More than any other smartphone I've used this year, the Sony Xperia 5 II feels like a tool. Not only is it a very low key design (although it definitely does matter), but the whole Sony approach is to give you as much control as possible over the phone. Control how it looks and sounds, and take photos and videos.
However, as with any tool, you can get more out of the Xperia 5 II when you are ready to put more to it. After all, a good worker never blames his tools. However, I'd bet that most of the people who pay $ 949 for a phone are likely to be looking for a device that is ready to do those halfway and that most jobs come with Can perform standard settings or automatic settings. That's what I want to see if the Xperia 5 II can.
The Xperia 5 II will go on sale in the US on December 4th and will be available in Europe starting this week.
7.5 from 10
- 120Hz display
- Manual camera options
- Headphone jack
- No 5G in the US
- One too many buttons
- No wireless charging
I can't exaggerate how much I like the design of the Xperia 5 II. The combination of Sony's trademark 21: 9 with a slightly smaller 6.1-inch display compared to the larger Xperia 1 results in a comfortably slim phone that fits comfortably in the hand without feeling cramped. That screen is only 1080p this time around, but at that size you probably don't want any extra resolution.
At the top and bottom of the display you'll find bezels that are slightly larger than many other flagship models, and that means there aren't any notches or cutouts to speak of. You get a stereo pair of powerful front speakers that sound less echo-like than their downward-facing competitors.
Above is a headphone jack that is hard to find in a premium-priced smartphone these days. At the back is a subtle camera that houses the phone's main, ultrawide, and telephoto lenses. If you're looking for a phone that is guaranteed not to turn heads, this is probably the one for you. As I said, it's a tool.
In addition to the volume controls and a combination button on the side for the power and fingerprint sensor, there is a special camera shutter and Google Assistant buttons on the side of the phone. Given Sony's photographic ambitions for the 5 II, I'll allow her physical shutter controls, but the Google Assistant button seems unnecessary – especially in a position too low to be comfortably pressed.
The aspect ratio of the Xperia 5 II makes it difficult to reach the top of the screen with one hand. However, many apps like Twitter or Gmail give you much more useful screen real estate. Personally, I like that I have enough room to display my Aeropress recipe generator app on a split screen with a stopwatch app for making coffee, but I'm probably the only one who does. Beyond the aspect ratio, the HDR compatible OLED screen is bright, colorful, and fun to watch videos. Thanks to its refresh rate of 120 Hz, it feels fluid and responsive.
Aside from the increasingly rare expansion of microSD storage, you can find a number of typical specs internally for the price, including a Snapdragon 865 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage (there is also a 256GB version, but only available in Asia)) and a 4,000mAh battery. There is no support for wireless charging, an annoying omission at this price point, and if you buy the phone in the US there is no support for 5G either (in Europe you can get support below 6GHz but not millimeter wave).
No wireless charging and no 5G in the US
Given the current 5G coverage, we recommend that it is not worth paying extra for 5G if a cheaper phone would otherwise suit your needs. However, if you're paying $ 949 for a phone at this point in 2020, it's a little ridiculous not to support 5G. The phone has the specifications to do most of the tasks you need it to do right now. However, no 5G in the US means it could fall back soon.
The Xperia 5 II did not experience any battery problems. With the phone, I could easily work from home for a day, where I had a lot of Twitter, Slack, Gmail, and YouTube. After plugging it in during the night, around 40 to 50 percent of the charge remained.
Sony's take on Android 10 is low-key and mostly consists of giving you additional settings to tweak. (The company hasn't been able to confirm when an update to Android 11 might be available.) Sony, for example, gives you tremendous control over the white balance settings on the phone's display, and there's a Dolby Atmos EQ menu in the settings if you want to adjust it how the sound of the phone sounds. There are a lot of things that you can do to make the Xperia 5 II the right tool for your needs.
However, I wasn't a fan of the number of apps that came pre-installed on the phone. This includes apps like LinkedIn, which can be disabled but not easily uninstalled. It's especially annoying when so much of the Xperia 5 II is designed so that you get control in your hands.
There are one too many buttons on the right side of the phone.
A 21: 9 display gives you more options for split screening.
Sony has two approaches to smartphone photography. First, it tends to prioritize accuracy over vivid, colorful photos when left to its own devices. This often results in a less punchy looking picture than most phones. However, you can edit the picture at any time.
The Xperia 5 II has three rear cameras: a main, an ultrawide and a telephoto camera
If you want to do things the way you want, Sony is ready to let that happen too. Pro Photography mode gives you tremendous control over how you take photos, and gives you an experience modeled on the stand-alone mirrorless alpha cameras. There are plenty of controls to delve into if you want, but they may feel too involved for someone who just wants to point their phone at a group of friends and snap a nice picture.
First, let's talk about hardware. The Xperia 5 II has three rear cameras. a main camera with a large 1 / 1.7-inch sensor, an ultrawide camera with a field of view of 124 degrees and a telephoto lens with 3x optical zoom. What's nice here is that they all have the same resolution, 12 megapixels, which means you won't see a noticeable change in detail when you switch between them.
In daylight you will get detailed photos, but sometimes they look a little flat. It's about accuracy over excitement. Strangely enough, the exception seems to be people for whom the Sony handset wants to lighten and smooth their skin, even when the camera's Soft Skin Effect option is disabled. Even if you use the standard camera app, you get a responsive eye autofocus system and continuous shooting at up to 10 frames per second. I found the combination of fast auto focus and burst photography particularly good for taking photos of pets.
When it comes to photography in low light, Sony's approach to photography is most evident. By default, the camera app doesn't light up your night shots so much that they look like they were taken in daylight. Instead, you get accurate photos that the camera takes a moment to process each time. It's a very different experience than a phone like the Pixel 4 that lets you tap the shutter and get a clear, bright photo instantly, even at night.
Pro Photography mode gives you a variety of controls.
Switch to the advanced photo mode and there are tons of options. There are numerous white balance, auto focus, exposure, burst, flash, and HDR settings that allow you to control almost every aspect of your photography. It's enough that you can get almost any look for your photos when you're ready to get the job done, including night shots that appear clear as day. The whole process can be a little tricky, however, and it's frustrating when you're someone who just wants to whip out their phone and reliably get a clear shot every time.
You get similar control when filming video, where you have the option to record in slow motion at up to 120 frames per second in 4K. I was particularly impressed with the focus settings, which are fun to play around with. For the most part, however, I think most people will be happy with the video recording in the regular camera app.
The Sony Xperia 5 II can take good photos, but sometimes you have to work on making them look the way you want them to be. The cameras are powerful tools, but they won't do the job for you.
It's not a head-turning phone.
If you are using the phone with one hand, it can be difficult to reach the top of the screen.
Sony has a very special idea of what type of phone the Xperia 5 II should be. While it is the same as many of its main competitors in terms of specs, the most interesting features are the control it gives you. There are advanced camera functions and audiovisual modes to really tailor the experience to your needs.
However, I think you'll need these advanced settings to justify the Xperia 5 II's relatively high price tag of $ 949 in the US. At that price, it really should include 5G support as well as wireless charging. These tradeoffs might be worth it at a lower price, but not nearly a thousand dollars. In Europe, the € 899 / £ 799 price tag makes a lot more sense in my opinion as you get 5G support, but the lack of wireless charging remains.
The Sony Xperia 5 II feels like a very powerful tool, but it is expensive and sometimes lets you work on getting the most of it. That makes it the right tool for many jobs, but not necessarily the right tool for a smartphone job.
Photography by Jon Porter / The Verge