Sony Xperia 5 Review: the best camera to fit in your pocket?

Sony Xperia 5 Review: the best camera to fit in your pocket?
The Sony Xperia 5 is the spiritual successor to the Xperia Z Compact series — a series that packed all of the top-tier hardware from the brand's flagship phone but in a smaller body. And while small phones are not exactly what the general public wants, there is a niche audience for them that is mostly left longing for more.

So, does the Xperia 5 deliver that flagship experience in its ergonomic shell? Let’s take a deep dive!


Design


Sony loves its rectangular designs and so do its fans. The Xperia 5 stays true to that clean, elegant look while being thin and light enough to be wielded with absolutely no issue. One-hand operation is a breeze even when you need to reach for items at the top of the screen — it’s just very easy to shimmy that handset around your palm while keeping a solid grip on it. Still, it is the necessity to shimmy it along in the first place that may throw off compact phone fans.


Sony is sticking to the side-mounted fingerprint reader and it’s still not great. It’s a thin, elongated slit that’s about 2 mm wide – and I absolutely hate it. Despite the fact that I registered my fingers multiple times, it still fails, fails, and fails to scan and unlock from the first time.

Otherwise, the phone is a treat to hold and admire. It’s aesthetically pleasing, its frame feels just right in the hand, its buttons are nice and clicky, and it just oozes “flagship”. Yes, this word is also code for “there is no headphone jack”.



Display


Sony has been using OLED panels on its flagships for a couple of years now and they are top notch, as long as you tinker with them a bit. Out of the box, the screen is cold, with a bluish cast, but you have a lot of options to quickly fix that. My favorite is choosing the “Creator” color profile from the Display Settings menu and fine-tuning the RGB color balance sliders to taste. However, the average user might not be inclined to dive that deep, so let me say that each of the default color profiles — Warm, Medium, and Cool, are kind of bad. The former two are way too green-ish, and the latter, naturally, goes to blue. My preferred settings can be found in the screenshots here, but be aware that every OLED panel is slightly different, so yours might need some extra tinkering.

The screen has a 6.1-inch diagonal, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that the Xperia 5 is a huge phone. The display’s aspect ratio is 21:9, meaning it’s extra tall and not very wide. The added headroom makes for better split-screen experiences as the two apps you choose will have more real estate to stretch across. It’s sometimes hard to reach the top of the screen with just a thumb, but as mentioned in the design section — handling the phone and changing grip on the fly is easy.

The resolution is 1080 x 2520 pixels and that translates to a density of about 449 pixels per inch. In other words, the screen is very sharp and you won’t be making out individual pixels with a naked eye.

The screen’s brightness can go up to 636 nits, which sounds great on paper, but I found myself struggling while trying to use the camera on a sunny day. Perhaps the front glass is too reflective — it’s just not great under sunlight. At night, it can go down to 2 nits, which makes for comfortable bedtime reading, especially when combined with the blue-light-filtering Night Light mode.

Performance and battery life


The Xperia 5 packs the very same internals as its older sibling — the Xperia 1. A flagship-grade Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor, 6 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of storage. Due to its smaller size, it did need to cut down on the battery, but just a little bit — the cell has a 3,140 mAh capacity.

How does all of that come together? Pretty nicely — the typical Sony interface is a very, very light Android reskin so there are no extra bells and whistles to bog the performance down. The Xperia 5 is a pleasure to use with no hiccups or lags to be observed.

Of course, I tested some heavy games — Call of Duty: Mobile just came out, too! Fun was had, headshots were made, this handset is a gamer’s portable friend.

AnTuTu is a multi-layered, comprehensive mobile benchmark app that assesses various aspects of a device, including CPU, GPU, RAM, I/O, and UX performance. A higher score means an overall faster device.

Higher is better
Sony Xperia 5
354695
Samsung Galaxy S10
329546
Apple iPhone 11
435295
Google Pixel 3
213926

There are, however, some ridiculous crashes. For example, the camera app crashing with a message “cannot open camera” while you are taking a picture. Or the Cinema Pro app informing you that the phone has gotten too hot and you need to let it cool off. Not a very pro experience if you need to set your tools down until they decide to work again.



These may or may not have been freak cases on a fresh device that needs an update to patch things up. I just found them ridiculous to occur on an $800 handset.

The battery life is pretty good — I wouldn’t say "two-day battery", but I was never feeling pressured by low battery levels. The handset was perfectly capable of taking me through a long, busy day.

Camera


This is where it is at — Sony has been working hard to fix the mediocre camera performance that its phones have been known for in the past. The Xperia 1 performed well in this department and since the Xperia 5 packs the same hardware and software — it is also great!

Photos come out with natural colors and realistic details, the dynamic range is generous, and the triple camera system (2x telephoto, wide-angle, ultra wide-angle) gives you a lot of flexibility.


Now, not everything is peachy all the time with the pictures. Sometimes, we get some weird noise issues, which reveal themselves when you zoom in on a photo. At other times, the noise reduction seems to play a bad joke on faces, making them look like we went crazy with a beautify filter. When in Auto mode, you don't have clear access to an HDR toggle and you have to hope for the phone to pick up that there's backlighting in the scene. In most cases, the pictures are realistic, a pleasure to look at, and ready for social media, yet the camera software is a bit cumbersome and sometimes frustrating to work with.


The Portrait Mode is not perfect either — it has more issues with edge detection than I would’ve liked to see. This year, everyone brings their A-game to portrait shots — even Motorola’s mid-range One Zoom phone is pretty good at isolating the subject without cutting an ear off. The Xperia 5… not so much.


In general, I can only praise the cameras. So, I’ll just stop here and let the samples do the talking:


The same can be said about video recording, of course. You can’t shoot 4K footage in 60 FPS — you’ll have to drop down to 1080p for that. But, on the flipside, you can record in HDR which lets you capture truly dynamic scenes without losing data in the highlights or shadows. Another small issue — you can not switch to the ultra-wide camera once video recording has started. If you want to shoot a clip with the 120-degree lens, you need to go into ultra-wide mode first and begin shooting after. So, you need to decide whether you want an ultra-wide or a regular video before you start recording.



What’s that? You want pro features?


Well, for one, the Camera app does have a manual mode, which gives you access to ISO, shutter speed, focus, and color balance. But there’s a more interesting app I’d like to point your attention to — Cinema Pro. Developed in collaboration with CineAlta, which is Sony’s professional imaging equipment branch, this app looks raw, complicated, and scary to the casual user. Don’t worry, it’s actually very straightforward. It’s there to help you record actual cinematic, 21:9 footage at 4K, 24 FPS and in HDR.



It’s what you do with this footage that is complicated — it needs to go through professional video editing software if you are to make the most of it.

It is here that I kind of wish Sony would’ve gone further. Cinema Pro has a few interesting features, like A-B focus presets, but the lack of focus peaking is maddening, especially when trying to record under direct sunlight and it’s tough to make out the image in the viewfinder. And the fact that there’s no app on board to help you edit a video on the fly (aside from trimming it down) kind of undermines the whole “pro” feel of the phone.

That said, I love playing with these cameras and enjoy editing clips taken with Cinema Pro. Here’s a short video I recorded with the app and edited in Final Cut:


Extra features


Sony prefers to keep its phones clean of too many features or bloat… or so they say. The Xperia 5 banged me over the head with a pre-installed Fortnite downloader, Asphalt 9, the Sony Album picture gallery placed right next to the Google Photos gallery, Amazon Prime video, and Netflix. Yeah, you can disable the ones you don’t want, but it still left a bad taste in my mouth.

Its stereo speakers are not exactly great. They are detailed and don’t distort too much, but they do lack bass, making them tinny and harsh. On the flip side, the Dolby Atmos software on board will let you really tweak and boost the quality of the sound when using headphones or a Bluetooth speaker.

Side Sense is back — you tap the very edge of the screen twice and you get a pop-up menu of your most-often-used or your favorite apps. Does it sound like it’s hard to activate? Let me guarantee you that 50% of the time, it works every time!

There’s a smart unlock feature, which will detect when you lift the phone in landscape and auto-open the camera. However, I’ve found that the dedicated camera shutter button is just more reliable. You press it and hold it while taking the phone out of your pocket and as soon as it’s in front of your eyes, you already have the camera open.

There’s a Face unlock that lets you fine-tune it by re-scanning your face in different conditions — different lighting, different facewear, different facial hair. Of course, it doesn’t work in the dark and it’s not super secure… but at least it let me unlock the phone much more reliably than the fingerprint scanner, absolutely saving me from going insane.

Conclusion


This is one of the more polarizing phones I’ve used in a while. On one hand, I absolutely love it — the design is beautiful, functional, and ergonomic. The cameras are fantastic and its software is fun to play with. On the other hand, that fingerprint scanner is maddening, some random crashes left me perplexed and disappointed, and the whole software user experience part needs a once-over by the programming team.

It’s a good phone, it really is. And we really do have limited options when it comes to an ergonomic phone that makes no compromise in camera or hardware. Is $800 too much for that device? Possibly, if we look at it in a vacuum. But let’s take a look at the broader picture.


I’d say that the Xperia 5’s closest alternative is the Samsung Galaxy S10 — a phone that is thin, light, easy to wield, and has amazing cameras itself. The Galaxy S10’s MSRP is $900 and the Xperia 5 launches for $800. Not only that, Sony’s phone will come bundled with the WF-1000XM3 wireless headphones in some markets. That’s a $230 value on top, so if you can secure this deal — I’d say it’s definitely worth it.

On the other hand, the iPhone 11 just dropped and is offering crazy value with its $700 price-tag. While I am not outright saying “buy an iPhone 11 instead of this”, it will be interesting to see how the competition will be responding over the next few months, as Apple’s new offering will definitely pressure them to give up on their dreams of selling super-priced phones.

Pros

  • A compact-ish top-tier phone
  • Great cameras
  • Beautiful, distinct design
  • The display can look great if you tinker with it
  • Snappy performance, clean software

Cons

  • The fingerprint scanner is abysmal
  • Camera app needs extra work
  • Stereo speakers are tinny and underwhelming
  • We suffered some crashes and software instabilities (v. 55.0.A.7.115)

PhoneArena Rating:

8.0

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33 Comments

1. Pcworld1976

Posts: 178; Member since: Sep 18, 2018

just an 8? iPhone 11 trash has an 8.5

5. maherk

Posts: 6960; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

How is the iPhone 11 trash? Apart from the average screen, it's one of the best phone in the market, especially when you consider the price.

9. Pcworld1976

Posts: 178; Member since: Sep 18, 2018

just for the HD screen is a 7

11. mackan84

Posts: 555; Member since: Feb 13, 2014

I find it funny that no one is complaining when a tablet gets 270 ppi screen but when a tiny phone has it, it’s trash. Can’t even see all the bad details in a photo on such a small screen.

23. ivan.k

Posts: 31; Member since: Jan 29, 2014

Tell them!!!

25. mixedfish

Posts: 1561; Member since: Nov 17, 2013

A tablet is not viewed at the same viewing distances as a phone. A tablet is also not $700-$800 for a tiny chocolate bar sized device dubbed 'flagship'. Stop apologizing.

6. donrox

Posts: 203; Member since: Jul 18, 2014

"On the other hand, the iPhone 11 just dropped and is offering crazy value with its $700 price-tag" You have got to be flucking kidding me PA

10. jellmoo

Posts: 2626; Member since: Oct 31, 2011

Dear lord, the fact that this thing got an 8 is ridiculous. Nothing works particularly well... so I guess an 8. This should have gotten a 5.

34. Pcworld1976

Posts: 178; Member since: Sep 18, 2018

in phonearena no Sony phone works well, coincidences

19. Dr.Phil

Posts: 2451; Member since: Feb 14, 2011

The camera app crashes. The fingerprint scanner doesn’t work great. The speakers sound tinny. I think to anyone that is being generous giving it an 8 considering it also costs $100 more than the iPhone 11. It’s almost as if you didn’t read the review.

26. mixedfish

Posts: 1561; Member since: Nov 17, 2013

Did you forget that it's a phone? You know the part where the benchmarks scores were high, screen is good, good battery life and easy to hold? It's almost as if you didn't read the review....no let me rephrase that, you didn't read the review at all.

2. User123456789

Posts: 1008; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

Not same hardware exactly Xperia 1 = imx445 Xperia 5 = imx563 ( no DRAM)

3. User123456789

Posts: 1008; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

Why not posting the phone scored more than 12h on battery test? It was available on your database, but not anymore. Another site have article about it days ago.

7. donrox

Posts: 203; Member since: Jul 18, 2014

Because is would have made the phone look too good for a rating of 8 :)

4. EugeneJeong unregistered

The software issues are a bummer. I think this is the best looking phone out there.

8. jvardon

Posts: 38; Member since: Apr 28, 2012

"The Sony Xperia 5 is the spiritual successor to the Xperia Z Compact series." I have to disagree with this statement. The phone may be narrow but anything with a 6.1" screen can't be considered compact. Personally, I feel that the last truly good compact phones were the XZ2 Compact by Sony and the Sharp Aquos R2 Compact. The latter had the unfortunate double notch but the specs seemed decent if you could look past the front of the device.

12. Feanor

Posts: 1389; Member since: Jun 20, 2012

No, it is a compact, just a new kind of compact. The super skinny 21:9 ratio means two things; First that the screen surface is smaller than on other screens with 6.1" diagonal and more conventional ratios. It means that the phone is very compact, just not in height but in width. Second, the width of the screen is very narrow and the content size is much smaller. I'd say that the content on the screen appears as small as on a screen with a sub-5" diagonal with the more traditional 16:9 ratio. You just get more scrollable content, but everything appears more or less just as small as on previous Compacts. In other words, if Sony went for an even smaller diagonal with this unusually tall ratio, it would end up with tiny displayed content.

32. jvardon

Posts: 38; Member since: Apr 28, 2012

It is narrow, BUT it’s also very tall and that height stops it from being truly compact. Ask people with smaller hands. Some people want to be a able to reach the whole screen with their thumb without having to shift the device. I can’t call this compact. It’s another big device but it’s easier to manage because it’s narrow.

24. shawman

Posts: 71; Member since: Sep 18, 2012

galaxy s10e is quite compact and is lighter than xz2 compact as well.

39. BlackhawkFlys

Posts: 926; Member since: May 07, 2014

You should not decide the compactness of a phone based on the size of the display but the overall dimensions.

13. Itstheshoes

Posts: 5; Member since: Jun 28, 2019

So you guys just don't have time to do proper battery life tests? Seeing a lot of cut corners on your reviews lately, why is there still no s10 snapdragon vs exynos update? Please step it up!

17. User123456789

Posts: 1008; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

They did ... but not published 12:15h

14. RocketDoc

Posts: 18; Member since: Jul 24, 2018

To answer the title question, no, because this doesn't fit in my pocket. I guess I'm the minority of the minority; I want a small phone, but the Xperia 5 isn't a small phone, and the tall/narrow form factor is exactly the problem for me. I had no problem with the width of e. g., the Moto Z I carried for a few months, but it was too tall for comfort while going about my daily activities, and the Xperia 5 is taller still. After much experimentation with buying and returning or selling phones, I've found that 145mm is the tallest I'm willing to carry, and narrower than 70mm or so makes the on-screen keys too narrow and my typing error rate goes up. I really liked the Xperia XZ2 Compact as a package, but it was a bit too narrow, so right now I'm still using an Essential PH-1, with the Galaxy S10e, maybe the Pixel 4 and iPhone 11 Pro seeming to be the last satisfactory options for a replacement (Galaxy A40 would be fine too if Samsung would build with the right North American LTE bands). If genuinely compact options disappear I might leave the smart phone at home or in the car and carry a KaiOS feature phone for daily needs.

15. Itstheshoes

Posts: 5; Member since: Jun 28, 2019

You're over thinking this. Just get a smaller phone and use it until you get used to it. That's the secret my son.

16. pt020

Posts: 164; Member since: Apr 08, 2014

There is nothing wrong with the finger print sensor on the side ... have it 5 years and it always works on the first try ... it might be difficult for Apple fans.

20. jellmoo

Posts: 2626; Member since: Oct 31, 2011

A bad FPS is a bad FPS, regardless of what brand you like. Reviews seem to indicate that this device has a bad FPS.

29. paul.k

Posts: 296; Member since: Jul 17, 2014

I’ve used the old Sony phones and the scanner was passable. This one is worse.

18. User123456789

Posts: 1008; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

Phone has same height of iphone 8+ but called very tall on internet. LOL ... Imagine Mate 20X that has almost 2 cm more ...

21. inFla

Posts: 137; Member since: Aug 17, 2018

Early review, I want to see other reviews including owner reviews before I decide.

22. el_sur

Posts: 11; Member since: Sep 23, 2014

i get side sense to work every single time, and only whenever i want. it's very specific as to where you can touch the screen to activate it, but once you learn the sweetspot, it works like a charm.
Xperia 5
  • Display 6.1" 1080 x 2520 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP / 8 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, Octa-core, 2840 MHz
  • Storage 128 GB + microSDXC
  • Battery 3140 mAh

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