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Lifewire / Andrew Hayward
Super-tall screen is unique
Versatile triple-camera setup
Excellent battery life
Speedy and powerful
More comfortable size than Xperia 1
Spotty fingerprint sensor
Screen doesn’t get bright enough
No wireless charging
Feels very expensive
Sony has done a lot of things right with the Xperia 5, but like the larger Xperia 1, it still feels a little overpriced and/or under-equipped.
Sony’s Xperia 1 launched earlier in 2019 as a super-premium smartphone with an eye-popping 4K-resolution screen—and a wallet-bruising price tag to match. While there was a lot to like about the phone, which was easily Sony’s most appealing effort in some time, it came up short compared to the other high-end competition, and couldn’t quite justify the price.
Now the Xperia 5 has landed, and you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s the exact same phone at a glance. It is the exact same design, albeit slightly shrunken down. Instead of a 6.5-inch screen, it has a 6.1-inch screen, and all of the other elements have been scaled down accordingly. It keeps most of the Xperia 1 formula intact, including a speedy processor and versatile triple-camera setup, but does trim in a couple key ways to achieve a slightly lower price.
Does the smaller, cheaper Xperia 5 provide a more balanced equation? I tested the Sony Xperia 5 as my everyday phone for a full week to find out.
The Sony Xperia 5 has the exact same silhouette as its forebearer, only slightly less immense. It’s still a boxy phone in an era of increasingly curved handsets—and more notably, it breaks recent trends by skipping out on a camera notch or cutout. Instead, you get a solid slab of bezel atop the screen, and a smaller chunk of it below. It still has rounded edges, but Sony’s phone definitely stands apart from what Samsung and Apple are offering of late.
It also has one of the tallest screens on any phone today, opting for a 21:9 aspect ratio. That gives you a bit more space on the screen, but also makes it more difficult to reach the upper part of the screen one-handed without sliding the phone up and down in your hand. The Xperia 1 was one of the first 21:9 phones on the market, but now with Motorola offering mid-range phones with similar dimensions, it’s not quite the exclusive perk it once seemed.
Like the Xperia 1, this screen doesn’t hit the peak of brightness that we expect from a high-end handset. Put it next to the ultra-bright iPhone 11 Pro and the difference is immediately clear.
That said, while the screen size difference doesn’t seem all that significant on the surface, it’s enough to make the Xperia 5 a much more comfortable phone to handle. It’s still a pretty slippery phone, however, thanks to the sleek surface all around—from the aluminum frame to the glass on both sides—so handle with care.
One thing that unfortunately didn’t get fixed for the Xperia 5 is the side-mounted fingerprint sensor, which is still unreliable. There were many times where it just didn’t register my touch at all, or I had to fumble my finger around to get a reading. This is a fundamental component that should work well and sadly doesn’t. Also, the right side of the phone feels very crowded between the volume rocker, fingerprint sensor, separate home button, and then a physical camera shutter button near the bottom. It’s too much for one side.
The Sony Xperia 1 comes with a sizable 128GB of internal storage, and you can augment that further with a microSD card up to 512GB. Sadly, the Xperia 5 lacks a 3.5mm headphone port. It comes with earbuds with the 3.5mm plug, but you’ll have to use the included dongle to convert it to USB-C to plug it into the phone.
The stunning purple color option from the Xperia 1 is sadly missing here, but you can get the glossy Xperia 5 in black, blue, grey, and red. My black unit was a total fingerprint magnet though, so that’s something to keep in mind if you want that color.
Just hold in the power button for a couple of seconds to fire up the phone, and then follow the software instructions on the screen to complete setup. It should only take you a few minutes to connect to a network, log into a Google account, choose some settings, and accept the terms and conditions. You can also opt to restore the phone from a backup saved to the cloud, or transfer data over from another phone.
The Sony Xperia 5 has the same Snapdragon 855 chip seen in the Xperia 1, as well as other top flagships from last year such as the Samsung Galaxy S10 and OnePlus 7 Pro, so it’s well-equipped. The flagship-level processor delivers snappy performance across the board, whether you’re scrolling around Android, playing games, streaming media, or downloading files. The 6GB RAM also helps avoid slowdown, resulting in a very smooth overall experience.
PCMark’s Work 2.0 benchmark test delivered a score of 9,716, which is actually higher than the 8,685 that I recorded on the Xperia 1—but that’s probably due to the difference in screen resolution. The Galaxy S10, for example, gave a score right in the middle (9,276), and its screen resolution is also right in between those phones. In any case, the Xperia 5’s score is excellent, and right on target for the processor and resolution here.
In terms of gaming, you’ll get excellent performance from top 3D games like Asphalt 9: Legends and Call of Duty Mobile. GFXBench recorded 33 frames per second (fps) in the graphically-intense Car Chase demo, and 60fps in the T-Rex benchmark. Those scores are nearly identical to what the Xperia 1 gave, although the Xperia 5 added a couple more frames on the Car Chase benchmark.
On Google Fi’s MVNO network (which rides on the back of T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular), I logged speeds of up to 64Mbps download and 14Mbps upload, although it was sometimes much lower depending on location. In any case, LTE performance always seemed snappy in use. The Xperia 5 can also connect to 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz Wi-Fi networks, and handles both just fine.
The Xperia 1’s 4K display was frankly overkill, as I couldn’t really tell a difference in clarity between it and a QHD+ (what some people call “2K”) screen on other flagship phones. Still, it was pin-sharp, and certainly stood as a bragging point with that super-pricey handset.
For the Xperia 5, Sony has scaled things back a couple steps, opting not for a QHD+ screen but rather Full HD+ (or 1080p). At 2520x1080, this CinemaWide OLED screen still looks very crisp and supports HDR content, with the ability to upscale standard video content to HDR as well. It’s a pretty great panel, but like the Xperia 1, this screen doesn’t hit the peak of brightness that we expect from a high-end handset. Put it next to the ultra-bright iPhone 11 Pro and the difference is immediately clear.
Between the compact (but intense-looking) bottom-firing speaker and the earpiece above the screen, the Xperia 5 provides very capable stereo playback. It’s loud and stays pretty clear at the upper volumes, so you could play music from it without external speakers while washing the dishes or working in your office, for example.
Like the Xperia 1, the Xperia 5 also has a Dynamic Vibration feature that provides synchronized rumble feedback in sync with music. I didn’t care for it, but it’s totally optional and there if you want a little extra oomph that you can feel.
The Xperia 5 keeps the strong triple-camera setup from its bigger brother, with a trio of 12-megapixel cameras at different focal lengths: 16mm ultra-wide, 26mm wide, and 52mm telephoto. Essentially, the 26mm camera is the standard one, while the 52mm offers a 2x optical zoom effect and the 16mm pulls the view back for a “zoomed out” view.
It’s a highly versatile setup, letting you snap different kinds of shots without moving position, and the results routinely look great across the board. Photos are typically very detailed and punchy, with great contrast and plenty of dynamic range. Low-light and night photos can’t match the quality of Google’s Pixel 4 or the iPhone 11, but that’s true of most phones. In other regards, the Xperia 5 is near the top of the class in overall smartphone shooting.
And the Xperia 5 may not have a 4K screen, but it’ll shoot sterling 4K video that you can view in full resolution on other screens. Sony’s included Cinema Pro app gives you an impressive toolset to tweak and edit your footage, too.
The 3,140mAh battery capacity might sound a bit lacking, but I’m surprised at just how resilient the Xperia 5 is in daily use. It’s only 190mAh smaller than the Xperia 1’s battery, and that was powering a larger 4K panel. With a 1080p screen here, the Xperia 5 routinely left me with 40-50 percent left of a charge at the end of the day after average usage. That’s excellent.
Unfortunately, you still don’t get wireless charging here, let alone the kind of “reverse wireless charging” available on some phones, which lets you top up other phones and accessories on the back. This glass backing is just for show. At least the Xperia 5 charges quickly with the included wired fast charger.
While the screen size difference doesn’t seem all that significant on the surface, it’s enough to make the Xperia 5 a much more comfortable phone to handle.
The Android 10 update released for the Xperia 5 in December, adding further refinements and enhancements. It feels plenty fast and smooth on the Xperia 5, both due to the top-end processor and also Sony’s light touch. Much of the interface looks and feels pretty close to stock Android, and it’s not bogged down with a lot of cruft or customizations. Sony’s Side Sense feature lets you double-tap alongside the edge of the screen on either side to bring up a quick-access panel of your favorite or most-used apps, which helps with one-handed usage, but it was spotty at recognizing my taps.
The Xperia 5 also ships with a few Sony apps onboard. Besides the aforementioned Cinema Pro, there’s also a Game Enhancer app that lets you tweak how the phone handles high-end games, as well as 3D Creator, AR effect, and Movie Creator apps to play around with.
The price is one of my biggest hang-ups with the Xperia 5, much as it was with the Xperia 1. At $799, the Xperia 5 falls into the same range as many top-tier flagships phones today, but other phones in this range may have more alluring designs, brighter and higher-resolution screens, and perks such as wireless charging and a 3.5mm headphone port.
Perhaps more crucially, there are cheaper phones that either match or better the Xperia 5 on most accounts, such as the OnePlus 7 Pro and OnePlus 7T. It’s a very nice and very powerful phone, but if I had $799 to spend on a smartphone, I’d put it towards a Galaxy S10, iPhone 11, or one of those older OnePlus models.
The standard Galaxy S10 compares favorably to the Xperia 5, but the smaller and cheaper Galaxy S10e is a closer match. Both have a Snapdragon 855 inside and a 1080p screen, along with a side-mounted fingerprint sensor, and the price points are closer.
Samsung’s Galaxy S10e skips the telephoto sensor, but has the more appealing design and perks such as wireless and reverse wireless charging. At $600 (see on Samsung), it’s also cheaper than the Xperia 5, on top of those other advantages.
If you love Sony’s design aesthetic and don’t mind spending extra for it, then the Xperia 5 delivers a fine overall experience.
It has a couple of key weaknesses, most notably the fingerprint sensor and screen brightness, but it packs plenty of power, the ultra-tall screen is a neat differentiator, and the triple-camera array is great. For the average buyer who wants a good deal on a powerful Android phone and/or a more feature-rich package to justify the investment, however, the Xperia 5 comes up a little short.