Whether you're using the manual or "Superior auto" setting, which, incidentally, restricts image resolution to six megapixels, photos rarely come out how you want them to. All cameras typically do their best work in situations with plenty of natural light, but even under these conditions, images from the Tablet Compact are frequently washed out, overexposed and lacking realistic color representation. Every now and again, you'll be surprised by the quality of a picture, but only because the previous five have been a disappointment. If there's one compliment you can bestow on the Z2 Tablet's camera, it's that it isn't as bad as the one on the Z3 Tablet Compact. Since they use the same hardware, I can only conclude that the sensor hasn't been calibrated properly in the newer slate.
It simply can't deal with artificial light, with the auto-white balance setting struggling the most. Low-light performance is a little better. Sometimes images are knowingly overexposed to jack the brightness up a tad at the expense of contrast and color, which isn't unusual in mobile devices. When this doesn't occur, though, you're left with a dark, grainy image -- the kind you won't care to share unless filtered and hashtagged accordingly. As you'd expect, video performance isn't markedly different, with 1080p clips suffering in the same way stills do. The autoexposure setting tends to be commendably consistent, but focus often stutters and the quality of the video itself is lacking. And that's when you're framing a static shot; start panning around and it's like watching a flipbook your eyes can't keep up with.
I'm certain I could've achieved better quality photos more consistently had I begun digging into the endless menus of Sony's camera app, but that's just not my style. Out of all camera software, that's why I prefer the stock Android app. It takes care of everything for you, and though you could argue Sony's "Superior auto" mode is comparable, the fact that I have the option to tweak settings means I'm always mindful I could be squeezing something better out of the lens. I flat-out dislike Sony's take on the camera app due to the infinite number of settings available. I imagine even a pro photographer would quickly tire of the cumbersome, disjointed menu system, regardless of the deep level of control it seems to offer.
Alongside the manual and "Superior auto" modes, there are various other camera "apps" available on the device and to download. Some are potentially useful, like the YouTube live-broadcasting mode, Evernote plug-in and "Timeshift burst" feature, which lets you select from a set of images taken before and after you hit the shutter release. Others are there to inject a little fun into the proceedings, such as the augmented reality camera apps that overlay virtual objects and critters onto your images. And some of your photos are bound to be so bad that you'll want to hide them behind dinosaurs and ninjas.
Performance and battery life
The Z3 Tablet Compact might look starkly different compared to last year's 10.1-inch Z2 Tablet, but hardly anything has changed when it comes to the key specs. You're still looking at 3GB of RAM and a quad-core Snapdragon 801 chipset with Adreno 330 GPU, albeit clocked at a slightly higher speed of 2.5GHz. There are a couple of reasons the core internals are nigh on identical. For one, Qualcomm's Snapdragon 801 SoC is basically as good as they come; and secondly, it's got more power than you realistically need in a tablet. Games like Asphalt 8: Airborne run dreamily on the highest graphics settings, so if you're partial to the odd session of [insert game of choice here], know that it'll run as well on the Tablet Compact as it would on any other top-tier device.
It should go without saying, since the tablet handles processor-intensive 3D games without a hiccup, but if you need confirmation: The general user experience is super-slick, too. Whether you're swiping furiously through the home screen or app drawer panels, or taking care of the basics like checking email and browsing the web, the Tablet Compact never misses a beat. It's a high-end device with a price to match, and that's most certainly reflected in the performance stakes.
When it comes to connection protocols, the Z3 Tablet Compact supports practically everything you can think of: dual-band WiFi (up to 802.11ac), Bluetooth 4.0 LE, NFC, GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou, ANT+, WiFi Direct, Miracast, MHL 3.0, DLNA and various other, more obscure acronyms. In addition to the two WiFi-only configurations with either 16GB or 32GB of onboard storage, there are two models with nano-SIM slots for tapping into Cat 4 LTE networks (maximum download speeds of 150 Mbps). I've been testing out the SGP621, which supports LTE Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 13, 17 and 20. Thus, it's the model most suitable for European and North American markets (though it won't work on Sprint's 4G network), while SGP641 is the SKU for Asia, with support for LTE Bands 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 28 and TD LTE Band 40. You're not limited to data traffic on the LTE variants, by the way, meaning you can use the Z3 Tablet Compact as a comically oversized phone if you're so inclined (or have no other choice).
Battery life is easily one of the standout features of both the Xperia Z3 and its miniature counterpart. The Z3 Tablet Compact is no different. While the slate's 4,500mAh battery isn't oversized for an 8-inch tablet, it lasted between 13.5 and 14 hours in our standard looping-video rundown test from a full charge (I ran it a few times to be sure I was getting an accurate result). To put that into perspective, that's among the best results any tablet's ever achieved.
In real life, you're looking at more like 10 hours of continuous use, since you'll be losing efficiency by doing more than simply watching a locally stored video for over half a day. Battery life drops dramatically if you're doing more processor-intensive tasks, of course. I used it frequently over the holiday period to Skype with relatives and friends, and I estimate you could stay on a call for around three to four hours from a full charge. If the slate is destined to sit on your coffee table for the majority of its tenure, though, it'll turn out to be one of those devices you forget to charge for days on end, because you simply don't need to.
Right now, you can pick up a 16GB WiFi-only Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact in the US for $479 on Amazon, or £300 through Amazon's or Sony's online UK stores. It really isn't worth springing for the 32GB configuration at $500 or £349 when a 16GB microSD card can be found for significantly less than the mark-up, but if you require LTE connectivity, you're looking at roughly $545 or £399. It goes without saying, then, that this isn't exactly a cheap tablet, and it's hard to justify the price when you can find perfectly good products like Amazon's Fire HD 6 for $99/£79. The Z3 Tablet Compact is in a completely different league, of course, especially when it comes to computing power, but then it depends on what you're going to do with your slate. Plenty of folks would be better off choosing a much cheaper tablet if browsing, emails and social networking are their primary concerns.
At the higher end of the spectrum, there haven't been too many notable releases since the Xperia Z2 Tablet was launched in early 2014. Of the devices that have comparable screen sizes to the 8-inch Tablet Compact, the strongest competition comes from Google's Nexus 9, Apple's iPad mini 2 or 3 and Samsung's 8.4-inch Galaxy Tab S. The Nexus 9 is the newest of the trio, and runs Android 5.0 Lollipop out of the box. It's a tad heavy, but with a high-res display, decent battery life and excellent performance, it's not a bad device for the $399 asking price. The iPad mini 3 is also $399 for the 16GB configuration, and is a great little tablet all-round, though the $299 iPad mini 2 is arguably a much more attractive option if iOS is more your bag. The 8.4-inch Galaxy Tab S is currently selling for $340 at Expansys, making it the cheapest of the lot. It's thin, light, powerful and carries a gorgeous 2,560 x 1,600 display.
If you haven't noticed the theme here, let me spell it out for you: The Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact is at least $80 more expensive than its closest competitors. And the real problem is that I wouldn't consider it to be necessarily better than any of the products mentioned. Each device has its flaws and killer features, so obviously personal preference comes into play when you're deciding what tablet's gonna suit your needs best. But, it's kinda hard to justify the extra expense when the Z3 Tablet Compact doesn't have an obvious edge.
Sony's Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact is a lovely piece of hardware. It's light on flair, has a borderline-terrible camera, mediocre stereo speakers and a slightly tired Android build. On the flipside, though, it has a fantastic display (even if it is only a 1080p panel), outstanding performance and long battery life. Maybe I'm just boring, but the facet I like most is how thin and light the tablet is. I haven't really wanted for a new slate since I picked up a discounted OG iPad mini many moons ago. While I've been using the Z3 Tablet Compact, I've grown to adore how... compliant it is. For me, its size and weight are the most impactful features, but therein lies the problem.
There are other thin and light tablets. Some have higher-resolution screens; others are beautifully designed; and all are cheaper than the $479 Z3 Tablet Compact. A high waterproof rating doesn't justify such a high price, and I shouldn't really be complaining about things like camera performance for that kind of dough, either. I've had the luxury of using the featherweight tablet for an extended period of time -- enough to fall in love with its petite profile -- but I haven't had to drop a cent for the pleasure. While I'd be happy to add one to my gadget repertoire, I simply can't bring myself to drop nearly 500 bones on a tablet that doesn't stand out enough from the crowd. If it were cheaper, maybe -- but for now, I'll stick with my two-year-old iPad mini, thanks.