Sony’s 2020 flagship – the ultra-premium Xperia 1 II – has a lot to offer, but it’s ultimately a tough sell with its colossal price tag of $ 1,199 / £ 1,099. The Xperia 5 line is Sony’s flagship tier at a more reasonable price, with the new Xperia 5 II at a much more reasonable price of $ 949 / £ 799. It was also well received by critics. In our review, we called it “perhaps Sony’s best phone yet”.
I wasn’t in love with the expensive Xperia 1 II, but I agree that Sony is definitely on to something with the 5 II. The handset offers exceptional hardware and a bewildering selection of the latest and greatest software features from Sony. There are still lingering issues and it doesn’t represent the absolute best value for money on the market right now. But the phone is a very promising sign of things to come from Sony.
Full Android Authority verdict: Sony Xperia 5 II review – possibly Sony’s best phone
Material as good as any other
Sony’s Xperia design still carries the usual caveats. The 21: 9 widescreen aspect ratio is definitely not for everyone, especially if you’re used to larger phones. Although the slimmer design developed very quickly on me. Likewise, the 6.1-inch phone is still a bit too big to be considered a compact phone in the historical sense of the Xperia Compact range. However, these are not so much serious complaints as points of preference.
Sony’s basic hardware pack includes everything you’d expect from a flagship phone, including a super-fast Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor, crisp 120Hz display, tri-camera setup, and colossal battery life. Of course, if you only care about the raw specs, there are plenty of cheaper Chinese brands out there, such as OnePlus, Realme, and many more.
Sony is taking a more practical approach to hardware design with the 5 II.
Instead, the Xperia 5 II is a more nuanced hardware package, closer to what is making Apple and Samsung fans return to their respective brands. But you really have to dig deeper to understand what Sony is doing differently, which can make it difficult to convey the message.
For example, the 12MP camera isn’t the absolute best, but Sony’s choice of a lower resolution sensor allows it to do things like constant image capture at 20 fps, image playback fast 10ms and 4K 120fps video capture. These are certainly niche features in the modern age of point-and-click simplicity, but they work well for Sony’s media-loving audience. The images are also very beautiful, especially when it comes to color accuracy. Check out our in-depth shootout to see the Xperia 5 II defend itself against some of the best Android camera phones, including the Google Pixel 5.
Likewise, the Xperia 5 II offers 240Hz touch response, high-end 240Hz software display mode, a new graphene processor cooling system, and heat-suppression power controls (bypassing the battery charging) for more serious mobile gamers. Not to mention the features of its game software, including voice chat optimizations on the 3.5mm headphone jack, game capture and other features of the Game Enhancer software. Sony is finally taking a look at its gaming legacy, but that still leaves us wanting more. For example, why is Sony’s xCloud rival PlayStation Now still limited to consoles and PCs?
The gaming features give us hope for closer integration of Playstation in the future.
Audio enthusiasts are not excluded from this media extravaganza. LDAC Bluetooth audio, DSEE Ultimate music upscaling, Dolby Atmos tuning, 360 Reality Audio, and the aforementioned headphone jack offer everything an audiophile could want.
Sony’s Xperia series is making an identity as the ultimate multimedia smartphone and the Xperia 5 II keeps the package under the dreaded $ 1,000 price tag. Sensible tradeoffs, such as dropping the 4K display, wireless charging, and a Time-of-Flight camera, are easy to live with given the rest of the hardware on offer.
Smooth out software ideas
With such solid material, what’s the problem? Well, the execution of the software could still be improved.
For example, the Photo Pro and Cinema Pro apps are a bit too complex for the typical user, but the default camera app lacks a lot of standard features. Pinched zoom doesn’t automatically switch lenses like it does on all other phones, there’s no HDR toggle, and no dedicated low-light photography feature. Sony’s camera apps are caught between overly complex and undercooked, with nothing in the middle for the typical consumer. I ran into all of these same issues with the Xperia 1 II – check out my more in-depth analysis of the situation in the article below.
Read more: Sony Xperia 1 II camera is a case study for absurd software design
Likewise, the new gameplay features, while useful, are hidden away in a maze of menus and settings. Enabling 240Hz display mode, for example, requires you to open Game Enhancer or launch the game directly, click on the setting icon, click on game mode, click on custom, on click on the settings icon, then set the cursor to 240 Hz. Making it difficult to find one of the main features of the phone. Also, while it’s great to be able to save unique settings for each game, there are some universal settings that would save on that laborious setup time.
It’s the same situation for activating the heat suppression power control, which draws power directly from the charger instead of the battery, helping to keep the temperature of the phone low. This is off by default and must be enabled for each game by navigating the sprawling menu again. Why is there no quick setting button like in Stamina Battery mode? It’s not a horrible setup, but it’s just not obvious where everything is. Darkness means that only a few savvy users will use the handset’s best ideas.
In a similar vein, Sony also offers separate apps for download to manage PlayStation controllers and configure Sony headphones. It would be nicer to have a single menu to configure all your branded accessories from one place. Preferably with a ready-to-use guided configuration. Sony’s ecosystem is certainly large enough to allow for better support for its own products.
This is a rare occasion where I think deeper OS integration would help complement Sony’s vision and improve the user experience.
Sony’s software setup still seems a bit disjointed in places. The Android side is sleek and mostly stock, but then there is a catalog of individual apps you might need. Some of them are well integrated, like the music app which shares some audio options with the main settings menu, while others are not. It looks minimalistic and can easily get bloated as you move between different apps, each with their own unique design and layout. I can’t help but think that embedding at least some of its extras deeper into the operating system would help sharpen Sony’s multimedia vision.
I am aware that a shift away from inventory could alienate customers who are not integrated into Sony’s larger product ecosystem. But given Sony’s current market share and my own experiences with Xperia enthusiasts, Sony fans are by far the biggest target audience for Xperia smartphones right now. Why not make it a quintessential Sony experience?
Still a little too expensive
A lot of these complaints might seem trivial, but high-end products should be nearly perfect. The Sony Xperia 5 II is a very practical and cheaper phone than the Xperia 1 II while still offering many of its best features. However, when you look at other big space players, the Xperia 5 II is still a bit short at this price point.
For example, entry to Apple’s Landscaped Walled Garden costs $ 799 / £ 799 for the iPhone 12. The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G costs just $ 699 / £ 699 compared to the price of $ 949 / £ 799 of the Xperia 5 II. These two high-end brands are not only cheaper, but also a bit more refined in the software department. Consumers love the “just works” mentality and you have to play around with the Xperia 5 II a little too much to get the most out of it. Not to mention, Sony doesn’t have the best reputation for software updates, which should be on everyone’s mind when spending that kind of money.
That said, the Xperia 5 II is still the top pick for Sony fans right now and it’s a very promising sign for next year’s iterations. Updating camera apps and simplifying some of its software peculiarities are easily addressable.
Sony is poised to deliver the best multimedia phone on the market. Add some integration with the PlayStation 5 and I would be very tempted to settle permanently on Sony’s camp.
The Sony Xperia 5 II is on pre-order starting today and is expected to start shipping in the US from December 4th. Let us know your comments over the phone in the poll above, or take yours below!
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