Sony Xperia 5 II review: A compact version of Sony's wide-screen 5G flagship

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  • Editors' rating
    8.5 Excellent
  • $2,089.99

Pros

  • 120Hz OLED screen
  • 21:9 aspect ratio
  • Good cameras with nice Pro mode apps
  • IP rating for dust/water resistance

Cons

  • Some unremovable software extras
  • Tall format is hard to use one-handed
  • Quite expensive

The second incarnation of the 6.1-inch Sony Xperia 5 updates the specifications while retaining a relatively hand-friendly size. If you liked the look of the flagship 6.5-inch Xperia I II, there are similar features on offer here -- although this £799 (inc. VAT)/$949.99 phone is not simply a 'mini-me'. In particular, fans of the extra-tall 21:9 screen aspect ratio might want to do a comparison with the larger Xperia I II to see which best fits the bill.

When I reviewed the Sony Xperia I II, I commented that its size made it a tricky phone to work with. For all its high-quality OLED screen and top-notch specifications, simply navigating the 6.5-inch 21:9 screen was a challenge when working one-handed. That usability issue had all the hallmarks of being a deal-breaker for some.

The Xperia 5 II has the same aspect ratio, but in a smaller screen measuring 6.1 inches across the diagonal. I still found it challenging to reach the full height one-handed: while I could stretch right across the width, a significant area of the screen remained out of bounds.

There is another ergonomics factor at play here, and this is more positive: its relatively narrow width makes the Xperia 5 II more comfortable to hold than some handsets. For the record, the dimensions are 68mm wide by 158mm deep by 8mm thick, and the phone weighs in at just 163g. It has an IP65/68 rating for dust and water resistance.  

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The 6.1-inch Sony Xperia runs on Qualcomm's top-end Snapdragon 865 5G chipset with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage (expandable via MicroSD at the expense of a SIM card slot). The 21:9 OLED screen has a resolution of 1080 by 2520 pixels (449ppi).

Images: Sandra Vogel / ZDNet & Sony

Sony's 'monolith' design code is evident here, and my black review sample with its black sides and black Gorilla Glass 6 back is very much par for the course visually. There's a blue version too if you prefer. Sony includes a 3.5mm headset jack on the top edge, and has opted for a fingerprint reader integrated into the power switch on the right edge. The volume rocker sits on this edge too.  

There's nothing unusual about any of this, but Sony bucks the trend in adding two more dedicated buttons to the bottom half of the right edge. One launches the camera app and then doubles as a shutter button, while the other launches Google Assistant.  

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The back of the handset is extremely reflective, extremely smooth and slippery in the hands, and a voracious capturer of fingerprints. So naturally the phone slipped off my armchair a lot during testing. The camera lozenge is placed to the upper left of the back. It doesn't protrude as much as some, but still the handset rocks around on a desk if the screen's left side is tapped anywhere above about halfway. It's pretty irritating. 

The screen's quality is everything you'd expect from Sony. We step down from the 4K resolution on the Xperia I II, but still the OLED 1,080 by 2,520 pixel (449ppi) panel is sharp and bright. The 120Hz refresh rate means sweeps and swipes are smooth. The 6.5-inch Xperia I II has a 60Hz refresh rate.  

That 21:9 aspect ratio comes into its own for watching video content that's shot in wide screen mode. It works well enough, but I feel the larger screen of the Xperia I II was really needed to show it off to best effect. 

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Sony's Multi-window utility enables split-screen viewing on the tall 21:9 aspect ratio screen.

Images: Sandra Vogel / ZDNet

The tallness of the screen makes reading web pages and texts in general rather more pleasurable than usual just because you can see a couple more lines of text. Sony provides a utility called Multi-window that allows for split-screen viewing. As with the Xperia I II, I found this more useful than with shorter screens, and the little pop-up app with its pre-configured split pairs and ability to drag other apps into either the upper or lower half of the split is an encouragement to try it out. Alternatively, tapping the on-screen Multi-window app lets you scroll through apps and select what you want that way. 

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Side sense shrinks the display to make one-handed navigation easier.

Image: Sandra Vogel / ZDNet

Another utility you can call up with a double tap on the right edge of the screen is Side sense. This is a one-handed use assistant that provides shortcuts to frequently-used apps, and to a 'one handed mode' option that shrinks the screen. While I did note earlier that I can't use the screen entirely one-handed, tools like this never really work for me, and I just bring the other hand into play.  

The front camera sits above the screen rather than in a punch-hole or notch. This helps with the feeling of immersion when using the screen for video watching, and also means that the top and bottom screen bezels are nearly equal in size. As a result, the screen-to-body ratio is a moderate 80.8%. 

SEE: 5G smartphones: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Those bezels provide housing for a pair of speakers. The bottom speaker usually sits on the bottom edge of the phone, but here, because both are front facing, they both direct sound towards you. I wouldn't say the difference from a more standard setup is hugely noticeable, but at least it's a lot harder to cover one speaker with your hand while holding the phone. Sound quality is pretty good too, and worthy of the OLED screen's video playback prowess.   

Sony includes its rather odd Dynamic Vibration system, which causes the handset to go all haptic on you as the speakers output sound. It didn't do much for me, and is easily disabled on the volume slider.  

The Xperia 5 II runs on Qualcomm's top-end Snapdragon 865 5G chipset (an upgrade from the Xperia 5's Snapdragon 855) with 8GB of RAM (up from 6GB in the Xperia 5). It has 128GB of internal storage, of which a hefty 26GB is used out of the box, leaving 102GB free. This can be augmented via MicroSD if you're prepared to sacrifice the handset's second SIM. CPU performance was strong, with average Geekbench 5 scores of 909 (single core) and 3402 (multi core). By contrast, last year's Snapdragon 855-based Xperia 5 scored 745 (single core) and 2849 (multi core). 

The Xperia 5 II ships with Android 10 and a barrage of extra apps, some Sony and some third party. Photo Pro and Video Pro are rather slick Sony apps that give you granular control over photo and video capabilities, and there's an app for PlayStation users. There's a host of third-party apps -- some uninstallable, some not -- including Facebook, LinkedIn, Netflix, Amazon Shopping and Prime Video. The best you can do with the uninstallable apps, if you don't want them, is bundle them in a 'file and forget' folder. 

Battery life was good: the 4000mAh battery powered the Xperia 5 II for 18 hours 6 minutes in the PCMark for Android Work 2.0 battery life test, and dropped 15% over three hours of continuous full-screen YouTube video playing. Given that this handset is primed for video watching and gaming, it's likely some might not make it through a day without needing a charge. However, mainstream users should get through a day between power boosts. Fast charging (21W) is supported, with up to 50% charge being delivered in 30 minutes. This doesn't match the OnePlus 8T, which can deliver a full charge in 39 minutes, but it's still pretty quick.  

There are three 12MP cameras at the back and an 8MP selfie camera -- the same setup as on the Xperia I II, although the flagship handset also has a Time of Flight (ToF) depth-sensing camera. The three main cameras are: f/1.7 wide angle with OIS; f/2.4 telephoto with 3x optical zoom and OIS; and f/2.2 ultra-wide-angle with 124° field of view. Pro shooting modes are available through separate apps, and are great for tinkerers, but point-and-shoot images look pretty good too, both from the main and selfie cameras. A noteworthy new feature is 4K video capture at 120 frames per second (fps). 

Conclusions

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Image: Sony

There's a lot to like about the Xperia 5 II: it's more usable than its larger -- and considerably more expensive – Xperia 1 II stablemate, while sharing some, though not all, of its high-end features. The 120Hz screen refresh rate makes for smooth transitions, and the OLED screen itself is a pleasure to view. The three rear cameras work well, and the Pro mode apps for stills and video shooting are nice for those who want to dig deeper into their capabilities. 

Still, there's a fair bit of bloatware here in the form of copious third-party apps, some of which can't be removed, and the Xperia 5 II is on the expensive side compared to similarly specified competition. However, if you like the 21:9 screen aspect ratio, Sony is currently your only option. 

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Sony Xperia 5 II

Part Number: XQAS62/B