Sony Xperia 5 II review: The best Sony phone in years – CNET

Like

  • Lower price
  • Smaller build
  • EyeAF especially for pets
  • 4K 120fps slow motion video
  • High-refresh rate display

Don’t Like

  • Google Assistant hardware button is unnecessary
  • Boring design
  • Cinema Pro exposure limited in bright light
  • Lacks wireless charging

In May, Sony released the Xperia 1 II (read as “one mark two”) which it packed with photo and video tools from its popular Alpha line of full-frame mirrorless cameras. The $1,200 (£1,099) phone was after creative types who wanted more artistic control over their photos and videos. Now with the Xperia 5 II (read as “five mark two”), Sony is essentially selling a more compact, more affordable version of the Xperia 1 II. But with a high refresh-rate display, the ability to record 4K videos at 120 frames per second (fps) and an overhauled Game Enhancer app, the new phone is more than a mini-version of the Xperia 1 II. And best of all at $950, the Xperia 5 II adds those features while costing hundreds of dollars less.

One thing of note, however. While the Xperia 5 II’s solid specs and photo and video software are similar to the Xperia 1 II (same processor, 8GB of RAM, etc.), it lacks wireless charging, a time of flight sensor and a 4K display. But it does retain the wonderful EyeAF (autofocus) feature that speedily finds and locks onto the eyes of people and pets. 

Now playing: Watch this: Sony Xperia 5 II in-depth review

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On the whole, I really like the Xperia 5 II. It’s the best phone Sony has made in years. It’s an incredible phone for people who enjoy gaming, photography and recording videos. That won’t appeal to everyone, but for people like me who enjoy that kind of thing, the phone is a real treat. But my biggest gripe with the phone is its price. While the Xperia 5 II is cheaper than the Xperia 1 II, it’s also $150 more than last year’s Xperia 5 I. Add the fact that we’re in a pandemic and many people are enduring financial hardship, it’s hard for me to get behind this phone, or any phone really, that costs nearly $1,000. But if you have the money and are into Sony’s mirrorless cameras, then the Xperia 5 II is definitely worth considering.

The Xperia 5 II will be available Dec. 4, and preorders start Sept. 29. (And when you preorder, you can receive a free gaming bundle that includes a HyperX Cloud II gaming headset, a 10,000mAh portable power bank and 21,600 Call of Duty points).

Sony Xperia 5 II

On the left is the $1,200 Sony Xperia 1 II and on the right the $950 Xperia 5 II.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Xperia 5 II design: Great high-refresh rate display, not so great number of buttons

The Xperia 5 II’s display isn’t as sharp as the Xperia 1 II’s, so Sony smartly added a high refresh rate screen to the former. Now you can choose: If you want super-sharp resolution, get the Xperia 1 II and its stunning 6.5-inch 4K display. But if you want a phone with a high-refresh rate, grab an Xperia 5 II with its 6.1-inch 120Hz HD screen.

Both phones have long narrow screens with a 21:9 aspect ratio, which is great for watching Netflix since most of its films are shot in widescreen. But the Xperia 5 II’s smaller form-factor really makes the tall, slender design pop. I like how well it fits into my hand.

The phone’s design isn’t perfect though. It’s a bit boring, especially when compared to a phone like the Samsung Galaxy S20. Despite the Xperia’s slender bezels on the side, it has a chunky (by 2020 standards) chin and forehead. I also miss the Xperia 1 II’s squared-off edges, which allowed me to stand up the phone on its side for filming and watching videos.

But my least favorite part of the Xperia 5 II’s design is the Google Assistant button on the side. It lives on the right edge, along with the volume rocker, a combo power button/fingerprint reader and a shutter button for the camera. It’s simply one button too many, and it got in my way a lot.

Sony Xperia 5 IISony Xperia 5 II

In the US, the Sony Xperia 5 II comes only in black.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Are people using Google Assistant so much that it needs its own button? Maybe? I don’t know these people. But here’s what gets me: This phone is aimed at photographers, videographers, gamers, journalists and creative types. Nearly everyone of those people are probably going to mount this phone, whether it’s on a PS4 controller for games or on a mini-tripod for shooting photos and videos. That means the fewer buttons on the edge to press (on purpose or by accident), the better.

For example, I have a C-shaped grip that goes around the sides and back of the phone so I can mount it to a tripod. On the Xperia 1 II, there was a small space on the right side between the power button and the camera shutter for the grip to grab onto. On the Xperia 5 II, however, that small space is now occupied by this Assistant button, which leaves me the recessed power button/fingerprint reader as the only place to attach the grip. As a result I lose access to that button, which is far more useful than the Google Assistant button.

Sony Alpha mirrorless cameras in a phone… kind of

The camera feature I was most excited to try out was the new 4K 120fps video capture. This only works in the phone’s Cinema Pro app. Files are saved as 30fps or 24fps, which gives videos a dreamy 4x or 5x slow-motion effect. I shot a bunch of footage using the Xperia 5 II’s Cinema Pro app and this is the best slow motion video on any phone I’ve tested. Check it out below.

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Aside from lacking a time-of-flight sensor, the Xperia 5 II has the same Xperia 1 II camera hardware and software. And if you want an in-depth look at it all, read my review of the Sony Xperia 1 II. The Xperia 5 II comes with support for RAW photo files, which is super useful to me since I enjoy editing photos later in an app or on my computer. Also, the Photo Pro app’s menus look just like the new ones on the new Sony A7SIII camera, so props to Sony for a consistent design language. Speaking of the A7SIII, you can now connect a USB-C cable between it and the Xperia 5 II to send photo and video files to the phone for FTP (file transfer protocol) transfers.

If there is one criticism I have with the cameras, it’s the amount of leeway there is for controlling the exposure when using the Cinema Pro app. I wish I had more ways to control the exposure aside from ISO and shutter angle (think of it like shutter speed for video). I ran into this with the Xperia 1 II as well. When it’s too bright, I can’t get the ISO or shutter angle low enough so that my video isn’t overexposed. One solution would be to get a neutral density (ND) filter for your phone.

But when it was too dark, I ran into similar exposure challenges. The ISO tops out at 800 and because the cameras have a fixed aperture, I’m left with only the shutter angle to adjust. And that’s not ideal because the shutter angle also affects the quality of movement in the frame.

Below are some photos I took with the default camera app and Photo Pro app.

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This photo was taken with the Photo Pro app and saved as a RAW file. I processed the photo later using Adobe Lightroom.

Patrick Holland/CNET

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You can shoot photos with shutter speeds as low as 30 seconds. This photo was taken at 1/10 of a second.

Patrick Holland/CNET

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The telephoto lens is a 70-millimeter equivalent and can be zoomed in to a 200-millimeter equivalent like it was here.

Patrick Holland/CNET

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The dynamic range on the camera is excellent and keeps things looking natural instead of heavily processed.

Patrick Holland/CNET

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This photo was taken with the main camera that has a 24-millimeter lens.

Patrick Holland/CNET

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This was taken with the ultrawide-angle camera.

Patrick Holland/CNET

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I took this just before dusk with the 70-millimeter telephoto camera.

Patrick Holland/CNET

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This was taken with the 24-millimeter wide-angle camera. EyeAF locked in on my eye and nailed the focus.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Game Enhancer, battery and high refresh rate

You can set the Xperia 5 II’s refresh rate to 60Hz or 120Hz. There isn’t an in-between option or adaptive software like on the OnePlus 8 Pro. During my time with the phone, I left it at 120Hz and didn’t look back. I noticed the benefits of the high-refresh rate most when gaming. Part of that comes from the improved Game Enhancer app, which lets me choose the refresh rate for games I play. It uses software to crank that 120Hz display so that it can appear equivalent to a 240Hz equivalent. The effect works well enough as if someone added sharpness and contrast to my games. It was particularly impressive in a game like Call of Duty. Game Enhancer has a heads up display as well, so you can preview the game at different refresh rates between 40fps and 240fps before committing to it.

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Sony managed to fit a larger battery into the Xperia 5 II despite the phone being the same size as last year’s Xperia 5 I.

Patrick Holland/CNET

The Xperia 5 II’s battery is larger than its predecessor, despite the phones being physically the same size. The 4,00mAh battery is the same size as the one found in the Sony Xperia 1 II. The phone made it through a day (set to 120Hz for the display). But I did find myself plugging it in to top it off near the end of the evening, usually after dinner. We are currently conducting tests and will update this review with the full results soon.

The battery along with Game Enhancer, allows for a new feature called HS Power Control. The HS stands for heat suppression and it essentially reroutes power between charging the battery and directly powering the phone itself. When HS Power Control is enabled, the phone got warm while gaming, but it never got hot. It worked well enough that it’d be nice to turn on HS Power Control for other uses like video capture or photo editing and not just gaming. 

Snapdragon 865 processor and 5G

The Xperia 5 II has a Snapdragon processor and supports sub-6 5G connectivity outside the US. Sony said that its upcoming Xperia Pro will likely be the first Sony phone to support 5G in the US.

In use the Xperia 5 II was peppy. Even during heavy sessions of video recording and photo taking, the phone never lagged or seemed sluggish. In performance tests, the Xperia 5 II unsurprisingly posted identical results to the Xperia 1 II, but also was on par with the OnePlus 8 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, all of which also have a Snapdragon 865 processor.

3DMark Slingshot Unlimited

Sony Xperia 5 II

Sony Xperia 1 II

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

OnePlus 8 Pro

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench v.5.0 single-core

Sony Xperia 5 II

Sony Xperia 1 II

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

OnePlus 8 Pro

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench v.5.0 multicore

Sony Xperia 5 II

Sony Xperia 1 II

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

OnePlus 8 Pro

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Sony Xperia 5 II specs compared to Sony Xperia 1 II, Sony Xperia 5 I, OnePlus 8 Pro

Sony Xperia 5 II Sony Xperia 1 II Sony Xperia 5 OnePlus 8 Pro
Display size, resolution 6.1-inch FHD+ HDR OLED; 2,520 x 1,080 pixels 6.5-inch 4K HDR OLED; 3,840 x 1,644 pixels 6.1-inch OLED; 2,520×1,080 pixels 6.78-inch AMOLED; 1,440×3,168 pixels
Pixel density 449ppi 643ppi 449ppi 513ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.22 x 2.68 x 0.31 in 6.5 × 2.8 × 0.3 in 6.2 x 2.6 x 0.3 in 6.51 x 2.93 x 0.35 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 158 x 68 x 8 mm 165.1 x 71.1 x 7.62 mm 157 x 66 x 7.62 mm 165 x 74.4 x 8.5 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 5.75 oz; 163g 6.4 oz; 181g 5.8 oz; 164g 7.02 oz; 199g
Mobile software Android 10 Android 10 Android 9 Pie Android 10
Camera 12-megapixel (standard), 12-megapixel (ultra-wide), 12-megapixel (3x telephoto) 12-megapixel (standard), 12-megapixel (ultra-wide), 12-megapixel (3x telephoto) 12-megapixel (standard), 12-megapixel (ultra-wide), 12-megapixel (3x telephoto) 48-megapixel (standard), 48-megapixel (ultra-wide), 8-megapixel (telephoto), 5-megapixel (‘color filter’)
Front-facing camera 8-megapixel 8-megapixel 8-megapixel 16-megapixel
Video capture 4K 4K 4K 4K
Processor Snapdragon 865 Snapdragon 865 Snapdragon 855 Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
Storage 128GB 256GB 128GB 128GB, 256GB
RAM 8GB 8GB 6GB 8GB, 12GB
Expandable storage Up to 1TB Up to 1TB Up to 512GB No
Battery 4,000mAh 4,000mAh 3,140mAh 4,510mAh
Fingerprint sensor Right side Right side Right side In-screen
Connector USB-C USB-C USB-C USB-C
Headphone jack Yes Yes No No
Special features 5G-enabled (not in US), 120Hz refresh rate display, rated IP 65/68, adaptive battery charging and care, Dolby ATMOS, Zeiss lens coatings, time of flight sensor, hardware shutter button, hardware Google Assistant button 5G-enabled (not in US), wireless charging, rated IP 65/68, adaptive battery charging and care, Dolby ATMOS, Zeiss lens coatings, time of flight sensor, hardware shutter button IP65/68 water and dust resistant, 10-bit video, Eye AF, Fast charging 5G enabled; Warp Charge; reverse wireless charging; water resistant (IP68); 120Hz refresh rate
Price off-contract (USD) $950 $1,200 $799 $899 (8GB RAM/128GB), $999 (12GB RAM/256GB)
Price (GBP) £799 £1,099 £699 £799 (8GB RAM/128GB), £899 (12GB RAM/256GB)
Price (AUD) Converts to AU$1,350 Converts to AU$1,710 Converts to AU$1,135 UK converts to: AU$1,570 (8GB RAM/128GB), AU$1,770 (12GB RAM/256GB)

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