Sony Xperia 5II review: Mark our words - the best phone of 2020
A budget version of the Xperia 1II that somehow manages to be superior
Sony made a problem for itself by naming its main flagship the Xperia 1 and its mid-range model the Xperia 5. So, to differentiate this year's releases, the company has decided to add Roman numerals - but confusingly, you're meant to pronounce them as 'Mark 2'.
The 'Xperia 5II' is the budget version of the Xperia 1II which was launched earlier in the year. What separates the pair is size and price, with the 5II considerably reduced in both. It also doesn't have wireless charging or the 4K screen, but that's all you miss out on while saving nearly £300.
Sony Xperia 5II review: Design
The 5II has an aluminium chassis pleasingly wrapped in Gorilla Glass 6. It's 158mm in height and just 68mm wide, which is actually good if you like to be able to use your phone with one hand. This is mainly due to Sony's insistence on a 21:9 aspect ratio, which makes the Xperia 5II rather tall and thin - we found that it poked out the top of any pocket we put it in.
The UK is only privy to the Blue and Black models of Xperia 5II as, much like Huawei's Mate 40, the rest of the world hogs all the more interesting colours. However, it's not all bad; our review model was black and, similar to the Samsung S20, the glass body catches the light superbly. It highlights lots of understated design elements, such as the sleek oval camera module or the Sony logo. As with most all glass smartphones, it's as slippery as an eel and likely to slide off anything with a slight gradient. Thankfully the Gorilla Glass 6 has so far proved resistant to cracks.
Sony Xperia 5II review: Display
The 5II has a 6.1in OLED FHD+ display, which is smaller than the 1II, but exactly the same as 2019's Xperia 5. The big draw with Sony phones is, of course, the 21:9 aspect ratio and the cinematic Brava technology that runs through it. These are great for streaming those classic widescreen Netflix movies, but not so much for regular TV shows where the thinner aspect ratio means you end up with a truncated square of a screen.
Aside from that small gripe, you get a very vibrant and crisp display, particularly with its 120Hz refresh rate; scrolling through apps and pages is smoother than Angel Delight. The 21:9 ratio also works well for split-screen mode, where you get decent sized sections for two different apps.
If you still need to be convinced of the quality here, we can point to our calibrator tests. The 5II registered perfect scores with 100% sRGB gamut colour coverage, 119% colour volume and a peak brightness of 351.7 cd/m2. The only device that can compete with that in the middle of the market is the Pixel 5, but that only managed 95% for colour coverage and it can't match the 120 refresh rate. Even phones at the top of the market, such as the S20, fail to best the Xperia 5II's display.
Sony Xperia 5II review: Specs and Performance
There is also a lot of quality under the hood with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 865 - which is built with a 7nm process - and 8GB of RAM. For a mid-range device, this has actually resulted in top-level performance. In Geekbench 5 tests it scored 3,409 for multi-threaded performance, leaving the Xperia 1II for dead and surpassing even the Huawei P40 Pro. In fact, it fell just short of the iPhone 11, which is not at all bad for a phone that's considerably cheaper.
There's so much going on with the 5II that it's amazing there aren't any performance issues. The 120 refresh rate doesn't sap battery power like it does on the S20, it has superb gaming capabilities with its pre-loaded Playstation app and it even houses camera software you'd find on a DSLR - more on that later. However, even with all that going on, the 5II blazes through tasks as quickly as you command it to.
Sony Xperia 5II review: Battery
The snappy processor in the 5II isn't let down by a weak power source like last year's Xperia 5. Instead, it's housing a 4,000mAh battery that puts the rest of the market to shame. In our looped video tests, the 5II lasted 22hrs and 11mins, again putting this supposedly mid-range device on a par with the S20 and the Huawei P40.
There is one cheaper device that can beat that and it's the Samsung Galaxy M31, and when we say 'beat' we mean heavily. The £204 M31 lasted a whopping 30hrs 20 mins in the same test, but that houses a ridiculous 6,00mAh battery and also can't match the Xperia for features.
In real-world terms, even running all its features throughout a working day, the 5II still made it beyond 24 hours. When it came time to recharge, the 21W fast charge put 50% back in within half an hour.
Sony Xperia 5II review: Features
As mentioned, this is a feature-rich device, boasting plenty for cinephiles, gamers and audiophiles - including those that refuse to let the 3.5mm headphone jack go. Security isn't so impressive, though. There is a fingerprint sensor in the home button on the side of the device which works fine, but it's not as quick as other major flagships and can often let you down. Just below it is something even more frustrating, in the form of a Google Assistant button, similar to the Bixby button found on previous Samsung devices. This accidentally gets pressed almost every time it's pulled out of a pocket, or often when picked up from a table. Just like Bixby, it's merely the assistant to annoyance.
Sony Xperia 5II review: Camera(s)
On paper, the Xperia 5II's three primary cameras look a little low spec as they're all 12MP, but they're actually quite brilliant, partly due to the software they're matched with. The setup features wide, ultra-wide and telephoto lenses - plus an 8MP selfie camera - and while the numbers sound better on Huawei or Samsung phones, the Xperia 5II can match them.
The 3 x optical zoom is decent, the low-light shots are amazing, and neither show much graininess. Shots with a moving subject are also excellent thanks to Sony's stabilising technology. All of which leads us to the 'cinema pro' mode which uses all three lenses and offers a wide range of filters and enhancements for perfect videos.
Perhaps the best part of the 5II, and potentially what might lift it above all else for camera tech, is the 'Photography Pro' mode, which is an app that imports DSLR-like features. If you want full control over your shots, this is the feature for you. Users choose which lens they want, select brightness levels, shutter speed and more, just like you would with an actual DSLR.
Sony Xperia 5II review: Verdict
There's very little to dislike about the Xperia 5II - aside from its confusing name. Much like the Pixel 4a, Sony has somehow managed to build a budget version that's arguably better than the original and, at £599, you'll actually save money by buying the superior device.
Taking it further, there's plenty here that rival smartphones either don't have or don't do as well; the video and photography modes are unparalleled, the battery seems to handle the 120Hz display without sweat and its performance defies its label as a mid-range device. Mark our words - this might well be the smartphone of the year.
Sony Xperia 5II specifications
|Body||Glass front (Gorilla Glass 6), glass back (Gorilla Glass 6), aluminium frame - IP68|
|Screen||6.1in OLED, 120Hz, 1080 x 2520 (449ppi density)|
|Processor||Qualcomm SM8250 Snapdragon 865 (7 nm+) Octa-core (1x2.84 GHz Kryo 585 & 3x2.42 GHz Kryo 585 & 4x1.80 GHz Kryo 585)|
|Operating System||Android 10 (planned upgrade to Android 11)|
|Rear camera(s)||Primary: 12MP, f/1.7, 24mm (wide), 12MP, f/2.4, 70mm (telephoto), 3x optical zoom, 12MP, f/2.2, 16mm (ultrawide)|
|Front camera||8 MP, f/2.0, 24mm (wide)|
|Battery size||4,000mAh with 21W fast Charge|
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