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Sony Xperia Z5 Compact Review

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​Who says size matters? Pah. In recent years Sony has proven that inches don’t guarantee performance, and shown that smaller smartphones don’t need to skimp on impressive specs. The Sony Xperia Z5 Compact follows this mantra, pairing its relatively small 4.6-inch form with an array of internals comparable to, yep, you guessed it, the flagship Sony Xperia Z5. That’s no less than James Bond’s phone by the way.

Taking the same processor, storage and outstanding camera as its illustrious sibling, the sub-sized Z5 Compact makes compromises in some areas, sure, but these don’t have a big effect on the overall device. Well, for the most part anyway.

For those who covet quality over pocket-bulging, skinny jeans-stretching size, the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact is a device worth considering. As long as you don’t mind parting with a serious bit of change that is, because with a £429 price tag, this thing’s not cheap. It’s size and spec combination leave it without comparison, but on pricing, it’s entering a crowded and competitive space.

The Good

  • Amazing camera
  • Decent battery life
  • Smaller form factor without compromise

The Bad

  • Low-res 720p display
  • Stocky design
  • Clunky UI

Sony Xperia Z5 Compact Design: Pretty in parts, standard in others

While no ugly duckling, the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact’s appearance isn’t necessarily its strongest point. The 8.9mm thick, 138g plastic-clad body looks and feels a little stumpy and clunky. The black model has a slight air of sophistication about it, but when colour is thrown into the mix, it gives the phone the look of past mid-range Nokia Lumia handsets. And that’s hardly grand praise.

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It might not be a design disaster, but it just doesn’t quite wow. Available in white, black, yellow and coral (read pink) colour schemes, the device has a more playful appearance than its high-end counterparts. And there are options to suit most tastes – apart from the luxurious that is. With a £429 asking price we’d expect a little more on this front, although the frosted glass rear is a winner.

Stylish with a slightly premium feel than the rest of the device, the cool-to-the-touch back is a nice point of differentiation in an industry of all too familiar metal and plastic monstrosities. It looks good but probably won’t stand up too well to the inevitable knocks and drops that will come during the course of a 24 month contract.

Ultimately, the 4.6-inch phone does feel small – but that’s kind of the point. And if that’s what you’re after, this is the phone for you – especially if you’re after topline specs for a less-than-topline price tag. But if you’ve already converted to phones of the 5-inch persuasion, then you’ll feel like your hand is dwarfing this device. Smartphones have grown a lot in recent years, and stepping back feels odd and hard to get used to.

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Thanks to this stocky form though, the Compact’s body offers no undue flex or bend when placed under pressure. The side’s don’t look cluttered despite the welcome addition of a physical camera shutter button, and there’s even space for a power button-incorporated fingerprint scanner. There is a small issue with build quality, however. With a slight gap between the glass front and rear and plastic frame, be prepared to pick endless fluff and muck from the crevice. Again, for the price, we’d expect a little more here.

Sony Xperia Z5 Compact Screen: A major compromise

Compared to many spin-off handsets, the Xperia Z5 makes far fewer compromises than its rivals. Sadly, though, a few restrictions have snuck in. What’s sadder is that Sony has chosen to direct its corner cuttings on the Z5 Compact’s screen – seriously, guys, what were you thinking?

Because of this, screen quality is the Z5 Compact’s main drawback. The phone’s 4.6-inch, 720p HD panel is a notable step back on the 1080p offering of its big brother. Given that many more affordable handsets are already playing host to visually superior 1080p, Full HD panels, this feels like a glaring omission.

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Handsets such as the Moto X Play are offering Full HD displays at almost half the price. We don’t see why Sony can’t do the same. This feels like buying a new car that’s still got a cassette player in the dash. It’s a major mistake: not only does it diminish the phone’s visual enjoyment, it detracts from the device’s strong points elsewhere.

It’s not total doom and gloom though. Although lacking the desired levels of detail and missing a now customary crispness to text and images, the screen is bright and colours offer decent levels of pop.

Sony Xperia Z5 Compact Features: 

Dated screen tech is the Z5’s only glaring feature restriction. Despite its smaller size, the Z5 Compact is not wanting for power. The phone’s 64-bit Snapdragon 810 processor is paired with 2GB of RAM. This combination is enough to effortlessly take you from casual web browsing to a heavy duty gaming session with no fuss or fanfare.

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It’s a combination seen on many high-end handsets, but that doesn’t make it any less special. There’s more power than you’re likely to need on a day-to-day basis. And when you push hard, there’s room for the phone to stretch its legs.

It’s not just pure grunt the Compact’s got going for it either. There’s plenty of fancy features to keep the none-hardcore tech fan happy. Headline amongst these is the phone’s cleverly integrated fingerprint scanner. Instead of cramming in an extra physical button under the screen – a la the HTC One A9 – or squeezing and unsightly biometric sensor on to the rear like the Huawei Mate S, Sony has added to its side-mounted power control.

The result is a discreet, unobtrusive offering that doesn’t diminish the phone’s overall look and feel. Yes, given the smaller surface area of the fingerprint reader compared to those on the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S6 and iPhone 6S, you do have to be more considered and precise with your finger placement. After a few days of frustrating mis-reads, however, this quickly becomes second nature.

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While the hardware is all ticks, the Compact’s software gets a slight thumbs down. Running Google’s Android 5.1 Lollipop OS direct from the box, the Z5 Compact is skinned with Sony’s now familiar, and frustrating custom UI. This isn’t the best Android overlay doing the rounds, but its far from the worst either. It’s clean but not particularly pretty with an overdose of primary colours and own-brand apps (album, video, music). It’s not as slick and uniformed as Google’s stock offerings and harder to put your own stamp on.

This combination of features isn’t too intensive on the battery though. Sony’s claims of two full days form the 2,700mAh is just about achievable, but you’ll have to avoid the power-hungry 3D games. Putting the phone through a vigorous amount of use you’ll easily get through that dreaded 24 hour window.

Sony Xperia Z5 Compact Camera: Simply without rival

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Its screen might not be the best at displaying images, but the Z5 Compact’s camera is without rival when it comes to capturing them. OK, apart from the Z5 itself. But that’s family, it doesn’t count. The 23-megapixel snapper squeezed into the rear of this device produces simply stunning results, no matter what the time of day or location.

Just like the Galaxy S6 and iPhone 6S, the Z5 Compact is more than adept at capturing strong, detailed images in areas of bright, direct, natural light. Pictures offer decent depth levels, bright accurate colours, sharp focussing and a strong balance between light and shade. It’s after dark, when most smartphone snappers are showing their shortcomings, however, that the Z5 Compact comes into its own.

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When the lights drop and the moon, house party or gig lighting comes out, the Z5 Compact’s camera retains its same high standards. Focussing is still sharp, there’s a strong balance to shots, colours aren’t diluted or overblown, there’s a subtle balance to black levels and image noise is kept to a minimum. Facing off against the competition it’s like comparing standard definition images to 4K.

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The Z5 Compact’s camera is so far ahead of the competition that it’s setting new industry expectations. This camera really is impressive. Forget the days of the smartphone replacing the compact camera, this things coming after the DSLR market.

The 5.1-megapixel selfie snapper is slightly less impressive – it’s not quite as strong when the lights drop, flattening shots slightly. But it’s still one of the better offerings currently doing the rounds.

Verdict

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Big phones aren’t for everyone, even those who desire a high-end collection of innards. The Sony Xperia Z5 Compact addresses this cross section of the smartphone market. And almost perfectly. Screen quality is a legacy issue that the Compact line needs to shake. If this had its big brother’s Full HD display we’d be crowning it the sub-size smartphone saviour right now.

As it is, it’s a great device for those unconcerned with enjoying hours of movie streaming or 3D gaming. But, hey, with a camera this good though, who needs all that other stuff?

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