The Xperia 5 introduces Sony’s top-end features to (slightly) lighter wallets, and for the most part it succeeds
- Cheaper than Xperia 1 with similar list of features
- Colour accurate 21:9 screen
- Battery life is much better
- Similar issues with video stabilisation
- HDR is a bit dull
Sony’s “Compact” versions of its flagship smartphones used to offer top-shelf features at more palatable prices and dinkier sizes. However, following the launch of the Xperia 1 earlier this year, it looked like Sony had ditched its smaller handsets in favour of pricey big-screened behemoths.
Shortly following Sony’s short and sweet keynote at IFA 2019, however, we discovered that its newest smartphone partially resembled these “Compact” phones of old. Sure, It isn’t much smaller than Sony’s usual fleet of flagships, but the Xperia 5 is a little bit cheaper, and has a similar list of features.
Sony Xperia 5 review: What you need to know
If you’re already familiar with Sony’s smartphone output in recent months, then please forgive me for repeating myself. Sony’s approach is a rather unique one: the Xperia 5 is another of its long-tall aspect ratio smartphones, featuring a 21:9 screen that measures 6.1in across the diagonal.
That’s not much smaller than the Xperia 1 – which costs £150 more – but the resolution has decreased from 4K to FHD+. That’s about all for downgrades, though. The Xperia 5 looks the same, is powered by an identical Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor, runs Android 9, and uses a similar triple-camera array.
Sony Xperia 5 review: Price and competition
Most confusing of all is how much the Xperia 5 costs. This is a phone that’s so similar to the Xperia 1 that you’d struggle to tell the two phones apart, but the Xperia 5 costs £699. Like I said earlier, that’s £150 cheaper than the Xperia 1, which launched only a few months ago.
Of course, that’s not quite the wide margin many were hoping for. It might be cheaper, but £699 is still out of reach of most people’s wallets and if you’re in that demographic, you might want to take a look at the list of our favourite mid-range smartphones instead. Should you decide to compare it to the rest of its flagship competition, however, you’ll find the feature list justifies the price.
Google’s recently-launched Pixel 4 starts at £669 for the 64GB model, which is smaller in size and doesn’t allow for microSD expansion. Likewise, the Galaxy S10, as impressive as it may be, currently goes for £800 SIM-free.
If you aren’t blessed with an overflowing wallet, and you still want a Sony phone with a 21:9 screen, then the Xperia 10 and 10 Plus are better choices for the budget-conscious. They start at £260.
Sony Xperia 5 review: Design and key features
Like its flagship sibling, the Xperia 5 is rather tall. Sony is pushing its 21:9 aspect ratio screens across the full breadth of its smartphone lineup at the moment, with this rarely-used screen size allowing you to view 21:9 content on Netflix and Prime Video without those pesky black bars above and below the screen.
However, the display is slightly smaller this time around, measuring 6.1in across the diagonal rather than 6.5in. That might not sound like much of a difference, but it makes the Xperia 5 much more pocketable than the Xperia 1, and you can actually use it with one hand now too.
Elsewhere, the Xperia 5 isn’t much different to what we’ve seen from Sony already this year. It might be slightly cheaper than its four-month-old flagship stablemate, but the design remains the same. The screen (almost) fills the entirety of the front of the phone, it’s water- and dust-resistant to the IP68 standard, is sandwiched between protective layers of Gorilla Glass 6 and can be picked up in a variety of bold colours.
Sony Xperia 5 review: Display
The Xperia 5’s screen resolution has dipped down to FHD+ (2,520 x 1,080), instead of using the 4K panel on the Xperia 1. It’s still a gorgeous HDR OLED-equipped effort and it also benefits from Sony’s Bravia X1 enhancement technology, which upconverts SDR (standard dynamic range) movies to “near HDR”. Of course, the slightly lower resolution screen should also help boost the phone’s battery life, which I’ll get to in a moment.
Technically speaking – aside from the lower resolution of course – the Xperia 5’s screen comes out just as well under the scrutiny of our display colourimeter. I found that the Xperia 5 delivered 95.4% of the DCI-P3 colour gamut on the phone’s ‘Standard’ display profile, with a practically identical gamut volume of 95.7%.
Colours looked remarkably accurate across the palate, although I’m a bit disappointed with the phone’s secondary “Creator” profile. This mode targets the BT.2020 colour gamut – or Rec.2020 – which is widely used as the colour space for many forms of 4K, HDR video content.
It’s certainly not as accurate as I would like – with colour inaccuracies across the board – and the phone clearly struggled to maintain a decent level of brightness when displaying HDR content. As a result, HDR video didn’t have the same inky-looking black as the footage displayed on the retina-searing screen of the iPhone 11 Pro.
Sony Xperia 5 review: Performance and battery life
There’s plenty of power under the bonnet – at least as much as current generation hardware permits. The Xperia 5 is fitted with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 mobile chipset which is clocked at 2.84GHz and works with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of expandable storage. That’s exactly the same as the Xperia 1, in case you were wondering.
So, how does the Xperia 5 perform, then? Well, there aren’t any prizes for choosing the obvious answer: it managed identical levels of performance as the Xperia 1 in the Geekbench 4 CPU tests. It feels as if I’m repeating myself, as the Xperia 5 is basically the same phone – not that that’s a bad thing, as you can see from the graph below:
If you’re a gamer, then it comes as no surprise that the embedded Adreno 640 GPU is equally adept at throwing pretty much any task you throw at it. I certainly didn’t notice any dropped frames in Call of Duty Mobile at ‘Very High’ quality with the frame rate setting dialled to ‘Max’. Here’s how it stacks up in the GFXBench Manhattan 3.0 tests:
Of course, the biggest cause for concern with such a large screen is the Xperia 5’s stamina. Thankfully, in dropping the resolution down to FHD+ and slightly reducing the screen size, Sony has managed to squeeze out an extra 38% of use on a single charge according to our in-house battery rundown test – finally reaching 17hrs 55mins before needing to recharge.
Sony Xperia 5 review: Camera
Flip the phone over and you’ll notice the same triple-camera setup as the Xperia 1, which is also arranged vertically in the centre of the back panel. This incorporates a collection of three 12-megapixel camera sensors – one is a regular lens with an f/1.6 aperture, the one below it is a 2x telephoto zoom sensor, and the final one is a wide-angle unit.
Triple-camera arrangements aren’t new, of course, but what’s particularly special about the Xperia 5 is the co-development with Sony’s Alpha camera team. The rather effective eye-autofocus returns, allowing you to keep your subject in focus without too much effort on your part, and there’s also the 10fps burst shooting mode as well as more advanced noise reduction tech.
Sony’s CineAlta video editing app also returns, which enables you to edit your footage on the fly and apply cinema-grade colour profiles to your videos. Like the Xperia 1, you can record in 4K, but you’re restricted to 30fps and 24fps framerates.
It’s obvious that the Xperia 5 is practically bloated with features, but how does the camera perform? The short answer is very good – there’s plenty of fine details in images captured in bright environments, and in some instances, it significantly outperforms the OnePlus 7T Pro’s somewhat soft-looking images.
Colours don’t look muted – even on a gloomy October morning in London – and aren’t oversaturated and candy-coloured, either. I didn’t spot much evidence of visual noise, even in low-light environments, with the Xperia 5’s cameras doing a mighty fine job at brightening up the scene as the light dims.
In fact, the only issue I have with the camera is that object definition isn’t particularly crisp. Some of the building outlines don’t look as well-defined as I would like them to, and I spotted a few issues with the video stabilisation, too. As you slowly pan across the scene, the Xperia 5’s footage looked a bit too juddery for my liking – it’s a shame because the quality itself is actually very good.
Sony Xperia 5 review: Verdict
With an (almost) identical feature list as its bigger brother, it’s certainly a smart move on Sony’s part to bring the price of its flagship down a peg or two. I might be seeing double, but considering you can get a similar sort of experience as the Xperia 1 for just a little bit less, then the pocketable Xperia 5 is a decent choice for anyone looking to upgrade.
But decent isn’t quite good enough in 2019, is it? After all, Samsung still reigns supreme in the Android space – even if it does cost more – and Apple’s iPhones have been knocking it out of the park in recent years. The iPhone 11, in particular, does a tremendous job at bringing a superb camera to the masses, and its HDR playback capabilities simply can’t be matched either.