Sony Xperia 5 III review: a compact smartphone competing against the flagships

The Sony Xperia 5 III might be small but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice on performance

Sony Xperia 5 III review
(Image credit: Future)
T3 Verdict

If you want a compact phone that doesn’t skimp on hardware then the Sony Xperia 5 III will be a great choice. It has a high-end processor, takes excellent photos and even though it is quite small, the screen is good too. You won’t get days and days of battery but even so, this is an impressive small handset that can compete against the flagships.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Excellent camera system

  • +

    21:9 CinemaWide display

  • +

    Fast performance

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Battery life could be better

  • -

    Slippy glass design

  • -

    Confusing array of buttons

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Any Sony Xperia 5 III review has to start off by pointing out that this phone packs flagship-level specs into a very small handset. It’s refreshing to use a phone purely one-handed, and that’s why it was always going to be one of the best Android phones you can buy. 

Sony sure knows their stuff when it comes to creating some of the best smartphones in the world and they have just as much success selling some of the best compact cameras - so naturally, they combine those talents wherever they can. Their smartphone cameras are known for having detailed functionality and lots of camera modes to try out. 

The Sony Xperia 5 III is no different, and it pairs that in-depth camera system with high-end hardware under the hood. You don’t lose out just because you wanted a smaller phone.

In this Sony Xperia 5 III review, I’ll cover everything you need to know about the phone from its design and display to the cameras and its performance and battery. 

Sony Xperia 5 III review: price and what’s new 

Available to buy now from Amazon, the Sony Xperia 5 III costs $999 in the US and £899 in the UK, which works out to be around AU$1,300 in Australia. 

While the design and build of the Sony Xperia 5 IIIi is almost identical to the Sony Xperia 5 II there have been a few upgrades to the phone. 

The first is in performance, the Sony Xperia 5 III sports the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, up from the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 that was in there before, so it should be more powerful. There’s also a bigger 4,500mAh battery as well as faster wired charging. 

The camera has changed as well, what used to be a 12MP telephoto lens with a 70mm focal length is now a 12MP periscope camera with a focal length of 70-105mm. Other than that the camera is the same 12MP ultra-wide lens and 12MP wide-angle lens. The camera also now features the AI super-resolution zoom technology. 

One other improvement worth mentioning is in the speaker system which is now 40% louder.

Sony Xperia 5 III review: design and display 

Sony Xperia 5 III review

(Image credit: Future)

What makes the Sony Xperia 5 III different to other similarly-priced smartphones is its size. It takes all of the best parts of the Sony Xperia 1 III and packs them into a more compact handset that measures just 157 x 68 x 8.2 mm and weighs only 168g. It’s great because it fits comfortably in your hand and in most pockets.

Available to buy in a glossy black or green, you don't compromise on style either. The Sony Xperia III looks smart and in terms of the build quality, you feel like you’re in safe hands here as well. With Corning Gorilla Glass 6 on the front and back it should withstand a few knocks. It also has IP65/686 water resistance and dust protection. One downfall is that the phone is quite slippy to hold but that will easily be solved by putting on a case. 

The rear cameras are loaded into a long rounded module and it doesn’t protrude too far from the back of the phone. There are a number of buttons to get to grips with including the volume rocker, the power button which doubles up as a fingerprint sensor, the Google Assistant button and the camera shutter button. It would be nice if these were more spread out as they’re all along the right-hand side of the frame which does make things confusing.

Sony Xperia 5 III review

(Image credit: Future)

When you do successfully locate the fingerprint sensor unlocking the phone is very quick, it's much more reliable and easy to use than in-display sensors. Similarly, the camera shutter button made it much easier to snap a shot with precision and control. 

Now onto the display: you get a 6.1inch 21:9 CinemaWide screen with FHD+ (2520 x 1080) resolution and HDR OLED technology. The tall and narrow display fits perfectly in your hand and when you turn it around it's perfect for watching TV shows and movies. The quality of the screen won't blow you away but it is crisp and clear enough to play Netflix in decent quality.  

The Sony Xperia III has a refresh rate of 120Hz which means it not only looks good but it feels silky smooth to use as well, whether you’re playing mobile games or flicking through Instagram. 

There’s also a small LED light in the top right corner of the screen to show when you’ve received a new notification. 

Sony Xperia 5 III review: cameras 

Sony Xperia 5 III review

(Image credit: Future)

A triple-lens camera sits on the back of the Sony Xperia 5 III, it’s made up of a 12MP ultrawide camera, a 12MP wide-angle lens and a 12MP periscope lens. On the front, there’s an 8MP selfie snapper. 

When using the automatic settings, photos came out looking bright and precise with plenty of detail. From the example shots in the gallery below, you can also see that colour accuracy and reproduction is certainly flagship-level. One thing it did seem to struggle with was contrast, there were times where there wasn't a great balance between light and dark areas of the shot.

Using the dual periscope lens, the optical zoom goes up to 4.4x. To go even further there’s a 12.5x digital zoom and AI super-resolution zoom to polish up the photo. In use, it does do a good job at sharpening up the image although the result is still too grainy to use for anything like social media. 

One thing the Sony Xperia 5 III camera does really well is focusing on the subject even at extended focal lengths, and even if they are moving. When it comes to people or animals, it focuses on their eyes and tracks them that way. It's very accurate and effective which makes taking in-focus shots much easier.

As you expect from a Sony Xperia smartphone, the Photography Pro camera app has lots of different settings and modes to experiment with. Shooting Mode has a dial to select what type of shot you’re going to take including P (Programme Auto), S (Shutter Speed Priority) and M (Manual Exposure). If you’re not too sure about selecting your own camera settings and would rather just point and shoot, then there’s also a Basic and Auto mode. 

Sony Xperia 5 III review: performance and battery  

Sony Xperia 5 III review

(Image credit: Future)

The Sony Xperia 5 III is a very powerful handset despite being so small. That's thanks to the high-end Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 CPU that sits under the hood. You also get 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage which can be expanded using the MicroSD card slot. 

Using it was a breeze, apps opened up instantly and I didn't have any problems with excessive loading times. You’ll be able to use this for everything and anything, even more demanding mobile games like Call of Duty. To put it through its paces I used Geekbench 5’s benchmarking test where it scored 1,127 in single-core and 3,363 in multi-core. That's not far off other flagship phones like the OnePlus 9 Pro or the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus

The 4,500mAh battery is solidly okay. It seemed to easily last me the day of casual use, flicking through social media and watching a YouTube video here and there. I did need to charge it at the end of the day though. 

I ran a local video on full brightness over two hours and in that time the battery dropped by 12% so you’re looking at getting about 10 hours of video playback from it all in all. That’s nowhere near some flagship phones which can reach up to 20 hours.

With the 30W charger included in the box, you can recharge from empty to 100% in just over 2 hours. You’ll want to leave it be because it did heat up a little when it was plugged in. 

Behind it all sits Android 11, lightly adjusted with Sony’s own take on it. As you would expect, it all feels sleek and intuitive with detailed menus. Admittedly it’s not quite as aesthetically pleasing as Samsung’s version of Android 11 or even pure Android. Everything looks sharp but it all feels much smaller and more grown-up than you get elsewhere. 

When you start up the phone for the first time, there are loads of apps you can choose to have pre-installed. That includes everything you’d expect from an Android phone like Google Photos, Google Maps and Google Meet. There's also a choice of games like Astro Shooter EX as well as streaming services like Netflix and Tidal. 

Sony Xperia 5 III review: verdict 

Sony Xperia 5 III review

(Image credit: Sony)

The Sony Xperia 5 III is a smartphone with a very clearcut purpose, to pack high-end hardware into a compact phone. And it does that very well. 

You can easily use this phone one-handed, and while the screen might be a fair amount smaller than you'd get elsewhere, it is still fine to use for watching videos on your commute or reading through the news. 

The focus here is on quality and that seeps down into every part of the phone, whether you’re talking about the speedy 5G processor, the sleek but sturdy design or the excellent snapper with loads of customisation. The only area where it slightly disappointed me was the battery life which could definitely be improved. 

If you want a powerful but compact phone and you don't mind paying a premium price for it, then this is the best one out there right now. It’d be hard not to recommend the Sony Xperia 5 III.  

Sony Xperia 5 III review: also consider  

The best small phone for most people is still the iPhone 12 Mini which has an even smaller screen at just 5.4inches. It’s not got the same long and thin design but it’s very compact. The battery life is average but even so, it looks great, has a fantastic camera system, packs in 5G and the screen is a beauty. 

Not a fan of iOS? Not everyone is, even though sometimes it may seem like they are. If you’re only looking at Android phones then the OnePlus 9 could be a good choice. Granted it is bigger than the Sony Xperia 5 III but the 6.55inch screen is housed in a slim and lightweight handset. It’s a very impressive phone all around.  

Yasmine Crossland
Freelance Tech Expert

Yasmine is the former Reviews Writer for T3, so she's been knee-deep in the latest tech products for reviewing and curating into the best buying guides since she started in 2019. She keeps a finger on the pulse when it comes to the most exciting and innovative tech and is happy to tell you exactly what she thinks about it too. In her free time, you'll catch her travelling the globe – the perks of being a freelance tech expert – tending to her plants when at home and, but of course, planning her next big trip.