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Compact smartphone shootout: Sony Xperia Z1 Compact vs HTC One Mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini

45

Outdoor Scene - Sunny

The picture of this cathedral was taken on a sunny and bright day. All devices do a decent job at capturing the scene but the Sony produces a slightly brighter exposure than the HTC and Samsung. The latter's color response is visibly the warmest out of these samples and the HTC produces the most saturated result. The Sony and Samsung cover pretty much an identical field of view but with its 28mm equivalent focal length the HTC One Mini is visibly wider. This can be advantageous for landscape and architectural photography but is arguably not ideal for portraits.

The combination of bright light and fast fixed apertures means that all phones shoot at base ISO in this test, only in its 8MP mode the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact chose up to ISO 64 for no apparent reason. It's not making a visible difference in the image though. 

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact - 20.7MP
ISO 50, 1/2000 sec
Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini
ISO 50, 1/968 sec
Sony Xperia Z1 Compact - 8MP
ISO 64, 1/2500 sec
HTC One Mini
ISO 125, 1/9615 sec

When looking at the 100% crops below differences in detail capture become visible. With its 20.7MP sensor the Sony resolves more detail than the competitors, but as you can see in the trees to the right or in some of the fine brickwork of the building, even in these very good light conditions the Z1 compact struggles with low-contrast detail. Like with the original Xperia Z1 close-up, the image looks a little too processed, with sharpening artifacts and noise-like artifacts in areas of plain color. There's also a little softness toward the left edge of the frame but overall the Sony lens is pretty sharp across the frame.

Sony's 8MP file shows less detail than the larger variant but in turn also looks a little cleaner. It's therefore arguably the better option if you can live with the 16:9 aspect ratio and don't need a 20MP file. 

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact - 20.7MP
100% crop
Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini
100% crop
Sony Xperia Z1 Compact - 8MP
100% crop
HTC One Mini
100% crop

The Samsung lens is sharp across the frame too, and close-up the image is cleaner than the Sony. This is at least partly due to more heavy-handed noise reduction which also leads to a loss of fine detail and an overall softer appearance than the Sony.

The HTC delivers by far the worst performance in this test. Its 4MP sensor captures visibly less detail than the competitors and there is a lot of noise in areas of plain color, for example the blue sky. There is more luminance noise (grain) than in the Sony or Samsung image, but also purple chroma noise speckles which really should not be the case in an image that was taken in bright light conditions. To top it off there is also some noticeable softness in the bottom left corner.

Overall the Sony delivers the best detail in this scene and we also prefer its exposure and color rendition over the Samsung and HTC. If you don't need the 20MP of the manual mode you get a little less detail but an overall cleaner image in its 8MP mode.

Outdoor Scene - Overcast

This image was taken on an overcast and cloudy day but thanks to the phones' fixed fast-aperture lenses all cameras can easily stick to base ISO and still achieve very fast shutter speeds. Again there are minor differences in exposure and color. The HTC image is the brightest which has led to a few clipped highlights in the sky. The Samsung and Sony are pretty close to each other, but the Samsung again delivers a warmer color response.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact - 20.7MP
ISO 50, 1/1250 sec
Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini
ISO 50, 1/787 sec
Sony Xperia Z1 Compact - 8MP
ISO 50, 1/1250 sec
HTC One Mini
ISO 125, 1/2262 sec

When zooming in to 100% we can see very similar results to the sample above. The Sony delivers decent detail in its 20MP mode but captures a cleaner 8MP Auto mode image. The Samsung's noise reduction is visibly stronger than the rest, which takes its toll on low contrast detail, such as the foliage in the tree on the right.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact - 20.7MP
100% crop
Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini
100% crop
Sony Xperia Z1 Compact - 8MP
100% crop
HTC One Mini
100% crop

The HTC again produces lower levels of detail than the higher resolution competition.  Close-up its image output looks a little over sharpened, with a lot of noise, especially in the shadow areas of the frame, which does not make for a nice combination with the softness around the edges. Overall the Sony again delivers the best performance in this test.

Portrait

This portrait was taken on a sunny day in the shade with Face Detection activated where available. The Samsung and HTC both produce a warmer image than the Sony. We prefer the latter's more natural rendering of the subjects' skin tones. The HTC again produces a slightly darker exposure than the rest but is still within acceptable limits. 

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact - 20.7MP
ISO 50, 1/500 sec
Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini
ISO 50, 1/304 sec
Sony Xperia Z1 Compact - 8MP
ISO 50, 1/400 sec
HTC One Mini
ISO 125, 1/1372 sec

In the 100% crops the differences in skin tone rendering become more obvious, with the Samsung being the warmest of the group. In terms of detail the Sony's 20MP Manual mode clearly beats the rest. The 8MP mode and Samsung are pretty close and the HTC again delivers visibly less fine detail than the competition. The soft edges aren't much of an issue in this image as the subjects are located in the center of the frame, but overall the HTC can't keep up with the Sony and Samsung in good light.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact - 20.7MP
100% crop
Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini
100% crop
Sony Xperia Z1 Compact - 8MP
100% crop
HTC One Mini
100% crop

Comments

Total comments: 45
Lentzi
By Lentzi (1 week ago)

Different cpu, ram, sensor size, megapixels,... What comparison is that?

0 upvotes
cogthrob
By cogthrob (3 months ago)

Now that the HTC mini 2 is out compacts could be revisited:

http://www.knowyourmobile.com/htc/htc-one-mini-2/22244/htc-one-mini-2-vs-sony-xperia-z1-compact-who-gets-small-form-factor-right
For me SONY is still tops but I'd love to see 4.4 upgraded studio shots from its two resolution modes in the interactive comparison tool.... Please and thanks!

0 upvotes
tompabes2
By tompabes2 (4 months ago)

Hi guys, with the Sonys in manual mode you have to set the "Image Stabilizer" option to ON to go above ISO 400.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
bigley Ling
By bigley Ling (4 months ago)

interesting, considering the whole idea of choosing a higher ISO is to increase the shutter speed, and hence negate the requirement for an image stabilizer.

0 upvotes
Dgeer
By Dgeer (5 months ago)

My Sony is a nice smart phone and takes great pictures but the sensor has a dirt issue. Sonys only suggestion was to send it to a service centre ...since it isn't in a city centre and no interim was offered I remain unimpressed ~ especially so for a company that makes and wants us to buy non phone cameras!

My 3G HTC was almost as good and no dirt on the sensor. I only changed to a new phone for 4g and the camera....why have a water resistant phone when the sensor is not internal dirt resistant Sony?

Appalling after sales service attitude...would make me consider an IPhone...or other....it's a pity Panasonic don't do phones I love their Lumix cameras and lenses....

0 upvotes
mrdancer
By mrdancer (5 months ago)

I think LG should call their new phone the G Mini Cricket...

1 upvote
SammyToronto
By SammyToronto (5 months ago)

Thanks for a most informative review Lars. It confirmed my decision that the Samsung S4 Mini is the best phone for my needs, producing sharp, contrasty images, indoors (with flash) and out, that are perfect for sharing with friends on social media and for displaying on computer screens. The Sony's camera may be superior in rendering high ISO fine details (for a cellphone, that is), but its superiority mainly shows when printing large prints, which is something I never do with cellphone pics. In fact, I find the one area that the Samsung won, i.e. flash pics, more useful since it impacts the picture quality regardless of size or usage. This is especially important since most of cellphone pics (in my case anyway) are taken indoors.

It would've been great if you included a quick video quality comparison since most cellphone users probably take as many videos as pics, but thanks all the same!

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
1 upvote
LANDSHOTS
By LANDSHOTS (5 months ago)

but what about the sony s5 ? the s5 has 16 mp.

Comment edited 48 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (5 months ago)

I assume you mean the Samsung Galaxy S5? This is a test of "compact sized" smartphones that are smaller than your typical flagship smartphone, for example the Galaxy S5. But do not fret, we will review the S5, too, as soon as we get a review model.

0 upvotes
bigley Ling
By bigley Ling (4 months ago)

Hey Lars, I know the 808 is not a modern smart phone anymore, but it still is a smart phone and does fit the criteria of being "compact sized".

I am pretty certain the 808 would do well against these compact smart phones. :)

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (4 months ago)

I am sure it would, in terms of image quality. But it's just such a terrible phone these days that you'd have to carry another phone anyway, which kind of defeats the purpose of a camera phone :)

0 upvotes
guinness2
By guinness2 (5 months ago)

Well done, Lars. Thanks

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (5 months ago)

Thank you :)

0 upvotes
Faisal Armand
By Faisal Armand (5 months ago)

Hey lars, what firmware the xperia z1 compact was in? Because the latest kitkat firmware has improved the image quality, its camera algorithms are much closer to xperia z2's

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (5 months ago)

Our sample was and still is running Android 4.3, no updates available at this point.

0 upvotes
RichRMA
By RichRMA (5 months ago)

Jobs. "640k is enough memory for anyone." "No one is going to buy a big smartphone." Sure he was such a god visionary he's purported to have been?

1 upvote
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (5 months ago)

Wasn't that Bill Gates who made the 640K statement?

0 upvotes
vv50
By vv50 (5 months ago)

not him either. a lot of famous people quotes are mis-attributed or completely fabricated.

0 upvotes
Daxs
By Daxs (5 months ago)

Quick question!
How many people printing full size pictures from phones?

It's ok, no panic!

2 upvotes
Mister J
By Mister J (5 months ago)

Sell prints on A3+ image size typically c240mm x 330mm. Mounting gives plenty of punch.

Been tweaked for it of course, but results look excellent in gallery spaces.

Mostly iPhone 4s, now 5s.

0 upvotes
xt1isdabomb
By xt1isdabomb (5 months ago)

What's "full size" mean?

I print phone images at several different sizes....24" long panos, cropped 6x9s, full bleed 8.5x11", collages on various sizes, etc.

0 upvotes
KonstantinosK
By KonstantinosK (5 months ago)

Hmmm, now that's tempting... I didn't know there was a compact version of any flagship phone. I handled a friend's Z1 and found it ridiculously big for my taste. Now I may upgrade from my Xperia Acro S to a water resistant Z1 without sacrificing the size of the Acro S (which I find borderline acceptable size wise).

0 upvotes
b craw
By b craw (5 months ago)

Interesting, Lars. Thank you. I have a nice Samsung phone - very happy with it, all uses considered. But the phone cam is no comparison to my Samsung NX300 camera which is a pleasure to use, produces great IQ and exposure latitude, communicates/transfers files seamlessly with phone. A great combo. but I can envision certain conceptual projects actualized quite competently with the phone cam alone - IQ seems reasonably close enough to its competitors.

0 upvotes
Markol
By Markol (5 months ago)

So what you are saying is that the NX300 makes better photos and handles better than a phone?
Great comment!

1 upvote
b craw
By b craw (5 months ago)

Not exactly the entirety of what I was intendind to express. As a professor, I have been engaged with many students wanting to do very conceptual projects which phone cams might be best for. But I think the IQ limitations have been very obvious until relatively recently.

Pardon me for wasting your time with such an obvious comment.

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (5 months ago)

Yes, the image camera to phone transfer technology has improved a lot. I have a Sony RX100II and it works great on that model but I have used the Samsung system, too and found it very good. But still, I've only got my phone in the pocket but not the RX100, even though it's a small camera ;)

0 upvotes
Ben O Connor
By Ben O Connor (5 months ago)

The winner is;

Nokia Lumia 1520 & 930.

ps: I recommend to use a XZ-1, when the sun dissapear.

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (5 months ago)

well, no, the 1520 is most definitely not a winner if you want a small phone.

1 upvote
Ben O Connor
By Ben O Connor (5 months ago)

Sorry, have not noticed the "mini" part. My bad...

0 upvotes
Peiasdf
By Peiasdf (5 months ago)

I am pretty sure there are more Android users interested in smaller phones than just "users who are contemplating a switch from iOS and its smaller phones to another mobile OS". Reads like a Samsung's The-Next-Big-Thing ad.

Z1 Compact is the only compact phone a la iPhone 5. The other two are midrange phones.

1 upvote
borden17
By borden17 (5 months ago)

those look cool but ill stick with my antiquated Canon 7D DSLR and my Fuji XM-1 cameras

1 upvote
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (5 months ago)

very old-school, I like it! :)

1 upvote
borden17
By borden17 (3 months ago)

:) also i shoot with a Leica M2

0 upvotes
Fahd
By Fahd (5 months ago)

Not a fair comparison. Wait for S5 mini.

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (5 months ago)

Not fair? Because I have not waited for a phone that has not been announced or released yet? If I'd always wait for somebody's next model I'd never get a shootout done :)

Comment edited 36 seconds after posting
5 upvotes
muzzy66
By muzzy66 (4 months ago)

But then you'd have to wait for the M8-mini, and the Z2 mini...and by the time that one was completed it wouldn't be fair because the S6 would be on the way,

0 upvotes
tompabes2
By tompabes2 (5 months ago)

Well, some important things that the comparison table does not report are the amount of RAM (2GB for the Z1 vs. 1,5GB for the s4 mini and 1GB for the one mini) and the fact that the chipset, besides being a Snapdragon 800 vs 400 (that is, a chipset designed for a flagship vs. a chipset designed for entry-level phones), also has a higher clock speed. What's more, even the GPU is better on the Z1c.
The Z1c is really in a different league... it's the only one that is a true flagship in a compact body. The other two are just overpriced mid-range phones.

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (5 months ago)

"The manufacturers of the three devices in this shootout have approached the compact smartphone topic in different ways. While Sony's Xperia Z1 Compact is pretty much an Xperia Z1 in a smaller body, including the 20.7MP camera module, HTC and Samsung have not only shrunk the dimensions of the One Mini and Galaxy S4 Mini but also downgraded some of the components. "

2 upvotes
HowaboutRAW
By HowaboutRAW (5 months ago)

Which one shoots raw? Oh, wait...

At least there's hope with Android 4.4 and Nokia/MS.

0 upvotes
naththo
By naththo (5 months ago)

Sony colours have issue problem most of it across. It seems a little too pink for my liking. Except only one Sony indoor pic is the winner. Most of winner points to Samsung for me but in low light Samsung wasn't so good due to white light was blown out.

0 upvotes
muzzy66
By muzzy66 (4 months ago)

The Samsung has unrealistic colours

0 upvotes
venancio
By venancio (5 months ago)

Looking forward to another round, but this time with Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8 instead of the older models...

1 upvote
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (5 months ago)

Definitely planning a shootout with the latest round of high-end phones when I've got all of them here.

1 upvote
Carnivore99
By Carnivore99 (5 months ago)

In the meantime have you got an individual test of the Galaxy S5 coming soon? It would be great to put that up against the DxOMark Sony Xperia Z2 report from last week so we can at least draw our own conclusions between those two for now.

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (5 months ago)

all the newly released models are in the pipeline but test samples need to be received and reviews need to be written ;) We are hoping to produce an S5 DxO report in the next few weeks, the full review will be soon after then.

0 upvotes
Total comments: 45
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