Sony is back with a new series of phones - a bit earlier than I’d hoped - and there have been some major improvements since the Xperia Z3 Compact.
Sony seems to be the only manufacturer out there that understands some people want a small phone without sacrificing premium spec and gorgeous design. Not everyone wants an unwieldy phablet, but we shouldn’t be forced to sacrifice the key features just for wanting a smaller handset.
That’s the mantra of the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact and if you’re in the market for a smartphone that’s both small and premium, you’re looking in the right place.
And Sony needs a win at the moment, given the rumours that the Japanese manufacturer is looking to pull out of the phone game if the Xperia Z5 series doesn’t impress consumers this year.
The Premium has been grabbing all the headlines but the Xperia Z5 Compact shouldn’t be ignored. It offers a lot of the great stuff Sony has been working on for the last few years in a particularly small package.
Sony’s biggest selling point of the Xperia Z5 Compact is the design. Even those with small adult hands will be able to control the Xperia Z5 Compact – and that’s not something you could say about its larger sibling. Dimension wise it comes in at 127 x 65 x 8.9mm and weighs 138g.
If you were ever familiar with the Xperia Z3 Compact you’ll notice a dramatic difference in the weight here – it’s much lighter than what we’ve seen before from Sony in a smaller, high-end phone.
The Z5 Compact is a little thicker than the Xperia Z5, but that’s just to squeeze in all the internals and a slightly larger battery than last time. You only notice the thickness difference whenever you place the Xperia Z5 up against the Compact - but it’s minimal and fits well in the hand still.
The left hand edge of the handset features a tastefully indented Xperia logo at the top, then there’s a flap down at the bottom of that edge housing the nanoSIM and microSD slots. This is now the only flap on the phone, the headphone jack and microUSB slots are both waterproof without annoying little bits of plastic covering them.
On the other side is a camera button, a volume rocker (that is a little too far down the phone) and then the power button. The button is easy to reach with your thumb and is much more reactive than previous Sony buttons that don’t sit flush with the side.
This also houses the fingerprint scanner that a lot of people have been getting excited about as it’s the first on a Sony phone.
The back is a frosted glass material for the first time, rather than the clear version from before and it feels much classier. It’s nice on the palm of the hand and looks gorgeous when you set it down.
The Xperia Z5 Compact comes with a 4.6-inch display packed inside this small body with a screen resolution of 720 x 1280.
It’s not a impressive a resolution and I personally hoped Sony would have upped the resolution so we’d get a Full HD version of the Xperia Compact series, going above the 323 pixels per inch this offers.
It does mean when you’re flicking around the screen you can sometimes see the pixels a little and it’s not what you want on a premium phone.
That said, as with the Xperia Z5, there’s a much brighter display than we’ve seen before – enough that I had to turn it right down when using it in the dark.
Viewing angles seem to have improved by quite some way as well. You can look at the screen from all manner of strange positions.
There’s a fingerprint sensor on the Xperia Z5 Compact and it’s surprisingly good, I expected it to be a struggle as it’s the first attempt from Sony. You really wouldn’t know it to use it. It sits inside the power button on the right hand edge of the phone. It works fast and effectively, once it’s all set up.
Make sure you register all your fingers though – it can be easy to accidentally place an unregistered fingertip on the button and get locked out in three attempts.
You can also play PlayStation 4 on your Xperia Z5 Compact. If you connect up on the same Wi-Fi network, run the Remote Play app and set up a controller you’ll be able to play PS4 games on the phone.
It’s a smart feature that just streams the footage from your console to the phone screen… but sadly on the Xperia Z5 Compact it’s not an enjoyable experience.
I tried to run Rocket League and found it far too fast-paced. Other games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt also proved impossible due to the small text within the menus, but some indie titles work quite well here if you’ve got 20/20 vision. It’s a bit better on the larger phones but I’d prefer to be playing on the Xperia Z4 Tablet.
Sony took the strange decision of placing the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 chipset it used in the Xperia Z3+ inside the Xperia Z5 series. The Xperia Z3+ had some serious overheating issues but these seem to have been ironed out in the new smartphones from the brand.
In my time with the phone I didn’t experience any overheating – even after gaming for an hour I found the phone to be quite cool on the fingertips. I also did a lot of internet browsing, watching videos and multitasking with apps and didn’t find any issues.
As for general performance I found myself flicking through apps at speed and it all kept up with what I needed. The camera app sometimes took a while to boot up and I was often left waiting to access the gallery in there as well.
It’s a shame the only app that seems slow is the camera considering Sony’s big idea of the autofocus to get your shots taken quicker.
The Xperia Z5 Compact camera has undergone some big changes compared to the spec listing of last year’s Xperia Z3 Compact.
This time around it’s 23MP– one of the highest resolution sensors on the market – and it takes some truly stunning shots.
There’s a new autofocus feature that can catch shots within 0.03 seconds – a record for a smartphone camera. And the good news is this isn’t a marketing gimmick - when taking a shot quickly it does work.
That said, I didn’t find it succeeded when taking photographs of moving objects though.
I tried to get this photo of a tube train as it slowed down but it still managed to turn into a blurry mess, so don’t expect to get great shots of your agitated pets with this one.
Photos on the camera sometimes felt a little dull still – I don’t feel enough light gets into the lens when taking shots indoors.
That said, the actual pixel resolution is stunning and it makes sense that Sony is claiming this is the best camera in a smartphone right now.
On the front there’s a 5.1MP selfie-snapper, up from the 2.2MP version on the Xperia Z3 Compact. It’s good for taking quick shots of your face or video recording and that’s all you’ll really need it for.
Everyone wants a battery that lasts forever in a smartphone (or at least more than a day or two), but that’s not going to happen in 2015. The Xperia Z5 Compact is one of the best phones for battery life right now though, but that’s not exactly saying much.
Due to the 720p screen, I found the phone not to use battery as heavily as the Xperia Z5. In our video test (where we run a video for 90 minutes with full brightness and all connectivity options on) the Z5 Compact finished with 79% of its battery leftover.
The Xperia Z5 came out with 75% and gaming rinsed the battery dropping it to 59%. An hour of gaming on the Xperia Z5 Compact only brought it down to 72% from a full charge.
On the average day I found the Xperia Z5 Compact lasted just over a day. You’re not going to get a whole two days out of it like Sony wants you to think, but it’ll likely make it to the end of the day without you having to put it back on charge.
I left it off the charge one night and found with minimal use the phone made it until 1PM the next day.
I am a bit gutted Sony hasn’t seen fit to put wireless charging in the Xperia Z5 Compact though - the technology is growing so fast I would have liked for Sony to futureproof this phone with the Qi technology.
If you’re looking for a premium yet small Android handset, this is really your only choice. But that lack of option isn’t going to be an issues as the Xperia Z5 Compact is a great phone.
It’s a solid improvement on the Xperia Z3 Compact with the addition of a fingerprint sensor, a faster processor and an improved design.
It looks much better than we’ve seen on the Xperia Compact series before and Sony has clearly taken the design criticism on board.
I would have liked to see the screen technology get an upgrade. But if this is a trade off for the great battery life the Xperia Z5 Compact offers, I’ll take the 720p screen every time.
Improvements to the camera are also a big plus and the autofocus technology is a great addition to an already feature-packed shooter.
The Xperia Z5 Compact is a hidden gem behind the bright lights of the flagship Xperia Z5 and bonkers 4K-screened Xperia Z5 Premium, so don’t ignore it for its few faults.