Sony Xperia 5 II Review
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This phone has it all - a beautiful OLED display free of notches, a respectable battery life, a top-notch performance, and a powerful camera system. It’s a premium phone that comes at a premium price ($950), and due to its somewhat niche DNA, it might stay under the radar and miss all the fights it could definitely win.
Sony Xperia 1 II review
Sony Xperia 5 review
Design & Display
Sony has its own thing going on with Xperia’s design of late. The Japanese company has embraced the cinematic 21:9 aspect ratio, producing tall and narrow phones and stubbornly refusing to incorporate any notches and cutouts in the design of its smartphones. Sony used to have something similar called “OmniBalance” and it was very popular when the Xperia Z series was the rage. Now, it might not be everyone’s cup of tea but in a world full of notches and big, heavy phones, the Xperia line stands tall (literally) and it is also surprisingly fresh.
The Xperia 5 II follows in the footsteps of its predecessor and there are no big surprises in the design department. Actually, the phone is almost identical to the Xperia 5 - a compact take on the modern flagship that offers all the bells and whistles of Sony’s full-fledged Xperia 1 flagship (and Xperia 1 II respectively). The Xperia 5 II uses a glass sandwich design with two slabs of Gorilla Glass 6 on the back and the front. There’s an aluminum frame holding everything together and that’s how smartphones have been made for the past couple of years.
There are some interesting details, however. Sony has opted to keep the 3.5 mm headphones jack on the phone once again and that will undoubtedly please music aficionados. The side-mounted capacitive fingerprint scanner might be seen by some as a thing of the past, as modern smartphones love to tuck those under the display. Personally, I think that the side-mounted solution is not only more comfortable to use but also much more precise and faster overall. There’s a dedicated Google Assistant button right next to the camera shutter but frankly, its usefulness is questionable at best.
The Sony Xperia 5 II features a 6.1-inch FHD+ HDR OLED display that supports a 120Hz refresh rate. The latter, coupled with the 240Hz touch scanning rate, promises a great gaming experience. The 21:9 CinemaWide display of the Xperia 5 II also features X1 Bravia mobile HDR technology and Creator mode powered by CineAlta. This Hollywood-conceived package ensures that when you watch a movie you’ll get the best cinematic viewing experience.
The display is quite bright and crisp, with a maximum brightness of more than 600 nits (max auto). There are two main modes you can choose from, regarding picture quality. The Standard mode offers a slightly colder color temperature and color accuracy is not that great either. You can manually adjust the color temperature in this mode and also activate image enhancements.
When you engage the Creator mode, however, things start to look way better. Colors get warmer and more accurate and there’s a slight bump in brightness too. You can also set the screen to Standard, tweak it to your liking, and toggle a switch that will activate Creator mode when the phone detects suitable content.
The refresh rate is 60Hz by default and you can enable the 120Hz mode by toggling one simple switch. There are no smart modes that switch automatically between the two refresh rates, although Sony might add such an option with a subsequent software update. There’s an Always-on feature that you can turn on and off, as well as use smart settings like Smart activation to show the AOD when taking your phone out of your pocket, lifting it up, etc.
Camera & Audio
We were genuinely impressed with the camera system in the Xperia 1 II and there is some good news - the same system has found its way to the Xperia 5 II (barred the ToF sensor). There are three 12-megapixel sensors on the back of the Xperia 5 II with three different Zeiss lenses on top - a 16mm ultra-wide lens, a 24mm wide F/1.7 lens, and a 70mm telephoto camera. This setup should cover all possible scenarios, according to Sony.
The dedicated double-action shutter button on the Xperia 5 II works wonders. It’s a day and night difference compared to tapping the screen to focus and take pictures. I’m really puzzled why other phones with powerful camera systems haven’t adopted the same approach. You gently press the hardware button to focus and press harder to take the photo. Just like with a real camera. Behind the scenes, there’s some AI magic going on - clever algorithms detect the scene and adjust the settings accordingly.
There’s so much going on on the software side that it deserves a dedicated article. A couple of smartphone generations back Sony decided to use the expertise of its Alpha division and incorporate professional camera wizardry into Xperia phones. I won’t bore you with all the technical details, let’s comment on the results instead.
In good lighting conditions the Xperia 5 II produces great images with lots of details and natural colors. The wide and ultra-wide cameras are both equally great, with the telephoto lagging behind a tiny bit. It loses some details and colors are washed out a bit. The telephoto still makes pretty good photos, the difference is obvious when you compare them to the ones shot with the 16 and 24mm cameras.
The low-light shots are a mixed bag. There’s no dedicated Night mode, you have to rely on the AI to judge the scene and engage the low-light algorithms. But that’s not the problem - the AI is fine, it just needs a certain amount of light to work at all. There’s some processing going on and you need a steady hand for 2-3 seconds while the software works to stitch those frames. Again, when the scene is not pitch-black the results are quite good - sharp and detailed. But if the light is below a certain threshold, the low-light mode won’t engage.
The Video quality is decent on the Xperia 5 II. The phone can record in 4K but things like Smile shutter and object tracking are disabled in this mode. The video stabilization does a great job, by the way. I suspect that some cropping is happening behind the scene but the end results are very impressive.
There’s a new camera interface for the photography enthusiasts out there, called Photo Pro, offering a deep dive into camera settings, and allowing pictures to be saved in RAW format. Cinema Pro, on the other hand, takes video recording duties and can record slow-motion 4K HDR clips at 120fps, which Sony labels as “world’s first”. The interface features various Hollywood-inspired filters, as well as an Intelligent wind filter to help in challenging conditions.
Here’s the thing, though. If you’re very serious about photography or videography, you probably already have professional or semi-pro gear. The scenarios where you will use these two very powerful apps on the Xperia 5 II are very situational. The regular Joe will stick to the default camera app and there’s nothing wrong with that. That being said, anyone familiar with Sony’s Alpha cameras will feel at home with this Pro oriented software.
The Xperia 5 II features stereo front-facing speakers and this setup deserves a few words. The sound quality is really decent and the positioning of the speakers makes a lot of sense, especially when you’re watching stuff on the phone. The balance between the two loudspeakers is great too. The only downside is that the whole setup is not very loud, you won’t be able to hear your video or music in a noisy environment.
Software & Performance
The Xperia 5 II uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 chipset paired with 8GB of RAM. This is quite a respectable package and Sony has gone to some lengths to optimize it further. There’s enhanced heat dissipation technology and special algorithms that manage the number of CPUs and frequencies during gaming.
Speaking of gaming, the display boasts a 240Hz touch sampling rate, and when you activate the 120Hz refresh rate mode everything just feels more immediate, smooth, and overall better. There’s another little trick called Heat Suppression Power Control that bypasses the battery and powers the phone straight from the charger, and it’s great for long gaming sessions as there’s practically no additional heat up due to battery charge/discharge.
Game Enhancer is back with a bunch of helpful features to further enhance the gaming experience. You can quickly switch between game modes (performance, balanced, battery, and custom), manage notifications, disable Side sense and the camera key, record your play, turn HS Power Control on and off, optimize the touch area, and more.
The funny thing is that looking at the synthetic benchmarks the Xperia 5 II performance isn’t chart-breaking. It’s on par with every other Snapdragon 865 phone out there and nothing more. When you use the phone in real life though, it feels faster and snapper than most of the other top-tier Android devices. The phone absolutely files and there are no hiccups, lags, or other mishaps. The performance is flagship-grade and buttery-smooth. This goes to show that synthetic benchmarks aren’t an absolute indicator of your user experience in real life with real tasks and games.
The Xperia 5 II comes equipped with Android 10 out of the box and there’s very little bloatware onboard. The PS App is preinstalled, as well as AccuWeather, Tidal, and Call of Duty. That’s pretty much it if you can actually call it bloatware. When it comes to proprietary features, the Side Sense is still present for better or worse. It allows you to double-tap the side of the screen to show predicted or predefined apps. It takes some getting used to and frankly it’s practicality is questionable.
The Multi-Window switch is actually quite useful, it allows you to quickly choose two apps and launch them in split-screen mode on the tall 21:9 display of the Xperia 5 II.
Sony has really put a lot of effort into cramming an adequate size battery in the compact body of the Xperia 5 II. The company actually redesigned the motherboard layout (splitting it in two, rather than sticking with an L-shape) to make room for a 4,000mAh battery. It’s great to see such dedication and attention to detail, especially when it comes to something as important as battery life.
I know what you’re thinking right now: “4,000 mAh is not that much.” That’s true, but we need to put that capacity into perspective. The Xperia 1 II sports the same battery size but it is considerably bigger than the Xperia 5 II. The Xperia 5, on the other hand, has a modest 3,140 mAh battery which means more than a 25% jump in capacity between generations. And that’s impressive.
Unsurprisingly, the Xperia 5 II offers a lot of stamina. The phone tackled our web browsing test with ease and scored an impressive result - more than 13 and a half hours. Activating the 120Hz refresh rate chipped 4 hours off of this result but the phone still comfortably managed more than 9 hours of buttery-smooth web browsing. The gaming score is also decent while the YouTube result put the Xperia 5 II ahead of its bigger sibling - the 1 II.
Unfortunately, charging speeds are a bit underwhelming. While the Xperia 5 II comes with an 18W fast charger out of the box and technically supports up to 21W through USB Power Delivery 3.0, it takes 2 hours to fully charge the battery.
Here is how fast the phone charges using the 18W charger in the retail box:
- in 15 minutes: 22% charged
- in 30 mins: 43%
- in 45 mins: 60%
- FULL CHARGE: 2 hours
Best Sony Xperia 5 II alternatives
There are practically no alternatives to the 21:9 aspect ratio that Sony uses in its smartphones. If you like this design you have to stick with Sony. There’s the Xperia 1 - the phone that re-started it all for Sony but there’s really no point in getting it over the Xperia 5 II. The Xperia 1 II costs $100 more and all you get is a bigger screen but that’s pretty much it. The Xperia 5 II takes everything from the 1 II and just makes it better. Plus the 120Hz refresh rate of the display. Among its siblings, this phone has no competition, really.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case when we factor in all other manufacturers. Given the premium price of the Xperia 5 II ($950), there is plenty of choice out there if you don’t necessarily dig the 21:9 aspect ratio. The Galaxy S20 series will give you the same performance and display eye-candy and if you go for the S20 FE you’ll save a lot of money too. OnePlus is another great alternative - the OnePlus 8 Pro has a bigger battery, an amazing display, and very similar performance.
Moving out of the Android ecosystem, we find the iPhone 11 Pro at roughly the same price as the Xperia 5 II. Actually, with the iPhone 12 lineup just announced, you have even more options. If you want something really compact you can buy the iPhone 12 mini ($699), or opt for the iPhone 12 Pro ($999).
Basically, you have options everywhere indicating tough times for Sony Mobile once again. Don’t get me wrong, the Xperia 5 II is a magnificent phone, a worthy flagship, it’s just a little niche. It’s a phone for Xperia fans, no doubt about it. The majority of the people will probably grab a Samsung or an Apple, which is a shame but that’s just how things are.