The Sony Xperia Z5 Compact might be a scaled down flagship but that doesn’t mean you’ll get a scaled down experience. We take the little pocket rocket for a spin.
We’ve seen this story before right? A smartphone manufacturer designs a smaller phone to appeal to a different Android market, but cuts down on specs and features. That is certainly true for most Android manufacturers, but not quite for Sony. They are the only Android manufacturer making a small high-end phone right now. That means that it could be the last stand for compacts and that means I am talking about the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact. The question on everyone’s lips, however, is can flagship specs be scaled down into a compact design and still deliver the goods? If not, will this be the last compact Android to see the light of day?
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Design and Build
The Z5 compact firmly fits into Sony’s “Omnibalance” design philosophy. When the original Xperia Z launched 3 years ago Sony shied away from design approaches used by the likes of Apple, Samsung and LG. The stand-out design elements on the Z series has found its way to the Z5 compact as well. The Z5 Compact offers a frosted-glass finish on the back and front of the phone, which, although feels very much like plastic to touch, makes a welcome change from the slippery tempered glass used on the previous models.
The Z5 Compact measures in at 8.9 mm thick, which is a bit chunkier than that of the Z5’s 7.3 mm frame. The sides and the back seem to be sporting some kind of bumper that is made of plastic and not the more luxurious metallic finish found on its larger sibling. The thicker size obviously allows the Z5 compact to fit in its flagship hardware.
On the right side of the phone, you will find the now “classic” power button, which is now an oval shape and doubles up as fingerprint reader (pretty nifty!). This can be used to unlock the device, like on the Samsung Galaxy S6 and iPhone 6. The volume bar is now below the power button closer to the camera trigger on the side. The left side sports the nano-SIM and micro SD card slot, next to a small gap where you can attach a lanyard. Both the ports have covers which allow the Z5 Compact to have an IP65 / 68 certification (water and dust proof). You can actually use the Z5 Compact whilst wet or under water, something that didn’t really work with its predecessor.
Display and Performance
The 4.6-inch 720p HD display comes in a scratch resistant LCD panel. Although this means it might not be as impressive as its bigger brother for watching films and playing games, overall there are very few negatives to the display. The resolution though could use some improvement, isn’t time for Sony to upgrade to a full-HD display? 1080p seems to be the standard at them moment and it’s weird that Sony hasn’t made the jump, but it is arguable whether the benefits of the extra resolution are as noticeable as they the larger resolutions are found on 5-inch plus devices. The pixel density on the Z5 Compact has improved from 319 ppi on the Z3 Compact to 323 ppi. Not sure if you can notice the difference but the screen has great clarity. Sony also now included the standard Bravia TV-inspired display technologies such as a Triluminious display, X-Reality Engine and Bravia Engine 2.
The engine in the Z5 Compact is a 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, with four cores running at 1.5 GHz and four at 2 GHz, with the Adreno 430 GPU taking care of graphics. Initially, I found it disappointing that the processor was the same one found in the predecessor, but Sony has made some massive optimisations with the OS and overall hardware harmony to allow the Z5 Compact to be very responsive. Jumping between apps posed no problem and even the camera app booted up without too much lag. Gaming also wasn’t a problem even after playing Sky Force for over an hour. The previous model had huge issues with overheating and I can safely say that Sony fixed the problem with the Z5 Compact.
To check out how the Z5 Compact compared to other phones I it through the GeekBench 3 software. Results came back with an average single core score of 1,310 and a multi-core score of 3,771. BIG improvement over the Z3 Compact ““ the previous phone only scored 949 on single core and the multi-core test brought out 2,760 (scores pulled from the net).
Software and Battery
The Z5 Compact ships with the latest version of Android Lollipop together with the Xperia UI and Sony‘s usual bunch of pre-installed apps (Music, Videos, Xperia Lounge, etc.). It also came with Facebook and 11 applications from Google. Sony also includes a radio antenna to support FM radio. The Xperia UI gave me a very “stock” Android experience, proving to be very closely aligned to Google’s original OS. This is particularly helpful as it allows Sony to update their phones to the latest Google OS pretty quickly. You can already update the Z5 Compact to Android Marshmallow.
The Sony apps are pretty useful. Lifelog is a fitness tracking app that’s especially useful when combined with a smart band. It measures how much time you have spent doing sports, at work, driving a car or playing video games. Smart Connect allows you to make simple automation regarding connectivity. You can set it so that plugging in your headset, for example, will launch your favorite music player app.
The Z5 Compact’s battery really impressed me. On certain days I am a heavy smartphone user (Facebook, news, games, email, videos etc.) and I can easily drain my iPhone 6 by 16:00 in the afternoon. The Z5 Compact took it all in its stride, still having 25% battery left by 22:00 in the evening (after over using it during the day). Sony smartly uses every mAh found in the 2,700 mAh. Sony claims it can last 2 days and with average use I can see that happening.
Sony’s smartphones have become synonymous with great cameras. The Sony Xperia Z5 Compact camera features a 23 MP Exmor RS Sensor, and a super-fast autofocus of 0.03 seconds. The clarity and contrast of the pictures I took were top notch and the colours were vivid and dynamic. The Z5 Compact did tend to distort colors slightly however, edging towards a blue hue, but it makes a change from the long-standing pink bias of the Xperia phones. Indoor images should generally be taken with the flash to reduce this.
When it comes to shooting video, you can go for a maximum 4K resolution at up to 30fps or Full HD at 30 or 60fps in 16:9. The front-facing camera manages a maximum Full HD at 30fps as well (nice!). I did find that recording in 4K is restricted ““ after a while you will receive a pop-up, which reveals recording in the higher resolution format will cause the phone to get hot.
The default Sony camera app produced some impressive photos, however. In addition, the Z5 Compact camera has what Sony calls a ‘hybrid image stabilizer’, which helps to decrease the shakiness found in handheld videos. A useful tool that you have at your disposal is High Sensitivity mode, which you can only use when shooting 8 MP photos. The maximum ISO sensitivity on a smartphone is 12800, which means the camera sensor attempts to capture more light from each pixel, therefore brightening the low light images (but can add more noise).
With Sony spewing smartphones all over the place the past couple of years, I must admit I didn’t have much hope for this one. Strangely, though the Z5 Compact works well. I am a long time Apple fan and can understand the draw of a smaller phone, that’s if it delivers on requirements. A lot of users will be distracted by the standard Xperia Z5 and the shining lights of the Xperia Z5 Premium and its 4K display, but for design, performance and well-conceived detail, it’s the Compact that stands out.
Apart from maybe the iPhone SE I don’t think you will find a flagship smartphone in this size. The battery is top notch and it comes equipped with the always reliable Sony cameras. Probably the only let down for me is the screen resolution, would it have been so hard to include a full HD display? Never the less I really loved using the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact and if you are looking for a smaller flagship Android smartphone, don’t look any further!
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