAM, 16 gigs internal storage.
x 2.55 x 0.34 inches. Weight: 4.55 ounces.
Phone: GSM quad band world phone with EDGE 2G. 3G on 850, 900, 1800 and 1900MHz bands and 4G LTE on bands 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 17, 20 for model D5803.
Camera: 2.2MP front camera with 1080p video recording and rear 20.7Mp rear camera with Sony G lens. Has HDR, 4K video recording, 12,800 max ISO, Sony Exmor RS sensor.
in stereo speakers, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Has FM radio. Sony 3D Surround Technology (VPT), xLoud, high-res audio and DSEE-HX.
Networking: Integrated dual band
WiFi 802.11b/g/n/ac, NFC and Bluetooth 4.0. Has ANT+.
Software: Android OS 4.4 KitKat. Light Sony UI customizations and Sony apps including Walkman, video player, PS4 Remote Play and FM radio app.
microSD card slot compatible with cards up to 128 gigs.