When it comes to the best phones, Sony might not hold much market share, but it does hold a share in many people's hearts. It's a brand that does things a little differently from the norm, at the top-end opting for a no-holds-barred approach – with its Xperia 1 V flagship a great example of that.
That handset a bit too big and too pricey for your needs? That's where the smaller-scale Sony Xperia 5 V, on review here, enters the picture. I've been testing out the compact handset for a week, which is far smaller than many of the best Android phones owed to its 21:9 aspect ratio and 6.1-inch display, meaning it's a shoo-in as one of the best small phones you can buy.
The Xperia 5 V is also a phone that I think is very likely to split opinion: too small for some, just right for others; with a chocolate-bar-like design that's chunky despite its smaller scale. But with a camera system that's more akin to Sony's professional cameras in terms of functionality can this small phone find its perfect niche?
Sony Xperia 5 V review: What's new?
As I wrote when the Sony Xperia 5 V was first announced, the handset is largely similar to its Xperia 5 IV predecessor – a handset that T3 called "small yet mighty", so no bad thing there – except the fifth-generation model goes bigger on power and cameras (well, sort of in the case of the latter, it's a very different setup).
Sony is a key player when it comes to photography, largely because it produces camera sensors that later appear in many other makers' devices. In the Xperia 5 V the phone embodies the company's latest Exmor T sensor type, meaning it features stacked layers for a better quality signal. Sony is leveraging a new 24mm 48-megapixel main sensor (up from 12MP last time around), which is the big push forward in this department.
In the same breath, the previous Xperia 5 IV featured a 2x optical zoom lens – something that's been done away with in the newer Xperia 5 IV. Yep, progress apparently means fewer lenses on this occasion. There's no advancement to the 12-megapixel ultra-wide sensor either. However, new modes, such as Creative Looks, Portrait Bokeh control, and a separate Video Creator app with Auto Edit feature look to further push the 'pro' angle to photography.
When it comes to raw power the Xperia series never shies away from top-tier chipsets: the Xperia 5 V utilises the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 platform, paired with 8GB RAM and 128GB storage. There's even a rare microSD card slot so you can expand that storage – I said Sony likes to do things different to the norm, and with features like this (and its 3.5mm headphone jack) that's most welcome.
Sony Xperia 5 V: Price & Availability
The Xperia 5 V will is available now in Blue, Black or Platinum Silver finishes. It's priced at £849/€999 (it's not available in the USA, so no dollar price).
That asking price is fairly high, but with these kind of no-compromise specs it's no surprise. That said, even the Xperia 5 IV predecessor was more expensive at launch and even now remains a similar price – I suspect the fifth-gen model dropping that zoom lens ought to mean a more favourable price over time.
Sony Xperia 5 V review: Design & Display
- Display: 6.1-inch 21:9 aspect ratio OLED display, 120Hz, 1080 x 2520 pixels
The Sony Xperia 5 V's design is largely built around its display: a 6.1-inch OLED panel with a 21:9 aspect ratio that makes it really narrow and tall in the hand. Most current phones feature a 19.5:9 screen aspect ratio, which doesn't sound dramatically different – but, believe me, it's night and day by comparison.
For me the Xperia 5 V is too small. I switch between phones week in, week out as part of my job and, sure, I'm probably more used to wider phones – but I'm also adaptable to this constant changing too. Still, I found typing on the smaller-scale screen here just felt too 'squashed'. After tweaking Gboard keyboard to its tallest, however, I was able to overcome most of my typing woes. That's my personal take, mind, some people will immediately prefer the Xperia 5 V's narrower design.
As for the display itself, it's ample enough, although less bright than the punchiest of current flagship handsets available. You may also wish to tweak the settings, as Sony has gone big with the faithful reproduction (including BT.2020 colour gamut and 10-bit HDR) that often looks a little 'delicate'. There's also Standard Mode and Auto Creator Mode which add some extra oomph, plus it's 120Hz so on par with most leading flagships today.
Sony's software is built over Android and largely similar, except for some minor interventions: display and audio appear in the swipe-down shade with their own settings shortcuts, for example, while the small real-estate isn't affected in terms of arrangement capacity – I've been able to get a 5x7 grid for some ultra-small Android icons that, daresay, look kind of cute. Sony also has its own apps, such as Photo Pro, Music Pro, Video Pro and Cinema Pro to leverage its cameras' abilities.
Otherwise the Xperia 5 V's design is a fairly functional affair: it's a dark-coloured block of well-machined material, a little sharp around the screen's flat edges, and features larger-than-average top and bottom bezel around the screen, an easy-to-use sunken fingerprint scanner on the side, and a camera unit that protrudes only marginally from the rear. Solid engineering, sure, but in a vanilla form. Sometimes vanilla is best, though, so I'm not complaining.
Sony Xperia 5 V review: Performance & Battery
- Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor, 8GB RAM
- Storage: 128/256GB storage, microSD expansion
When I first fired up the Xperia 5 V its battery life made me a little nervous: the device got warm when transferring multiple gigabytes of data during migration and the battery life plummeted. But that was only a day one blip – ever since the Xperia 5 V has handled tasks really well.
Housed inside this little phone is a 5,000mAh battery, which is frankly massive considering this handset's small size. I was able to stream a YouTube video for 12 hours (yes, a really boring video) which ran the battery right down, but that's great innings. With 'normal' use I've been getting through a full day no dramas, so a strong 17+ hours.
That's especially good to discover considering that the chipset inside is also one of the most powerful going: Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. Plenty of other flagship devices house the same platform, of course, but I've sometimes found those to overheat and dissipate battery life excessively – something from which the Xperia 5 V does not suffer.
That power is great to have in a smaller-scale handset, too, as there's no corner-cutting taking place here. I've been able to play the latest game at the highest of settings no problems, from Mighty Doom and beyond, all whilst multiple apps are running in the background. The 8GB RAM will pose some limitations compared to handsets with more, potentially, but I've not encountered any 'walls' during use.
Another area worth discussing around this handset is audio. Sony has really gone to town in this regard. If you're a user of any of the best wireless headphones, for example, then the 3.5mm headphone jack will be a huge plus point for you. Especially as that can transmit at the best possible qualities. Wireless does very well too, mind, as the Xperia 5 V can handle high-resolution audio (24-bit/192kHz) too.
Sony Xperia 5 V review: Cameras
- 24mm main: 48MP, f/1.9, 1/1.35in sensor, optical stabilisation (OIS), Dual Pixel PDAF
- 16mm ultra-wide: 12MP, f/2.2, 1/2.5in, Dual Pixel PDAF
I'll say it up front: the main camera of the Xperia 5 V is its best feature. But I'll also say: not everyone is going to like it. Why? Because it's just very different to your typical point-and-shoot camera style, as per most manufacturers' camera apps. That's not a bad thing, it's just another one of those Sony points of difference.
It's different sometimes for the worse – auto-exposure adjustment is slow; dynamic range is (purposefully, I think) limited to look more like classic photography – but sometimes for the considerable better – such as the fastest shutter response I can recall using on a smartphone camera in recent years – and wrapped into an app that delivers more 'proper cameras' settings, from Auto to the P/S/A/M settings those who shoot on the best mirrorless cameras will know about.
What I like, however, is that by default the Pro Camera is set to 'Basic', which is the closest you'll get to 'typical' point-and-shoot phone photography. The 'Auto' mode throws in scene detection. The other modes permit programme, shutter/apertue priority control or full manual. They're great to play around with if you know what you're doing – and if you don't then now is your chance to learn or, er, completely ignore them.
But outside of the settings it's the results that the camera is capable of producing that leave me impressed. Sure, they have a more classic look compared to most smartphone cameras, there's not an immediate dialling down of all shadow and highlight information, but that stops images looking flat or unrealistic.
That shutter capability remains strong even in lower-light conditions, another area where this Sony can excel, thanks to a wide f/1.9 aperture, which also means easier capture in darker conditions. I was shooting in a pub late one evening whilst working and the on-table candles and salt/pepper captured nicely even when handheld.
Video features are strong, too, with the ability to shoot 4K at up to 120fps. Use Video Pro and you can capture in 16:9, select slow-mo options with ease, and go for cinematic 'S Cinetone' looks. Flip over to Cinema Pro and this is for the 21:9 aspect ratio shooting, leveraging the Xperia 5 V's screen ratio.
Sony Xperia 5 V review: Verdict
As I suggested up top, the Sony Xperia 5 V is a small phone that has a big likelihood of splitting opinion: some will love its small stature and big power, while others will find its tall-and-narrow design tricky to use and some features too adjacent to the norm. Personally I find it too small, but I can appreciate there will be some who will love this phone for all its points of difference.
The Xperia 5 V fills a niche that few others cater for in the market, which I massively respect. There's tonnes of power, so nothing foregone there, the battery life is impressive too, and the updated camera system – despite losing the zoom lens of its predecessor – now has a really strong main that delivers realistic and distinct pictures from an app that super-snappy in operation.
That's the sum of it: the Sony Xperia 5 V is an accomplished little phone, but one that will have little appeal for most people. If you're not most people, however, and are looking for a small, powerful and photography-focused Android phone then this could be your ideal new handset. It's a niche beast.
If you're looking for a small phone, but one that's less narrow, then the Samsung Galaxy S23 is a decent option that'll cost you less. Its 19.5:9 aspect ratio screen is in line with the current market norm. If you want something even smaller than the Sony then Asus' 5.9-inch Zenfone 10 is a strong pick too – and a mite cheaper, too.