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Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact vs iPad Mini with Retina Display - specs comparison

Tom Morgan
3 Sep 2014
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Now that the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact is official, we compare it to Apple’s iPad Mini with Retina Display to see which is best

Sony has introduced the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact at an IFA press conference in Berlin, marking the first time the company has made a compact device rather than continue with larger 10in tablets. As well as the smaller screen, the tablet has some improvements compared to the existing Xperia Z2 Tablet, so should appeal to fans of high-end tablets that (just about) fit in a pocket.

However, specifications only tell half the story, and with Apple's iPad Mini with Retina Display still one of the best all-round compact tablets, we've pitted the two against each other to help you decide which you should buy.

This is purely a specification comparison, to highlight the differences as they stand on paper. We've included benchmark figures where possible to show any performance gaps, but until we get the Xperia Z3 Compact Tablet in for a full review we can't judge things like screen quality, battery life, or camera image quality. We'll have to wait for an official release to give a final verdict, but in the meantime you can decide whether Sony's new tablet is worth waiting for, or whether an iPad Mini would be a better buy.

DESIGN

With its aluminium unibody outer shell, the iPad Mini with Retina Display is undisputedly a thing of beauty, sitting apart from virtually every other tablet on the market in terms of design. Plastic is still the material of choice for most Android tablet manufacturers, Sony included, and although production processes have come a long way in a few short years, the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact's matt finish doesn't stand out in the same way the metal iPad does.

That being said, Sony's Omnibalance design is still sleek and attractive enough to rival almost anything running Android today. The tablet is thin and easy to hold in one hand, with new nylon corners to help protect against drops. It also has the benefits of being both dust- and water-resistant, meaning you could rinse it under the tap should it get dirty and even fully submerge it in water for a short time - something that will almost certainly kill an iPad.

DISPLAY

Ever since Apple introduced the concept of a 'Retina display', screen resolution has been a major factor for tablet manufacturers, but Sony has opted to focus on picture quality rather than increase the resolution beyond the point at which the human eye can see visible differences. That means the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact has a 1,920x1,200 resolution, 8in screen in a 16:9 aspect ratio, with a corresponding pixel density of 283ppi.

Conversely, the iPad Mini with Retina Display has a 7.9in, 4:3 aspect ratio screen that makes it physically wider than its rival, but with a higher 2,048x1,536 resolution and 326ppi pixel density. The different aspect ratio makes the iPad more suitable for reading books or web browsing, while the Sony's 16:9 display would better suit video playback.

The iPad Mini has fantastic picture clarity, with vibrant colours and incredible detail, and based on our brief time with the tablet Sony's effort is of similar quality - albeit with fewer pixels, so the overall image isn't quite as sharp.

PERFORMANCE

Apple used the same A7 processor in the iPad Mini with Retina Display as it did with the iPhone 5s. The first mobile chipset built with 64-bit compatibility, the A7 and accompanying M7 motion co-processor aren't mere marketing fluff; this chip helped the tablet score an incredibly fast 401ms in the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark and the tablet is able to run even graphically intensive apps like the mobile version of 2K's magnificent XCOM: Enemy Unknown smoothly, despite "only" being a dual-core chip running at 1.7GHz.

Sony has opted for the fastest Qualcomm processor widely available today for the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact. The Snapdragon 801 is a quad-core CPU which only came out in February, so is still among the best Android has to choose from, and it is paired with 3GB of RAM. The pre-production prototype we got to try ahead of IFA could only score 896ms in the same SunSpider test, but we'll reserve judgement until we see a finished unit running final firmware.

The Z3 Tablet Compact's battery life is an unknown at present: although Sony told us it has a 4,500mAh battery, the power-hungry CPU and LCD display backlight could drain it quickly. Apple's iPad Mini, on the other hand, usually lasts for around ten hours of average use and managed 11h 40m in our video rundown test - it's currently the figure to beat for compact tablets. 

CAMERA

Sony has added an 8-megapixel camera sensor to the Z3 Tablet Compact, which appears to be very similar to the camera found in last year's Z2 Tablet. It's a step up from most Android tablets, and includes Sony's proprietary imaging technology, fast autofocus and Superior Auto shooting mode. We can't say much about picture quality at this early stage, but like any tablet we doubt it will be replacing your compact camera any time soon.

Apple hasn't pushed for better camera hardware on its tablets for some time, with the retina iPad Mini using the same 5-megapixel, f/2.4 sensor as the original model. There's no LED flash for low-light shooting, but the results are still impressive for a tablet. If you manage your expectations (and don't pull the tablet out in public to take a shot - that's what smartphones are for) you might be surprised at the quality.

OPERATING SYSTEM, APPS AND CONTENT

The Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact will launch with Android 4.4 Kitkat, tweaked by Sony with its own Xperia interface and pre-loaded with a selection of curated apps including the company's own Video and Music Unlimited services. Combined with the Google Play Store, which has improved significantly over the past few years in terms of content, you will struggle to run out of things to do. The only exception is Amazon Prime Instant Video, which Amazon restricts to its own Kindle tablets and iPads.

iOS is nigh-on impossible to customise without Jailbreaking your device, so if you prefer to give your gadgets a unique twist you might be better off with Android's widgets, multiple home screens and custom launchers.

The iPad is still ahead in terms of magazines with interactive enhancements, but this is admittedly a small niche. The big differences still come in games; almost everything available on Android started life on the iPad, and there are few Android-only titles that have yet to make the jump to iOS. However, that may not matter with the Z3 Tablet Compact - at least, if you own a PS4 console. It is one of the first Android tablets to support PS4 Remote Play, letting you pick up where you left off on your console with the tablet and a paired DualShock 4 controller, streaming gameplay over a local Wi-Fi connection.

PRICE AND AVAILABILITY

The retina display iPad Mini is available today, in good supply directly from Apple and available to pick up in person if you have an Apple store nearby. If you're prepared to shop around, you can save on Apple's retail price too; eBuyer is currently selling the 16GB model for £299.99, saving you around £20.

The Z3 Tablet Compact should arrive here in the UK some time in the Autumn. Sony isn't ready to talk about pricing and exact availability just yet, leaving us waiting to see whether it can undercut Apple enough to make a purchase a no-brainer. We're quietly confident you'll be able to pick one up for between £200 and £275, but we'll be sure to update this article once we know a final price.

CONCLUSION

Apple's first attempt at a small tablet was excellent, but the iPad Mini turned things up a notch with its beautiful display and fantastic performance. However, the high price makes it one of the more expensive compact tablets available today, and Apple's iOS isn't to everyone's taste - particularly if you're already familiar with Android.

Until Sony reveals when you'll be able to get your hands on one, and for how much, anyone looking to buy a tablet today won't be disappointed with a retina iPad Mini. If you can wait, however, we expect you'll be able to pick up an Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact for slightly less cash.