Sony Xperia 5, hands on: A compact, wide-screen flagship-class handset

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When I reviewed the 6.5-inch Sony Xperia 1 back in June I was impressed by its 21:9 aspect ratio and superb 4K OLED screen. However, I was a little put off by its size, which made it unwieldy to pocket and challenging to use for those with smaller hands. At £849 (inc. VAT), the Xperia 1 is Sony's flagship handset.

Now we have the smaller and more affordable Xperia 5 (6.1-inch screen, £699), which shares the same 21:9 form factor but is easier to handle. It measures 68mm wide by 158mm deep by 8.2mm thick and weighs 164g. My review unit came from Vodafone.


The 6.1-inch Xperia 5 weighs 164g, compared to 178g for the 6.5-inch Xperia 1.

Images: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The slimline format means I could reach across the 6.1-inch, 2,560-by-1,080, 449ppi screen one-handed, but I found it impossible to sweep the full height of the screen, and in general found one-handed use a bit of a challenge. For others like me, the ability to reduce the screen into a smaller area in what Sony calls 'one handed mode' is replicated from the Xperia 1. This mode is easily toggled with a double tap on the home button, and you can move the mini-display around using side buttons. This I could manage one-handed.

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Another usability feature from the Xperia 1 is also here -- Side sense, which is essentially a shortcuts facility you call up with a double tap on the side of the screen. This will predict the apps you want based on usage, or you can configure it with specific apps. To make it easy to use you can configure the location of the tap point, including having it either on the side of the handset or the edges of the screen -- the latter is preferable if you use a protective case. I found it rather inconsistent in responding to my taps, and I wouldn't want to have to rely on it as it was too frustrating to access.


Usability aids: One-handed mode (left) and Side sense (right).

Screenshots: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

Despite these features I found working with the Xperia 5 one-handed very tricky. Flicking accessibility options on and off is a hassle, especially when they are as petulant as Side sense, and in any case the Xperia 5 is extremely slippery. The all-glass design may be bang on-trend, but it makes for a phone that thinks it's in a skating rink when it's on the arm of my chair, and it seemed desperate to escape from my grip. In some situations such as when on a moving train, I was just too wary of dropping the thing to try one-handed use, even with the confidence factor of a Gorilla Glass 6 screen. Also, carry a cleaning cloth: the back gets greasy and covered in fingerprints.

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As well as a smaller screen, the Xperia 5 has lower pixel density than the Xperia 1 (449 versus 643ppi). The OLED screen is still vibrant and sharp, and I enjoyed watching video on it, but any serious video fan should note that most content doesn't take advantage of the 21:9 aspect ratio and will, instead, be rendered with wide borders.

Sony has brought its Dynamic Vibration feature over from the Xperia 1. This is an odd idea where the handset gives haptic vibration when it plays music, but it doesn't do anything for me (others may disagree, of course). There's no 3.5mm headset jack, with the USB-C port doubling up for charging and headset connection. The fingerprint sensor is on the right side, about half-way down. This isn't the most ergonomic position -- I much prefer it on the back. There's also a shortcut button for the camera on this edge. 

SEE: Sony Xperia 1 review: Superb cinematic 4K screen, but battery life falls short

There are three 12-megapixel cameras at the back with f/1.6 wide-angle, f/2.4 telephoto and f/2.4 ultra-wide-angle lenses, with OIS on the wide-angle and telephoto cameras. This is the same setup as the Xperia 1. The minimal testing I've been able to do for this preliminary review has produced very passable shots. An AI makes exposure adjustments as you move the camera lens around, and generally does a good job -- you can override its suggestions if you prefer. The front camera is an 8-megapixel unit with an f/2.0 lens.

The Xperia 1 is powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 855 chipset, which delivers good benchmarks: three-pass average Geekbench 5 scores of 745 (single core) and 2849 (multi-core) -- see the Geekbench browser for comparative Android handset scores. There is 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage. The Xperia 5 runs on Android 9 rather than the newer Android 10. The handset's 3,140mAh battery is a bit under-specified, but still managed to deliver more than a day's use in the real world for me.


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