Sony’s latest update to its “no compromise” smaller flagship smartphone proves size really isn’t everything with three-day battery, top-spec features and a great camera.
While the rest of the market has been stretching phone screen sizes, Sony has been offering smaller “Compact” phones since 2013 fitting the same processor and camera from its larger flagship phones into a more manageable size.
The Xperia Z3 Compact was an excellent phone with over two-days battery life. The Xperia Z5 Compact promises something very similar.
This review was conducted using a near-final prototype. Although unlikely, some aspects may be different to the device that goes on sale.
Minimalist and one-handable Facebook Twitter Pinterest The frosted glass back is protected by a small lip to the plastic sides that keeps it off the deck when placed flat on its back. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian
Sony’s minimalist design has reached its natural conclusion with the Z5 Compact. Some will like it, others will not.
The plain plastic sides and glass front and back feel and look basic – a step back compared to last year’s model. The phone is also relatively chunky for a flagship smartphone at 8.9mm thick. Its larger 5.2in brother the Xperia Z5 is 1.6mm thinner and its predecessor was just 8.6mm thick , but it is markedly thinner than the 11.6mm Motorola Moto G .
Its size makes it feel really nice in the hand. With a reassuringly solid build, easy to reach power button and front-facing speakers that aren’t blocked by hands: there’s no doubt this is one of the easiest smartphones to use.
Call quality is excellent but the volume buttons are quite low down on the right-hand edge making them relatively difficult to reach while holding the Z5 Compact in a secure grip.
The 4.6in screen has relatively low resolution at 720p with a pixel density of 319 pixels per inch (ppi). It is colourful and bright, but not quite as pin-sharp as some rivals with much higher pixel densities in excess of 400 or 500ppi .
The Z5 Compact is waterproof to IP68 standards, but still has an exposed headphones port and microUSB port, meaning there’s no need to struggle with fiddly doors during normal use.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest The Z5 Compact’s plastic sides and a frosted glass back look a little plain. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian Specifications Screen: 4.6in 720p LCD (319ppi)
Processor: octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810
RAM: 2GB of RAM
Storage: 32GB; microSD card slot
Operating system: Android 5.1.1 “Lollipop”
Camera: 23MP rear camera, 5MP front-facing camera
Connectivity: LTE, Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth 4 and GPS
Dimensions: 127 x 65 x 8.9 mm
Small frame, full-specced hardware Facebook Twitter Pinterest The Xperia Z5 Compact had an impressive three-day battery life without activating power saving modes. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian
The Xperia Z5 Compact has the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor as the Z5 and performs similarly. I did not experience any undue heat issues, and the Z5 Compact seemed cooler overall than its bigger brother.
It wasn’t the fastest feeling Android smartphone I have tested this year, but it was no slouch either. It runs games, image editing software and data-heavy Evernote notes without issue. Only having 2GB of RAM compared to 3GB within the 5.2in Xperia Z5 is not noticeable in daily use.
But what’s really unusual about the Compact is its battery life: it is exceptional. Using it as my primary device, receiving hundreds of push notifications, emails, listening to music via Bluetooth, browsing for a couple of hours and a quick spot of gaming, the Z5 Compact lasted an average of 72.5 hours during my testing without applying any battery saving modes.
Sony claims up to two days battery life but, unlike the larger Xperia Z5 , the Z5 Compact over-delivers. With the excellent Stamina mode enabled I suspect it would last closer to four days between charges.
Sony’s Android Facebook Twitter Pinterest Customisable quick settings within the notification shade are just one of the useful, small additions Sony makes to the standard Android experience. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian
The Xperia Z5 Compact runs the same software as the Xperia Z5 - a customised version of Google’s Android 5.1 Lollipop.
Sony’s music, movies and album apps are all solid, but can be ignored for Google Photos or similar apps if preferred. High resolution audio playback, digital noise cancelling and access to Sony’s PlayStation Remote Play – all hallmarks of Sony’s recent smartphones – are present.
Users wishing to take advantage of noise cancelling or hi-res music will have to buy the right earphones, although some may come bundled in the box depending on the deal.
For more information on the software see the Xperia Z5 review .
Camera Facebook Twitter Pinterest The camera app on the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact is one of the best in the business. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian
The Xperia Z5 Compacts camera is the same one as fitted to the rest of the Z5 range, and it is great. Autofocus is very fast, images are captured with good detail, video stabilisation is fantastic and a dedicated two-stage camera button is very welcome.
It performs better than average in low-light conditions compared to the high-end competition, although, like the Xperia Z5, the flash is basically not worth using.
The selfie camera produces solid shots in good lighting, but loses detail in in-door lighting conditions. The photos look good zoomed out, but noise is apparent when viewed at full resolution.
Fingerprint sensor Facebook Twitter Pinterest The fingerprint sensor under the power button on the side of the phone is excellent. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian
The fingerprint scanner hidden under the home button is one of the best in the business. During my testing only once did it fail to recognise my thumb print when trying to unlock the phone. I must have unlocked the phone hundreds of times.
It cannot be used for some third-party apps such as Evernote or LastPass just yet, but that will likely change when fingerprint support becomes standard in Android 6 Marshmallow.
Price The Sony Xperia Z5 Compact is available for pre-order in black, white, yellow and pink costing £450. For comparison, the 4.7in iPhone 6S costs £539 and the Samsung 5.1in Galaxy S6 currently costs around £400.
Verdict The Sony Xperia Z5 Compact is the best smaller Android smartphone of the year and arguably the best smaller smartphone currently available.
The camera is great, the phone is powerful. It’s waterproof and the battery life of three or more days between charges is fantastic. The design will not be to everyone’s liking – it could be thinner and the screen could be of higher resolution, but they are trade-offs worth making.
Pros: three+ day battery life, great camera, microSD card slot, fast, useful software additions, PlayStation Remote Play
Cons: relatively low resolution screen, no wireless charging, selfies soft on detail, chunky design, volume buttons difficult to reach when on a call
Facebook Twitter Pinterest A door seals off the microSD card slot and nano Sim slot. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian Other reviews Sony Xperia Z3 compact review: best small Android phone and iPhone 6 competitor Sony Xperia Z5 review: good but not exceptional Samsung Galaxy S6 review: the iPhone killer
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