Sony Xperia 5 review: excellent camera and battery life

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Sony has made some very good phones down the years, and yet it struggles to make a dent in the sales figures reported by the likes of Apple and Samsung. We’ve been testing out the Sony Xperia 5 to see if it might attract a few more phone buyers to the brand.

It follows the ultra-tall (or ultra-wide) 21:9 aspect ratio for its screen that we saw with the Xperia 1, but this is more of a companion than a successor – it has a smaller screen than the Xperia 1, and the same internal chipset, and the same triple-lens rear camera.

It’s perhaps then the perfect phone for those who want something more compact and more affordable than the Xperia 1. You can check the latest prices across the web on the widgets on this page, but it goes for around £700 SIM-free (see Carphone Warehouse).

That makes it a touch cheaper than both the 128GB Pixel 4 and the 128GB iPhone 11, if you’re buying it off contract, and slightly more expensive than the impressive Samsung Galaxy S10e. So how does it match up against its main competitors? Let’s dive find out.

Sony Xperia 5 review: design and screen

(Image credit: Future)

Sony knows how to make a polished smartphone, that had already been established well before the Xperia 5 showed up. It’s a lovely slab of glass and metal, with a fingerprint on the side ready for your thumb – an unusual placement, but one that just about works. Blue, red, black and grey are your colour options.

The elongated, 21:9 aspect ratio, 6.1-inch screen (running at a resolution of 1,080 x 2,520) will probably be the main reason you either love or hate the phone. It’s sharp, vibrant, HDR-ready and clear, there’s no debate about that – but we found it just a bit to long and thin (or wide and thin) to get used to.

It does mean you can see movies in the format they were intended to be viewed in, Sony says, but we’re not really sure how many people are watching full-length films on their small phone screen anyway: perhaps on flights or on the bus, at a push.

The screen aspect ratio aside, we really like what Sony has done with the Xperia 5, even if the glossy back is something of a fingerprint magnet. There’s no notch on the front display, with Sony instead opting for a slightly thicker bezel up at the top.

Sony Xperia 5 review: specs and features

(Image credit: Future)

It’s difficult to find better specs on a smartphone in 2019 than the Snapdragon 855 chipset and 6GB of RAM that the Sony Xperia 5 presents you with. Everything on the Android 9-powered phone is fast and responsive, from challenging mobile games to photo editing. This is going to last you years before you notice a slowdown.

A special mention to the 12MP+12MP+12MP rear camera: Sony has always been able to hold its own in the mobile photography department (a lot of other phone makers use its camera sensors), and the Xperia 5 takes great shots in all kinds of lighting conditions. You can take advantage of 2x optical zoom the ultra-wide angle lens to get the right shot, while the low light mode is impressive too (if a little slow) – maybe not Pixel-level impressive, but perhaps a bit more realistic in its results than the Pixel.

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The triple-lens rear camera gets some great, well-balanced shots.
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The 2x optical zoom telephoto lens in action.
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The ultra-wide angle lens offers another perspective.
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The vast majority of images come out crisp and full of detail.
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Another 2x telephoto shot.
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The Xperia 5 copes well with close-ups too.
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The camera is quick to focus and shoot in almost any situation.
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You’ll get plenty of great shots with the Sony Xperia 5.
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Low light performance is good, though you do need to keep the camera steady.
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Despite the bright lights against the darkness, the pub name is visible.
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Even without much light, you usually get some very good shots.
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It’s one of the best phone cameras we’ve seen this year, and the battery holds up well too, running down to 89 percent from a full charge in our hour-of-Netflix challenge (a very respectable score). The phone usually ended the day with plenty of battery left – at least 25 percent – though as always, bear in mind that we’re reviewing brand new phones before the battery has had an opportunity to degrade.

With IP68 water and dust resistance (it’ll survive under a metre and a half of water for 30 minutes), plus fast charging, it’s a really good all-round package. The addition of wireless charging would be nice, but you can’t have everything. There’s no 3.5 mm headphone jack, but the stereo speakers support Dolby Atmos.

Sony Xperia 5 review: price and verdict

(Image credit: Future)

Once again, Sony has made really well-built, powerful phone here, with commendable results in the photo-taking department and plenty of battery to get you through the day; once again, it might not be enough to keep up with the Apples and Samsungs of this world, phone makers that have raised the bar again this year.

Unless you have a real fondness for that 21:9 screen, it’s hard to see why you would pick this over an iPhone 11 or a Samsung Galaxy S10e, or even a OnePlus 7T Pro – Sony’s rivals have just a little bit better quality in terms of hardware design and the software they put on board their handsets. The Xperia 5 is a great phone in our experience, but it’s up against some very good competition too.

Shop around and see if you can get a tempting deal on the Xperia 5 (the widgets on this page should help) – that might make the Sony phone a more tempting choice than its rivals, if you’re not paying as much for it.

The Sony Xperia 5 certainly scores highly in all the key areas that smartphone buyers are interested in: design, camera, and battery life. It’s raised our hopes for whatever Sony might be planning for 2020 – if it puts together a serious upgrade over the Xperia 1 and Xperia 5, then Apple and Samsung might start to worry.

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