Perhaps Sony’s best phone yet

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The Sony Xperia 5 II is what many people have dreamt of: a pocketable, easy-to-use phone that packs a punch as strong as any flagship. The Xperia 5 II may be small in stature, but it’s big on features and performance. Is it the compact(ish) powerhouse phone you’ve been seeking?

Find out in the Android Authority Sony Xperia 5 II review.

About this Sony Xperia 5 II review: We spent a week evaluating the Sony Xperia 5 II. The device shipped with Android 10 and Sony’s user interface skin. It did not receive any updates while we used it. Sony supplied the Xperia 5 II review unit to Android Authority.

Sony Xperia 5 II Sony Xperia Mark II

Sony Xperia 5 II review: Who is it for?

Sony Xperia 5 II front face

I will admit that back in February 2019 I was skeptical about Sony’s brave choice to adopt the 21:9 aspect ratio for its devices. The extreme screen shape mandates hardware that is far taller than it is wide. Some might call the appearance a bit goofy or, at the very least, non-traditional.

While the industry hasn’t officially caught up yet, it’s at least moving in the same direction. More manufacturers are churning out phones with 20.5:9 and 21:9 aspect ratio displays. More importantly, content creators (movies, games) are ramping up the 21:9 content. In other words, Sony actually might have set the trend in this case, or at least read it correctly.

I bring this all up because the Sony Xperia 5 II, the latest oblong hardware from the company, is here with its monolithic design and surprisingly advanced features.

This phone is for everyone who’s clamored for a smaller flagship, a petite performer, a tinier terror — in other words, a usable phone that offers all the functionality and performance of a full-sized premium phone.

Read: Sony Xperia 1 II review

Design and display

Sony Xperia 5 II right edge profile

  • 6.1-inch OLED
  • 120Hz refresh rate
  • 240Hz touch scanning
  • FHD+ resolution
  • 21:9 aspect ratio
  • 158 x 68 x 8mm
  • 163g
  • Black

The 2019 Sony Xperia 5 was an upper mid-range device that wasn’t necessarily meant to compete with top-level phones. It complemented the Xperia 1 and Xperia 10 handsets but didn’t necessarily live up to expectations in our review. The Sony Xperia 5 II is an entirely different beast. Not only is the phone a full-featured flagship, but it also doesn’t cut any corners in delivering its balanced experience. It’s still not for everyone.

We can’t quite pretend that the Sony Xperia 5 II is “small.” The movie screen-like shape of the display means you get a phone that’s narrow from side to side, but really tall from top to bottom. It’s not quite the same shape as most of today’s phones. There is, however, one major benefit to this design: hand fit.

The slim waist of the Xperia 5 II makes the phone comfortable to hold and use in your hand. It’s 5mm to 10mm narrower than most other modern phones. You won’t be stretching your thumb to tap items on the far side of the screen. It is tall at 158mm (6.22 in.) This makes it slightly harder to reach the top half of the screen with one hand. However, the overall trim dimensions of the phone mean it slips into your pocket with ease. It’s far more comfortable than most other phones to tote around and use as a daily driver.

Sony Xperia 5 II in the hand

As expected, the Xperia 5 II is a glass and metal sandwich. Gorilla Glass 6 covers the front and rear, while aluminum serves as the meaty filling in between. The frame is quite robust. The glass panels slot into it seamlessly. It’s as strong a chassis as Sony has cooked up in recent memory. It’s rated IP65/68 for protection from dust and water.

Sony gave the phone lots of functional design elements too, most of which are on the right edge. There’s a volume toggle, which I thought was a bit small, as well as a power button that doubles as a fingerprint scanner. The reader worked perfectly once it was trained, though the training took several attempts per print. Sony stuck a dedicated Google Assistant button below the power key, followed by a dedicated camera button closest to the bottom edge. It’s a lot. The Google button barely has a profile at all, which makes it hard to find in a hurry. The two-stage camera button is a bit better.

Sony Xperia 5 II rear profile

A headphone jack graces the top edge of the phone, while a USB-C port is centered on the bottom. A tray that holds both SIM and memory cards is tucked into the left edge of the phone. I particularly like that you can remove it with your thumbnail. Stereo speakers are located at the top and bottom of the display glass.

Sony did a bang-up job with the hardware.

The rear surface is fairly typical for a modern smartphone. That means there’s a noticeable camera hump near the top. Sony’s triple-lens system runs vertically in the upper left corner. It’s much more modest when compared to the hulking camera modules on today’s Samsung phones. The rest is flat glass.

Sony decided on a single color, black, for the Xperia 5 II. It’s fine, but I miss the purple color that Sony used to offer on some of its phones.

Sony Xperia 5 II face

There is a lot to like about the 6.1-inch display. The OLED panel has a 120Hz refresh rate, which makes motion look smooth as you scroll up and down or transition from screen to screen. You can set the display to 60Hz if you want to conserve the battery too. In addition to the fast refresh rate, it’s also highly responsive to touch with a 240Hz sampling rate. This makes it ideal for gaming.

As for the screen’s real-world performance, I can tell you that it looks great. The combined size, shape, and Full HD+ resolution mean you have plenty of pixels beaming at you brightly. Viewing angles are excellent, and I didn’t encounter glare or fingerprint problems.

One thing to note about the screen is that it offers two color profiles: standard mode and creator mode. The former offers an expanded color gamut for a brighter and more vivid effect, while the latter is all about color accuracy for creators. It looks less exciting to the eyes but helps photographers and videographers see a faithful reproduction of their content as they create it.

See also: Not all 120Hz screens are equal

Sony did a bang-up job with the hardware.

Performance

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
  • Adreno 650
  • 8GB LPDDR5
  • 128/256GB UFS 3.0

Processor

Sony packed the Xperia 5 II with the expected processor and RAM arrangement for a flagship phone in 2020. That means the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 (though not the 865 Plus) and 8GB of RAM. I appreciate that the phone comes in two different storage options and supports microSD cards for expandable storage too.

In everyday use, the phone felt fluid and fast. There were no slow-downs, stutters, or lags, even when the 120Hz display was pushing the processor. I ran some benchmarks and the phone returned the expected results. It beat 99% of other devices that have run GeekBench and 3DMark, for example. I played a few games to see how it fared and came away impressed. Asphalt 9 looked amazing on the 21:9 display and ran absolutely perfectly on the Xperia 5 II. I didn’t see a single frame drop.

Sony has beefed up the phone’s ability to play games, and it shows.

Sony has beefed up the phone’s ability to play games, and it shows. For example, it offers 240Hz motion blur reduction to create clean, blur-free action. It definitely shows. The company also included what it calls Game Enhancer a tool. It lets you customize the controls for games, as well as easily access your Quick Settings panel for adjustments.

See also: Best Snapdragon 865 phones

Bottom line, the Sony Xperia 5 II is a performance monster and should be on your shortlist if you’re a gamer.

Battery

A smallish phone means a smallish battery. Still, at 4,000mAh the Xperia 5 II’s power cell is much larger than its predecessor’s 3,140mAh battery. It’s nothing to scoff at. Sony says it shrunk other components within the chassis so it could enlarge the battery while keeping the overall dimensions of the phone the same as its predecessor. The company also has all sorts of software onboard to manage battery life, including its Stamina Mode.

What you need to know is that I got a killer battery life with the Xperia 5 II. It routinely posted more than eight hours of screen-on time per day, with enough juice to last from breakfast to bedtime and beyond. The phone often had 25% or more left in the tank at the end of the day, which was enough to reach lunch the following day.

I got killer battery life with the Xperia 5 II.

That’s all with the display set to 60Hz and Stamina Mode off, which is the default. If you bump the screen to 120Hz, you’ll see a significant hit to battery life. The phone still got through an entire day, but screen time was closer to seven hours and it had less than 10% of a charge left at bedtime. That’s still very good, all things considered.

On the charging front, the 5 II supports 21W rapid charging, but it ships with an 18W Power Delivery brick in the box. It’s not the fastest-charging phone we’ve tested, but it did well enough. It took 30 minutes to reach 50% and just over 90 minutes to fully charge from dead. That’s in line with many other phones we’ve tested.

Related: The best wireless chargers

If there’s one major feature missing, it’s wireless charging. There’s no support for Qi chargers onboard, and that’s a major bummer.

Software

The Xperia 5 II ships with Android 10, not Android 11, which is a tad disappointing.

Sony’s software skin adds a light touch to stock Android. You’ll see different background colors, some alternate fonts, and changed icons when it’s put side-by-side with stock Android. However, the user interface provides the standard home screen, app drawer, Quick Settings shade, and adjustable home screen navigation.

The phone carries over some unique features from its predecessors. For example, Side Sense is similar to Samsung’s Edge Screen. Double tapping either side of the frame opens up a small window with shortcuts to several key apps and actions. It could be a bit more reliable when you want to open it. I found it a bit tricky. However, this is where you reach some of the other advanced modes.

There’s a one-handed mode to help with reaching the top of the display. Once you shrink the screen, you can swap it from side to side, or adjust the height to your liking.

More reading: The best Android skins

Then there’s split-screen multitasking. This works really well on the tall screen. An app assists you in accessing and configuring which applications appear on the screen. I particularly like that you can create app pairs. The Galaxy Note series has a similar feature.

Camera

Sony Xperia 5 II camera bump

  • Rear:
    • Ultra-wide: 12MP, 16mm
    • Wide: 12MP, 24mm, f/1.7, PDAF
    • Telephoto: 12MP, 70mm, PDAF, OIS Eye AF, 20fps

Sony is going for broke with the cameras. The company has long touted top photography tech while fielding only mediocre cameras. As it did with the Xperia 1 II, the Xperia 5 II borrows a page from Sony’s vaunted Alpha line of cameras. It even bakes in a pro mode that ports over the menu system from Sony’s mirrorless cameras. It’s a lot to take in, so let’s start with the basics.

The phone has a triple-lens setup with ultra-wide, standard, and telephoto options. Sony says it relied on typical prime lenses to guide its choice of focal lengths, which are 16mm, 24mm, and 70mm for ultra-wide, standard, and zoom lenses, respectively. The lenses all boast Zeiss optics for added clarity. Some of the features include Real-time Eye AF, which continuously seeks out the eyes of subjects and focuses there. The continuous autofocus performs calculations up to 60 times per second for shooting at up to 20fps.

The Photography Pro app is certainly advanced, but it’s not easy to master.

There are two camera apps, a standard one, and the Photography Pro app. You should be familiar with the standard app, as it’s the same one Sony has used for several years now. It’s a breeze to select between photos and video, as well as dial-in advanced settings such as aspect ratio, timers, white balance, and more.

The Photography Pro app is for photography lovers who are familiar with Sony’s Alpha cameras and their menu system. It’s not easy to master, but it is certainly advanced. You can see in the sample screenshots below how involved the menu is. The Photography Pro app is powerful, but you have to know what you’re doing to make the most of it. Most people will likely find it overwhelming.

In general, the photos I got with the Xperia 5 II were good. There’s a distinct film-like look to many of them, for better or worse. I’d almost swear I was shooting on Kodachrome. It’s the color and grain that leads to this effect. The photos have a warmth to them, with natural colors that aren’t oversaturated or boosted in any way. Everything I shot looked spot on in terms of accuracy. In other words, what I saw in the real world is what I saw in the photos.

You can sort of get a feel for it in the samples above. What’s really interesting is that the effect is similar across the three cameras, which we like to see.

Facets such as white balance seemed to skew a little toward yellow, while sharpness came across a tad soft. Even so, I appreciated the look. HDR performance could have been a little better. There’s not quite as much detail in the bridge shot (below) as I would have liked. On the other hand, the waterfall shot was able to balance the darkened leaves on the left side of the frame with the really bright falls. I like the contrast visible across the shots that I took.

The front camera does okay. You can see a standard selfie and a portrait selfie in the samples below. I wish the portrait selfie created a stronger bokeh effect in the background. I also look a bit overexposed. The standard selfie comes across as a little better.

Even though the phone has two separate camera apps, the photos it produces are the same.  You can see in the samples below that the regular app and the Photography Pro app generated similar results.

Then there’s video. Sony made a lot of noise about the Xperia 5 II’s video capabilities. You can shoot video with the standard camera app, which is what I recommend, or you can futz with the Cinematography Pro app. The latter is maddeningly complicated and just no fun to use. It gives you wide control over nearly every facet of the video camera’s behavior, such as frame rate, ISO, shutter speed, and so on, but it’s difficult to put to effective use unless you really know what you’re doing. Thankfully there’s a tool called “Look” which lets you select from eight different video presets, each of which has a different vibe.

The results speak for themselves. The 1080p 60fps footage I captured looks very good. I was pleased with the tone, color, and warmth of the video. You can jump to 4K at 60fps if you wish, and those results look very sharp. The one trick feature of the phone is that it can capture 4K at up to 120fps for 5x slow-motion playback. The results are smooth and fluid. Sony claims this is a first.

Photo samples can be viewed here.

Audio

We’d be remiss if we left out audio. To start, the phone has a headphone jack — something the majority of flagship phones lack these days. Sony says the headphone jack provides clearer left and right audio separation, which makes it possible to reduce signal noise to just 20dB. But that’s the least of what the Sony Xperia 5 II offers.

Sony loaded the phone with audio features. First, Dolby Atmos sound. This ensures that movies sound amazing. Then there’s 360 Reality Audio hardware decoding to optimize your music experience. The phone packs DSEE Ultimate, which up-converts your audio music files with improved audio frequency and dynamic range, for high resolution wired and wireless sound.

Last, it has stereo speakers on front. I sampled some music via the speakers and they sound excellent. They can pump out clear, loud sound that sounds crisp and not over-driven. Similarly, the music I pushed through the headphone jack to my favorite pair of wired headphones sounded as clean as a whistle.

Sony Xperia 5 II: Specs

 Sony Xperia 5 II
Display6.1-inch OLED
120Hz refresh rate
240Hz touch scanning
FHD+ resolution
21:9 aspect ratio
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 865
Adreno 650 GPU
RAM8GB
Storage128 or 2565GB
CameraRear:
Ultra-wide: 12MP, 16mm
Wide: 12MP, 24mm, f/1.7 aperture, PDAF
Telephoto: 12MP, 70mm, PDAF, OIS
Eye AF, 20fps tracking

Video:
4K @ 120fps

Front:
8MP

Battery4,000mAh
21W charging
Audio3.5mm headphone jack
Stereo speakers
Dolby Atmos
DSEE
360 Reality Audio
Dimensions and weight158 x 68 x 8mm
163g
ColorBlack

Value and competition

Sony Xperia 5 II rear panel

  • Sony Xperia 5 II: 8GB RAM, 128GB storage — $949 (£799)

The value equation is where the Sony Xperia 5 II runs into trouble. At $949 for the base model, it costs as much as a Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus, Note 20, or ASUS ROG Phone 3. Not that it doesn’t deserve to cost that much — it offers an incredible amount of performance — but competition at that price point is fierce. I’d be happy if the phone cost just $50 less at $899. That would really help it stand out, particularly since the Samsung phones are often discounted.

However, you can’t balk at what it delivers. The Sony Xperia 5 II truly captures the flagship experience in a somewhat more compact form factor. That’s not easy. The Note 20 Ultra, for example, does the same stuff but in a huge piece of hardware that costs hundreds of dollars more. The Xperia 5 II is superior to other smaller phones too, such as the OnePlus 8 and Motorola Edge Plus, and absolutely on par with the S20.

Sony Xperia 5 II review: Should you buy it?

Sony truly cooked up an excellent smartphone in the Xperia 5 II. It’s a testament to the company’s engineering that it was able to pack so much into a phone that’s more pocketable and easier to use than most competing flagships. It’s not small, per se, but it is more usable. For that, and the fact that it’s not at all watered-down, it deserves credit.

The hardware is simply excellent. It may look awkward, but the phone has a great 120Hz display, a waterproof chassis, a headphone jack, and Gorilla Glass 6 front and back. Performance is best-in-class, and battery life is excellent. The software is simple enough to master, and there are some advanced tricks to enrich the experience. The camera app works well and delivers solid results from the triple-lens arrangement. There’s no 8K video capture on board, but I’d rather have the 21:9 and 120fps recording capabilities offered by the Xperia 5 II. I also wish it cost a little bit less, but you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck.

Bottom line, the Xperia 5 II is a winner from Sony, making it perhaps the company’s best-ever phone.

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