Sony Xperia 5 II review: among the best flagship phones of 2020

The Sony Xperia 5 II impresses in a lot of areas

Sony Xperia 5 II
(Image credit: Sony)
T3 Verdict

The Sony Xperia 5 II packs in a great screen, an excellent camera, decent battery life and plenty of performance into a phone that's on the expensive side but still worth considering – as long as you can take full advantage of all the features that it brings to the table.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Impressive screen, as usual

  • +

    Excellent camera, as usual

  • +

    Strong set of specifications

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Steep asking price

  • -

    Display is tall and narrow

  • -

    Awkward fingerprint sensor

The Sony Xperia 5 II is a continuation of what is – by Sony's standards – quite a simple numbering scheme. This is the slightly cheaper and smaller alternative to the Sony Xperia 1 II, and the follow-up to the Sony Xperia 5 phone that we saw make its debut last year.

While costing less than the Xperia 1 II, the Xperia 5 II is priced more like a flagship than a mid-range phone – its recommended retail price is £799 / $949.99, and so it's still a major investment (check the widgets on this page to see if you can currently get it any cheaper).

In the UK, that puts it on price parity with the iPhone 12, so you can see the sort of quality the Xperia 5 II is up against. Buy the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE instead and you can save yourself £100; buy the Google Pixel 5 instead of this and your savings are up to £200.

Could the Sony Xperia 5 II be the next smartphone for you? We'll guide you through everything you need to know about this Sony handset, from how long you can expect the battery to last between charges, to the sort of results you're going to get from the camera.

Sony Xperia 5 II review: price and availability

The Sony Xperia 5 II is out now and available to buy direct from Sony or from multiple networks, either SIM-free or on a choice of contracts – you certainly shouldn't find yourself short of places to buy it from. The widgets embedded on this page should be able to guide you towards the cheapest prices currently available on the web, but the recommended retail price for a SIM-free Xperia 5 II is £799 in the UK and $949.99 in the US.

Sony Xperia 5 II review: design and screen

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Sony Xperia 5 II

(Image credit: Future)
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Sony Xperia 5 II

(Image credit: Future)

The Xperia 5 II definitely follows the same design template that other Sony phones have used over the last few years, though there are some refinements here (like the corners, which are a little more rounded than normal). It's an impressively sleek and compact slab of glass and metal, with a comfortable, lightweight feel in the hand. Blue and black are your colour options, and the phone comes with both a USB-C port for charging and data transfer at the bottom, and a 3.5 mm headphone jack on the top.

Once again, the tall (or wide) 21:9 display dominates the device and dictates its overall shape and feel, and we think it's just a bit too tall to be comfortable – your mileage may of course vary. The narrowness does make it easier to hold in one hand, to be fair. The 6.1-inch OLED screen runs at a resolution of 1080 x 2520 pixels and offers a high-end 120Hz refresh rate too, which means websites and apps are super-smooth while scrolling.

The bezels around the display are nice and thin, though not quite as thin as on some rivals. The top and bottom bezels are slightly chunkier – in the former case that's to fit in the selfie camera, an approach we actually prefer to a punch hole notch because it makes watching videos a much cleaner experience. With HDR and a bit of Sony Bravia TV technology baked in, the display shows off movies and shows fantastically well.

As you would expect for this price, the phone is IP68 rated for protection against water and dust (it can be submerged in up to 1.5 metres or nearly 5 feet of water for 30 minutes without any serious damage). It has a dedicated Google Assistant button and a dedicated camera shutter button on the right as you look at it on the same side as the volume and power buttons. The fingerprint sensor is built into that power button, which we're not a fan of (it makes it harder to find the button, and means more accidental presses too).

Sony Xperia 5 II review: camera and battery

Sony Xperia 5 II

(Image credit: Sony)

The Sony Xperia 5 II comes equipped with a triple-lens rear camera, made up of 12MP wide, 12MP telephoto with 3x optical zoom, and 12MP ultrawide lenses. Having both ultrawide and telephoto zoom on the same camera array isn't always a given, even at this price, so we're pleased to see it here. You get a single 8MP camera on the front of the phone for snapping your selfies.

Given Sony's prowess in camera optics, we had high expectations for what the rear camera would be able to do as well. Thankfully, the Xperia 5 II doesn't disappoint in the photography department. It snaps shots quickly, with speedy and accurate focus, and a well-judged balance of colour, brightness and contrast. On-board HDR processing ensures darker and lighter areas don't get lost, while in terms of detail and noise the images stand up well to close scrutiny. These are pictures that are way above the base level of acceptable for social media.

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Sony Xperia 5 II camera sample

We were impressed with the triple-lens rear camera on the Sony Xperia 5 II.
(Image credit: Future)
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Sony Xperia 5 II camera sample

Having both an ultrawide lens and a telephoto lens isn't something many phones can boast.
(Image credit: Future)
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Sony Xperia 5 II camera sample

Colours are well balanced and contrast is good... even on drab autumnal English days.
(Image credit: Future)
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Sony Xperia 5 II camera sample

The 3x optical zoom lets you get closer to subjects with no loss of quality.
(Image credit: Future)
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Sony Xperia 5 II camera sample

Close-ups posed no problems for the Xperia 5 II.
(Image credit: Future)
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Sony Xperia 5 II camera sample

The phone captures lots of detail with a fast shutter speed.
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Sony Xperia 5 II camera sample

Almost all your photos will come out with an impressive level of detail.
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Sony Xperia 5 II camera sample

Low light performance isn't the best we've seen, but it's very good.
(Image credit: Future)
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Sony Xperia 5 II camera sample

The Xperia 5 II manages to pick out some details in the dark.
(Image credit: Future)
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Sony Xperia 5 II camera sample

You can get very respectable images even when there's not much light around.
(Image credit: Future)

Low light performance is excellent as well. It's not quite up there with the best mobile cameras we've seen in terms of night shots, but it's able to get usable shots in almost pitch blackness without taking too many seconds over the exposure – and without brightening the picture to an unreasonable extent. Low light mode kicks in automatically, and it impresses the vast majority of the time that it's used.

The 4,000 mAh battery fitted inside the Sony Xperia 5 II will get you through one-and-a-half days of use no bother at all, unless you're really pushing it – our two-hour video streaming test (at maximum brightness and low volume) knocked the battery down from 100 percent to 85 percent, which is a strong showing. There's 21W fast charging here, but there's no wireless charging, as there is on the Xperia 1 II.

Sony Xperia 5 II review: other specs and features

Sony Xperia 5 II

(Image credit: Sony)

In terms of the specs on offer with the Sony Xperia 5 II, you get a top-of-the-line Snapdragon 865 processor from Qualcomm, and that's paired with 8GB of RAM and either 128GB or 256GB of internal storage (which you can expand further via a memory card slot). Whichever way you slice it, those are very decent specs for an Android phone in 2020, if not quite at the very cutting edge of the market.

Geekbench 5 scores of 910 (single-core), 3369 (multi-core), and 3165 (OpenCL) prove that this phone is no slouch, and we're pleased to report that it races through apps, web browsing and even demanding games. We didn't notice any lag or sluggishness with the handset, and we think it'll last you a good few years before it needs replacing.

We've already enthused about how movies and other videos look on the Sony Xperia 5 II, and the stereo speaker sound leaves a good impression too. Sony has added what it calls a dynamic vibration system, where the phone actually provides haptic feedback for loud and deep noises – it's actually pretty cool when you're watching videos and playing games, though you perhaps don't want to use it all the time.

5G connectivity is on board, but oddly only in the UK, while the phone runs Android 10 with Sony's very light software skin on top. Bloatware is kept down to a minimum, but you do get two very useful apps for taking more granular control over your videos and photos (further increasing the appeal of the handset for people who are serious about mobile photography and movie-making).

Sony Xperia 5 II review: price and verdict

Sony Xperia 5 II

(Image credit: Sony)

We really like what Sony has done here with the Xperia 5 II. It's packed with plenty of power, the screen is sharp and bright, the battery life is good, and the rear camera is excellent. It's got 5G on board (in the UK) and it's waterproof too. This is a phone that impresses and it's going to keep on impressing for plenty of years to come.

In terms of weaknesses, we're not sure that the 21:9 display is going to be to everyone's tastes, and it is on the expensive side (especially in terms of dollars in the US, where you don't get 5G either)– there are a lot of great smartphones around this price and a little lower, so Sony is up against it in terms of pricing. There's no wireless charging here either, but most people can probably live without that.

The phone stands out in the usual areas where Sony phones stand out: this is a company with a lot of expertise in making electronics, gadget displays, and miniature camera lenses (it provides the camera hardware for a lot of other phone makers). These are stand out strengths of Xperia 5 II too, so Sony is carrying on those trends.

While we think the Xperia 5 II is a better deal than the Xperia 1 II – which has a bigger 6.5-inch display, a slightly better camera and wireless charging – the slightly unusual design and the slightly higher price stop it from being a perfect deal. Still, we think it's going to appeal to a significant number of users, especially those who enjoy watching movies on their phones and are serious about shooting photos and video too.