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tech review

Sony's Xperia Z5 Compact is the best sub-5-inch screen smartphone around

The mid-range series has been a highlight in Sony’s smartphone portfolio, and it’s still going strong.

Score: 8.5/10

Verdict: Compact by name, compact in nature but above all, a fantastic phone for those not keen on larger screens.

DESPITE THE SUCCESS of the PS4 and its image sensor business, Sony hasn’t done as well in the smartphone market. A competitive market with hundreds of players vying it out – and only one company raking in almost all the profits made - has made things difficult for it and other rivals to gain a foothold.

While its flagships Xperia phones are battling it out with the iPhone 6s and Samsung Galaxy S6, its Compact range have been the best mid-range devices in the market, last year’s Z3 being a particular highlight.

This time, it’s now one of the few sub-5-inch phones released this year, and it makes quite the case for them.

Compact by name, compact by nature

It’s hard not to feel the Z5 Compact is a phone that’s frozen in time. If you’re used to 5-inch screens, it feels incredibly small, and the bulky look is in contrast to the thin and slender devices that populate the market now.

It’s almost a perfect plastic rectangle, save for some slightly curved sides, and that makes it look thicker than other smartphones, even though the difference really isn’t that great.

If anything, it feels like it’s the relic of a bygone era, one that woke up from a long slumber and found that the world has changed significantly in its absence.


Yet to judge it based on that is a little harsh. It wins nothing for looks, but it’s functional and easy to hold.

The power button, which doesn’t jut out like the volume and shutter buttons, is located at the very centre of the right-hand side and doubles up as a fingerprint scanner. Its positioning is handy for unlocking as the scanner is very quick to recognise your finger and activate.

Below it are the volume and shutter buttons. The volume buttons are awkward to reach when using it one-handed, but the shutter button makes sense as you’ll likely take photos while holding it sideways.

Fingerprint scanner

Compact on the inside

Sporting an HD 4.6-inch screen, the Z5 Compact comes with 2GB of RAM, a Quad core 1.5GHz and 2 GHz CPU and a Snapdragon 810 chip.

In short, it’s impressively fast. It has few problems running intensive games and there’s a definite speed improvement when playing games like Lara Croft Go. It’s great and manages to pack a lot into its small stature.

There were one or two moments of slowdown but they felt more like anomalies than anything serious.

Another thing that wasn’t apparent here compared to previous models was overheating. It performs comfortably and with the exception of shooting 4K video and Android software updates, it rarely heats up.

If there’s a disappointing part, it’s the screen itself. Using a 720p screen isn’t a bad decision by any stretch, but it does show when you’re watching HD videos or taking photos, the camera’s sharpness being far superior to the screen itself.

The battery is also solid. You could get a day and a half from it, maybe two days if you push it, but you won’t be too concerned if you can’t find a charger until the end of the day.


It’s the inside that counts

Sony’s version of Android is generally one of the more heavily customised versions out there. The company does prioritise a lot of its media services like the PS4 as well as videos and music, but it manages to be good.

Running on Android 5.1 (with a planned update to 6.0 on the way), there’s not a whole lot to write home about here. If you’ve used an Xperia device before, it’s more of the same here with Sony products bring front and centre of the experience.

While its first party apps have improved, their usefulness really depends on how often you use them. The likes of Remote Play for the PS4, provided you don’t mind playing on a small 720p screen, is genuinely good although you’re better off buying an attachment for the controller. And even then, it might be unnecessary since a planned PC/Mac version is on the way.

Sony Camera gif

The camera continues to be a high point for the series and both the 21MP rear-end camera and the 5.1MP front-facing camera live up to Sony’s reputation.

The auto mode is more than enough for people to use but the pro options and the various other modes on offer (plus a few others you can download) mean you’ll have something for every situation.

There is a vibrancy to the images it captures. The colours in each one tend to pop out at you which is always a good sign. It is a little tougher now to properly judge how well an image will appear because of the screen quality, but the auto mode will be more than enough to get good photos.

Sony's Xperia Z5 Compact is the best sub-5-inch screen smartphone around
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  • Xperia Z5 Compact photos

  • Xperia Z5 Compact photos

  • Xperia Z5 Compact photos

  • Xperia Z5 Compact photos

  • Xperia Z5 Compact photos

  • Xperia Z5 Compact photos

Should you buy one?

Naturally it will be more useful if you use Sony’s other products, but that’s besides the point. The Xperia Compact series always punched above its weight and the Z5 feels like not just one of the best mid-range phones out there but a great phone in general.

If you’re determined to avoid a 5-inch or larger phone, then you’re going to enjoy the Z5 Compact, more so if you have a PS4. It manages to pack a lot into its small stature, and shows that bigger doesn’t always mean better.

- Lightning fast speed.
- Fantastic camera.
- Great battery life.
- Fast fingerprint scanner.

- Bland and uninspired design.
- Screen is good but not great.
- Majority of Sony apps are only useful if you have certain products/services.

The Sony Xperia Z5 costs €499 (unlocked) and is available in VodafoneThreeMeteoriDTesco Mobile, and Carphone Warehouse.

Read: Is the Nexus 5X Google’s return to form in the smartphone market? >

Read: The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus: Are they worth the upgrade? >

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