Sony Xperia Z5 Compact Review

12 November 2015

The new Xperia Z5 Compact is a small phone, but not in the way we normally talk about small phones. Ordinarily a pint-sized smartphone is also a cheap phone sold with a prepaid SIM card. The Compact is not a cheap phone, nor is it a phone lacking in power or made with cheap components. It'll fit snugly in the pockets of tight pants, but it will leave a dent both in your hip pocket with an RRP just short of the larger-sized flagship Xperia Z5.

As you can tell from the number 5 in its title, this is not Sony’s first rodeo with a Compact model. In fact, it has brought one out with every “standard” sized Xperia Z handset, making this the fifth. The cynical among us would believe that it is Sony’s way of appealing to customers who love the size of the older iPhone 5, for those who complain about how new phones don’t fit in our hands or pockets anymore.

The Z5 Compact definitely fits in the pocket of even the tightest skinny jeans. So much so that I found myself clutching at my pocket in panic on more than one occasion, convinced I’d left the phone in a cafe or on the bus. Not that the Z5 Compact is a lightweight phone, it is surprisingly heavy for its size. But it does have an impressively small footprint.

When all's said and done, the size of the Z5 Compact is a problem for me. I don’t have large hands or fingers, and yet it has been difficult to type accurately with this phone, and the Sony designed keyboard does a pretty poor job of making up the shortfall with sub-par autocorrect. it is also hard to read what’s on the screen. I had the same problem with the iPhone before Apple increased the screen size, so if you have struggled with an older iPhone and vowed never to return to tiny screens, the Z5 Compact is not for you.

It’s quite remarkable to think about how much phone Sony packs into the Z5 Compact. It might be 20-percent smaller than the regular Xperia Z5, but it has pretty well the same internal components. The same octo-core Snapdragon processor, the same graphics processor and the same connectivity options. The battery is a fraction smaller, but this is to the expected into a phone with a smaller frame.

Battery life is pretty good in the Z5 Compact, though. We enjoyed about a day and a half to two days, depending on how frequently we used it. It does have Quick Charging tech built in which charges the phone in under an hour, something else it shares with the larger Z5.

Another common feature across the new Sony phones is a fingerprint scanner intertwined with the side-mounted Power button. When you switch the phone on from sleep mode you now have the option to hold your finger on the button a moment longer and use the scanner for security. Like similar technology on the iPhone 6 and the Samsung Galaxy S6, the scanner is pretty good, but like the scanners on these phones, it still fails as often as it works. Of course, a failed attempt takes less than a second and you can try again immediately after, so the downtime relating to the scanner is minimal. Still, you might want to fall back on the tried and tested passcode method of unlocking the Z5 Compact for faster, more reliable access.

The software in the latest Sony phones is functional but uninspired. Sony leaves the Android backbone of the user experience pretty much untouched, and includes a bunch of media-related apps, most of which function as store fronts, rather than adding utility missing from pure Android. In fact, that is the best way to phrase our disinterest in the software on Sony phones — the additions to Android are not truly enhancements but are portals to microtransactions, like movie rentals. For as much as we might sometimes complain about the depth and complexity of the extras Samsung and LG adds to the Android experience, there is a lot of extra functionality which comes with these software extras.

As with numerous Xperias before the Z5 Compact, the phone comes with a huge range of camera options. Shooting modes, colour filters and augmented-reality novelty modes fill out the menus after you open the camera app.

The photos you can see here are all taken using the 'Superior Auto' shooting mode, which is on by default and designed to take in the best of what the camera can do. The photos tend towards natural colours, rather than oversaturated post processing, which we prefer. Some may think these images look washed out, but we like the subtlety of the colours.

Some elements of these shots are really good, but what you might not be able to see in these smaller versions is how murky the images are in close up. Pixels blend together in the backgrounds, which is not ideal. Also, the way the sensor handles a mixture of light isn't great, with white elements blowing out otherwise nice shots. In the overcast shot above, the detail in the sky is invisible, leave us with a blank, white space.


It's not that the Z5 Compact is a bad phone in any truly discernible way, it just isn't my cup of tea. And with so many other options in market, you really don't have to buy a phone you don't love.

The Z5 Compact isn't fastest, cheapest or the phone with the best and most interesting software. There isn't a part of the phone that isn't replicated in a competitor's model. The key reason to consider the Compact is because of its size, and if you think like me, this is more a negative than a positive.



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