Like many of you, I have a soft spot for Sony products. I’ve been infatuated with Sony products ever since my first Walkman in the early 90s, which was eventually replaced by a Sony Discman and eventually a Sony MiniDisc player. I’ve owned Sony TVs, gaming systems, and digital cameras, but never once have I purchased a Sony smartphone.
To put things simply, Sony has struggled to make a name for itself in the crowded smartphone space. Its devices have always been well designed with decent hardware, but Sony has always lagged a few steps behind the competition when it comes to the overall user experience and the quality of its cameras. Sony even admitted a few years back that it had purposefully delivered sub-par smartphones in the past so that its mobile smartphone wouldn’t outshine the company’s dedicated camera, display, and audio business units, revealing a new internal commitment that would allow its smartphone unit to capitalize on the company’s cutting-edge technologies and give consumers a smartphone that shows off the best of what Sony has to offer.
The question is: does the Sony Xperia 5ii live up to that promise?
Sony Xperia 5ii specification
- Display: 6.1 inches, OLED, 1080 x 2520 pixels, 120Hz, HDR, Gorilla Glass 6
- Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
- Memory: 6GB of RAM, 128/256GB storage
- Rear cameras: 12MP (main), 12MP (ultrawide 124-degrees), 12MP (3x telephoto), 4K@24/30/60/120fps HDR
- Front-facing camera: 8MP, 1080p@30fps
- Battery: 4,000 mAh, 18W fast charging
- Dust & Water resistance: IP65
- Audio: 3.5mm headphone jack, stereo speakers
- Buy the Sony Xperia 5ii
Let’s be clear, the Sony Xperia 5ii doesn’t go out of its way to make a statement, which is a bit odd considering its $950 price tag. The metal and body of the phone is understated, and quite frankly a bit boring when compared to other flagship devices. There’s no unique design feature that makes it stand out, save for the Sony logo on the back of the phone.
That being said, I truly love the fit and finish of the Xperia 5ii. Like most Sony products, the attention to detail is astounding, making this one of the most comfortable smartphones I’ve used in the past year. The tall 21:9 aspect ratio of the display means that the frame of the phone fits a lot more comfortably in my hand, but you’ll definitely need a second hand to tap the top of the screen if you don’t want to play finger gymnastics all day long.
The rounded metal frame of the phone features the volume rocker, power button (with embedded fingerprint sensor), Google Assistant, and camera buttons on the right edge of the phone. The one surprise many will find is that the Xperia 5ii sports a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top edge of the phone, something that’s all but disappeared in flagship smartphones these days.
As mentioned already, the back of the phone features the Sony logo right in the middle and a triple camera model in the top left corner, which is practically invisible on the black model. Personally, I recommend opting for the Blue variant.
Display & Audio
Sony’s attention to detail on the 5ii extends to the phone’s amazing display as well. For some, the odd 21:9 aspect ratio may seem a bit tall, but after using it for a few days you’ll grow to love it. It’s a bit hard to reach the top if using the phone with one hand, but that’s the only real drawback. The main appeal with a 21:9 display is a more immersive video experience when watching movies or TV shows, but it also means you can fit a lot more on the screen in a single view when browsing the web or your favorite social media feed.
It’s even more enjoyable when you pull up the keyboard and start typing. Turn on the number row and change the on-screen keyboard height to “tall” and you still have plenty of room to see the messages you’re replying to or the text of the email you’ve composed. It also makes multi-tasking with split-window apps so much more enjoyable than on any other device since the apps have so much more room than they do on other devices.
As for the display itself, the OLED panel is exceptional, offering HRD support, a 120Hz refresh rate, and 240 Hz touch sampling. It’s more than bright enough to be used in direct sunlight and since it’s a flat panel, you don’t have to deal with that annoying glare that you get with curved screens. The 120Hz refresh rate of the display is a big step up over the 60Hz displays Sony has used in the past and to truly show it off, a partnership with Activision has allowed the Xperia 5ii to be the only smartphone to run Call of Duty Mobile at 120fps.
But Sony’s effort to give users the best media consumption experience doesn’t stop with the hone’s display. As you might have noticed in the phone’s spec list, the Xperia 5ii comes with stereo speakers and a 3.5mm headphone jack, featuring Dolby Atmos support and tuned in collaboration with Sony Pictures. Other audio enhancements include upscaling of non- high-res audio sources, improving high-frequency response back with AI-based upscaling, 360 reality audio with hardware decoding for services like Tidal.
It doesn’t matter if you have headphones plugged in or if you’re using the stereo speakers, the audio you get out of this phone is phenomenal. Now, there are plenty of smartphones that offer stereo speakers these days, but this is one of the few that actually places both speakers on the front of the phone. This allows the audio to be directed at the user rather than off to the side and also ensures that you won’t accidentally block the speaker with your hand when holding the phone in landscape mode while watching a video or playing a game. If you’ve been crazing HTC’s BoomSound speakers from its One series, you’ll definitely enjoy these speakers.
Performance & Software
Like most other flagship smartphones sporting the Snapdragon 865, the Xperia 5ii delivers an incredibly smooth experience, with power to spare. It doesn’t matter if you’re into gaming or if you’re simply looking for a device that can keep up with your multitasking needs, this phone will definitely do the trick.
It doesn’t have 12GB of RAM, as we’ve seen on a handful of devices in 2020, but 8GB is more than enough to hold nearly a dozen apps in memory at a time and keep most people happy.
On the software front, bloatware is kept to a minimum with Facebook, Tidal, and LinkedIn coming pre-installed, but Sony has done away with a few of its own custom apps in favor of Google’s Dialer and Messaging apps. The launcher doesn’t allow for any true customization with custom icon packs or theming options, but you do get the Google Feed to the left of the main screen.
One thing to note is that Sony isn’t always the quickest at pushing out updates to its smartphones. The Xperia 5ii is running Android 10 with the October security patch, but the device is expected to be updated to Android 11 sometime in Q1 of 2021.
Despite the fact that the best smartphones on the market all use Sony imaging sensors for their cameras, Sony’s smartphones have never been regarded as a top pick when it comes to smartphone photography. The Xperia 5ii doesn’t necessarily change that, despite the incredible hardware Sony has packed in.
The issue comes down to Sony’s photography philosophy more than anything. Rather than deciding what your photos should look like automatically by using computational photography algorithms that stitch together multiple shots, the Xperia 5ii captures an incredibly accurate representation of the real world, giving the user as much data as possible to edit and manipulate the shot after the fact.
The triple camera setup on the back of the phone consists of three 12MP sensors. The main 1/1.7-inch sensor is the largest 12MP sensor Sony has made to date and is currently only used in Sony devices. The other two cameras are paired with a 124-degree ultrawide lens and 3x telephoto lens, giving users quite a bit of flexibility when it comes to capturing photos and videos.
Put simply, if you want to snap a few pictures of your friends, pets, or your food and quickly share them with the world, the Xperia 5ii isn’t the smartphone for you. You can still do that, but the time and effort you’ll need to put into editing your photos is substantially more than what most people are willing to commit to these days. If you don’t put in the work, the images from the Xperia 5ii will look a bit dull and flat.
Anyone with an eye for detail will tell you that Sony’s approach is better since it allows the user to be more creative in the way the final image looks. If you love manually tweaking your camera settings, the Photo Pro app delivers many of the same customizable features you’d find on a Sony DSLR. Combine that with the dedicated shutter button on the side and you might forget that you’re taking pictures with a smartphone.
Personally, I don’t mind taking the extra time to tweak the settings and edit the photos, but even with HDR turned on, the dynamic range in the photos is lacking when compared to other flagship devices currently on the market. I get that Sony is trying to deliver a tool for those who enjoy the art of photography, but they could have done quite a bit more in the standard camera apps to give the average user a more compelling experience.
The 4,000 mAh battery inside the phone is more than enough to get you through a full day of heavy use. At the end of a long workday, I typically had more than a 20% charge after being unplugged for more than 14 hours.
The included 18W charger manages to deliver a 50% charge to the battery in 32 minutes, which is on par with most other devices in the category. Where the Xperia 5ii disappoints is its lack of wireless charging, a feature that’s pretty much standard when paying $950 for a smartphone.
Sony’s 2019 lineup was a good step in the right direction, but I was more optimistic about what the company was going to bring to market in 2020. The new Sony Xperia 5ii checks all the right boxes, delivering 95% of the Xperia 1ii’s best features in a smaller and cheaper device. The only real issue is that Sony is late to the game. Not many will be willing to pay $950 for a 2020 flagship smartphone that made its debut in December when the competition is gearing up to release their improved 2021 devices starting next week.
- Amazing display
- Class-leading audio experience
- Good cameras if you can put in the work
- Average battery life
- A bit overpriced
- Late to market
The Bottom Line
The Sony Xperia 5ii is a great smartphone for loyal Sony fans, but there are plenty of other options that can deliver better performance, along with great cameras that don’t require as much work.