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Sony Xperia Z5 Compact hands-on: The most powerful modern smartphone under 4.7 inches

There are very few current phones smaller than the iPhone 6s, but Sony continues to release its Compact model that compromises little in way of specifications while offering a small, pocketable device.

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If rumors prove true in a couple of weeks Apple will announce a 4-inch iPhone. The smallest iPhone, the iPhone 6s, has a 4.7-inch display and as ZDNet's Jason Perlow states in his post there are plenty of folks who like the smaller phones and are tired of the 5-inch and greater line-up that has become the new standard.

For years, Sony has stood out as a major manufacturer offering a smaller version of its flagship line with very few compromises. I've been testing out the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact that is now available for purchase in the US from Amazon, B&H, and Best Buy. The one major difference between the US model and the model available around the world is the removal of the fingerprint sensor from the power button.

Hardware

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I owned an Xperia Z3 for about a year and absolutely loved the phone. I switched when it was apparent that T-Mobile gave up on the phone and Sony didn't care to provide any updates. However, I still loved the audio capabilities, water resistance, long battery life, and more.

People generally expect just a single full day out of their modern smartphones, but thankfully this continues to be one area where Sony excels. The Sony Xperia Z5 Compact packs a 2,700 mAh battery and can go for a couple of days between charges.

You don't see many MP3 players around as people primarily use their phones for music. Like its predecessors, the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact supports high resolution audio and it sounds fantastic. There are also great sounding front facing stereo speakers and a FM radio on board for the ultimate audio experience.

Let's take a look at the specifications of the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact:

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 64-bit processor
  • Display: 4.6 inch 1280 x 720 pixels resolution
  • Operating system: Android 5.1.1 Lollipop
  • RAM: 2GB
  • Storage: 32GB internal, with microSD card slot
  • Cameras: Rear 23 megapixel camera and 5 megapixel front-facing camera
  • Wireless: Bluetooth 4.1, NFC, ANT+, Wi-Fi MIMO, MHL 3.0
  • Battery: 2,700 mAh battery
  • Dimensions: 127 x 65 x 8.9 mm and 139 grams

As you can see, the specs are top notch with the the only compromise being the 720p display and 2GB of RAM, when compared to current flagships. It's a bit thick, but the overall size is so compact that I'm willing to give up a bit in thickness for long battery life and solid performance.

The camera is good and performs well, but the cameras on the latest Samsung and LG phones are better. Sony has always done well, but leave me looking for a bit more in order to be great. Sony cameras should be amazing, but they still fail to blow me away.

Software

The Sony Xperia Z5 Compact runs Android 5.1.1, but someday is likely to be upgraded to Android 6.0. Given that this phone is not locked to a carrier, it's likely the phone will be upgraded faster as a SIM-unlocked device.

Since the phone is not associated with a US wireless carrier, it is free of carrier bloatware. This is fantastic as bloatware cannot be removed from Android. There are a few apps preloaded by Sony, including Facebook, Amazon shopping, TrackID, Sketch, Lifelog, and News, but they can all be removed if you don't want to use them.

Sony has a few of its own apps that cannot be removed, including Music, Album, Video, Weather, Movie Creator, Google apps, and File Commander.

You can fully customize the utilities that appear in the Quick Settings notification area. Themes can be installed, storage and power can be managed, and much more is available in the device settings area.

There are several available widgets for the home screen too. Overall, Sony has a very light UI on the Xperia X5 Compact.

Price, availability, and competition

The retail price of the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact is $499.99. Amazon and B&H have it for about $450. Remember that this is a SIM-unlocked, no-contract price and the phone works on T-Mobile and AT&T. It is available in four colors; black, white, yellow, and coral.

As we look at the best current Android smartphones with a focus on the smaller size, we see the Nexus 5X with a 5.2-inch display at a starting price of $349. The Lumia 550 is only $139 and has a 4.7-inch display, but the specs are not nearly as high as those of the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact. The new Lumia 650 was recently announced, but is not available yet in the US.

You can still buy the Apple iPhone 5s for $499. This is the phone my three daughters use and refuse to give up because of its small size. As you can see, the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact is the most powerful phone with a display less than 4.7 inches.

Experiences and summary

You won't find Sony Xperia smartphones on your local carrier store shelves, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be considered. Most carriers have done away with two-year contracts and the public is finally gaining an understanding of the true cost of their smartphones. They don't cost $99, but are more likely to cost $300 to $900. The $450 Sony Xperia Z5 Compact comes in near the mid-range pricing of unlocked smartphones.

Sony has a fairly plain design language, but it has a high level of performance to go along with a simple, elegant design. There's a physical camera shutter button, cool matte back finish, and power in a compact package. If I didn't already have several smartphones on hand, I would seriously consider a Sony Xperia Z5 Compact.

If you desire a small form factor, long battery life, solid camera, and water resistance then I recommend you take a serious look at the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact.