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Sony Xperia Z3 Compact vs Sony Xperia Z3 - which is best?

Katharine Byrne
29 Sep 2014
Sony Xperia Z3 vs Sony Xperia Z3 Compact
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We compare Sony's latest Xperia Z3 phones to see which one comes out on top

The Sony Xperia Z3 and Xperia Z3 Compact are almost upon us, but the big questions on everyone's lips are, what's the difference and which one's better? In many respects, the Z3 Compact is almost identical to its big brother, the Xperia Z3, but is it really just a matter of looking for the one with the size that best suits you? And, given the screens have different resolutions, does this make a difference? With this in mind, we decided to put together some answers, so we're pitting both phones against each other and are comparing them spec-for-spec. By the time you've finished reading this you'll know which version of the phone is the best one for you.

SIZE AND WEIGHT

Dimensions: One of the most obvious differences between each handset is its respective size. As its name implies, the Z3 Compact is much smaller than the Z3, measuring 127 x 64.9 x 9mm while the Z3 measures 146 x 72 x 7.3mm. This makes the Z3 Compact much easier to use one-handed, which in turn makes it much more pocket-friendly than the larger Z3. The Z3 Compact is also lighter, weighing 129g, compared to the Z3's weight of 152g

Materials: Both phones have a glass rear and nylon corners to help prevent them from getting damaged after a taking tumble. This certainly makes them look the part of a flagship smartphone, but we've found in the past that the glass panels can make Xperia phones quite slippery - so it's just as well they both have the new nylon corners to help it take a few more knocks than previous models. 

The Z3 also has an aluminium frame while the Z3 Compact has pearlescent, rubberised plastic. We don't think this detracts from the Z3 Compact, though, as we actually prefer it to the aluminium frame of the Z3. The Z3 Compact's more angular design also helps it feel much sturdier and makes it easier to grip. 

Both phones are available in a much wider variety of colours this time round, too. The Z3 Compact comes in white, red, green and black while the Z3 comes in white, black, copper and silver green. 

DISPLAY

Another big difference between the two phones is screen size and screen resolution. The Xperia Z3 Compact has a 4.6in screen with a resolution of 1,280x720, giving it a pixel density 319ppi, while the Z3 has a much larger 5.2in screen with a Full HD 1,920x1,080 resolution and a pixel density of 423ppi

This means the Z3's screen will look much sharper than the Z3 Compact, and it will also be able to Full HD video at its native resolution. The Z3 Compact, on the other hand, can play 720p videos, but will have to compress Full HD content. 

Luckily, both screens are very similar in terms of image quality, so all your photos and videos will look equally spectacular on either handset. For instance, the Z3's screen was showing 97% of the sRGB colour gamut while the Z3 Compact showed 96.7%, so images will look almost identical. However, the Z3's higher brightness level of 592.19cd/m2 really makes colours pop out of the screen, so they may look a little richer and more vibrant than the Z3 Compact. This is just off Sony's claimed brightness of 600cd/m2, which is a world first for a smartphone. The Z3 Compact, meanwhile, only measured 482.58cd/m2, but it still looked great in our subjective tests.

One of the upsides of having a slightly dimmer screen are deeper blacks, and the Z3 Compact's black level of 0.37cd/m2 was noticeably darker than the Z3's black level of 0.52cd/m2. It's not a huge difference in the grand scheme of things, though. Each phone's contrast levels were also about equal, with the Z3's contrast ratio measuring 1,139:1 and the Z3 Compact's measuring 1,280:1. This meant each phone showed plenty of detail onscreen in our high contrast test images and we were able to see the phone clearly from even the most acute viewing angles.

PERFORMANCE

Processor: Both the Z3 and Z3 Compact have a quad-core 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor and scored roughly the same in our SunSpider JavaScript benchmark tests. The Z3 completed the test in 815ms while the Z3 Compact finished in 826ms. This isn't quite as quick as the Samsung Galaxy S5's score of 731ms using the Chrome browser (or 391ms in Samsung's proprietary browser), but it still feels incredibly responsive.

For instance, Android 4.4 has never felt so smooth and slick, and both handsets were noticeably faster than the LG G3, for example, when scrolling through app trays and their respective home screens. Of course, this makes the Z3 Compact much better value than the Z3, as its lower price makes it one of the fastest mid-range phones that's currently available. The Z3, on the other hand, is just as fast as any other flagship handset, leaving it feeling less special by comparison.

Memory: Like most high-end smartphones, the Z3 Compact has 2GB of RAM, which is plenty for handling multiple tasks at once in Android 4.4. The Z3 has 3GB of RAM, but there's hardly any discernible difference between app loading times. 

Battery Life: The Z3 has a huge 3,100mAh battery while the Z3 Compact has a 2,600mAh battery. However, the Z3 Compact lasted a record-breaking 20 hours (the longest battery life we've ever seen from a smartphone) in our continuous video playback test with the screen set to half brightness and the Wi-Fi turned off, which is 90 minutes more than what the Z3 managed under the same conditions, lasting 18 hours and 29 minutes.

This is still outstanding for either phone - the Galaxy S5 had been our previous battery life champion with its running time of 17 hours and 30 minutes - and lighter users should definitely be able to stretch to Sony's claim of two-day battery life. However, while both phones have superb battery lives, the Z3 Compact is the clear winner here, as it sets a new standard for both mid-range handsets and its flagship competitors. 

Storage: Both phones are available with 16GB of internal storage and are compatible with microSD cards up to 128GB, so you don't need to worry about running out of space for your music and video files.

CAMERA

Each phone also comes with Sony's 20.7-megapixel 1/2.3” ExmorRS sensor and Bionz mobile processing engine. This has an 8x digital zoom and can record video in 4K. It also has an ISO sensitivity of 12,800 (a world first for a smartphone), which means it should be able to perform well in very low lighting conditions. Again, as with the phone's processor, this makes the Z3 Compact better value than its larger counterpart. 

In our outdoor image tests, there was very little separating each camera. As with previous Xperia phones, the camera's Superior Auto mode locks photos to 8-megapixels, so we've included both 8-megapixel test shots as well as full 20.7-megapixel images which were taken using the camera's Manual mode.

Sony Xperia Z3 camera test Superior Auto mode

^ On Superior Auto mode, the Z3 produced clear, rich pictures that coped well with almost direct sunlight


Sony Xperia Z3 Compact camera test Superior Auto mode

^ The Z3 Compact's Superior Auto mode was a fraction sharper when viewed at its native resolution, but the difference was very slight

Sony Xperia Z3 camera test Manual mode01

^ The Z3's Manual mode showed more noise than Superior Auto but there's still plenty of detail available and there's a wide variety of controls to help you adjust the image


Sony Xperia Z3 Compact camera test Manual mode01

^ The Z3 Compact's Manual mode also had more noise present, but it was so similar to the Z3 that we could hardly tell them apart

FEATURES

One of the defining features of Sony's Xperia Z range is its waterproof chassis and the Z3 and Z3 Compact are no different. Both phones are water and dust resistant and have been certified as IP65/68 compliant. This means you can use them up to 1.5m of fresh water for up to 30 minutes and they're both completely dust-tight, so there's no way anything can become corrupted by the ingress of dust.

Another killer app belonging to both phones is Sony's brand new PS4 Remote Play app. This lets anyone with a PS4 use their phone as a remote screen to connect and control their games. This means you can still play games if other members of your family want to watch something on TV (a similar idea to the Nintendo Wii U's Off-TV Play feature), and it also means you can effectively turn your PS4 into a handheld games console.

Sony Xperia Z3 PS4 mount

You'll need to connect the phone to your console via Wi-Fi and use the GCM10 Game Control Mount to connect it to the Dualshock 4 controller to take advantage of this feature, but this is something that will surely appeal to gamers who want to be able to play their games anywhere in the house. 

CONCLUSION

The Xperia Z3 and Xperia Z3 Compact share a lot of similar DNA. They're both made of very similar materials and they have practically the same hardware and software services - the only real difference is screen size, screen resolution and battery life.

Now that we've had time to test both phones, we'd say the Z3 Compact definitely has the edge when it comes to overall value. Unlike other 'mini' phones which have identical designs but lower specifications than their flagship counterparts, the Z3 Compact really does deliver a top-of-the-range smartphone experience in a smaller, beautifully-made, easy to use chassis. Add in a truly exceptional battery life, and we'd say the Z3 Compact is one of the best phones we've ever tested. However, those who like the idea of having a portable PS4 may want to opt for the larger screen of the Z3 to enhance their play experience. We'll be testing this feature as soon as it's available later this year, but for now, the Z3 Compact is our Sony (and Android) phone of choice.

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