Empty Nest: what I miss (and don’t) about the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

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I’ve learned that there are two things about being a mobile technology reviewer.

The first thing: you get to handle awesome gadgetry days or weeks ahead of its official release date, and you’re not just allowed to use the heck out of it; you need to, in order to do your job. That’s the awesome thing.

The other (less-awesome) thing: you eventually have to give it all back.

Empty Nest is a recurring column discussing what I miss -and what I don’t- about the devices I’ve had to return.

All this talk about the maybe-real, probably-fake Sony Xperia Z3 Compact has me thinking: I really, really miss its tiny little forerunner.

My thoughts actually ran to the Xperia Z1 Compact a few weeks ago, when a listener presented us with a great question to kick off the new Tough Spot segment of the Pocketnow Weekly podcast: if you had to carry one smartphone for the entirety of a two-year contract (yaknow, like a normal person), what would it be? As I recall, both Taylor Martin and special guest Marques Brownlee opted for the sturdy and beautiful HTC One M8, and I’ll admit that’s a possibility which darted through my own mind as I sweated away the minutes waiting to give my response. But ultimately, if I was stuck with a single phone for two years, I think I’d want the Z1 Compact tucked neatly away in a chest pocket.

It’s good to see you

z1compact3

The biggest reason for that is the Z1C’s status as a kind of nerd Bigfoot: as a high-end smartphone that pulls almost no punches on the spec sheet, the Compact is a very rare find in a world full of mini-phone compromise. Its Snapdragon 800 isn’t the king of the mountain anymore, but it’s still one of the most powerful processors you can find anywhere – especially considering it’s only got a 720p display to drive. Some might consider that smaller (4.3-inch) panel a handicap, but while I’ll admit that I tend to prefer larger screens these days, the pocketability such a small display enables is more seductive to me than a larger canvas. As I discovered long ago with the HP Veer, it can be very freeing to give up the jumbophone world for a little while.

The Z1C also handily avoids another trap common to its secondary strength: it’s a water-resistant smartphone that’s not heavy or otherwise ungainly. The glass front and back come together at a thicker-than-expected midplate, the added beaminess helping with one-handed use. And thanks to a well-placed hardware shutter key, it’s just as easy to snap photos under the waves as above them, the 20.7MP camera delivering excellent results in both environments.

Atlantis finally lives up to her namesake

Atlantis finally lives up to her namesake in this submerged test shot.

It’s good to see you go

z1 compact vs moto x

So why am I still rocking the Moto X above, instead of happily trotting through life with a lime green Z1 Compact of my own?

Well, the downsides (for me) may be few, but they’re dealbreakers nonetheless. Despite my apathy toward larger screens on the whole, I always did feel a bit cramped when typing on the Compact during our review period, and the fact that Sony wasn’t able to squeeze more display into the smaller footprint became a bigger annoyance the more I switched back and forth between it and the Moto X. Also, while I appreciate the Z1C’s industrial design, I like its low-output speakerphone much less. Here’s hoping the sequel comes with front-facing speakers like the Z2 did.

Then there’s the software. Again, this is a case of aesthetics conflicting with utility: I think that much of Sony’s interface is beautiful, its colorful jewel-like accents complimenting the phone’s glass construction very nicely. But it was pretty buggy during my time with the Compact, and I really can’t stand being subjected to Sony’s wide array of bloatware every time I use an Xperia. Yes, it’s prettier than most of Samsung’s cruft, but let’s face it: bloat is bloat.

z1compact

If you think a little Sony crapware and a smallish display are pretty weak reasons to say no to a beauty like this … you might be right. Again, it was awful tempting to add this to our in-house demo phone collection and have our retail partner send us the bill. But I got the sense that the Z1 Compact was a trial of sorts – a bone thrown to the small but vocal group who insist that mini phones shouldn’t have to be crappy ones.

Whether we’ll see a followup to this device remains to be seen, but I’m betting (and hoping) that Sony moved enough of these units to justify a sequel. While the hope of that sequel’s superiority is what made me hold off on the Z1 Compact in the first place, it’s also something nice to look forward to if these wavering rumors pan out.

Want to know more about how the Z1 Compact stacks up? Check out our Z1 Compact vs Moto X comparison, and be sure to read the full review for our in-depth thoughts on the most powerful tinyphone around! Then see what Sony’s been up to since with our full review of the (very purple, very awesome) Xperia Z2!

 

 

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About The Author
Michael Fisher
Michael Fisher has followed the world of mobile technology for over ten years as hobbyist, retailer, and reviewer. A lengthy stint as a Sprint Nextel employee and a long-time devotion to webOS have cemented his love for the underdog platforms of the world. In addition to serving as Pocketnow's Reviews Editor, Michael is a stage, screen, and voice actor, as well as co-founder of a profitable YouTube-based business. He lives in Boston, MA.Read more about Michael Fisher!