Android smartphone manufacturers started offering compact versions of their large screen flagship phones in 2013, but most were underpowered, mid-range devices that didn’t sport top-end specs. If you were looking for a smartphone that you could use with one hand, but didn’t want to compromise on hardware specs, or had a budget of around Rs 40,000, the only good option was Apple’s iPhone 5C.
But if a buyer didn’t want to step into Apple’s walled garden, and yet wanted a powerful, compact phone, there were hardly any choices. Sony has answered this need by launching its Xperia Z1 Compact – the mini avatar of its Xperia Z1 flagship, that doesn’t compromise with features. Priced in the same range, Sony’s compact smartphone brings in the much-needed punch to rival Apple’s iPhone 5C.
We pit the two hot compact smartphones against each other to help you make a buying decision.
When Apple first announced iPhone 5C, many felt that the ‘unapologetically plastic’ phone did not look like an iPhone and did not feature premium materials like glass and aluminium, so associated with Apple’s flagship phones since the iPhone 3GS. However, iPhone 5C is still a solid phone with a reinforced metal frame supporting its plastic chassis from inside. It offers five colour options and sports a glossy finish.
Sony Xperia Z1 Compact sports a one-piece aluminium frame with a glass panel at the back, somewhat reminding us of the iPhone 4/4S. The phone follows Sony’s OmniBalance’ design philosophy which is minimalist, yet premium. It is also available in four colours, including lime and pink.
One advantage that the Xperia Z1 Compact has over iPhone 5C is its water and dust-resistant body. Sony has used protective flaps over all ports (barring the headphone jack) to achieve this. Some users may find it cumbersome, but the flaps offer a big utility. We found Sony Z1 compact’s back prone to smudges and even scratches so you’ll be better off with a protective guard or cover.
The 3.5mm headset jack is placed at the top on the Xperia Z1 Compact, while the same is located at the bottom on the iPhone 5C. We prefer the top placement.
Sony Z1 Compact sports a hardware button for the camera. Apple iPhone 5C also allows you to use the volume rocker keys to trigger the camera shutter in camera mode, but there’s no dedicated camera button. iPhone 5C’s power button is placed at the top edge while the Z1 Compact’s power button is at the right edge. Since the phones sport a compact form factor, it doesn’t really make a difference.
There’s not much difference in the dimensions and weight though the Xperia Z1 Compact is considerably wider and thicker. iPhone 5C measures 124.40 x 59.20 x 8.97mm and weighs 132gram whereas Xperia Z1 Compact measures 127 x 64.9 x 9.5 mm
The two smartphones are the best sub 4.5-inch phones available when it comes to the overall design and construction.
Apple iPhone 5C features the same 4-inch Retina display seen in iPhone 5 and iPhone 5S with a resolution of 640x1136p and pixel density of 326ppi. Sony Xperia Z1 Compact sports a 4.3-inch TRILUMINOS display with a resolution of 720x1280p and pixel density of 341ppi.
Both the phones don’t come with a full-HD display, but you’re not likely to notice any difference as the screen size is less than 4.5-inch. The two phones are endowed with displays that offer good viewing angles and vivid colours. Text and graphics look crisp and sharp, and brightness levels are optimum. In fact, Xperia Z1 Compact’s display is the company’s best ever. Despite the low resolution, iPhone 5C offers a brighter screen and better sunlight legibility.
Xperia Z1 Compact runs Android 4.3 Jelly Bean and Sony has already announced the Android 4.4 KitKat update for it. Sony has skinned the user interface and has added its own apps for music, videos and gallery. The Indian edition of the phone also comes with additional content stores for downloading music and streaming TV shows.
iPhone 5C runs iOS 7.1, the new version of iOS that fine tunes iOS 7. The design elements of iOS 7 – colourful, flat icons and translucency complement the iPhone 5C’s playful design. To be honest, it feels like Apple designed iOS 7 keeping the iPhone 5C in mind.
Both software platforms offer a great ecosystem of third party apps and content. Although you’d get deep integration with Google services and apps on the Xperia Z1 Compact with Android, most major Google apps are also available on iOS. For maps and navigation, Google Maps is the go-to service on both mobile platforms as Apple’s Maps doesn’t offer detailed maps in India, leave alone directions.
Google Now, Google’s personal voice-based assistant is also miles ahead of Apple’s Siri voice assistant.
However, if you’re invested in Apple’s ecosystem – buy music and movies from iTunes, use iCloud for backing up photos and use Apple’s iWork and iLife apps, you’d feel at home using the iPhone 5C.
Sony Xperia Z1 Compact sports the same 20.1MP rear camera with Sony’s G lens that the company offers on the Z1. The camera app offers a plethora of settings in addition to Sony’s Superior Auto mode that chooses the best settings as per the ambient light. On the other hand, iPhone 5C comes with an 8MP rear camera and offers Apple’s simple camera app that doesn’t feature many options.
Shot with Apple iPhone 5C
Shot with Sony Xperia Z1 Compact
Sony Xperia Z1 Compact takes great pictures in daylight and good quality albeit noisy pictures in low-light. The phone’s Superior Auto mode which takes pictures in 8MP can be a hit or miss. At times, we encountered problems with focusing. Also, the phone over-processes images, making them loo artificial in order to highlight details.
Shot with iPhone 5C
Shot with Xperia Z1 Compact
iPhone 5C’s camera is more consistent and is still one of the best smartphone cameras around. It struggles in low-light situations, but offers better results using the flash compared to the Xperia Z1 Compact. It also offers better colour reproduction and contrast in bright light.
Sony has made no compromises with the Xperia Z1 Compact when it comes to hardware. The phone comes with a 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor and 2GB RAM. We did not experience any lag whatsoever while using the phone and were able to play graphics-intensive games like Riptide GP2 and Asphalt 8 without any frame drops or delays. It’s a smooth performer.
iPhone 5C is just iPhone 5 packed into a new form factor so the phone sports an year-old hardware. The Apple A6 processor is said to clock 1.3GHz, accompanied by 1GB RAM. iOS 7.1 is optimised for iPhone 5C and offers good performance. Games like Asphalt 8 and Infinity Blade 2 run smoothly.
Both the phones offer good voice quality, are able to work even under poor network conditions, and lock to GPS satellites in a matter of seconds. Xperia Z1 Compact offers NFC connectivity for initiating file transfers, expandable storage via a microSD card and FM radio.
These features are missing from iPhone 5C, but the Apple phone offers support for Indian 4G bands, allowing users to connect to high speed internet where available. In the same price range, iPhone 5C only offers 16GB storage capacity.
The phones offer great performance even though the iPhone 5C comes with older hardware.
In terms of battery backup, iPhone 5C and Xperia Z1 Compact are just above average on 3G and full brightness. Both the phones will last you just about a working day (9-10 hours) and you’ll need to charge them before you go to bed.
Sony Xperia Z1 Compact is a great alternative to iPhone 5C if you want to buy a compact Android smartphone. It’s without doubt the best Android compact smartphone.
Barring the colourful plastic shell which erodes its premium quotient, iPhone 5C is still a great compact phone. It offers a consistently good camera and a great app ecosystem. While the boundaries are blurring, a large number of developers choose to bring their apps to the iPhone before porting them to Android. Apps like Tweetbot and games like Infinity Blade are exclusive to iPhone. While Android is now more refined than ever, the stability and finesse offered by iOS apps is still unparalleled.
On the other hand, Android is more customizable. While it’s a good thing for power users, new smartphone converts may find the learning curve a bit hard.
Sony Xperia Z Compact is available at Rs 36,990 while iPhone 5C is priced at Rs 41,900 (but available for much lesser online).